Agents of Socialization actually contribute to political socialization. There is no agreement about which agent is most important. The impact of different agents varies during an individual’s life.These agents interact, producing a strong set of beliefs when they agree and confusion when they disagree.
The Family As Agent of Socialization
For thousands of years students of politics considered the family the incubator of political man. They assumed that families provided the initial and longest lasting political-social education and that they therefore had to be concerned with family values as the first step toward their preferred political systems. Increasingly in the last two centuries other influences have competed with the family, introducing children to information, values, and ideas different from those inculcated within the family. In many instances this has created painful cross-pressures in which people are torn in different directions. A “generation gap” conflict over values may result from these cross-pressures. Nevertheless, the family is extremely important.
Our first political and politically relevant learning occurs within the family. Most of this learning is informal, unintentional, and often subconscious. Families initially provide everything necessary for a child to survive and grow—food, shelter, affection, and social interaction. Because of this, families influence basic personality development and have great influence on acquisition of nonpolitical but politically relevant values. Children’s basic personality orientation, such as capacity for trust and cooperation, receives its initial development within the family. Politically relevant ideas and values, such as proper conduct or orientation to authority, rules, and obedience, also develop within the family. Certain family characteristics. such as hierarchical, authoritarian family structure, may dispose people to obedience of author-ity figures and a tendency to tyrannize those they consider inferior.
SCHOOLS As Agent of Socialization
Though a great deal of informal and unconscious learning occurs in school, the school political socialization process is much more formal, conscious, and intentional than in the family. Schools are conscious societal instruments for transmission of desired values, information, and norms. In terms of helping people acquire necessary political-social tools, insuring inter-generational continuity, and providing a forum for value change, schools are among the most important socialization agents. They reinforce other agents while directly contributing to socialization. In adult life, level of education is highly correlated with political participation. In terms of transmitting political information and values and in developing politically relevant skills, schools have a greater impact than the family. They may serve to overcome some student differences that result from family differences by socializing children to a common citizenship behavior norm. By the time they reach high school, most children in Europe and North America have a fairly clear idea of the formal institutional structure of their political systems and of what citizen roles will be expected of them as adults.
In many parts of the world schools have become battlegrounds, as linguistic, cultural, and religious groups seek to control and use them to maintain their special values or separate identities. Everywhere schools transmit information and values. Either to reinforce or change these values, parents and political leaders are concerned with the content of what schools teach, because that content will be an important factor in determining how the next generation will think, feel, and act.
PEER GROUPS As Agent of Socialization
Peer groups refer to clusters of people with similar status and often similar inter-ests. They are made up of people with close ties, persons who know and admire each other, such as close friends, colleagues, neighbors. small clubs. and informal associates. On an informal basis children and adults learn a great deal from their peers. Through frequent interaction they learn other people’s values and ideas. Peer groups help people develop a sense of worth and are important in defining our personalities. Friends exchange ideas and information with each other, helping to shape their views of the outside world. Because people want to be liked, and if con-tact with a group is stable, people often modify their values and behavior to fit those of the people with whom they interact. This is especially true during adolescence, when contact with people of the same age probably shapes behavior more than any other factor.
Mass Media As Agent of Socialization
Ever since the invention of printing opened the possibility of communicating a mes-sage to large numbers of people, the mass media have had an increasingly important impact on politics and political socialization In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the spread of cheap periodicals opened increasingly literate middle and working classes to influences from outside their immediate environments and helped make mass participation, as well as manipulation of the masses, possible. About the turn of this century movies made it possible to present complex visual images, and by the early 1920s radio made it possible to convey simultaneously the same message to millions. Today television makes it possible to present complex messages to tens of millions. In the United States children start to view television at about age two. In the primary grades children watch an average of 15 to 25 hours of television a week, with the number of hours tapering off in high school. By age 18 the average American child will have spent more hours watching television than in the classroom?, The important question is, what impact does this have?.
Television also focuses on the more spectacular aspects of politics, such as national conventions, wars, and summit conferences, and obscures the day-to-day activities of regulatory agencies, local politics, interest groups, and compromise and consensus building that make government possible. This focus may encourage feelings of being a spectator only, while at the same time “teaching” some groups that the way to instant recognition is through an action that will get them national news coverage. Moreover, television may help to create new political demands by illustrating alternatives; portraying some kinds of political-social behavior while ignoring others; and by focusing on a few highly visible people, such as presidents and prime ministers, to the exclusion of the majority of people involved in government. Television’s exact impact is unknown. It is changing our image of the world, however, and that makes it important to students of political socialization.
TRAUMA AND CHANGE”
Trauma and sociopolitical economic changes many disrupt people’s lives, producing a gap between values and the institutions that embody and support them. Old values no longer seem to fit altered situations. New institutions or new practices seem to undermine or discredit long-established values. War, depression, revolution, immigration, and major changes in government have an impact on the world and people’s image of it. Each of these may force a change in values and institutions.
They affect political socialization by forcing changes in established attitudes or by introducing new content into the political socialization process. Other types of change are less obvious. Despite the most elaborate socialization processes, inter-generational change is common in active, vital societies. Each generation (which may be as short as five years in rapidly changing societies) experiences new events that condition its perception of the validity of older values and institutions or of whether institutions should be changed to conform to dominant values. Experience with economic hardship, especially at a fairly young age, may shift permanently people’s loyalty to the party they perceive as eliminating that hardship. Such experience also may lead to emphasis on security from want, perhaps materialism, which a later generation, not knowing hunger, will decry. Experience in war may confirm one generation’s belief in its political values, as in World War II. It may shake an-other generation’s beliefs. as in Vietnam, because of the lack of congruence be-tween “defense” of those values and war aims.