Thursday, March 26, 2009

Examples of Socialization

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.


Donna said...

Very thoughtful. I particularly like the part about school socializing you rather than being about socialization. You are speaking of a process that I've taken a while to recognize but is the sort of world I want my children to grow up in, and through unschooling I feel we as a family are all much closer to sharing that process together.

Erin said...

Very cool.. I think it's important that children are given the chance to socialize with all different types of people, not just children their own age.

We've been talking about getting some new games.. Connect four is a good one!

Mel said...

So absolutely true!

I just wonder, why can't everyone else see what we see?


Lynnie said...

If there's one thing that makes me green with envy when I think of homeschoolers, it's the fact that they grow up knowing they can be friends with people no matter how old they are! It makes me seethe with irritation that my daughter will probably never see one of her friends when she starts school because this friend is four months older and got to start a year earlier. Four months older!

But our bills being what they are, and my husband's job suddenly not happening (he's in construction), I am going to have to go back to work in the fall. We are thinking of ways to cut back on the bills, but short of winning the lottery I don't see how we can.

And what was my profession pre-kids? I was a teacher! I wanted to be one of those radical teachers who thought from the ground up, went with the kids on a wild ride, planted seeds in their minds but didn't stick around thinking I had to completely mold them to my liking. Once I got in the classroom, though, I couldn't believe the constraints the government puts on you as a teacher. Talk about regulation! Yikes!

Still, I feel like I owe it to the kids who don't have a choice in the matter. They are going to be in school no matter what. I want to be the one trying hardest not to screw them up. If I have to earn a paycheck, that's where I want to be...... sort of. If I can't find a job in this economy, I may still be smiling with relief!

Lynnie said...

Oh, and in my LONG WINDED speech (what is up with me sometimes?) I forgot to say that this particular post is soooo right on, and what interesting people you're bringing up!

Chrissy Johnson said...

"Go for it red, go for it black! "

Even though I plan on sending X to Kindergarten in a public school (the schools up here were part of the main reason we moved...he'll take Suzuki violin K-2! Maybe Russian language immersion!) ... your points are beautiful and truly are the way we need to grow as communities and a society as a whole...xoxo, Anna!

anna kiss said...

Mel - because they're socialized to accept the norm? lol Seriously though, lifetimes, generations, centuries of existing in hierarchical societies and institutions that emphasize this us/them dichotomy as inherent to proper functioning, so as to assure us all that having an authority over us is not just okay, but actually necessary to sustained existence. I don't know who thought this crap up, but it blows.

anna kiss said...

Lynnie - I so admire teachers for their courage to try to offer kids so much of their time and attention and love. The kids do need it, especially at risk kids, so I see the good that comes out of this. It's just the whole system sucks anyway. It's just not ideal. Not at all. Maybe if other institutions that keep people in poverty, for instance, were done away with, there wouldn't be kids that needed this so much. Ah, fantasy. Much luck to you in this economy! It sux. I'm with you there.

Julie said...

Exactly! Real life socialization vs. totally unnatural socialization.

becks said...

Wow, Anna, wow. You may have sold me on unschooling. Thank you, very thought provoking. I am so thankful for El's radical preschool he gets to attend in the afternoons, it's an excellent springboard for all these ideas.

babykaoss (Sarah) said...

I came here via a thread on MDC, while reading in search of validation. I'm in an almost existential-parental funk, desperate to know the choices I'm making are doing less harm than good. I sometimes wonder if I'm qualified to be taking on this much responsibility, but in the end it just doesn't matter. My daughter wants to be home with us, and it feels foreign after breastfeeding her, sleeping with her, raising her this way to send her off to be part of this system that would never recognize her for the amazing little creature that she is, but instead she would be integrated into a system. The thought hurts, but then there is the self doubt, the nagging fear that I may totally eff my children up, that I will pass on issues I'm still trying to hard to get over to them. I was homeschooled from 6th grade on, but by people who did not foster an open mind, or encourage much independent thought. Emphasis was on discipline and religion. Long story short, it hurt me. The repurcussions when I entered the 'real world' were awful for me. I never thought I would homeschool my children, as I have disavowed just about everything else about my upbringing. However, I'm finding myself on this journey as a parent now, knowing that my children belong here, discovering and exploring life in our family, not in an instution and a controlled system that would most likely stress her out, steal her self-esteem and uniqueness, squelch her inner artist, and most of all, strip her of her beautiful sensitivity. I know I'm making the right choice for her, however, sometimes I am afraid I am not enough of a parent. Is this questioning of self normal? If you've felt these things, how do you find confidence?

anna kiss said...

Becks - Careful of dipping your toes in the dark side. ;)

Sarah - I'm pretty certain that in some way or another, my parenting will do some harm. I don't suspect it will be the unschooling though.

I know I have hangups from my parents and I know that sometimes I do and say things that are far less than stellar. Surely, these moments will not go unnoticed by my boys' vulnerable little psyches. But what can I do? I'm not perfect. I'm never going to be. I can only try my hardest to do what I believe is right.

I also know that aside from my own mood fluctuations, there's the suspicion that we may be allowing our children to do all sorts of smaller things that may have impacts in and of themselves - the video games, the scary stories, the battle play. Not to say that these things are necessarily negative, but I have suspicions that they may not be entirely positive either.

So, yeah, I am screwing this up. But probably not as much as I'm getting right. I'm not trying to shoot for the perfect mother anymore. I'm trying to recognize myself as good enough and realize that I will not be the right person or have the right children, but we can have the right kind of relationship and that's all that matters. It's a basic extension of attachment theory - a strong foundation of love, respect, and support will provide them with the confidence and independence they need to do whatever it is they need and want to do.

I have moments of intense doubt about it all as well. Moments where I want to make the boys start practicing workbooks, find a way to make them read right now, or even send them to school because I've lost my sense of perspective. Sometimes in the chaos of our daily lives, it's hard to see the bigger picture and remember why I made the choices I made. For me, I have to talk it out, write it out, message board it out, until I get back to being able to set that feeling down again. That's just how I work though. I have to figure out what I think and where my fear is coming from and if it's justified in order to process it back down to my normal state of non-freak-out. I'm not sure what you need in order to get there, but that's how I work. Much luck to you.

sunnymama said...

My son is two and I've only had the "but what about socialization" question once so far, I'm sure I shall hear it many more times in the future. Thanks for an interesting and thoughtful post. I just found your blog and it looks great :)