the network for radical unschooling families
Today was gorgeous-- one of those sunny blue sky May days when you feel like summer has just arrived. My son and a friend set up a lemonade stand and sold drinks and cookies. After chatting with a handful of neighbours from toddlers to seniors, as well as a few cyclists who stopped for a quick snack, they began painting and selling rocks as well. Pleased with this expansion, they brainstormed other products they could sell (bath bombs? metal sculptures? spice mixtures?), discussed what to name their joint company and how how they would promote it (a website figured prominently in their plans). They divied up the proceeds from their first day and parted ways, happy and a few dollars richer.
And I was so glad that they weren't stuck indoors in a classroom on this sunny Friday.
When I decided to take my son out of school, a few weeks into first grade, almost everyone felt compelled to caution me about the importance of... you guessed it, SOCIALIZATION.
I was familiar with the term, because I’ve had dogs. When you get a puppy, you socialize it. You take it to playgrounds and let it get used to fast-moving toddlers and old people with walkers and skateboards and other dogs. You want it to be well-socialized so that it doesn’t grow up and bite anyone who looks strange by whatever standards dogs use.
I hadn’t ever thought of socialization in relation to my child. After all, he’d lived with people his whole life. Nonetheless, it seemed that this socialization business must be a very important function of school, because everyone was far more concerned about it than about my son’s happiness or his well-being or even his academic learning.
But my son was six, in a class of six year olds. I had a hard time believing that other six year olds were the best people to help him develop his social skills. From what I have seen, most six year olds—while very lovely in all kinds of ways-- are still a little shaky in the social skills department, prone to occasional tantrums and frequent lapses of tact.
It seemed to me that spending huge amounts of time segregated with other six year olds wasn’t natural or necessary or even likely to be particularly helpful in the development of social abilities.
Of course, there are adults and older students in the schools too, and kids learn from them as well as their peers. We all learn from what we see and experience. But what kind of social behaviour is modeled in schools?
Teachers talk to the kids about bullying and tell them to get along and be friends and learn to compromise... and and meanwhile, the teachers and the government engage in interminable conflict and hostility, and a bitter struggle for control.
The hierarchy of schools is rigid and authoritarian and top-down. From government to school board to administration to teachers to educational assistants to the students, power relations are visible in the very structure and fabric of the school system.
How is this supposed to help kids to learn collaboration and cooperation and the skills to build supportive communities?
Kids in schools copy what they see. They create their own hierarchies, leading to cliques that verge on caste systems, intense pressure to conform, and often brutal bullying. They learn that they are powerless.
Peer influence takes the place of healthy attachments and kids start to see adults as adversaries. They learn to manipulate and game the system. Relationships are currency and individuality takes second place to conformity. Square pegs do their best to force themselves to fit into round holes because they have to to survive.
I love that my son is missing out on all of that. And I look at days like today, which my son spent in the neighbourhood, talking to all kind of people, playing and learning and planning with a friend-- and I just don't understand why people think school is the only place that kids to learn to work with other people. I don't understand why school is seen as so essential for our kids well-being. There are all kinds of routes to becoming a competent and healthy adult and school does not need to be a part of the journey.
Next time someone says to me, “You homeschool? What about socialization?”, I’m just going to say, “Yes, exactly. That’s one of the reasons we don’t send him to school.”