Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Socialization and Homeschool

The BIGGEST thing opponents of homeschooling bring up is a vague issue they've heard about elsewhere and quote randomly without really knowing what it means: "How will your children be properly socialized?"

In other words, "homeschooled kids don't act like public school kids, and that makes me uncomfortable. Also, won't they grow up to be weird adults, too?"

Usually I say, "Most homeschool families get their kids out of the house into interest-, age-, and talent-based social groups all the time, and research shows that homeschooled children grow up to be better socialized adults--more involved in their communities, more likely to work and enjoy it, more likely to vote and volunteer--than other children do."

But my answer the shortened version of what I actually think, and that has three main parts to it.

1. Just taking the sheer numbers, there are more public-schooled kids and adults who are weird than homeschooled children and adults. It's just that for some reason the "weird" homeschoolers seem to stand out more. I think it's because, given a group of ten children, if ONE is weird, you notice. Given a group of a hundred children, if only 10 are weird, you really are so busy with the other 90 that you don't see the ten. The  homeschooling population is smaller, so that even if the percentages of weird vs nonweird are the same, it doesn't "show" the same way. "Weirdness" is tied up so much in personality, genetics, and culture that you can't really attribute it to homeschooling. Besides, who's to say which came first--some kids are homeschooled BECAUSE they were "weird" (have ADD, autism, or Tourette's Syndrome, or a physical, emotional, or intellectual disability, have OCD, are overweight, are religious--lots of Christians and lots of Muslims homeschool--are different from other kids for a number of reasons, or are just plain gifted intellectually or artistically) and were being mistreated for it, not the other way around.

Also, what makes someone "weird"?  Lots of homeschooled children come across as weird because they are polite, considerate of children who are of other ages, and are (gasp!) comfortable talking to adults. They also tend to be excited about learning or about their hobbies and willing to express that, and they're a little more emotionally honest, which sometimes is surprising to people who are used to working with kids who have been emotionally beaten into hiding their real thoughts and feelings by the end of first grade. Some tend to be more open about their religions or otherwise seem to have a strong moral, intellectual, or ideological center (whether religious or not). I would submit that "weird" usually just means "not what I expected," and that some things we don't expect are not bad.

2.  What is the point of socialization? What does it mean to be properly socialized? (See, nobody asks the naysayers this, and many don't know the answer.)  To me, properly socialized means that a person can interact with society in a way that is mutually beneficial, meaningful and appropriate, and that allows the person to eventually become an active, contributing member of our society (socially, politically, etc.), with friends, family, and a job that allows them to support their family. It DOESN'T mean, "Blends in nicely and knows how to act just like other kids." Serious, scholarly research supports the conclusion that homeschool is actually BETTER for socializing children (making them functioning members of society) than public schools.

3. (This is the answer I hear from other homeschooling moms when we're just talking to each other). If you want your child to learn algebra, do you give them a math book (but no answer key) and sit them in a room of other children, who then teach each other their own version of what algebra is? No. That's a ludicrous idea.   But that is what we're doing to our kids socially in public schools.

Public schools don't allow children to interact with adults almost at all, and they don't allow children to interact with each other in a meaningful, natural way in a supervised setting. All the "socialization" that takes place in public schools happens in locker rooms, lunch breaks, and recess and is minimally supervised by people who have proper, well-developed social skills. So what you end up with is a bunch of kids making it up--they're teaching each other what they think is the right way to interact. The inexperienced "natural man" is teaching instead of a more refined, skilled, and conscious teacher.

How many moms have complained (or observed) that their kindergartner came home after the first day (or week) and was a different person? What I hear is the child has become, within a week, more brash, disobedient, louder, crass, selfish, judgmental, and bossy (or, alternately, quiet, shy, embarrassed, apologetic, and lacking in confidence and joy). They are also more inclined to pick on other children and distrust adults, more hesitant to try something new or get excited by anything other than the latest media-driven fads. Why would you want that?

From my observations (and I not only went to pubic schools, I taught school for many years), children in public schools learn social skills that their parents spend hours desperately trying to help them un-learn, and that actually hinder the child in work, school, and real-life social interactions.

This so-called "proper" socialization includes kids teaching each other to be catty, selfish, rude, crude, sneaky. It teaches that adults are not to be trusted or confided in (and in fact should be avoided), that kids older than you are scary and kids younger than you are dumb. It teaches that a person's value and potential for contribution to society are firmly revealed by their appearance, that people can never change, that bullying is okay, that sneaking, lying, and manipulating are good. It teaches that conformity is ideal and non-conformity is evil and to be dealt with swiftly and firmly.  It teaches that smart is bad, that excelling is embarrassing, and that laziness is the way to go. It teaches kids how to get away with doing as little as possible (in groups, on assignments, in life). It teaches kids not to finish things, that work is bad, that learning is boring or tedious, that public approval is God. It teaches boys that they can't have feelings and that violence is good, and teaches girls that their physical appearance determines their value, and that haughtiness and putting others down (including adults) is acceptable. It teaches children to be irreverent and disrespectful (and, in fact, teaches that respect means fear, which it doesn't). It teaches children intolerance and entitlement. It teaches that your value is extrinsic, instead of intrinsic. It teaches that bodies are for stimulating and showing off, and that sex and sexiness is good and commonplace, even among children. It teaches that politeness is embarrassing, and sensationalism is exciting, that religion is foolish and the media accurately portrays what life should be like. It teaches that having stuff is more important than doing stuff, and that badges are more important than kindness (and, in fact, that kindness is embarrassing). It teaches people to be "good enough" (by society's self-set standards) and not really try to reach your potential, discover and develop talents (other than artistic or musical talents), or stretch yourself to learn, grow, and accomplish. It teaches a false value system, that leaves some kids with unrealistically inflated egos and others with unrealistically deflated self-esteem, and all believing that "status" matters and defines who we are and our value and potential. Kids teach each other lies about themselves and others, about "discovering who you are," about how people should interact with each other.

Most of the behaviors taught as "proper socialization" are included in lists of emotionally abusive behaviors, including belittling, mocking, bullying, "mean girl" actions, manipulations, dishonesty, "gentle teasing," "constructive criticism."

Often I read that the long-term prognosis for childhood disorders like ADD and Tourettes is good except for life-long side effects of the way the children are treated in school, including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, lack of motivation, etc. The so-called "proper" socialization is actively destroying kids who are "different" (through no fault of their own) for their entire lives.  Why would I want that for my kid, both if they are different or are taught to notice and care about difference--even if they aren't outright mocking it?

You think that all the things employers complain about young employees comes from proper socialization? You think the bullying problems that are finally being acknowledge (but that have been epidemic for decades) are a result of proper socialization? You think the failing social structure of the teens in our nation (with sex, drugs, gangs, violence, crime, etc) are the result of proper socialization? You think the disintegrating families, increasing racism and bigotry, and belittling of all things religious are the result of "proper socialization"? I think not.

To me, sending your child to a public school to be "properly socialized" is like sending a juvenile offender to an adult prison to teach them how to be an active, functioning part of society. From other, more experienced criminals. (Prison, I have been told by people who have lived there, is a place where criminals learn from each other how to not get caught next time.)

Why would I want that?

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