There are two perspectives with regards to cultural transmission and the processes underlying children’s learning of domestic and subsistence skills. The first perspective is associated with studies that place the burden of skills and their acquisition upon the child who picks them up through exploration, observation, imitation, play, interaction with peers, and participation with others. Experts in the field state that through this perspective, children look at parents and other experts as role models worthy of imitation, but not necessarily as teachers.
The second perspective is associated with studies that draw upon interview data. and assigns great importance to parents as teachers who transmit essential skills and knowledge to their children. This perspective is a more recent trend that elevates teaching to a critical role in the transmission of vital skills and information, as opposed to the ethnographic emphasis placed upon self-initiated learning in the first perspective.
Three comprehensive models that propose to account for the most likely means by which children become competent include the Learning by Observing and Pitching In model, the Cultural Acquisition Device model, and the Natural Pedagogy model. Each model proposes different means by which children learn skills and acquire competency. In a study performed by B. B. Whiting and J. M. Whiting (1975), researchers found that “…skills are more likely to come from observation than from instruction. It should not be assumed that parents play an entirely passive role in the socialization process. It is in the assignment of tasks and the punishment of disobedience rather than…deliberate instruction or rewarding and punishing specific behaviors that they [i.e., parents] have the greatest effect.”
These research ideas pose the notion that perhaps teaching children isn’t necessarily what causes them to learn, but that they learn because of the rewards and punishments they receive for their performance in a task after being taught that idea or task. For example, children, when told to walk single file, may not learn discipline due to being taught that it creates order, but rather they learn the discipline through the rewards they receive or punishments that are dished out to them for lack of obedience.
What roles do teaching and learning play in a child’s life when the child is raised without parents or with poor parenting skills?
In my adolescence, I learned things like manners through watching the rewards people receive in society for having good manners. At a young age, I would imitate gentlemanly behaviors because I appreciated the way in which those behaviors were received by others. I decided on my own that I wanted to be treated in a specific manner in return for my behaviors, so I adopted behaviors that would reward me with that type of treatment. What about children who grow up in a society that doesn’t particularly reward good behaviors, abstractly or materially? How would children in such a society learn how to behave civilly and in a manner that is conducive to their social wellness?
Whiting, Beatrice B., and John W. Whiting. “Children of six cultures: A psycho-cultural analysis.” (1975).