Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Myth of "Socialization"

How much "socialization" does a child get in school? How much does a homeschooled child "miss out" on this so-called socialization.

First, the term "socialization" makes it sound like something deliberate, like animal husbandry. You pair kids in the corral for purposes of "socializing them." Anyone who has been to a school knows this is simply not the case; the schools group children together based on their classes, which are usually based on their abilities and at the starting level children are grouped simply based on their chronological age. If we were to purposefully socialize our children, wouldn't we pair or group them based on common interests?

I grew up in a big city and I used to walk to High School, which was a considerable distance, with two or three of my closest friends who I happened to go to elementary school with. One thing I noticed as early as grade-school, is that the kids who picked on me in 1st or 2nd grade were the ones still picking on me in 6th grade. When we all transitioned to different Junior High Schools, the class split amongst 2 or 3 schools. So a portion of my "new" Junior High School class was from my elementary school and with them came some of the same kids who hadn't tired of picking on me yet. The same thing happened when we transitioned from Junior High to High School, with the exception that many children in my classes went to specialty High Schools and I went to my zoned High School. Even though there was a new mix of kids, some whom I'd known for 6 years, some whom were entirely new to me, all the other children had the same experience. Let's see if I can explain this:

We enter school at about 5 years old at Kindergarten. With the exception of our teachers, with whom we presumably do NOT socialize, we are corralled with 5 year olds and bring our vast different backgrounds and experience, and perhaps some small variety in social maturity levels into our Kindergarten class together. We are in a school that goes up to 6th grade, around 11 or 12 year olds, but we don't really ever interact with children outside our own grade level. We go to recess with our age-mates, we go to gym with them, we are even required to sit at the same tables in the lunch room with them. Come the end of the year, we get our new class assignments. Those who have done most poorly may be moved to a different class while one or two children from other classes may move into our class, but for the most part our entire posse moves on to the next grade together. Throughout the 6-7 years of K-6 our class of 25-35 kids becomes an insular group where we are forced to come to our own pecking order, and when doing so children can be quite vicious.

We start off as 5 year olds with the social skills of 5 year olds in an insulated group of 5 year olds with only a 2 month break during which to attempt to mature into 6 year olds, then we're put back into the corral to "socialize" with the same age-mates again. The landscape hasn't changed. We're still basically 6 year olds with the social skills of 5 year olds and the only change was our teacher and the curriculum. We might luck out and have some children with older siblings in our class, maybe a little maturity filters in somehow, but emotionally, mentally, socially, we're not much better off than kindergarteners.

This continues throughout the K-12 experience. With the regimented segregation of children along the lines of age we've lost the age-integrated socialization of the 1-room school where 12 year olds would help 5 year olds with their ABC's and role-model older more mature child development and confer on the 5 year old the skills of dealing with older children (and vice-versa). This segregation is quite on-purpose in the name of pouring out people who can't truly think for themselves from the system. Thankfully we're still human and all this contrived nonsense doesn't really work as well as The Establishment might want it to, but whenever they talk about extending the school year, or when they punish children for failing by giving them extra months worth of schooling or keeping naughty children after school with detention, they're making maneuvers to cut children off from influences that can give them autonomy, maturity, and true rich experiences.

So our children are locked in a room for at least 6 hours a day with children who are essentially 5 years old for a span of 12-13 years. Where is all this socialization taking place? In most cases, children are not allowed to socialize during class. If you pass notes, talk, or even so much as look at each other you can be the brunt of the teacher's negative attention and be punished. So obviously it's not time to socialize during classes. Seeing children is not socializing. Between classes, maybe you can have a rushed 3 minute conversation while navigating the throngs to get to your next assigned seat -- or perhaps you get snarky remarks from the jealous kids in your class during class changes, or get called out for a fight after school. If you're lucky you have a locker and a friend wrote you a letter during their last period and stuffed it into the air slots of your locker and you have something interesting to read during your next class. You do possibly get to talk to kids during recess. My recess was a time of retaliation against the children in my class, something that doesn't resemble socializing at all and makes me feel like K-6 was a whole lot more like Lord of the Flies than I'd usually care to admit. Then there's lunch time, and the time before school when we'd line up in the schoolyard playing before classes lined up. I mentioned pecking orders? Children took every opportunity to exert their will on the pecking order in our school, shoving the undesirables as far down the rungs of the ladder as possible while jockeying for position with the more power-hungry at the top.

During inclement weather, recess was indoors and far more structured. The girls would often go to the auditorium and we'd socialize -- ah! there's some real socialization -- while some of us danced to disco tunes on the stage. I was one of the dancers, because my need for so-called-socialization was nearly non-existent. I guess the boys went to the gym or stayed in the lunchroom and shot hoops or played dodgeball or something. Whenever our recess was taken up by these arranged activities, no real socialization took place.

In my experience, this so-called socialization paled in comparison to the small-group interactions and one-on-one interactions I had with my peers on weekday evenings, weekends, or over the school breaks. I could have real conversations with people I wanted to be with. There were plenty of fights and crises to learn some troubleshooting skills or "Don't do this, it hurts when you do this." I actually got a good bit of my social skills from the parents and siblings of my friends as well; I got to see behaviors outside of what was going on in my family and decide what type of adult social skills I liked and disliked, what parenting styles worked and didn't work because I knew how screwed up -- or not -- my friends were. These were very important social interactions for me.

Enter homeschooling. So the homeschooled child misses out on this age-segregated nonsense, the furtive and rushed conversations between classes, sitting with the same kids at lunch as at every other time of the day and being picked-on and singled-out, being called out for fights after school, getting in trouble for passing notes, etc. In exchange, the child has more time to pick their friends, spend time on evenings and weekends with age-integrated friends and their parents & siblings, go to special homeschooler meetings during the day while others are in school, go on more field trips, meet real-life people rather than socialize with people with the social skills of 5 year olds all the time. There will still be plenty drama, and plenty lessons about being social to learn, without it being a deliberate case of being penned into the corral to socialize with one's peers.

I had a funny thought today about how school socializing would look in the workplace:

You're sitting in your cubicle getting your work done and someone passes by and whispers "Psssst!" and tosses a hastily scribbled and folded up note on your desk. As you're turning to grab the note to read it, the boss bursts into your cubicle and grabs the note. "No passing notes during work!" and he opens the note and reads it aloud, loudly. "'Meet me at the water cooler at 2 o'clock. Jim.' Well, Sue, you're not going to meet Jim at the water cooler! You've got detention for passing notes during work!"

Then it's time for recess. Everyone gets up from their cubicles and convenes around the water cooler for 20 minutes. It's noisy and loud, everyone's really busy getting the kinks out of their neck and stretching their legs, getting drinks of water, having loud and quiet conversations all at the same time. It's quite chaotic. But you have detention, so you're stuck sitting outside the boss's office. When 20 minutes are up, the boss chases everyone back to their cubicles and demands that everyone stay in their seats and be quiet. On the way back from detention to your cubicle, the person in the next cubicle points and laughs at you while you walk by. You can't help but get really pissed off, because you're already humiliated enough, so you lean into their cubicle and whisper, "After school, by the mailbox. Just you and me."

You sit down and get back to work, but just as you're getting back into the "flow" the person in the cubicle across from you raises their hand and starts moaning "Ooh Ohhh Ohh Boss!" The commotion breaks your flow and the boss pokes their head out of the corner office: "What is it, Randall?" Randall whines, "Can I go to the bathroom?

I honestly think that the idea of socializing in school is highly over-rated, and does very little to prepare us for the real world.

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