In this “Choose Civility” world, most people are deferential about our daughter’s education at home. But, not long ago, I had my first real interaction with a stranger who was openly concerned about homeschooling. A few highlights:
Concerned stranger: Why would you let your son go to school, but you won’t let your daughter go? (I laugh at the implication that I won’t “let” P go to school. J)
Me: Actually, the real question for me has been why we would send our son to public school after we’ve had such a good experience with homeschooling.”
Concerned stranger: I totally understand. Boys are much harder to handle because they have more energy. (Is that why we send our kids to school—because we can’t handle them? That’s enlightening... Also thinking that my children have been pretty equal-opportunity in the “hard to handle” department.)
Me: Both of our kids have tried traditional schools. Right now, our son likes having a place that’s his own, away from home. Our daughter prefers to be at home to help plan her curriculum and her schedule.
Concerned Stranger: Isn’t your daughter sad that she doesn’t get to be around other people?
Me: I wish we had fewer commitments out of the house with other people! Unfortunately, homeschoolers can be overscheduled, just like anyone else…
Me: How have you decided on the best education for your children?
Concerned Stranger: Well, you know, I checked out the “ratios and things” at different schools, because you never can be too careful about who your kids spend time with.
**At this point in the conversation, N runs off the playground and into the street, in front of a vehicle. He does this for the express purpose of helping Concerned Stranger to confirm her suspicions that I am an irresponsible parent.**
Perhaps it’s best that I didn’t have time to say that I’m not relying on statistics to help my kids choose good friends...
Still, what this mother really wanted to know about is what homeschoolers fondly call “The ‘S’ Word”—Socialization. It’s the issue about which we are most often approached--and we're usually pleased about that. By “socialization,” people generally mean the skills of having healthy relationships and communicating well. Sometimes they mean fitting into society (valuable??). I would argue that homeschoolers have ideal opportunities to be “socialized” in the best sense of that word:
(1) First, let’s revisit Concerned Stranger’s remark that she chose her children’s schools based on “ratios and things”—statistics about standardized test scores, how many children receive free lunch, and how many children of various ethnic groups attend a school. (These are subjects about which I will hold my peace, only with great effort…) This is extremely common school-choosing methodology. In essence, parents try to read from these statistics whether their children will be attending school with other children “who come from good homes.”
Here’s the rub: If our schools are our best instrument of socialization, then the home life of fellow students should be irrelevant. Clearly, parents who seek out those statistics consider the home, not the school, the basis for good socialization. I agree on that point, if on nothing else.
(2) Second, I wish to say that I believe socialization is more than just choosing whether to be with “good kids” or “bad kids”—even if such flat characters really existed. There are many social skills that are not about good vs. evil—like listening carefully, collaborating, or working out differences of opinion.
Public schools, with their clusters of same-age peers and a single authority figure (teacher)—aside from being an absolute anomaly of a social setting—can’t help kids develop good social skills, even if they genuinely want to. Interactions between children at school are either isolated from adults (who have too much else to pay attention to) or squelched by adults (Did your report card ever say: “Talks too much?”)
On the other hand, homeschoolers have frequent contact with parents and other adults who model positive social skills. They also live, work, and play in close proximity to adult mentors who are aware of their needs and can brainstorm solutions to life’s problems with them.
(3) You don’t want all of my opinions in a single day, so I’ll end with one of my favorite socialization questions asked of homeschoolers: Don’t you want your kids to learn to take direction from other adults?
Maybe some parent somewhere has this worry; I have the opposite one. In my dream world, my children would take direction from me as readily as they take it from other adults. (Sigh!)
In all seriousness, what I truly want for my children is to be able to direction from themselves—their best selves. Public-schooled children work independently (because their teachers have so many students to care for), but completing tasks obediently (being an independent worker) isn’t the same as being an independent learner. The latter, I say, is a goal worthy of many, many years of homeschooling effort.