Conversations on Teaching and Learning in a Networked World
Originally appeared 6/12/12 on www.raisingautodidacts.com
A question that all homeschoolers have been asked at least once is whether or not their children are being adequately socialized.
You have to understand that this tends to make us a little cranky. Homeschooling is verging on becoming mainstream -- the socialization question is becoming as obsolete as the school system that supposedly offers these all important social opportunities -- besides, it's time to ask a different question.
Let me digress and share a little anecdote. A few months ago I attended a casual social gathering. Many of the people there I had met before, but only briefly. Somehow the fact that we homeschool came up in the conversation. One of the women at the party actually asked me (in all seriousness) if we allowed our kids to play with other children. Did I miss a Dateline special? I really thought the days of people thinking that homeschoolers lock their kids in the basement was over. I guess not.
A couple of years ago I decided to stop defending the idea that my kids are well-socialized. Up until this time, I would rush to assure folks that my boys were signed up for scads of extra-curricular activities that allowed them to be around "other children" on a daily or near-daily basis -- that their day was not solely limited to "Mommy and Me" time.
And then a funny thing happened on my way to further enlightenment on the subject. I started observing "socialized" children -- children that spent several hours per day with their peers (and a few select adults) and I began to wonder what all the fuss was about. I wanted to understand more about what this word "socialization" meant.
According to Wikipedia, the theory of socialization is as follows:
Socialization is the means by which human infants begin to acquire the skills necessary to perform as a functioning member of their society, and is the most influential learning process one can experience. Unlike other living species, whose behavior is biologically set, humans need social experiences to learn their culture and to survive. Although cultural variability manifests in the actions, customs, and behaviors of whole social groups (societies), the most fundamental expression of culture is found at the individual level. This expression can only occur after an individual has been socialized by his or her parents, family, extended family, and extended social networks. This reflexive process of both learning and teaching is how cultural and social characteristics attain continuity.
A few things struck me. The first was this; "...the most fundamental expression of culture is found at the individual level." This would seem to indicate that socialization starts with an individual, not within a group. Additionally, "This expression can only occur after an individual has been socialized by his or her parents, family, extended family, and extended social networks." Gee. Parents, family, and extended family are listed before extended social networks. So maybe sending the kiddies off to school at two and half years old isn't the best idea we've ever had as a society.
The alledged "socialized" children I have had the opportunity to observe often have difficulty looking an adult in the eye. When with their peers, they seem physically out of control -- unaware of boundaries, lacking respect for personal physical space. I'm not the only one who sees this as problematic. According to an article (Ten signs you need a different kind of education for your child) by founder and director of the Alternative Education Resource Center, Jerry Mintz, children have lost the ability to communicate with a broader group of children and adults. They have been "socialized" to interact only within a specific peer group.
This leads to me share another anecdote. You must excuse my naivete, but apparently a local school actually controls who gets to use the outdoor areas on any given day. In other words, boys and girls are "allowed out" on different days, in case someone happens to "not get along." I found this out over the weekend in chatting with a friend at a sporting event (I was out "socializing" my kids) and I remarked to my friend that middle school sounds a lot like prison. She did not disagree.
Just about every developed and industrialized country agrees that the current model of education is extinct. Unfortunately, "education reform" isn't going to cut it. Only radical, ground-breaking, gut-wrenching change is going to shake us out of our slumber. I reject the idea of "socializing" children through mass instruction. What we really want is civilized children (it's only fair that we look that one up, too.) According to Merriam-Webster.com, the definition of civilized is; "characteristic of a state of civilization em>civilized society>;especially : characterized by taste, refinement, or restraint."
When well-meaning and questioning people ask me if I am worried about my kids being socialized, I tell them I'm not at all concerned. That it's not a problem for us. And then I say to myself, "thank God, they aren't."