Babies are born into this world every day without any sense of culture. Their minds are formed by their families, their teachers, and others intertwined in their day to day lives. The teaching of what members of a society consider necessary to become a competent adult is socialization. Socialization is a general process where these children learn the language, the practices, and the myths of the culture they are born into. Early childhood is the most impressionable stage in a human’s life. The majority of what children learn about their culture and how to behave in their roles in life will be instilled upon their minds at this time.
Even the smallest, irrelevant actions of parents can have a major effect on the socialization of their children. Early socialization in larger societies, such as the United States, often varies in different families due to the many ethnic groups. Because of this common diversity it is more acceptable to be different. This ethnography of American socialization lists several examples of the kinds of myths and cultural standards that are being encouraged of children by their families or teachers.
Since children spend most of their childhood in schools, teachers have an immense effect on their student’s socialization. For instance, I was observing a small kindergarten class and their teacher when I discovered how much of an impact teachers really do have on their students. The classroom began to come alive as the kindergarteners rose slowly from their naps. The kids rolled up their mats and put them away on the teacher’s demand. When their mats were in their correct place, the teacher instructed her students to fetch their collection of crayons and to have a seat at the round tables in the room.
The kids were excited at the thought of coloring, and ran to the crayons, grabbed their favorite colors, and claimed a seat. The teacher walked around the tables offering suggestions and praise over the artwork her students were producing. She stood at one particular table longer than she had at the others, and I strained my eyes to see what exactly it was that had her attention. As I looked at the table of kindergarteners, all I saw were young kids coloring their favorite pictures. The teacher reached in slowly and took the hand of one of her students into her own.
She took the crayon out of his hand, placed it on the table and whispered something into his ear. It was not until the teacher commended the boy for picking up the crayon with his other hand that I realized what had happened. The five year old boy had been coloring with his left hand, something his teacher believed was wrong. She reprimanded him for doing so and then applauded him for coloring with his right hand, how she believed he should. The teacher did not realize that she was steering her student away from what was natural to him, writing with his predominant left hand.
Her actions of picking up her pen, her hair brush, or her TV remote with her right hand were recursive, and she was teaching her students these actions so that they would become habits to them also. The teacher was blinded by the myth that since the majority of America’s population writes with their right hand, then it must be the correct way. She, as many teachers do, was using her social sanction as a teacher to enforce her own beliefs onto her students. Of course, another vastly important part of a child’s socialization is the child’s parents, who supply meaningful symbols in their homes.
Young boys acquire many ideas about their conduct from observations of their fathers. Boys learn how to behave like boys, just as the following child learns a valuable American lesson from his dad. It was a beautiful, spring Saturday and the “men” of the house were about to embark upon a new project. The thirty-one year old father and his four and a half year old son were going to redecorate an unused bedroom in the house. The newly decorated room would go to the little boy, because his new baby sister was going to be placed in his old room. The dad had already been to the local Home Depot in search of paint samples.
The dad grabbed several samples of his favorite colors, blue and green, and also took some samples of different shades of pink for his wife to look at for the future. To start the project, the dad instructed his son to look through the paint samples and choose the color that his new room would be painted with. The little boy looked through the colors as his dad was preparing the room to be painted. When asked what color he had chosen, the little boy passed over the blues, he passed over the greens, and led his little fingers to the page with colors like “wild strawberry,” “carnation pink,” and “mulberry. The dad let out a loud grunt and said, “No, son, those are girly colors.
Don’t you want your room to be blue or green? You don’t want your friends to think you’re a sissy do you? ” He took all of the shades of pink and put them away and instructed his son once again to choose a color. The dad’s use of gender discourse falls into a category such as the social construction of gender. This dad is showing his son that colors such as pink are not to be liked by normal boys. He is also teaching his son that “sissy” is a word for a boy that is not normal and that he should not be associated with anything that would lump him into that category.
Boys in America are most often taught, by situations like the previous one, that they have to be strong, show little emotion, and “act” like a man. To most men in America, emotions are a signifier that signifies weakness. A man “acting” like he thinks a manly figure should is a process that can be linked to symbolic interactionism. This theory says that the “self is always on stage performing,” and explains why men think they must appear macho and never show their true emotions.
An equally significant myth American boys are taught through socialization is that it is more important to succeed in making people laugh than to succeed in other areas in life. The following boy is a perfect example. Someone at the table asked Hunter why his fork was in his glass of cherry coke. He looked at them, gave a sly smile, and before he could think of a cute answer, his sister answered for him. “Because Daddy won’t let him stick his hands in the glass for ice. ” The people at the table thought that this was funny and began to giggle.
Hearing his dad tell him not to put his hands in his glass because that was “bad manners” led Hunter to devise a way to retrieve the ice in his own fashion, a form of generative action. His dad, who was also laughing, said nothing to Hunter about his fork, but let him continue what he was doing. In this case, it wasn’t what his father said, but what he didn’t say. When Chris did not object to what Hunter had done with his fork, he sent a message to his son. He was letting Hunter know that it was ok with him if Hunter found another way to do what he was told not to do in the beginning.
He was also telling Hunter that if others think that he is funny, then it is ok to bend the rules and forget his manners. Hunter was beginning to associate getting in trouble with being funny, which is what he has been taught is important. Not only parents are involved in a child’s socialization; the rest of the family is also involved in providing the child’s ideology. In this example the child’s older sister proves to be providing as much of the myths about their culture as the child’s parents do. Everything seems usual at the Downie house. Hunter is running around trying everything he can to get someone’s attention.
Brandy is sitting on the couch watching TV. Their Dad, Chris, is chatting with a guest that has come to visit. Hunter has succeeded in producing large volumes of noise and his Dad tells him to either go to his room or watch TV in the living room. So Hunter turns his attention towards the aggravation of his sister. Since Brandy is use to Hunter’s actions, she knows how to deal with him and eventually the two are sitting quietly in the living room with their eyes on the television. A commercial comes on advertising a movie and Hunter looks at Brandy with big round eyes.
She looks back as if she knows something, and then says to Hunter: “Un huh. You better be quiet or I’ll tell Daddy that you watched that movie. ” Hunter shakes his head vigorously and instead of begging her not to tell on him, he throws his own version of blackmail at his sister. He knows something that Brandy has done that she also doesn’t want her Dad to know. The living room grows quiet again as the two sit with their mouths sealed. The look Hunter percepted in Brandy’s eyes became a meaningful concept, letting him know that he was close to “danger.
Brandy is an older sister that Hunter sometimes looks up to. She has discursively taught him about blackmail and through her recursive actions has let him in on a popular American myth that it’s ok to do something that you’re not supposed to; as long as no one finds out. Unfortunately most of America’s social structure is based on the previous myth. Such recurring social behaviors are directly due to socialization. Children also interpret their family’s actions to determine what they can and cannot do. Parent’s recursive actions become signs that their children read and manipulate.
Chris and his kids had just arrived at the bow range. Chris had intended on practicing for his upcoming competition as well as help Hunter learn to shoot his bow. When they got out of the truck, Hunter’s sister was heading to the store to get a snack. Chris told Hunter to follow him but the thought of a snack made Hunter turn and follow his sister instead. Chris went through the course to practice and when he was finished he went to get his kids so that they could go home. Hunter heard the words “go home” and immediately began begging his dad to take him through the course.
Chris explained that he offered to take him through it earlier but Hunter wasn’t interested then. Chris’s denial was met with a sad-faced, whining tantrum. Chris looked at Hunter and said “Don’t give me that look. You know I can’t say no. ” A few minutes later Hunter, with bow in hand, was proudly following his dad down the trail. Hunter has learned recursively by his dad giving in to him when he pouts or whines that if he does so every time things do not go his way, he will always get what he wants. I believe that by allowing Hunter to have what he wanted because of his pouting, Chris is setting Hunter up for a big fall in his future.
Spoiled American kids like Hunter believe in such myths until they are proven wrong, or demystified, as an adult. A common character of American kids is being spoiled. However, an even more common quality among American children is a tendency towards racism. Children learn these social structure tendencies, of course, from their families and friends. A small family sat down at their dining table to eat dinner. The family carried on a normal conversation concerning what had happened to each of them throughout the day. The little girl told her mother that she had been invited to her friend’s sleepover birthday party.
She was very excited about it and asked her mom if she could go to the sleepover as she handed the invitation to her. Kaitlyn’s mom was admiring the invitation when Kaitlyn once again implored an answer of her mom. Her mom looked up and said, “Sure. But I’ll have to call your friend’s mom first. Which one of your friends is having the party, anyways? ” Kaitlyn jumped up from the table in excitement and ran to get her stack of pictures. She showed her mom the picture of Monique, a pretty, seven year old African American child that had grown up in the same town as Kaitlyn.
Kaitlyn’s mom grew silent when she saw the picture and quickly handed it back to her daughter. I could tell right then that Kaitlyn’s mom had already changed her mind due to the color of Monique’s skin. She told Kaitlyn that she would not be attending Monique’s sleepover because “It’s not right for a little girl like you to stay in a black neighborhood. ” “Blacks are different from us, Kaitlyn, and you shouldn’t play with Monique anymore. ” Kaitlyn’s mom is discursively teaching her that the color on a person’s skin has meaning.
In this case, the color black means that the person is different, and not good enough to play with or spend the night with. The myth that blacks are inferior to whites was most likely taught to Kaitlyn’s mother at a young age by her family just as Kaitlyn was learning it right then. Most of the racist structure in America dates back to our Civil War history, but includes not only racism between blacks and whites, but all races located in our country. The rejection Kaitlyn received from her mother could be the dissuading factor between her making a lifelong friend and throwing away the possibility of many friendships due to her growing racism.
Americans strive most of their lives to be an “individual”, unaware that although culture does give possibilities, it is extremely inhibiting. The constraints of a culture are made by the members of that culture, as Clifford Geertz explains in the quote: “Human beings live suspended in webs of significance that they themselves spin. ” The children observed in this paper can decide whether they want to continue to struggle through the webs that were started by their parents and teachers or whether they want to make changes. Every individual has the ability to resist or to participate, and such agencies help to change a society’s structure.
If the little boy decides to force himself to write with his right hand, or if the little girl decides not to associate with Monique anymore, they are conforming to their society and upholding the age-old structure. On the other hand if the little boy decides to wear pink shirts and cry openly, he has used his agency to provoke a change of practices, not conforming to the written structure. Eventually the children in this ethnography will become adults and form the minds of their own children or students, carrying on another generation of American socialization.