The next time your child argues with you about an eleven plus answer you could relate the tale of Mr. S.E. Asch – who was an American psychologist in the early fifties. He asked a small group of volunteers to match up comparison lines with a standard line. For a while there would be agreement, then all the subjects but one changed their minds and insisted that a line that was obviously shorter was a perfect match.
What had happened was that one person was telling the truth and the rest were lying. The lone objector was under pressure to change his mind and move towards agreeing with the majority. A number of the volunteers did doubt their own judgements and agree to change their minds.
Your eleven plus child announces: “But I still don’t understand.”
You explain the whole process again.
The head is shaken again – along with a low grumbled mutter.
You try again – this time using a different approach – and different examples.
“No – I don’t get it.”
You try for the third time and at the end of the explanation you say: “You see?”
You child says: “Now I understand.”
Your mind wanders. Is there real comprehension? Does your child really understand what you are saying? Is your child simply trying to shut you up to avoid hearing it all again?
Your mind wanders again. You recall a conversation in the playground where one mother was complaining that her son chose his friends from the rougher elements of the class. She told the other mothers that she had asked her son why he played with these rather disreputable characters. He told her that if he played with the boys who did well academically, he would be pilloried and teased. He felt that he should conform.
We can see how peer pressure can encourage a child to behave badly or in an inappropriate manner, we can see too how too much repetition can lead a child to agreeing in desperation.
All is, however, not lost. Readers of the Telegraph in the early eighties will remember the correspondence in the letters column about the proverb: “Barking dogs never bite.” A canvassing candidate had arrived at a house were an Alsatian was barking ferociously. The candidate was told that she could go in because `barking dogs never bite’.
“Yes,” said the candidate, “I know the proverb, you know the proverb – but does the dog know the proverb?”