Thursday, June 17, 2010

Friendship Socialism

This story in today's New York Times is more than a little disturbing. Apparently educators and adults are working feverishly to keep kids from having ... best friends.
Most children naturally seek close friends. In a survey of nearly 3,000 Americans ages 8 to 24 conducted last year by Harris Interactive, 94 percent said they had at least one close friend. But the classic best-friend bond — the two special pals who share secrets and exploits, who gravitate to each other on the playground and who head out the door together every day after school — signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying.

“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. “We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”

“Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend,” she continued. “We say he doesn’t need a best friend.”
As somebody who felt -- in junior high, particularly -- on the wrong side of the line of cliquishness and bullying, I've got to say: This is profoundly stupid. It's a weird attempt to create a socialism of friendship -- everybody is everybody's friend! -- that has nothing at all to do with the real world those children enter as adults.

Here's the truth: People gravitate to some people more than other people. I like books, you like books, but Johnny's more interested in football. So you and I hang out, and Johnny finds himself a football-loving buddy. The solution to cliquishness and bullying is not to keep people from sharing interests and sharing time bonding over such interests -- the solution is to teach those kids not to be jerks to people who don't share those bonds.

Because this practice is so at odds with the way people form relationships in real life, I can't help but feel that it's not aimed at reducing cliquishness and bullying so much as it is designed to reduce the amount of time and energy that educators have to spend dealing with cliquishness and bullying. On one level, I can't blame the authorities for that. But on the other, it's very Pink Floydian. Outlawing close friendships at school? You can't have any pudding if you won't eat your meat!

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