Saturday, August 06, 2005

Why We Homeschool



Why We Homeschool
~a summarization of thoughts from The Socialization Trap by Rick Boyer


The Myth: One of the great myths of our day is that they way modern America socializes its children is good and in fact the best way in which social skills and values can be learned. It assumes that peer groups are healthy for children and that this is why children are grouped by age in school. It assumes that children need lots of peer exposure and so extra activities are needed to bring children of the same age together even beyond school. To rephrase it, the great myth says that children need to spend large amounts of time with children their own age to learn to relate properly to other people.

The great myth can be seen as a compilation of related myths like these and amongst others:
1. School is a great place to learn social skills.
2. Constant comparison and competition are not harmful to children.
3. Team sports are the ideal way to learn teamwork, self-control and dedication to the goal.
4. Television is a valuable socializer because it exposes children to the world outside their own home.
5. Social contacts should be made at random so that children will meet a wide spectrum of personality and character types.

We believe that each of these assumptions is wrong. That they form the bedrock of contemporary public opinion about child social development is irrelevant. Practically everybody believes them; but there was also a time when common knowledge had it that the earth was flat. Why do so many people fall into this trap? They assume that normal living – home, community, church, and marketplace – does not provide enough opportunity for social development.

The school model for education includes a strong emphasis on peer group socialization. School children in America spend between thirty and forty hours per week with their age peers in large groups and the “well-rounded” ones more than that through extra-curricular activities. This has been common practice for decades and we are now conditioned to think of it as normal. Kids need lots of time with kids their own age. We don’t know just why, but we assume it’s so. After all, that’s the way the government school professionals do it and the government would never deceive us, would they? In school, they tell us, and not sheltered at home, children are able to come to grips with the real world. We don’t agree. Age segregation is a stealthy and sinister evil that is robbing our society of its humanity. We are careful to group people with those of different sexes and races, but age isn’t considered. Or rather, it is carefully considered and acted upon wrongly. As a result, we have become a fragmented society. We have a much-talked-about generation gap such as was unknown at any previous time in history. Boy scouts were once know as little gallants who helped old ladies across the street and anybody’s toddlers were everybody’s pets. Now it seems old ladies dodge traffic on their own and while many people still have time to smile and admire toddlers, a woman who takes three preschoolers to the supermarket leaves others wondering just what she wants with so many little rug rats, or if she knows anything about birth control.

Our point is that age grading of children in schools prepares them for a world that doesn’t exist. That is, despite all the hype about learning to get along with others their own age, people in the real world need to deal with persons of all ages. When the new employee arrives for the first day on the job, he isn’t told to report to plant B because that’s where all the twenty-seven-year-olds work. The neighborhoods in which we live may tend to attract retirees or yuppies one more than the other, but generally they contain a mix of ages. The real world is an age-integrated place.

In addition, we believe we need to protect our children from addiction to peer status and the many other dangers of indiscriminate companionship. Besides well meaning people such as some family members, friends, and some in our own church, there are plenty of other helpful souls who will assure us that it is socially destructive to “shelter” our children. Now let’s stop and think this over for a minute. Would it be so terrible if parents suddenly got less permissive and more protective? I don’t know about you, but when I think about the big social issues of our time—AIDS, drug abuse, alcoholism, teen suicide, racial tension, oppressive government, occultism, humanism, etc.- I am hard pressed to think of any that seem to result from children spending too much time at home. As a matter of fact, we happen to believe that it is the breakdown of the family structure, rather than the exaltation of it, that is the great contributing factor here. I wonder how many people are now dying of AIDS or how many teenagers suffering from the physical and spiritual trauma of abortion, who wish their parents hadn’t been so protective?

One line of reasoning we hear from the un-protectors says that kids have to make their own mistakes. They can’t live by their parents’ values and guidance forever. They have to experiment. They have to learn it all by experience. Hmmm. Did you learn it’s unwise to stand in front of a speeding truck—by experience? “But they need to experience the real world, to learn how to deal with what’s out there.” True. They need to learn to drive, too. But there’s a right time, place, and method. Besides, sometimes the appropriate way to “deal with” something is avoidance. We wouldn’t want our children to learn to deal with sharks by swimming with them or with poison by swallowing it. It’s not always easy to do what you believe is best for your children. The tide of opinion can be pretty hard to swim against. Some people are threatened by our example, wondering if they should consider making some similar changes for their own children. Most public and private school people will think we’re depriving our children socially. We disagree. What we have seen in school we believe will impact our children negatively.

Most of us can recall one or more adults from our school days who were good for us. We are thankful that education attracts many people who are there because they sincerely love children and want to help them. But all the adults who impacted us positively in school have not taken away the memory of the ones who affected us otherwise. Some of our memories are no doubt very inaccurate these many years later, but accurate or not, they have stayed with us. If adults treat children as slaves and peons, they should expect children to rebel or lose heart and give up. If they treat them as though they had no feelings adults are obliged to respect, they should not expect inspired students who will teach themselves and be excited about plowing ahead in a given interest area beyond material covered in school. The obvious conclusion in all this is simply that there are kind adults and unkind adults in schools, just as there are good and bad people in every group. We think the system of school as we practice it can make good people into bad influences sometimes. It seems to us that an important point and possibly the main point here is that when we put our children in school, neither they nor we have much control over what adults are put in charge of them or how those adults behave. By educating our children at home, we can protect our children from emotional abuse and we make no apology for doing so.

Another fact is that while children in school are very dependent upon and responsible to adults, the legitimate socializing value of the contact between adult and child is virtually nonexistent. One reason is that the adults are seen by the children as role models (even though some are not appropriate role model material). Another reason is that the relationship is narrow. The adult is the teacher, the child the learner. They seldom see each other outside that environment. Besides that, even in class there is neither time nor opportunity for in-depth communication between the teacher and most of his students. One study showed that the average instructional day included 150 minutes of talking, only seven minutes of which was initiated by the students.

The way to expose children to adults socially is to get them out of the regimented isolation of school and into the real world. In school, a child has contact with only one or two adults as a rule and that contact is very limited as regards to real communication. Outside school children have access to their parents, other adult relatives, neighbors, and church friends. In addition, there are any number of possibilities for short-term apprenticeships that not only expose children to adults, but to the real world of work and community in which adults play their roles and for which we are supposed to be preparing our children.

What does the structure of school do for children socially? It isolates them in an unreal world and separates them from the real one. It can teach them to value unimportant and irrelevant things. It can stifle their curiosity about life around them outside their own age group of humanity. It can teach them that some people (i.e., the ‘smart kids’, ‘rich kids’ or the ‘gifted kids’) are more valuable than others. It encourages them to be like everyone else and cast away their individuality. It can make them feel low and insignificant. It can rob them of opportunities to communicate with others. The way schools are structured today virtually insures that children grow up with unhealthy attitudes.

The main reason for all this is that, contrary to popular opinion, school in no way closely resembles the real world. The real world is a place where people of all ages live and do things together. School segregates people by age group so that the natural dynamics that build respect for the old and gentleness toward the young are not operative. Another dissimilar aspect is that in the real world people work to produce products and services to meet the needs of others. In school, people work only to learn to do the work and give other people opportunity to evaluate the work. No product, no service, no point. No satisfaction. No achievement.

Today’s emphasis on mass production lumps children together by birth year. This, of course, defies the finding of research that children differ in ability and readiness, that boys generally lag behind girls in maturity during the early years, etc. It should come as no surprise that eighty percent of “learning disabled” children are boys as are ninety percent of “hyperactive” children. But schools already have their minds made up; they can’t be distracted by the facts. It is convenient to group kids by age and so we do.

It seems to us that school structure is good preparation for a world that doesn’t exist. It teaches children that work is pointless, which it isn’t. It teaches them that creativity can be turned on and off at the ringing of a bell, which it can’t. It teaches them that all people should think, work, and act the same, which they shouldn’t. Unfortunately, age segregation is only one of a number of unnatural forces shaping the experience of children in schools.

Another is the so-called healthy competition in academics. Children are trained from the beginning to place value on a system of gold stars, percentages and grade curves that would be meaningless in the real world. Another is, “If you home educate your children they won’t be able to play team sports. They’ll miss out on such good character building opportunities.” We don’t need an elaborate, contrived system of gymnasiums and uniforms to teach our children cooperation and teamwork, aside from the fact that these things are widely available to home-schoolers today. What we need is that which is all around us: worthwhile work and healthy play with sensitivity not to our own status but to the needs of others. This happens better at home than anywhere else. In our own family, everyone learns that he or she is important. We all need each other.

· Labeling

Labeling can create self-fulfilling prophecies. People have a very strong tendency to do what they are expected to do and this is exacerbated in children, especially in regard to the seemingly omniscient and omnipotent adults in authority over them. We have seen this in action. Children become labeled and placed in ‘tracks’ that they very seldom get out of (by John Holt). It is no less than a crime against children to teach them that they are of less quality and value than other children. Thomas Edison quit school in the elementary grades and was taught at home by his mother because the teacher had labeled him “addled.” Benjamin Franklin only attended school for two years, during which time he was considered excellent in reading, fair in writing, and poor in arithmetic. He taught himself and became one of the best educated and most famous men in the world.

· Peer Groups

The “peer groups” into which we force children have many other powerful and harmful effects. Every now and then, at the mall or some other public place, I see young people, perhaps twelve or thirteen years old, sometimes even as young as ten, smoking cigarettes…The smoke tastes awful…They have to struggle not to choke, not to cough…Why do they do it? Because “all the other kids” are doing it, or soon will be, and they have to stay ahead of them, or at least not fall behind. In short, wanting to smoke, or feeling one has to smoke whether one wants to or not, is one of the many fringe benefits of that great “social life” at school that people talk about.

If the children have lived in the peer group long enough to become enslaved to it, addicted to it—we might call them peer group junkies—then they are going to smoke, and do anything and everything else the peer group does. If Mom and Pop make a fuss, then they will lie about it and do it behind their backs. The evidence on this is clear. In some age groups, fewer people are smoking. But more children are smoking every year, especially girls, and they start earlier.

Of course, children who spend almost all their time in groups of other people their own age, shut out of society’s serious work and concerns, with almost no contact with any adults except child-watchers, are going to feel that what “all the other kids” are doing is the right, the best, the only thing to do. (Ibid., pp.49, 50)

We’re sorry if you’ve been depressed by the negative tone of the preceding paragraphs. It will start to get better now as we switch from the negative to the positive side of the socialization question. We felt it necessary to spend the time on the negative aspects of the issue for a number of reasons. One reason was that most of us are so enamored with the idea that school and the other usual trappings of childhood social life are necessary, that we thought pretty heavy artillery was needed to tear down the false assumptions. We wanted to provide you with the substantiation of the fact that school socialization isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Principle #1: Social learning is a byproduct

We learn to have effective relationships with others in the normal process of living. We begin to build a real social environment for our children when we realize that school is an artificial environment unlike any situation in which they will ever again find themselves. Real social learning begins when we set them free from the captivity of artificial social environments and put them back in the real world. Obviously, social skills are important. We can’t very well get through life without knowing how to communicate, encourage, direct, organize, learn, negotiate, compromise and employ many other people skills. But we need to rethink the process by which we learn these things.

Principle #2: The family is a social group

We seem to assume that social learning takes place anywhere but home. This assumption is not shared by social scientists. Home is, in fact, the best place in the world to learn about living successfully with other people. It is, of course, the scene of nearly all our early interpersonal experiences. As children are being separated from their parents at ever earlier ages, the “generation gap” that once was thought to exist only between parents and teenagers is creeping downward on the age scale.

On another note, we continue to strive to give our children the best education possible, while nurturing their individual learning styles, interests, and spirits. We are committed to using a vast array of resources to make sure that their educational needs are met. But lastly, we believe that when you look back at our family, only a few years from now, you’ll see how well-rounded and educated our children really are. The proof will be in the pudding, and it will be so sweet!


no-regrets-mom said...

I want to thank you for this info. regarding age segregation.

After 12 years of trying to defend our choice to abstain from many youth events, we are moving two states away to an age-integrated assembly. Internet info. has proven that we are not alone in our convictions. There is a church out there that doesn't see "youth group" as a Biblical mandate. Lol.
Lord Bless, Donna :o)

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