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Gail Damerow is editor of RURAL HERITAGE, a bimonthly journal in support of farming with horses, mules and oxen.
This editorial appeared in the Winter 1999 issue and is used here with permission.

View From My Window

by Gail Damerow

A woman named Judith Rich Harris has written a book called The Nurture Assumption, in which she claims that parents and the environment have no control over shaping children. Nope—our kids' lives are shaped solely by genes and peer pressure. In other words, we might as well throw up our hands in despair.

Yeah, right.

Some years back I had a go-around via the letters-to-the editor section of our local paper. I had written to complain about government airplanes overspraying woodlands with a questionable herbicide to destroy illegal "crops." A local woman rebutted, claiming that spraying was necessary to protect our children. She argued that peer pressure inevitably pushed kids to use illegal drugs and that obviously I knew nothing about peer pressure.

How ridiculous. We're all subject to peer pressure in one form or another. The first time I thought about peer pressure was when I was in high school. My date had brought me to his church dance, to which a youth group from another district had been invited. At the end of the dance all the boys, dressed in their finest suits, suddenly started scrambling around the room picking up empty paper cups and sweeping the floor. In no time the room was spotless. I'd never seen anything like it.

I asked my date to explain what was going on and he told me that the two groups were engaged in an on-going competition to see which could collect the most debris at the end of each dance. Now that's peer pressure. While no adult had given the signal, I couldn't help thinking that this competition had somehow been inspired by the adult leaders.

When I heard about The Nurture Assumption I was reminded of another peer pressure incident, this time involving a high school class that had been dominated by a typical bully who had nothing to offer but fear and dread. One day a new fellow arrived. Of course he was immediately confronted by the bully, whom he instantly decked. Thereafter the class was dominated by the newcomer, who challenged his classmates to excel in both sports and academic matters. Peer pressure. Once again, this fellow's desire to dare his classmates to excel was inspired by the adults who served as role models in his life. How do I know this? Because today the fellow happens to be my husband, the publisher of this journal.

What's that you say? All this is ancient history? Times have changed? Well, look no farther than to the Yankee Teamsters 4-H Working Steer program, described in both our Winter 1999 and Holiday 1998 issues, for a prime example of modern-day peer pressure.

My point is that peer pressure can work for the good, and that caring adults can and should take an active role in seeing that it does.

Response to this editorial by Charles S. Harris

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