The most prevalent argument against homeschooling has always been the question of socialization. When we say it, we imagine that homeschooled children are sheltered from making friends and learning the knocks of life in the big bad world where playground bullies roam free and important, lasting relationships are made over the sharing of half-pint chocolate milk at the lunch table. We assume that these experiences are essential to life in This Modern World, that they teach us more than we could learn elsewhere. I don't believe that this is what we're really talking about when we discuss socialization, however.
Socialization in the school setting is about becoming socialized not about socializing; about becoming integrated and acculturated to doing things institutionally. Doing things institutionally is about learning how to follow rules, be obedient, lower your expectations, and exist in a culture of scarcity: scarcity of attention, resources, space, and love. This is what we're really teaching in school: how to exist in a box, not how to think outside of it or throw the whole damn thing away. This serves our culture, it does not challenge it.
In a culture of consumption, of specialization, of independence over inter-dependence, we end up emphasizing the very things we try to "teach" out. Diversity training doesn't actually get down to the dirty work of dismantling systems of oppression that keep people in poverty, in line, and out of the way. Which is not to imply counterproductivity, just that the whole picture is fundamentally flawed. We provide quick fixes that create minimal progress to all-encompassing problems. The problem is the entire system, not these small parts.
But what can we do? We are but small people trying to fight massive, invisible structures. One step is to practice peace in our private lives and continue the fight as best we can. Practicing peace oddly takes a bit of imagination. Imagine a world where we met all kinds of people - some we like, some we don't like - through all kinds of activities, but without the institutional structures that create and sustain hierarchy, where reward and punishment are so wrapped up in the daily existence that they become necessary and inevitable and create competition constantly. Competition for space, attention, resources, love... Competition that results in constant anger, jealousy, rejection, sadness, envy, rage...
Imagine a world where we were all just living, working, cooperating and collaborating as need be, drawn to positive relationships, in which the incentive is to resolve conflict well by stating and respecting one another's needs and desires in order to sustain the relationship. Imagine if a child's world were just your life with your friends, family, and your sometimes-enemies and your frenemies and the people you hardly know, who are maybe a little weird, but you need to work with so you learn to ignore the quirks or even appreciate them and get on with it. What would you learn from that? If you talked to the garbage man and the postal woman and the coffee shop girls and the doctors you see and your parents' friends and the folks at the library and saw your parents living and working and getting along as best they can, finding ways to figure out what to do with anger over conflict and how to fix things.
Because that's my life. I have to deal with my neighbor and I'm angry with her, but we resolve the conflict and my children witness that. That's pretty true of all our relationships and almost all of my kids' interactions with adults are positive. Which means that they feel supported to be who they are and to love who and what they love. There's no self-doubt.
Imagine a world where a three-year-old teaches a 27-year-old neighbor interested in Heavy Metal and neuroscience to play Connect Four (and how to win by manipulating the rules).
Imagine a world where a 23-year-old blues guitarist and a 6-year-old artist both love Star Wars and spend time building Lego cars together.
Welcome home to socialization that is respectful, mutual, collaborative, and creative.