Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The "S" word - socialization

First of all, let me say that I am NOT opposed to public schools, private schools, church-based schools or any other group education. One of the things that has made America a great nation in such a relatively short time is our nation's belief that everyone should be educated because educated citizens make a stronger society. For heaven's sakes, I was a school teacher, you know. I loved school. I loved college. I plan on being one of those retirees that audits classes at a university for fun. It keeps the brain and spirit young and vital. I'm also for whatever God has called your family to do be it group education or home school. That being said, I will now turn to the main topic of this post.

The one question that home school opponents like to throw at you, inevitably with some sort of "Ah-ha, I gotcha!" kind of attitude is "But, what about (dum, dum, dum; dramatic pause) socialization?!?". I must confess that I was a bit concerned about this as well before I started the home school journey. When I read "A Well Trained Mind", I felt much better. The author makes some great points that really got my mental wheels spinning and reassured me as a parent. Group education is actually the opposite of good socialization. 

At school, children are in a room all day with children their age and one or maybe two adults. When else in life do we have this kind of situation? When I made it to the "real world", I was surrounded by people of all ages. Some of the teachers that I was teaching alongside had taught my younger siblings. I had parents of all ages and all walks of life to interact with daily. When I started working in the corporate world, it became an even broader base of people that I was required to use my social skills on - men, women, straight, gay, atheist, Christian, Muslim, American-born, foreign nationals, younger, older and on and on I could go. I'm not sure where we as a society began to believe that a classroom is the "real world" but it is not.

In a classroom, children are mostly required to be in their seat and be quiet. They will (if they are fortunate) get to have free play for 1/2 hour total with yet more children the same age or close to it. Personally, I don't think the best teacher of good social skills is other children and/or peer pressure. They do learn some things that are good but they also tend to pick up a lot of bad things. Do you really think that those sweet angels are practicing good manners all the time out there on that playground? Think again...

Just because I home school does not mean that my child never interacts with anyone but me and his dad and sister. He plays with the neighborhood kids who happen to be black and have very different family situations than ours. A couple of the girls are older than Baker and the boys are younger. They have a ball together and can play outside for as long as they like - no 15 minute time limit here. He is in a home school group on Mondays, Bible Study Fellowship on Monday nights, he plays one sport a season, attends church on Sundays and the first service room that he is in has children that are older and younger. He is learning to relate to other people of all races and ages and gender. Now, this is looking more like the "real world" that I know.

Another advantage in our family is that our daughter has Down Syndrome. She has required therapy most of her life to mitigate her developmental delays. Baker was (and still is) exposed to children with all sorts of disabilities and has never blinked an eye. It's just the way they are. He is expected to use good manners with the parents, other siblings and staff at Easter Seals and doctor offices and AR Children's Hospital. He has been exposed to all sorts of career options that I would never have thought about - therapists and directors plus all of the medical jobs. During Anna Marie's stays in the NICU and CVICU, he was exposed to techs, nurses, physician assistants, doctors, social workers and he even got to get a tour of the Angel Flight helicopters with one of the pilots. (I have to admit I was jealous that I missed that one. My mom was with him for that spur-of-the-moment opportunity.)

It has been a joy to see his manners improve and has ability to carry on a conversation with adults blossom. He can stand up for himself with other kids, is learning to be considerate of those less capable and/or younger and is seeing that most of the world does not live like we do - with a solid faith in God and both parents together. He is learning these lessons under my (mostly) gentle guidance as opposed to the (sometimes) harsher group education environment. 

Yes, I realize that taking this argument to the next level opens up the whole can of worms regarding cults and other such fringe groups. Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world and these sorts of things will go on no matter what. It does not mean that my family has to fall into line with the current group education mentality. We are not isolationists but neither are we conformists. After all, God has called all of us as Christians to live differently from the world. For now, this is one of the ways in which we are doing that - by home schooling. 

If you are a home schooler, I hope this has encouraged you. If you are not, I hope this has given you some food for thought.

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