Monday, 1 October 2012
Why we homeschool 2# Socialisation
Following on from my last rant (erm, I mean, post) "why we homeschool" about my surprise at the interest that our family's decision to homeschool has attracted within our family, our circles of friends and our wider community in general, I will try to articulate some of the finer points throughout the next few posts as to; why we have decided to continue homeschooling after our three month 'trial' period, what home schooling means to us, and our personal answers to the main questions that we are asked on a regular (sometimes weekly) basis;
"What about socialisation? - children need to be around other children their age"
"How do you know that your children aren't behind other children?"
"how can you stand to be around your children all day every day?" (yes, I am actually asked this, and it is quite regularly!)
Now, before I attempt to answer some of these questions, I will stipulate that these are my personal opinions on why I am choosing to home school my children right now. They are true for our family though may be completely irrelevant for yours.
The opinions that I have about what is right for my family may not be right for your family, and if you are a parent who cannot home school for financial/ personal reasons, or does not ever wish to home school, then I am completely without judgement of your decisions, as every family is different, and you are the expert in your own life :-)
The very first question that I am often asked (like many home schoolers) about home schooling is "what about socialisation?". When I am asked this, I am often not sure if the person is addressing the issue of our children having the opportunity to socialise with (i.e. meet up with, and enjoy the company of) other children, or if they are talking about the socialisation of our children as responsible and thoughtful members of the greater community. So I will address both.
What is socialisation?
By definition, socialisation is defined as 'helping someone to grow up to be an accepted member of the community' and by this definition, my thoughts are that taking children out of the artificial, heavily legislated environment of institutionalised learning can very well be the perfect opportunity to increase their skills in socialisation. That is, in learning to be a thoughtful and responsible member of the community.
Whereas in school, children are grouped into categories based on their ages and gender (i.e. most of the day is spent with children their own age, and friend groups are further divided into not only age groups, but groups of children who are born in the same year and are of the same gender) home school does not limit socialisation in this way.
Are children learning socialisation in school?
In school, children learn how to operate within a dictatorship, where there are unequal power balances which are not ranked by intelligence or worthiness, but by age, and grade ranking.
If you will think back to your own school days, children in prep (or grade 8 in high school) were automatically the lowest class of the school in every respect. In prep / year one/ year 8, you had little to no voice or control over your life, your learning, or your actions. Older children had power over younger children, stronger children had power over weaker, and teachers had the ultimate unquestioned power, based on their age, size and ability to force submission on to you, either through grading your efforts or behaviour, physical punishment (which has now been outlawed) and verbal admonishments in front of your class members.
My own experience with my children has been that this system of comparisons between children, ranking classmates and public verbal put-downs in front of classmates resulted in a gradual decline of their enthusiasm for school, learning and their overall general happiness. I cannot count the number of times my children would come home after being 'rated 3 out of 10' (for prettiness/ attractiveness/ 'hotness') by fellow class members, being 'rated as the worst singer in the whole of grade _ ' or even being told by a teacher that they had taken longer than everyone else in class to finish a certain task, and therefore they felt less than adequate in some way.
It is my personal belief that authentic socialisation cannot happen in this artificial institutionalised environment, where not only are children ranked and compared, disempowered and silenced, but are surrounded by people their own age, all day every day, and thus are learning social and socialisation skills (i.e. how to survive and adapt to their immediate social environment) in an environment that is completely different to that of the outside world.
What kind of socialisation are they learning then?
In addition, high school brings a whole host of new and uninspiring social challenges to the life of children who have only just begun to develop physically, and emotionally, and are thrown into a world of peer pressure, premature sexualisation, drug use and abuse and a host of other issues that most adults do not have to deal with in their everyday life. And they do this in an environment where they often do not have the opportunity to be appropriately guided or supervised by adults, and thus teach each other what is normal, abnormal, socially acceptable or not (and often these norms are not in congruence with your own expectations or family values). Although I could write a book on this subject, I will simply share the thoughts of one school teacher who recently stated that "every high school has problems with drug abuse, sexual harassment and disruptive and rude children. Your child is just going to have to learn to adapt to learning in that environment" (...hmm).
There has been much written about the ineffective socialisation of children in schools, who are being taught social skills by children their own age
...just think about the implications of that
If children are surrounded by only other children (and the ratio of children to adults is nearing 1 to 40, or 1 to 20 as a best case scenario) and have minimal meaningful adult interaction (other than teachers delivering instructions) for most of their day, 5 days out of 7 days a week, then how much are they really learning about being a responsible, valuable member of society?
Conversely, many children who are learning at home are in a very good position to gain important socialisation and social skills. Research has shown that mothers and other close relatives are the people who most influence the socialisation of children throughout their life, including; teaching us the correct behaviour, attitudes, and expectations and instilling important personal values to help us navigate through our social lives. In addition, home schooled children live their lives out in the world; in public spaces, doing the shopping, visiting parks, beaches, museum's, libraries, nursing homes, and a million other places where they are expected to interact with people of all ages and from all walks of life. Children who live in the adult world learn acceptable behaviour from observing desirable behaviours (and occasionally, less-than-desirable behaviours, and others' reactions toward them) all day, every day, rather than just for small snippets of time.
In this way, children are socialised into the world in which they live, rather than being socialised to survive in an environment which will be obsolete once they graduate and move on to the real world...
If this sounds idealistic, my personal experience is that my extremely loud, active and boisterous son (who is still active, outgoing and boisterous!) has, within months of starting home schooling, gone from a child who would run around the supermarket *yes, run*, hiding in clothes, and building forts out of toilet paper rolls in the laundry isle (despite my best attempts to thwart this behaviour), to somebody who will come along shopping with me, assist with his baby sister, help me to load and unload groceries
..and then go and build forts in the backyard with friends, or run around screaming in the park, instead of in the shopping centre!
It is not a case of him 'becoming like an adult' or 'losing his childhood' but rather, he has learnt through watching others, that it is inappropriate to run amok in the shopping centre, however it is completely appropriate to do so in the park/ at the beach/ at home!
And because he is not sitting at the desk for 6 hours in the day, he is in no rush to use his 'free time' in the shops to run around, because he knows that there will always be plenty of time to run around later.
How about socialising?
Socialising is a much simpler affair. Homeschooled children often have many daily opportunities to interact with and play with other children both at home, and through home schooling groups, co-operatives and sport/ special interest groups and classes - often so much, that a limit needs to be put on how much socialising they do, and how they can fit everything else in!
And the difference between socialising at school and at home/ in a home environment, is that when children have the opportunity to run around with other kids, it is very often supervised by adults who love and care about them, rather than in groups of children who are left with very little supervision, or opportunity to seek meaningful assistance/ guidance from adults and are left to make their own social rules.
I leave you with one last thought
children without proper adult supervision
... Lord of the flies
That would have never happened if they were home schooled!