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International Socialism, Autumn 1966


J. Lynch

The Youth


From International Socialism, No.26, Autumn 1966, p.37.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Children and Politics
Fred J. Greenstein
Yale University Press, 37s 6d

This particular area of exploitation of political consciousness – the effects of the individual’s childhood and adolescent experiences on his adult political behaviour – is not exactly new. From Plato onwards citizenship training has been the concern of political theorists. There is little work on the subject however that is not prescriptive and there has been virtually no real research into political socialisation. Using questionnaires and interviews with a sample of New Haven children Greenstein does something towards opening up the subject.

What political ideas are held by children between the ages of nine and thirteen? What are the sources of these ideas? Do they vary between sexes? Between social classes? Does early political development relate to adult participation? Finally, what changes have occurred in the content of children’s political learning and what differences does one find in the type of public figure chosen as children’s role-models over the past sixty years?

Predictably, we learn more about socialisation in general than about political socialisation from such an empirical enquiry: the process of sex-typing of individuals in their socialisation; class differences in social training and development, leading in turn to differential manipulative ability in language and ideas – two clusters of observations from child-development literature are borne out by his findings: (i) the superior verbal and scholastic capacity of higher-status children and (ii) their markedly greater intellectual and psychic autonomy – their willingness and ability to express feelings and ideas. The most important implication of this study is its pinpointing of an area of potential social change. It supports the suggestion that the early family socialisation process is one of the most important factors making for resistance to social and political changes. As the state education system seeks to take upon itself more and more of this function (witness the encroachment suggested by Newsom) here might lie a lever for ideological and social change.

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