Note: This column includes adult language.
Ask any homeschooling parent why they homeschool, and you’re likely to receive as many different replies as there are families. Some of the common reasons include religious freedom, academic improvement, one-on-one tutoring and increased family closeness.
But for us, the single biggest reason we school at home correlates to the single biggest criticism homeschoolers get: socialization. Yes, it’s largely due to the “socialization” children get in public schools that convinced us to homeschool.
Homeschooling allows us to be socialization snobs. We can filter out kids whose behavior offends us. We don’t discriminate on the basis of race, creed, nation of origin, or other such nonsense. No, we discriminate on the basis of morals. If your kid insists on talking about the number of boys she slept with in the last month, I really don’t want her around my kid. Call me fussy.
It’s been said that too many rats locked up together in too small a cage will soon start tearing into each other. Same with kids. Schools force children to associate with other children based strictly on age. They are locked into cages containing dozens of rats … er, kids with one powerless and overworked teacher who is expected to be psychologist, counselor, nanny, babysitter and, oh yeah, teacher all rolled into one.
Manners are not expected and certainly not reinforced. If one child gets snarky with another, the other children encourage him until the snarkiness turns to meanness, which often leads to violence. This is the breeding ground for public school socialization.
I’ve been to homeschooling groups with up to 30 kids ranging from older teens to newborns. Everyone associates with everyone. Teens dandle babies. Twelve-year-olds play gentle tag with 5-year-olds. If one child gets snarky with another, there are five or six moms (as well as older kids) around to see the bad behavior and instantly correct it, so it seldom gets out of hand. Manners are expected and reinforced. This is the breeding ground for homeschooling socialization.
Why is this concept so difficult for the critics to grasp? I don’t get it. I don’t get it at all.
Recently, my husband came across a blog entry by a middle-school teacher that was so shocking that he waited until our kids were out of the room before calling me over to read it.
The blog entry [warning: obscene language] related a conversation this teacher overheard as she left school one afternoon. She passed a group of several boys and one girl (about 13) waiting for the bus. One of the boys had a plate of cookies. The teacher heard the girl say, “I’ll give you a blow job for one of those cookies.”
(Pause for a moment to marvel at how the heck a 13-year-old girl even knows what a blow job is.)
My husband e-mailed the teacher and expressed sympathy for the toughness of her job. The woman e-mailed back a weary verbal shrug and said it was all in a day’s work.
Yes, all in a day’s work to hear a child offer an intimate sex act in exchange for baked goods. And what does “all in a day’s work” imply? That this type of social interaction is nothing unusual. Pretty typical, in fact. The teacher was just as horrified as we were, but she saw no solution. And people still have the gall to criticize homeschoolers for their … socialization skills? Or to criticize us for our parental desire to protect against this kind of exposure? I don’t get it.
OK, so meanness, lack of manners and precocious sexualization are some of the “socializing” factors rampant in public schools. What about peer pressure and bullying?
We all remember bullying from our own school days. The fear of gym class. The avoidance of certain parts of campus such as the cafeteria, bathrooms or locker areas. The stomach-clenching dread of facing yet another day in which you were teased, threatened, snubbed or beaten up.
Kids have it tough. The desire to conform to peers is strong – strong enough to overcome parental influences, particularly when those parents are removed (by choice or by state) from being active in their children’s lives. But even the children of good, involved parents can get mixed up with the wrong crowd at school simply because they desperately want to fit in. If you’re not bouncy and pretty (as a girl) or athletic and handsome (as a boy), then you’ll do whatever it takes to be accepted by the bouncy/pretty/athletic/handsome types, even if those types are bad influences in other respects.
“Homeschooling” implies that someone is at home. There are no latchkey kids. There are no after-school hours of “free time” before mom gets off work during which a 14-year-old with burgeoning hormones can get in trouble. Homeschooled kids are guided through the time of life when they have adult bodies but childish minds, a time when they can mature into competent adults or descend into horrifying mistakes. And yet people still have the gall to express concern over homeschoolers’ … socialization.
Homeschooled kids don’t live in a vacuum. While their publicly schooled peers are locked in a classroom for most of the daylight hours, homeschooled kids are out interacting with adults and children, picking up useful, well, socialization skills. And remember, one of the chief purposes of education is to teach children to become adults – productive, mature adults that contribute to society.
Academics are important, and studies demonstrate that homeschooled kids excel in this area. But there’s more to life than academics, and that’s one of the “balance” things homeschooled children learn in abundance. These are things like faith, honor, morals, patriotism, volunteerism, responsibility, family values, self-control and citizenship.
We sometimes hear the criticism that we cannot duplicate the benefits schools offer children, whether it’s sports or music or chemistry labs. To which I reply, “You’re right. We cannot duplicate your environment. We are merely trying to exceed your results.”
Especially the results of socialization.