Thursday, September 14, 2006

The age-old question...

I was reading a couple of articles on homeschooling last night, and one of them brought up the age old question, “What about socialization?”

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teacher’s union, said there is another hidden cost to home education. Home-educated students miss out on opportunities to build socials skills by not studying with their peers.

In a Feb. 26, 2002 letter to the National Home Education Network, former NEA president Bob Chase wrote his organization was “concerned that homeschooled students were not provided a comprehensive education experience because they did not have an opportunity to interact with students of different cultures, economic status or learning styles. They felt homeschooled students learned in a setting primarily made up (of) family members and friends.”

- Lessons From Home, Macomb Eagle, Sept. 13, 2006

My standard response to this argument is, “And that’s bad because…?”

If my goal were to raise a life-long eight-year-old or nine-year-old or Kindergartener, maybe I wouldn’t be so concerned that my child spent all of his/her time around other eight-year-olds, nine-year-olds, or Kindergartners in an institutional setting. However, I am not raising career eight-year-olds, nine-year-olds, or Kindergarteners; I am raising adults… adults who will hopefully function in and contribute to the whole of society. Thus, they should be raised among those with whom they will interact for the rest of their lives. They will spend most of their social time as adults with family more than with any other social group, so learning family dynamics is the most important social skill they will learn.

However, this article didn’t stick out to me because of the quoted statement. I (as well as every other homeschooler) have heard this all before. It stuck out to me because of another homeschooling article that I read immediately after.

The second article was about virtual charter schools in California. If you are not familiar with virtual charter schools, they are basically government schools that children participate in via online classes and instant messaging along with the traditional book work that they do at home with a parent. Government schoolers consider this type of schooling homeschooling while many homeschoolers consider it government schooling. In either case, one would think that the problem of socialization would come up with these virtual charter schools as it does with traditional homeschooling because of the lack of ‘peer interaction’. Socialization does come up, but it is not seen as the problem it is for traditional homeschoolers:

As for the social components most educators agree are an essential to the school experience, the report, produced by an “e-learning ad hock committee of educators,” finds: “Quality online courses are highly interactive. ... Teachers interact with students in real time via live video and audio … through discussion boards and email.”

Torres added that such tech-savvy communication more accurately reflects the way today’s youth socialize — through such vehicles as MySpace, chat rooms, email and text messaging.

“We all value socialization,” Torres said. “We have to take into account that the population of kids we’re dealing with is very different [today]. … When we were growing up, you would get one hour on the phone. Now there are multiple sources of communication.”

- Virtual Learning, Pasadena Weekly, Sept. 14, 2006

Educators seem to be broadening the definition of the term “socialization”, from face-to-face daily interaction with peers in an institutional setting to virtual interaction with peers and teachers in an institutionally-controlled setting, to suit their own purposes. Adults know that there are huge differences between reality and virtual reality. Virtual reality is more like a play than real life. It is rare for real relationships to develop is cyber space because it is too easy to put on masks and develop a cyber-persona. Children don’t need to learn how to interact with a keyboard and imaginary friends. They need to hug, cry, debate, and hear and see those who are different from them and similar to them so they can mature in faith, emotion and thought.

The only part of the definition of socialization that doesn’t seem to be changing is the “institution” part. This reveals to me that many professional educators are not as concerned with our children’s social development as they are with maintaining their control… whether it is controlling who our children interact with or what their minds are exposed to. (And mentioning MySpace and chat rooms -known tools of cyber predators, child molesters and parental defiance by children- don’t exactly shout “positive socialization”.)

Are there homeschoolers who have socially inept children? Yes. Are there government schoolers who have socially inept children? Yes. The government does not hold the monopoly on socialization just as they should not hold the monopoly on education. Socialization and education are the parent’s responsibility… no matter where a child is educated.

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