let kids watch beauty and the beast

Homeschooling, socialization and my daughter

My daughterAs a homeschooler, I spend a bit of time thinking about “the S word,” the socialization question.  What socialization is, what people really mean when they ask about it and whether schools really have anything to do with socialization in the first place.  As a homeschooler, I have all sorts of arguments and defenses for homeschooling.

As a mother, well, as a mother I confess to being a little concerned about my Mouse.  And more on the “socializing” front, since we homeschoolers frequently point out the difference between socializing and socialization.  “Mom, I don’t have any friends,” she complains.  “I just want a friend.”

Since she’s somewhat prone to exaggeration, I name a few friends for her.  But they are all in Lincoln and are a part of the various social activities our families are engaged in.  This left me thinking about school, socialization and the friends I had as a child.

If socialization is supposed to be about learning to work together and get along in diverse society, schools fail miserably.  Maybe I say that because I didn’t have that many friends in elementary school, but it seems to me that the other children made friends only with those who were most like them.  There was very little crossing of ethnic or economic boundaries.

It was different in the neighborhood, however.  Suddenly, other children to play with seemed a scarce resource.  Scarcity created a demand and that demand let differences fall by the wayside.  I was “friends” with every child within a reasonable distance from my house, regardless of their age or background.  Kids who wouldn’t talk to me at school knocked on the door to see if I could play after school.

We learned to get along not because the teacher told us to or by simple exposure, but because we all wanted someone to play with and our choices were limited.

But not quite so limited as my daughter’s.  There is one other girl in our town, and she is three years older.  In school, they’d likely have little to do with each other.  Out here…well…the only other girl for her to play with is my daughter.  And they get along well.

Still my daughter pines for friends.  At first, I thought it was mostly a problem unique to us.  After all, we do live in a small and aging town.  But then she and another girl really “clicked” during homeschool gym.  On the way home, I heard all about what she and G. did.  On the way there, I heard all about what she hoped she and G. would do.  She was making a new friend…in Lincoln.

Then her mother told me something her daughter had said.  Something that sounded very much like something my daughter could have said.

I hate it when I make a new friend but then I don’t get to see them again.

Transient friendships?  Ones made during various homeschool activities?  All of which have an ever-changing group of participants?  We are not currently involved in a homeschool group, just occasional homeschool activities.  But that part of my daughter that is yearning for a close friend cannot be appeased by opportunities to play and interact with a different group of children every quarter.

Suddenly my daughter has made two friends, two relationships which will be able to continue past the activities where they met.  Her entire demeanor has changed.  She no longer pines.

And it seems we have made a major accomplishment in our little homeschool, even though I never had the foresight to make it a goal.

let kids watch beauty and the beast

Weird, unsocialized homeschooler

Ki o tsuke!

Calls sensei, and twenty children snap to attention, facing the front and awaiting instruction.  All but one young man:  my son.  He is standing at the end, facing the wrong direction, his gi practically falling off and swinging his belt as if it were a lasso.  There is a long pause as it becomes obvious that he neither recognizes the verbal command nor the social cues that his behavior is inappropriate.

It is difficult for me to watch.  Part of me wants to jump in and direct him, give him the extra attention he needs to be successful, or maybe just protect him from the impatient stares of the entire room.  Strange thing to protect him from, since I am clearly the only one of the two of us who has noticed.  But that is part of why we signed him up.  This class has the physical activity and physical games he loves with a little of the sitting still, standing at attention, and listening to verbal and social cues he struggles with.

Over the years my daughter has been involved, I have seen other children like him who just don’t seem to get it, and perhaps more aggravatingly don’t seem to even notice they don’t get it.  I’ve seen their enthusiasm despite regular corrections, seen their excitement as they slowly gain rank and seen their more eccentric behaviors gradually decrease as they grow and mature.

More remarkably, however, I have seen a room full of children from the age of four to sixteen who simply accept these quirky children for who they are.  The brown belts spend a little extra time helping them with their gi, tying their belt and redirecting their attention, but no one seems to actually mind the ones who don’t fit in, who make the class stand at attention while they spin in circles or who ultimately are responsible for the entire room doing push ups.

These are your dojo brothers.

Sensei emphasizes, and he doesn’t allow anything but respect.

It is an environment I felt was safe to put my son into, although I knew it would be challenging for him and those responsible for teaching him.  It is somewhat sad to say, but I have not always felt the same about our church, or his involvement with the programs he so much wants to be a part of.

Still, he is my son.  I don’t really want to sit back and watch him “grow out of it.”  I want to “fix” him, make him “normal,” help him not to experience the social stigmas he doesn’t seem to be aware of anyway.  Sometimes I even try, and we spend hours battling each other as I try to take this little square peg and force it into a little round hole and get frustrated with the little peg who somehow should respond to the hammering some other way.

I am getting better at letting him be himself.  At not being repulsed by his saliva covered hands.  At taking comments like “For him, he was good…” as a compliment worthy of praise for my young man.  At setting my expectations somewhere he can reach rather than where I think he should be.

But as I sat and watched him in karate last night, an odd thought popped into my mind…a new label for my son.

Weird, unsocialized homeschooler.

It doesn’t matter that he is only two months into kindergarten.  I see him someday as the subject of other people’s conversations and I hear all the comments I’ve read in the numerous “Yeah, but…” concerns regarding homeschooling.

I knew a homeschooled kid once.  Sure he was smart, but he just didn’t fit in.  He was weird.  He just didn’t get the social cues.

Coming from a quirky family, having not fit in especially well in school and being married to a man who most assuredly did not fit into the school enviornment, I have always wondered whether such comments say more about homeschoolers or the public/private school graduates passing judgment.

The fact is, since he is homeschooled, that will likely always be blamed for any social deficiencies which persist in him until adolescence and beyond.  It doesn’t matter that while he doesn’t seem to “get” sitting still, his sister is leading class.  It doesn’t matter that while I’m brainstorming ways to make it possible for him to participate in game time in AWANAs, my three year old is getting praise for her vocabulary, listening skills and maturity heaped upon her.  It also doesn’t matter how far he has come over the years and the fact that he has come from unmanageable to merely weird in just five years.

Society has a single standard, and since he doesn’t have any obvious and visible disabilities, I fear his “otherness” will always be blamed on his parents’ educational choices.  And that leaves us with a dilemma.  Mostly I fret alternately about how to force my little square peg into his little round hole or at what kind of damage I’m doing when I try too hard.  But I can no more make that hole square than I can the peg round.

So where does that leave us?

let kids watch beauty and the beast

Structure and learning in the homeschool environment

I have been thinking a lot about this recently as I prepare to include my son in more formal learning. My daughter thrives on being given as much independence as possible. My son thrives on structure. I am trying to find some sense of balance, a happy medium. Then I found this question (spelling in the original):

The formality and structure created by going to school everyday is lost in homeschool. Monday through Friday there is a routine, a sense of purpose. No confusion or ciaos. A learned respect of the adults that are teaching them. A respect for all people is gained by following the rules in school, as do in, the rules is society. Created to maintain order. When is this learned in homeschooling? Grove Street’s Weblog (site deleted)

And that sort of united some of my seemingly disparate thoughts on the subject as I wrestled with a response.

In 1989, a rather humorous collection of essays hit the best seller list and refused to budge: All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. Obviously it resonated with Americans as it became the second longest running #1 bestseller in 23 years. But I maintained then and I maintain now that if you wait until kindergarten to learn the basic life principles he outlines in his book, you have gotten a rather late start.

It is in the family that we first learn our own worth. To share. To not hit. To clean up our messes. To say sorry. To hold hands. To respect others. To wonder.

Like Dennis in Martian Child, it is where we learn what it means to be human. And if that process is botched early in childhood, the best teachers in the best schools will find it difficult to overcome. The family is the foundation of society. If we have healthy families, we will have a healthy society. If our families are characterized by chaos, our society will be as well. All because it is the family which primarily prepares the child for and introduces the child to living in concert with other human beings…for living in society.

But what of structure and routine? The nice rows of desks, or the groupings at tables? The principal’s office? The lockers? The recess monitor with her shrill whistle calling you back in after recess. Is there not value in this? Doesn’t this prepare us for “the real world?” I’ve read multiple responses to this basic question, but I think the real issue lies a little deeper and necessitates what may seem to be an odd question.

What is structure?

1. Something made up of a number of parts that are held or put together in a particular way: hierarchical social structure.
2. The way in which parts are arranged or put together to form a whole; makeup: triangular in structure.
3. The interrelation or arrangement of parts in a complex entity: political structure; plot structure.
4. Something constructed, such as a building.

 

A school provides a structure and places that on children. It controls the environment around the child in order to encourage conformity. It is what most of us grew up with and thus it is easy to perceive it to be the only way, the right way or the best way to introduce children to adulthood and to society. But that isn’t necessarily the case.

Home education, in its ideal, also provides a structure for children although it is different in form and function. The point is more about inspiring the child and teaching the child to take responsibility for his or her own learning. It is about seeking real-world connections and developing a habit of scholarship, wonder and, most of all, ownership.

Many of us do finish the school day in less time than the public school because we have the advantage of more individualized instruction and fewer interruptions. I can see where this question comes from:

What job can you work for an hour and then go out and hug trees? Ibid.

But it really does not follow. I can as easily ask what business expects you to sit quietly and wait until everyone else in the room finishes their work before you can move on. What happens after that two to three hours it takes to finish what is in the book does not mean that education has ended. It is in this extra time that home education has the opportunity to assist a child in discovering unique talents and real world experiences.

And these unique experiences seem to be sought after by colleges these days. Private universities have been seeking out homeschooled students for some time. But now public universities are as well. The University of California at Riverside has an interesting article posted on their website with an illustrative quote.

“The new homeschool admissions program seems to have attracted outstanding students, as we’d hoped,” said Frank Vahid, a professor in the Department of Computer Science who helped establish the program. “Some applicants showed exceptional accomplishment in certain areas of study or very novel life experiences, while many also had high grades in community college courses and strong SAT scores. It looks like we’ve tapped into a pipeline of great students.” UCRiverside

We are providing universities with a “pipeline of great students.” And not just for academic reasons, but for “novel life experiences.” It is precisely this freedom from the structure of the public school system which has presented some students with the opportunity to be highly sought after.

____________

Why Homeschool points to an interesting article about how technology may destroy public education which provides an interesting extension to this discussion:

He makes the point that one of the things that keeps public schools going is reputation. When people work out ways to certify that a person has the equivalent of a high school education, public schools will be in real trouble.