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Objections to Homeschooling II September 19, 2007

Posted by Laura in Faith, Family, Homeschooling.
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What about “socialization”?

 
Let’s begin with definitions of the term.  Here are some from dictionary.com:

 

socialization-  1.  a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity

                             and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to  

                             his or her social position

2.      the adoption of the behavior patterns of the surrounding culture; “the

                              socialization of children to the norms of their culture”

 

socialize-  1.  to make fit for companionship with others; make sociable

2.      to convert or adapt to the needs of society

 

To be truthful about it, some of these definitions make me very uneasy.  The idea that my children should “acquire personal identity” or “adopt the behavior patterns of the surrounding culture” sets my teeth on edge.  We certainly hope that neither happens.  Paul tells us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”  (Romans 12:2)  To me, that means the “norms, values, behavior” etc. of our culture should NOT be the standards to which we aspire.

While these definitions are worth careful consideration, I don’t think that they quite get at the heart of what detractors of homeschooling mean when they say that children outside of the mainstream classroom won’t be “well socialized.”  I believe that their concern is that homeschooled children will lack the ability to interact “normally” with their peers and adults.  They somehow think that not being in an overcrowded classroom means that they won’t get out of the house or interact with others.  The detractors imagine that homeschooled children will be unable to carry on conversations, make eye contact, and read nonverbal cues.  My personal experience has been much the opposite.

I cannot say that I have never encountered a homeschooled child who is painfully shy, lacks manners, or has trouble making friends.  But I can personally say that I have found the rate of those problems to be lower among homeschoolers than in the general population. 

In my years in public and private schools, I saw a lot of things.  I had all kinds of personality types in my classroom.  And I saw a good bit of what I would consider “poor social skills,” so being one of many in a classroom isn’t a panacea.

We are members of a county-wide homeschool group that gets together for field trips, cook-outs, art programs, spelling bee type events, and so on.  We also participate in a once-a-week enrichment and tutorial group (I teach two classes while our children take a wide range of wonderful courses- more on that later).  Contrary to what many worry about, the homeschooled children I have come in contact with handle these social situations quite well.  In fact, their manners and interpersonal skills almost always exceed the average children I encounter in public. 

I suppose that opponents assume that homeschooled children are rarely around their peers if their academic work is done at home.  I can’t really think of many homeschoolers of which this is true.  At the very least, they are at church in Sunday school, Awana, and similar programs at least once a week.  They also have regular get-togethers with other homeschoolers at the park, on bike trails, or at playgrounds.  Quite a few are involved in some recreation league sport like soccer.  Many take lessons in horseback riding, musical instruments, or dance.  And let’s not forget things like 4-H and Boy/Girl Scouts.  I know I feel like we spend a lot of time involved in activities that require me to pack everyone up and drive for 30 minutes.  There is no shortage of opportunities for children these days.  The greater challenge seems to be limiting activities to a reasonable number.

So, what makes a child “well socialized”?  And if it is constantly being in a very large group that makes a child “normal,” then why are there any children in our schools with problems?

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Comments»

1. Amy - September 19, 2007

I find it perplexing that people almost always use the phrase “socialization of children” in a positive way. As if it is something to be desired. More often than not I see socialization as a negative, a systematic approach that robs children of their innocence and forces them into conformity.

What is wrong with a child that is shy, meek, soft-spoken? Do we all have to develop type A personalities to be accepted in society? And if it is our goal to draw out hesitant children, why do we assume throwing them into a large group of kids is the answer? In my experience, that has the opposite effect. True, it may harden them, but in my opinion that is not a desirable outcome.

While children are young, they need gentle encouragement and praise in a supportive environment. They need to master basic skills without interference. Intense competition, pressure to fit in and bullying can be very detrimental to the learning process.

Limiting a child’s scope for interaction to his of her peer group is not natural and does not prepare them for the world at large. It does cause some real problems. If the only feedback you get as a child is from your peers you will tend to develop self esteem issues and place an inordinately high value on popular culture. Who in the adult world works in an environment where the employees are comprised entirely of their own age group? Shouldn’t we prize the mentoring we receive from older co-workers and the enthusiasm and freshness of younger ones? Diversity includes age.

Think back to when you were a child. In my school I saw all the adults as authority figures with the power to punish, not as friends or mentors. Sure there were a few teachers or bus drivers we all liked, but typically not because of the positive impact they were having on our development, it was usually because they allowed us to get away with something.

Now imagine the relationships homeschooling fosters between children and adults. Homeschooled children have the opportunity to interact with adults in positive ways. They may have a part in a community theater production, participate in scouting, volunteer at an animal rescue or be a candy-striper at the hospital. Getting in involved in community service organizations, scouting, sporting leagues, etc. provides real-world experience that our education system cannot reproduce through field trips and role-play.

With critical analysis it becomes apparent that learning at home, in the family environment and in the community is the optimal situation. Schools and classrooms are artificial. I don’t want to teach my kids to check the boxes and fill in the blanks to get a good grade. I want them to actually learn and understand the natural relationships in the world around them. I want them to have a purpose and passion for life not just complete a long list of required classes to get a piece of paper. I want them to engage the world not become a cog in some soul-less conglomerate.

2. chickenmama - September 19, 2007

You have such great insight! I hadn’t really thought lately about how we push all children to conform, even in matters of personality. Some children are just quiet and introspective by temperament and there is nothing wrong with that! It isn’t necessarily a matter of social opportunities or school choices- God has just made us to be unique individuals.

I didn’t address the bullying and negative parts of the large group schooling, but I’m glad you brought them up. I myself was painfully shy and felt awful about myself through my private schooling until the bullies went elsewhere. Then I really bloomed once I wasn’t constantly belittled (even becoming class president and so on).

How true that mentoring by people of different backgrounds, ages, and experiences helps us learn so much more than just being surrounded by peers! And it certainly is more like the adult working world our children will find when they graduate.

In a future posting, I want to return to your points about engaging in learning and not just “checking the boxes.” I agree with you that the modes of learning and assessment vehicles in schools leave a lot to be desired.

Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts.

3. Renae - September 20, 2007

Thank you for visiting my blog. I am always interested to read others’ reasons for choosing home education.

Your points about socialization very good. Recently we visited family. When we came into the room full of people my son doesn’t remember, he immediately walked over and gave everyone a hug while reminding them he was nine now. My cousin said, “How did you get such a sweet boy?” I just smiled and said, “Thank you.”

4. Grams - September 22, 2007

You all make excellent points!
And I’m happy to add that Benjamin and Rachel are sweet children, too.
(I’m not a bit prejudiced, either. :~)

5. Sheryl - October 17, 2007

Laura, these are all such good points. Sadly, Amy’s comments about the roles of adults in her childhood really ring true for me, too. I can only think of a few of my elementary through high school teachers who didn’t rule by intimidation or shame. I didn’t see them as supportive and I wonder how my motivation to simply avoid embarrassment and judgement affected my learning ability and self esteem. But I have to cut them a little slack. Just as you have pointed out, it’s hard to teach 25 to 30 kids.
And the other kids… Yeah, peer groups are essential, but shouldn’t be where kids get their identity dictated to them by a “pecking order” that might supersede or preclude their success. People who don’t understand that probably weren’t ever shy or unsure of themselves as children. They were at the top, or at least in a desirable spot in the pecking order and probably feel that if you’re shy and meek you should get used to knowing your place because that’s the way the world works.

6. Leigh - October 24, 2007

Well put. I used to tell folks who raised the socialization issue, that socialization was the reason I chose to homeschool! After they gave me puzzled looks, I went on to explain the differences and outcomes between peer socialization and community socialization. If they still weren’t convinced, then I challenged them to go spend 45 minutes in a high shool parking lot, listening and observing those kids.

I know I’m just jumping in unannounced on an older post, but I’ve been surfing links this morning and this post struck a chord.

7. not convinced - January 23, 2008

For every point you made, there is an equally valid opposition that i feel you chose to not concess.

You mentioned music lessons as a form of socialization… what music lessons do you bring your children to? All of my music lessons in years past had been private and 1:1.

I feel that socialization is a very influential component with children in their development. Without daily contact with other children, one does not learn the necessary facts of life, such as sharing and promoting equality. I understand that your children will leanr to share with eachother, but it is completely different when it comes to being with other kids.

Cubscouts and girlscouts hardly contitutes enough physical contact. How can meeting (atmost) once a week with peers be enough?

I work with a childcare provider. I know the affect of children that had not gone to nursery/pre-school and it’s influence on their behavior when it comes to social settings.

As an observer, it appears that you think your children can do no worng. What do you think Benjamin, Rachel, and Lydia are going to do when they realize that things don’t always go their way? Do they even have any friends that they play with on a regualr basis?

It seems that your ‘curriculum’ is heavily reliant on your children’s desires.

I hope you realize how your children are going to look back on their childhood, and realize how much they’ve missed out. Have you asked them if they rather go to public (or private) school? If they wanted to, would you let them?

8. not convinced - January 23, 2008

In response to Amy, I would like to add that i find it incredibly sad that you felt threatened and insecure around adults as a child.

I went to great elementary schools where we called our teachers by their first names. As students, we learned with our teachers, and were taught very kindly.

Being a parent is being a teacher. However I feel there is a distinct difference between growing up, and academic settings that needs to be adressed.

9. Laura - January 24, 2008

You have every right to your opinion, as we do to ours- that is one of the things that makes this country the only place we’d want to live.

We don’t mind some stimulating dialogue, especially because it spurs us to make sure we really know why we make the choices we do. We ask that comments and questions be made in a polite way and in a spirit of kindness, though.

We know every evening as we gather around the dinner table that our decision to homeschool has been the right one. The family time we spend together is unmarred by disrespectful and crude comments, jokes made at other’s expense, and so on. The norm for our children has been more like the one our own parents’ generation grew up with- Biblical influence, strong ties to family, a good work ethic, personal responsibility, and so on. We have been around few families (besides other homeschoolers) who share our values and behavioral expectations. It has been our experience that we have to be quite cautious about getting to know our children’s friends (and their parents!) because the average child nowadays has little supervision and exposure to far more than they are capable of dealing with. There are plenty of studies available that bear out our concerns, but this is not the place for that.

You seem very sure that my children have almost no contact with their peers. I assure you that is not the case. I may not have made myself clear on that point. Our children are enrolled in quite a few activities and have plenty of friends. A typical week includes Cub/Daisy Scouts, our day-long homeschool enrichment group (where I also teach, but not my own children), 4-H, a homeschool group field trip (to a play, museum, participatory art event, skating, etc), Tae Kwon Do, gymnastics, soccer, and church at least once. All of those activities involve other children- some homeschooled, some not. In addition, both of our older children are invited to spend the night away at least once a month or they have friends over here. They are not lacking for peer contact.

Having said that, I should add that I feel the above list is too getting too long. I feel our family time is getting too fragmented and hurried as the children get older.

I used to work in daycare and in public and private schools. I know the lack of social skills from which you think our children must suffer. In my years of teaching, I encountered a number of children that couldn’t read social cues, hadn’t developed a sense of appropriate behavior, and so on. Yes, that can come in part from too little peer interaction, but it can also be personality related, influenced by parenting style, or even early signs of Asperger Syndrome. To say that not being in “regular” school will cause a child to have social problems is an incorrect generalization.

I’m not sure why you would say that we think our children can do no wrong. That is not the case. We have high expectations and well-understood consequences for misbehavior. We just don’t happen to list our children’s infractions on our blog for all the world to read. The intention is to celebrate the blessings God has given us- on this blog, namely family and farm. The slice of our lives you see here is only that.

You mentioned our “curriculum” (you used quotation marks like we ought not to call our learning a curriculum) seems heavily reliant on our children’s desires. You are partly right. Actually, what we study is well-researched on my my part, but also (mostly) appeals to our children.

I have both an undergraduate and graduate degree in Education. Having many years experience in both public and private schools, I have a good idea what goes on there. In addition, I have compiled lists of classical education topics and goals for each grade level. I would recommend a few books for lay people- Hirsch’s What Your First Grader (one for each grade) Needs To Know series and Bennett’s The Educated Child for starters. The public schools I have known (and some private, too) are not coming close to providing such a well-rounded education.

As to your accusation that our children will look back on their childhood and feel we’ve made them miss out on so much, I have my doubts. What exactly are they being cheated out of? A mediocre education? Bullying? Peer pressure to experiment with illegal drugs? They wake each morning excited about the new day, not dreading school and inventing illnesses to get out of it. They work at their own paces, sometimes finishing an hour or so after lunch, sometimes nearly dinner time. We spend hours a day reading and talking together. They play outside, enjoy their animals, plant gardens, work alongside us, invent obstacle courses, construct things with Legos, put on puppet shows, go to the library, compete in 4-H, learn guitar, build forts- the list goes on and on. It seems like a pretty wonderful life to me.

Maybe you didn’t read the whole series I wrote, but Benjamin did go to public school for a year and a half. Though he enjoyed it in some respects, he is glad to be homeschooled now and has no desire to go back- especially each time we pass his old school on the way to some field trip destination and he knows those kids are sitting in desks all day.

We do think that it’s important to learn to deal with other authority figures, get along with diverse personalities, and so on. That is one of the reasons we have them enrolled in the classes and activities we do. We just don’t think the public school system has proven itself to be a worthwhile alternative to the education we can provide them ourselves.

I’m so glad you had such a great elementary school experience. You are so very blessed. I don’t think you can assume that your experience is the norm, though. Beyond that, you must keep in mind that what God calls one to do is not necessarily what He calls others to do. I know that God is not calling all my Christian friends to take their kids out of public schools because then there would be no “salt and light” left there- the schools would be truly lost then. I don’t look down on family and friends who choose not to homeschool. My background and God-given gifts allow me to do this while I know it is not right for everyone.

If you have more questions or comments in the future, we ask that you show respect and consideration, especially toward the other people who have chosen to comment. It isn’t necessary that you agree with the views shared, but unkind postings will be removed.

10. Amy - January 24, 2008

Not Convinced-

I would like to say that I too had music lessons growing up. Eight years of lessons as a matter of fact. My normal lesson was taught one on one with the teacher, however there usually were other students around, particularly the student whose lesson was after mine. She was also my duet partner so we practiced together with our teacher after our individual lessons. Our mothers also became friends and we traveled to out of state music competitions together, even sharing hotel rooms. Then once a week we had band practice with around 15 of our teacher’s other students. So yes, I found music to be social. Especially in band when we are all were learning together and supporting each other as we made mistakes.

Looking back on life I had three groups of friends: my music friends, my neighborhood friends and my school friends. You see I went to a magnet school that drew kids from all over the metro. Some of my neighbors went to public school and some went to the nearby Catholic school. So in my neighborhood most of the kids went to different schools. Hence, neighborhood friends and school friends were not the same group of kids. Most of what I learned about relationships, sharing, resolving disagreements,etc. was learned at home with my neighborhood friends, and some from my school friends. My point is, even if Laura’s kids don’t have school friends, they will have close playmates somewhere else. They will learn about relationships and how to get along with others.

-Amy


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