May 13, 2009


My husband was sitting in a bar in Carrboro last night. He was surrounded by artists and drunks. Someone asked him about our life and he mentioned that we homeschool. Heads popped up. Someone offered, "Well, that's ok as long as they are socialized" and all agreed heartily.

The man who said it has been a drunk for as many long years as I've known him. And I love the dude. But I've never known him to last longer than an hour in any relationship. This guy is an excellent performer, a known freak, a local counter-culture hero. He has never had children. And he said, "Well, that's ok as long as they are socialized."

Are you kidding me? I mean, just set aside the amazing and absurd way most people feel qualified to make snap judgements about various elementary education theories in the United States, philosophically speaking. Set aside the way people freely give out permission to homeschool, as if they've put a lot of thought into it themselves. They all say, "That's ok" as if one might be waiting for their permission. Set that aside.

The pervasiveness of this socialization concern is impressive. And its not just directed toward our family. Its not like the locals are secretly worried about our children. Homeschoolers hear this admonition All The Time. It makes no difference, what child is standing next to you, how they are behaved, the sweet and direct way they communicate. This is a huge cultural blind spot, often as if the actual children themselves are invisible. Why?

What happens when you spend the first 13 to 17 to 21 years of life in an academic institution? You spend more time at school and with your friends than you do with your family. And you are almost never alone. Solitude is nearly anathema. People rarely stop to quantify the emotional truth of that.

I honestly do not believe that people mean to say that homeschooled children must learn to: stand in line, tolerate bullies, sit quietly at a desk, react unquestioningly to bells, wait to be told what to think, practice longing, or sharpen their armour. I really don't think that is what people mean by this socialization admonition.

I think, for most of our society, the idea of a quiet childhood at home is impossible to imagine. I think its that simple. I think, unconsciously, people try to imagine a quiet childhood at home and they draw a blank and then, possibly, get a fleeting feeling of fear. "God, what would I have done without my best friend and my group of friends? They pulled me through. I couldn't have survived without them. Life would have been empty, horrible." It seems few are immune to the yawning chasm of empty marching years that dogs our national psyche. Rather than looking directly there, we panic and quickly search our memories to find our friends. What does this say for our emotional health, as a society? What does this say for an institutionalized childhood? What does this say, oh so ironically, for our own socialization?

When it dawns on you that even artists and free thinkers and freaks are not immune to this Childhood in the United States Of Educational Thought Control is scary.


Cecelia (CC) said...

the yawning chasm of empty marching years...nice line.

I am not so sure they aren't looking for the ability to "sit quietly" or "stand in line". I take my kids to events with public school kids. My kids do not know how to stand in line. My kids feel right at home in the place. They get up and go to the bathroom, or go get water, as they need it. The other parents are hissing at their children, "Sit down. Be patient. Just wait." and, I am there trying to help make the program not require parents to say this at all.

But, the point is, I find myself apologizing for my child wandering out into the middle of the activity when all the other public school kids have long since learned to sit down and shut up until told what to do. (Just another perspective, what do you think?)

Katherine said...

I want kids be to mannerly. I don't like to hang around with kids who don't know how to behave in average circumstances. (Or adults, for that matter.) And I think most adults feel that way.

I think we often see a flaring defensive reaction to a child in the room. It happened at the cash register last week. Henry asked the cashier for change in quarters and she could not have been - instantly, automatically, and completely - more put out with him. She reacted as if she just KNEW he was going to be a problem. My Henry! You've met him. Henry, of all people! I cause problems all the time. But Henry?! She took it for granted, that because he is a child, he is bratty and self centered. (Little did she know, I'm the feral one.)

I think, really, adults will often retreat to the level of the children around them. Kids in school, as a general rule, are mean spirited with each other and prone to hive thinking. Just like Lord of the Flies, and the adults are just the biggest flies, in that situation.

I don't think I'm answering your question. Because I'm not sure I understand it. If all the children were supposed to sit, for instance in a class, I would expect (and require) my children to sit. And I know, from experience, they would sit. And politely too. Are you clear about what you expect from students, at the beginning of class? Does everyone understand they are free to move around?

Anonymous said...

What you said is exactly true: How about a quiet childhood at home? Nobody even thinks of it or what it could mean to a life, being in tune with your own rhythms and personality?

In that way it's so like homebirth. At home? Hunh? Yeah. At home. In peace. Yes, exactly that. Why not?

At 18 my kids have all gone to work at my parents' business their summers off during college. It's good for them--to see how a business runs, to gain insight into their grandparents' lives, to be an employee and part of that effort. They learn a lot about the world and life.

My mom, however, has commented on how tuned in they are--how intuitive--to a surprising extent with her and Grandpa, but with their coworkers too. She thinks its because of homeschool--growing up around your mom all the time, in peace.

I dunno. She could be right. love, V

Cecelia (CC) said...

I think I miss you and would love to have a real conversation.

; >

So many good points you make.

Anonymous said...

Loverly post, m'dear. What would hs life be like w/out this question? I have more to add, but will do it somewhere else....because at 1:25 am I'm not quite coherent except to say the above...muah...

Sara said...

"what would I have done without my friends" - that's exactly the fear, I think. But it's interesting to me to note that that same type of socialization - extreme peer comradeship - comes from prisons and soldiers at war. Yes, friendship can be a beautiful thing. But, if you only get "tight" friendships from being thrown together into uncomfortable-to-bad situations and institutional life, then maybe the price is too high.

Katherine said...

Sara, ugh, such an interesting point!

Heather said...

My comment was along the lines of Sara's. School friends are a coping mechanism. When you're long out of school and on with the "real lives" everyone is so concerned about hs kids being prepared for, so few of those old school "friends" are even a glimmer of your memory. Because you had nothing in common, except for your shared misery. When the misery is gone, so is your friendship. I wish I could say to people, "My kids don't need friends." It is true. They need family and love; friendship is something they'll grow mature enough to handle later. But because those people needed their school friends - would have been eaten up without them - they can't even imagine it.