Friday, 17 August 2012

What Socialisation Issue?

Pretty much any Home Educator that you come across will acknowledge that one of the most frequent questions they are asked by non HE-ers is the "But what about socialisation?" one.  It was even one of my concerns before we took the leap into our own HE experience and came to realise what a complete non-issue it is.

One of the reasons behind the fallacy of a socialisation issue is that, as a Facebook friend wisely commented in her blog here, there is a difference between the meanings of socialising (as something you do with someone) and socialisation (something you do to someone):  socialising is mixing socially with others in a friendly way; socialisation is a process that a person goes through where they learn how to behave in a way that is acceptable to society. 

The problem most people have with HE when they talk about socialisation is actually not that of learning to behave in a socially acceptable way.  I think (I hope) we all acknowledge that children learn socially acceptable behaviour primarily at home.  Home is where they are taught to say 'please' and 'thank you'; home is where they are taught to share, to respect authority, to treat guests with courtesy, to put rubbish in the bin, to be gentle with those younger or more fragile; home is - in the UK at least - where they learn how to queue (I'm thinking of trips to the shops with your toddlers, in case you were developing a mental image of me making my children queue for dinner like some modern-day Oliver Twists).  The list could go on and on.  Yes, teachers in school sometimes need to step in to referee, eg when on playground duty in primary school, but they expect their duty to be reinforcing social skills that children have already been taught at home.

When the 'socialisation issue' is raised, I think what people are actually concerned about is the opportunity for them to make friends and play together (as if by keeping our children out of school we are cloistering them, making them dependant on us, their parents, and depriving them of the chance to meet people they can get on with - all of which couldn't be more untrue).  Certainly my concern for my boys was that I wanted them to have "friends their own age".  As I wrote about in The Socialising Myth, where this 'issue' was my main reason for originally choosing to put my children into school, it became the catalyst for us taking them out of school: one of them in particular had become depressed and anxious, largely because of his inability to handle the school social dynamics.  Also, if I take my own experience, I have to say that the socialising aspect was the thing that made my school life so miserable.  I was not comfortable in my own skin: was insecure and completely baffled how people seemed to make friends so easily.  As mentioned in Lessons in Socialising, the socialising lessons I remember learning were almost entirely negative.  I still have to overcome self-doubt when in social situations - but at least I think my own experiences at school were why I recognised the damage being done to the boys (Middle in particular), and why it was then such an easy decision to remove them from school.

So the next time I'm asked "what about socialisation", first of all I'm going to try to establish what is meant by the term: socialising or socialisation?  Depending on the answer, I have answers ready (some may call them rants)...

Regarding socialising, it's true that the only time my boys ever say that they miss school is when they miss seeing their friends every day (although this isn't enough to make them want to go back to school, I hasten to add!)  However, they still have friends.  All the boys have friends over to play - some friends that they made at school, and they have also made some new friends who they get on with really well (wouldn't have met them outside of HE), and we tend to meet up with different friends at least once or twice a week - plus they have each other, and their bond as brothers is generally getting much stronger (allowing for fraternal squabbles & such like).

Regarding socialisation (brace yourselves), I have a question: what positive social skills do you think children learn at school nowadays that they don't learn at home?  I can think of many negative ones, but not a single positive one.  As part of our Home Education, they are learning to relate to people of all different ages, which will be far more useful in the real world than being segregated into groups of a narrow age-margin; they have frequent opportunities to meet new people, which has helped their confidence in entering unfamiliar situations, rather than being restricted to the same group of people for several years and being generally stuck with the identity given to you by group consensus from the outset.  They are learning to form their own opinions and are developing their own interests, rather than feeling to obliged to follow the crowd or the latest trend.

Finally, at the start of the summer holidays I was introduced to a new phenomenon: I was fairly used to parents complaining about the school holidays - what were they going to do with their kids etc etc - I never related, but I was used to hearing it; the new bit was the amount of Home Edders who weren't looking forward to the school holidays either (including me).  There was one reason for this negative feeling: we had to share the parks and public play areas with schoolkids.  This isn't just cos we selfishly don't want to share - well OK, it is a little bit: we are pretty spoilt when it comes to having the play areas to ourselves and a few preschoolers - however it's mainly (speaking from my own experience) because so many of the big groups of children in the parks have such bad social skills!!!  There is so much more pushing, shouting, insult-throwing and general showing-off than we are used to, so much pack-mentality.  It's horrible, at times almost feral - and certainly not what I call 'socialised' behaviour.  In fact I'm now so convinced that the social skills the boys are learning through HE are better than otherwise, I kind of feel a bit like asking those whose children go to school, "but what about the (so-called) socialisation?".  Of course I wouldn't ever say that really, I have a horror of sitting in judgement over the decisions of others that are none of my business - but it makes you think...

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