February 2, 2017

The S-Word

For several years running, the Chamber of Commerce in my city sponsored a unique seminar-style class for local businesspeople. Participants met one Tuesday a month to learn about an important aspect of community life each time. And one month each year was designated "Education Month." So on the second Tuesday of that month, the 40 participants divided into four-member teams and went on "site visits." Each team visited three different area school sites, and then the group reconvened so each team could share about its experiences at the various locations.

For several years, I served as the representative of traditional homeschooling, inviting a different team into my home each time. It was somewhat nerve-wracking - I spent my entire Christmas break the first year re-painting my living room in order to make a good first impression! - but I believe it's important to help members of the general public understand homeschooling, and the Chamber event was a perfect opportunity to make a positive impression on people of some influence.

So God gave me a great deal of peace about it, despite the fact that I'm usually very mindful of my personal and family privacy. And the first thing I did each year was to state very clearly that - while I was happy to provide whatever information I could and to serve as one example - I didn't speak for every homeschool. And then, knowing that most people understand virtually nothing about home education, I figured the best thing I could do was to open things up for questions. That way, I'd be certain to address what the participants actually wanted to know.

Of course, the inevitable first question was almost always - you guessed it!: "What about socialization?"

On that one topic, I feel secure in saying here that I probably can speak for most homeschoolers when I exclaim - for the record - that we hate this question! To most of us, it's akin to cursing us out. At the very least, it's a most tiresome topic, and we'd much rather talk about the latest educational website we've found, the animal cell the kids made from Jell-O last week, or a child's upcoming recital.

In fact, research supports what we already know: home-educated kids learn their socialization skills just fine, thank you. Generally speaking, homeschooled kids participate in plenty of extracurriculars and end up as very productive members of society. And, actually, every human being on the planet is socialized (i.e., made "fit for companionship with others"). So it's not a matter of if - just of how.

A home-educated kid's path toward learning important socialization skills is probably at least somewhat different than his schooled neighbor's experience, but "different" doesn't equal "bad," "inadequate," or "wrong." And so the question about socialization feels like a slap in the face - a baseless insinuation that there's something wrong with us or our kids. Nonetheless, I blithely answer the question with data - a summary of or link to the research noted above; a list of all the extracurriculars available through my homeschool association; a recitation of the many outside activities in which my girls participate each week; an invitation to speak directly with my children so the inquirer might rest assured that they can, indeed, carry on a conversation - and then hope to move on to something more interesting.

But one year one of my visitors - a dad whose children attended a local private school - was particularly concerned about "the s-word." And he put a spin on it that I'd never before considered: "Don't you think your kids are missing out by not having the opportunity to be bullied?"

At that - in a truly rare moment for me! - I was left speechless. I picked up my jaw from the kitchen floor and rambled on for a minute about my girls "getting to" experience interaction with a sort of "mean girl" at ice skating. And then - blessedly - someone else asked a question about curriculum, and we could move on.

After I had time to think it through, of course, I could have said much more. In fact, I wish I'd known the gentleman's phone number so I could have given him a more intelligent response. But at the very least, I know how I'll answer the question if it ever comes up again.

Are my kids "missing out" by not having the "opportunity" to be bullied on a regular basis? Absolutely. They're "missing out" on being made to feel stupid and inadequate for God-given physical, emotional, and intellectual characteristics that make them unique from every other child on the playground. They're "missing out" on being subjected to off-color, childish taunts. They're "missing out" on having to sneak home the back way so they won't get beat up on the main route. They're "missing out" on being shoved in the hallways and having to wash profane graffiti off their lockers.

And I wouldn't have it any other way. But I know what the businessman meant. He wondered if - by not "letting" my kids experience bullying - I'm denying them the opportunity to learn how to handle themselves in the midst of tough circumstances. He wondered if they'll have the self-assurance to deal with difficult people as adults if they've not experienced doing so as children.

And to those concerns, I have one main response: five-year reunions. Who among us that attended institutional school - whether public or private - got along with everyone? I daresay no one could truthfully answer that question with an, "Oh, me!" Instead, no matter how small your school, different groups of students banded together out of common interest. You remember: the Brains, the Jocks, the Druggies, the Band Geeks. And, even if you were not explicitly bullied, you all understood that you "had to" stick to your own "clique" and avoid the others.

But what happened at the five-year reunion? The valedictorian had a great conversation with the quarterback. The "dummy" laughed with the cool rich kid about how bad the lunches were. The guy who'd hung out at the smoking barrel and skipped a lot of afternoon classes asked the goody two-shoes on a date the following Saturday. You might have started out with members of your "clique," but you didn't stay there for long; instead, you enjoyed talking with everyone and didn't even think until later about how you'd unconsciously crossed all the old boundary lines. The emotional baggage from your school days flew away as you realized that your old classmates had grown up and matured - and so had you. Now you interacted as adults, and it was wonderful.

By homeschooling, I'm just accelerating my kids to the five-year reunion mark. They have plenty of opportunities to practice proper socialization skills through a plethora of extra activities within their own family - if one can learn to get along within a family, everything else is gravy! - and in a wide variety of community endeavors. However, they can learn those skills in a safe environment and, thus, avoid the soul-scarring that so often results from traditional school-style "socialization." They still have to deal with their share of difficult peer situations. But they don't have to be subjected to ridicule for seven hours a day, 180 days a year, for 13 years of their lives - which happens in school socialization because bullying begets bullying until particular children are singled out and victimized repeatedly.

Home-educated kids will, undoubtedly, encounter difficult peers in their adult lives as well. The fact of the matter is, though, that by the time they experience such people as adults - whether at work, in the neighborhood, or at church - everyone will have grown up. Most kids who bullied do not bully as adults; they mature and realize the error of their ways, repentant and ashamed of their childish behavior. And most adults don't bully - not really. Some adults can be "challenging" - perhaps especially on social media - but that's not bullying. And an adult who must interact with a difficult peer can get away in any number of ways that are simply unavailable to a scared child stuck by compulsory school attendance laws in a daily hell of taunts and physical violence.

So I'm thankful I can give my children the gift of getting to wait for regular, sustained interaction with others until everyone has grown up and matured. In fact, home-educated kids are actually on the leading edge of a much healthier view of human interaction. So please don't ask us about "the S-word" as if our kids have a problem. Consider, instead, asking us how to begin homeschooling, so your kids can replace the mess of schooled socialization with a much healthier alternative.

1 comment:

Way Truth Life said...

good read - i would only add that most public schools leave little to no time for socialization - every aspect of the day is tightly controlled - public schools never allow kids to argue much less fight, so they never actually learn to work things out - when i was a kid, boys "tustled" it out, then an adult would break it up and ask "what's all this about", then boys would go back to being boys ... and being friends. that was socialization ... today's zero interaction, zero arguing, zero tolerance is not socialization ... it's socialism. So homeschool kids get what public school kids fear to approach: working through, rather than mere 'tolerance' of differences.

- just my two cents -

PS - for a great primer on socialization ... read 'moby dick' sometime - it's a great novel for a lot of reasons.

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