We are ruled by “isms.” There are political philosophies (conservatism, liberalism), social movements (feminism, anti-fascism, veganism), and various bugaboos (racism, sexism). But where your child falls on the “ism” spectrum is sometimes tricky to parse. Kids repeat what they hear at home and rely heavily on social influences to determine their politics. It’s safe to say that at least some children who walked out of class for gun control will eventually join the NRA. That’s life.
But this doesn’t mean you need to remain in the dark about your child’s future politics. In 2013, Gerard Saucier of the University of Oregon perfected his list of 334 “isms” into a psychometric test that can determine your child’s sociopolitical attitudes. He found that almost all “isms” fall neatly into five general categories: tradition-oriented religiousness (traditional morality is good, changes to social structure are bad), unmitigated self-interest (I want what’s best for me and mine, even at the expense of others), communal rationalism (democracy is a solid system), subjective spirituality (I have spiritual feelings, but not towards a religion), and egalitarianism (inequality is oppression).
If you understand how your child feels about these “isms,” you’re in a good position to understand how they’ll handle the various other “isms” they experience as they go through life. It’s an easy test to give and definitely worth the time.
TheSurvey Of Dictionary-Based “Isms” (SDI-46, Core 25)
Ask your child to answer the following questions with Completely Disagree (0), Slightly Agree (1), Moderately Agree (2), Mostly Agree (3), or Strongly Agree (4). Scoring is a bit tricky. Since almost nobody is a monolith, you’ll want to figure out how much your child falls into each of the five categories above. For tradition-oriented religiousness, add the scores from questions 12 and 19, and then subtract the scores from 2 and 13. For the remaining four categories:
Unmitigated Self-Interest: Add the scores from 5, 7, and 25. Then subtract 10 and 20.
Communal Rationalism: Add 4, 8, 9, and 15. Subtract 16 and 18.
Subjective Spirituality: Add 1, 14, and 17. Subtract 11 and 23.
Egalitarianism: Add 3, 6,and 22. Subtract 21 and 24.
- Enlightenment can be gained through meditation, self-contemplation, and intuition.
- There is no God or gods.
- Wealthy people should have a higher tax rate than poor people.
- Human interests and dignity ought to prevail in our thoughts and actions.
- The pleasures of the senses are the highest good.
- There should be increased social equality.
- Worldly possessions are the greatest good and the highest value in life.
- Society has an innate tendency toward improvement, which can be furthered through conscious human effort.
- Knowledge is the awareness of individual facts and an understanding of the logical relations among these facts.
- People ought to be motivated by something beyond their own self-interest.
- No objects have magical or spiritual powers.
- I adhere to an organized religion.
- I believe in biological evolution.
- I believe in reincarnation – rebirth of the soul in another body.
- I emphasize reason, scientific inquiry, and human fulfilment in the natural world.
- I believe that reason is not a good guide to knowledge and truth.
- Natural objects (and even Nature itself) have conscious life.
- Human society is not capable of being good.
- Religion should play the most important role in civil affairs.
- There is a higher good than the pleasures of the senses.
- People who earn wealth should always have the right to keep it.
- Free market capitalism leads to gross inequalities in income and wealth, which is a great social evil.
- Animals don’t have souls or spirits.
- Capitalism benefits all classes of people and should be preserved.
- Only what is pleasant, or has pleasant consequences, is essentially good.
I Tried Scoring, But It Gave Weird Numbers. Help!
It’ll do that. In his study, Saucier helpfully includes a formula that can convert those raw scores into an average response on a 0-4 scale. Here’s how to do that:
Tradition-Oriented Religiousness: Add 10 to the raw score, and then divide that number by 4.
Unmitigated Self-Interest: Score + 10 / 5
Communal Rationalism: Score + 10 / 6
Subjective Spirituality: Score + 10 / 5
Egalitarianism: Score + 10 / 5
I Don’t Like My Child’s Score. How Do I Change It?
First of all, none of these scores indicate pathological or unethical behavior. Instead, consider the test a way to assess how your child is thinking, and identify ways to help them think more critically about their sociopolitics. There’s nothing wrong with a kid who scores low in egalitarianism—but it might indicate that it’s time for a frank conversation with about minorities and oppression. A high score in unmitigated self-interest isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. But if your kid gets a 4 in that area, try counterbalancing it with a little ethical philosophy.
If you’re truly uncomfortable with some of your child’s sociopolitical positions, your best recourse is probably not to talk about it too much, according to one of the only studies on the subject. Researchers found that parents who insist on their political views at home are more likely to see their children abandon those beliefs in college. It makes sense. If you train your kids to talk about politics, they’re more likely to do so in college—and end up exposed to alternative viewpoints through seminars and political discourse. Parents who seldom talk about politics, however, raise children who keep their own views constant and closer to the vest.