As a parent and an avid reader, I am always on the lookout to learn about effective ways to support my kids in their learning process. I’ve seen a ton of tips, suggestions, guides, learning steps, courses and similar to discover opportunities to be the best I can for my kiddos when it comes to parenting style and support.
Hence I find the books on parenting one of the fascinating areas in my personal discovery. The books by Cornelius N. Grove, Ed.D, are super concise and informative. They provide facts and exploration of parenting and learning styles as they happen in different societies and on different continents. Comparing my ways to support my children to grow the best human-beings for themselves and the world, I find Dr. Grove’s books deeply exploratory and helpful.
Here’s a new book titled “How Other Children Learn” that looks at five traditional societies that we could reflect upon and learn from. Check it out on Amazon HERE.
I’ve asked a few questions about the current book edition. Here’s how the author himself responded to the interview inquiries. It’s an interesting read on its own!
What motivated you to tell your story and lay out the facts?
I’m an ethnologist of education. Ethnologists compare the values, ways of life, and other characteristics of different human groups in search of useful insights. I do this with education. “Education” refers to the transmission not only of knowledge but also of ways of living that are acceptable in one’s society.
For my first three books, I used information about several human groups to generate insights about children’s learning in classrooms. I did this because I knew of the constantly distressing findings of the international comparative tests and of our own “Nation’s Report Card” HERE. I decided to use my expertise as an ethnologist to generate cross-cultural comparisons and seek explanations and remedies. The question I asked was:
To what extent do Americans’ values and practices related to classroom instruction undermine our children’s academic success?
For my new book, I turned my attention to the other meaning of education: the transmission of ways of living that are acceptable in one’s society (also called “socialization”). In this case, the human groups that I needed for comparative purposes were those in which classroom instruction plays little or no role in children’s and parents’ lives. In turn, that pointed to non-industrialized, pre-modern societies, often called “traditional.” The new question I asked was:
To what extent do American truths about children and parenting hold among people who live in societies not nearly as modern as ours?
I was able to find five traditional societies, on five different continents, that anthropologists of childhood had extensively studied and written about. Their accounts of daily life in camps and small settlements, and especially of how the young children come to be socialized, became my raw material.
And indeed, there are enormous contrasts between the ways in which those children and our own come to adopt their respective societies’ acceptable ways of living. It was fascinating – and it did generate useful insights.
The result is How Other Children Learn: What Five Traditional Societies Tell Us about Parenting and Children’s Learning, published by Rowman & Littlefield earlier this year.
What is your one top reason for my readers to read your book?
Some of your readers might expect me to say that Americans who learn about traditional child-rearing will gain good ideas for dealing with their own children. But that’s not my top reason. It’s that we can learn about ourselves by looking into the mirror of traditional parenting and noting the many contrasts between us and them.
For example, we Americans think it’s obvious that human parents must devote prodigious amounts of time, effort, and treasure to raising children, constantly ensuring that they are happy, well-rounded, sociable, intelligent, and shielded from every danger. Believe it or not, parents in traditional societies do not think that way. I came up with a little maxim about this:
Modern parents parent as much as possible.
Traditional parents parent as little as possible.
Those traditional parents are also human beings who, just like us, give birth to utterly helpless newborns. But fast forward three years, and their parental lives are almost totally unlike ours. They haven’t in any sense abandoned their youngsters. Like us, they love them and deeply care that they will develop into contributing members of their family and community – which the great majority of traditional children do soon after attaining puberty. Yet since their third year, their parents have been parenting them “as little as possible!”
Knowing this, can American parents copy traditional parents’ styles of child-rearing? No. The social and physical environments in which traditional and modern families live are very different. What we can do with this knowledge is ask ourselves to what extent we could reduce the overshadowing roles we play in our children’s lives. We cannot simply copy traditional ways. But we can be prompted by their ways to re-evaluate our own child-raising beliefs and styles.
Excerpt from “Early Childcare among the Economically Disadvantaged Indians”
Learning to Be Indian: The Early Childhood Years
Among poverty-stricken families (not only the Dalits), care of younger children is conditioned by the fact that mothers must contribute to the family’s income.
After the youngest child turns three, the mother as well as the father leaves home daily to earn a living. The children must fend for themselves. Who looks after the youngest ones? Their older siblings. And that’s not all. Describing life in West Bengal, two anthropologists write that poverty-stricken families depend to a great extent on their girls for the daily gathering of protein, vegetables, and fuel.
Girls help from the age of five or six by collecting cow dung to make fuel cakes. Girls of seven or eight collect snails and fish from paddy fields, and gather potatoes, onions and, for fuel, twigs and wood. The girls mix cow dung and straw, then plaster the mixture on the wall as round cakes. After drying, these cakes are collected and sold as fuel.
As early as age six, a girl can be running her household, including cooking and childcare. Boys are thought to need a few more years before they can take on male tasks such as fixing lanterns, ironing clothes, and herding animals to their pastures and back.
Infants and toddlers in these families spend more time with their own mothers than occurs in upper-status Indian households. Mothers sometimes take their babies with them to work, whether in the fields or homes of better-off villagers.
When an anthropologist followed a mother and her four daughters into a field one day, she observed the mother working and a one-and-a-half-year-old girl sitting on the grass eating green peas; her five-year-old sister stripped the peas from growing stalks and handed them to her.
When the mother and two older daughters had finished cutting fodder, the five-year-old put the baby in a position to defecate. The two older sisters and mother did not wait for the baby to finish but set out for home, each carrying a large bundle of fodder on her head. The five-year-old was considered quite competent to care for the baby and bring her home later.
This is not forced child labor; it’s everyday life for Indian families that are constantly fending off starvation. One outcome is the children of such families gain a dynamic capacity for assuming full responsibility for vital family functions far sooner than we Americans even imagine possible.
How do they learn responsibility? There is little overt training for self-reliance or responsibility. When the mother returns to work, older siblings aid the youngest one to learn to care for him- or herself and, a few years later, to learn to assist the next newcomer. Rarely are tasks assigned; rarely is one child put in charge. The siblings simply begin doing tasks as they have seen others doing them.
Books by Cornelius N. Grove
(2023) How Other Children Learn, get it HERE
(2020) A Mirror for Americans, buy it HERE
(2017) The Drive to Learn, shop for it HERE
(2013) The Aptitude Myth, buy it HERE
(2010) Encountering the Chinese, get it HERE