Enough of the Socialization Debate
Often one of the first things a homeschooler hears from the uninitiated is concerns about the "socialization" of homeschooled children. It's the kind of thing that makes the homeschooling parent roll their eyes and sigh.
Why? Well, think about your own schooling. Did you go to school to socialize? Were you allowed to chat with a friend in class if you finished your work ahead of others? Here's how Lisa Russell, a homeschooling parent from Tennessee describes her own school experience:
"Having been a reader for almost 2 years, I found the phonics and reading lessons to be incredibly boring. Luckily the girl behind me felt the same way, and when we were done with our silly little worksheets, we would chat back and forth. I've never known two 6 yr. olds who could maintain a quiet conversation, so naturally a ruler-carrying nun interrupted us with a few strong raps on our desk. We were both asked to stay in at recess, and sit quietly in our desks for the entire 25 minutes, because "We are not here to socialize, young ladies."
Well of course, there are sound reasons for this. If some of the kids are chattering, obviously it could be disruptive to other children as they work, and perhaps even struggle with their assignment. So, no socializing in class. And recess? Well sure, that's for socializing.
There are limitations to what the children can do in the limited space and for the brief time allotted, but what your children learn from each other during those daily recesses in the school yard is an ideal social education, right? Or is it? Think about it. So then, is public school the best place to acquire a healthy social education?
Perhaps what children learn from their friends outside the school grounds, and from their siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, as well as the people they encounter in public, has more to do with the overall development of their social skills than what they learn at school.
As Maxine Wolfe, an environmental psychologist at the City of New York University has observed, "Daily life in schools is an unvarying series of events taking place in an endless repetition of similar spaces, built into an unvarying time schedule, all defined by some outside power. The overriding goals of these settings take precedence over children as people... Very little time or space belongs to the child... Spontaneity is viewed as impulsivity, as disruptive to ongoing plans and as expendable in light of more important educational goals..."
All of which is to say that our public school system is tightly structured and has more to do with conformity, than with the development of individual social beings. Of course there are always those great field trips. You had a lot of fun on those, right?
And your kids are allowed a lot of freedom on theirs too, I'm sure. Of course, that's not always the case. For instance, my child, my mother and I went on a field trip to Ste. Marie Among the Hurons on Aboriginal Day, June 21st. There was also a school group of older kids there who were reminded at least twice, and in no uncertain terms, to behave themselves and show some respect while on site, as well as to stay together. These teenagers apparently were not trusted to display acceptable social behaviour without stern reminders.
While they were ushered around the site in a huge, cohesive, yet barely manageable group, my daughter got to explore the things that interested her most, ask questions and interact with the interpreters personally. So, was the visit of the formal class more socially enriching than my child's? I don't think so.
In my experience, the flexibility of homeschooling permits far greater opportunities for kids to interact with many different people, of varying ages and experience, not just to a few kids their own age who are alphabetically close to them.
School, we were told, is supposed to prepare us for life. So flash forward to just how you apply the lessons some of us learned in school. Your employer catches you sending a personal note to a fellow employee via inter-office mail. You are, of course, required to stand up and read that note to everyone at the next business meeting. The boss catches you chewing gum. You have to wear it on your nose the rest of the day or bring enough for everyone to the office tomorrow. Ever been separated from a chum at school? So then it won't surprise you when one day the police come to your house and tell you you're getting too friendly with your neighbour, so you have to pack up and move across town right away.
OK, these are somewhat absurd examples, but you get the idea. I'm not saying kids don't learn valuable lessons in school, I am merely pointing out that there are limitations in social learning due to class sizes and priorities that don't apply to life outside an educational institution. Sure, homeschooled kids have to pay attention to their lessons, but because lessons don't take as long on a one-on-one basis as with a large, diverse group, homeschoolers actually have more opportunities for life-learning, and valuable socialization in the community.
Of course, there are also some down-sides to homeschooling. We pay school taxes too, but they don't cover the cost of school supplies. These come out of our own budgets. Some people, myself included, homeschool because of the special learning, emotional, and/or physical needs of our child(ren) which can complicate life, no matter which way we go. Which is to say that homeschooling is not for everyone, and I'm not suggesting it is. I just think it's time to lay to rest that ridiculous argument that socialization is somehow a problem for homeschooled kids, because it just isn't so.