Wednesday, September 15, 2010

School's Out Forever

ABC's The Middle
Tonight my husband flipped on an episode of ABC's The Middle, which I think is supposed to be a quirky look at middle America. Not just the Midwest or middle-income family, but true mediocrity at its finest. The story chronicled the parents' ambitions to help their lazy teen son do better in school, return their youngest's library books, and help their middle child, a girl, get on a team at school. All of the teams and clubs have rejected her. It's supposed to be funny, but it's a painfully awkward show and I suspect my husband only liked it because it starred the Janitor from Scrubs.

The mother's closing voice-over intoned how hardworking people with average kids trying to get by and help them grow up isn't ordinary, but extraordinary. It's not a horrible sentiment, but I wonder who relates to this show. Mostly because the characters' are social skills cringe-worthy. In another episode, the mother sends the youngest, an isolated book worm, to social skills classes to prove to the father how his poor social skills are affecting his son. And all I could hear as I watch this was my mother-in-law demanding to know how our children would be socialized if we homeschooled.

Now this is not a mother-in-law bashing article. I like my mother-in-law. She's an educator by trade. I taught before I decided to stay home. I have deep respect for education. I love teaching. I just happen to believe sitting at a desk with thirty other kids and a set schedule isn't going to do as much as I could for them by homeschooling. But inevitably the question I am repeatedly asked is how I can expect to socialize my children.

Well, if your only image of homeschoolers involves awkward, unfashionable kids with stern, conservative parents, you're missing out. Anyone who knows me understands I'm a diva-hippie-rockstar cross breed of a mom (at least that's what I'm going for), but that's not the point. Tonight as I watched The Middle, I watched this girl struggling to make a friend and find a spot to fit into and I sort of wondered how my children will be socialized if they attend school. Is it really so desirable to help them achieve status quo amongst a group of kids from roughly the same income, same racial groups, and same neighborhoods? What do we learn from merely fitting into a puzzle comprised of too similar pieces? And what about those awkward kids struggling to achieve even that? What does school socialization accomplish for them?

James hanging out at a drum circle
The world is much too big and exciting to waste time in a classroom reading about in books and watching it on movies. Don't worry about my kids coping in the real world. They're already in it.

12 comments:

Carla said... [Reply to comment]

I haven't watched it, but I agree with what you're saying there. Social skills aren't something that school magically gives you. And homeschooling is probably what I'll end up choosing for my children.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Children learn much more than just how to 'socialize' when they attend public schooling. They learn how to interact with peers, interact with adult authority figures other than their parents, respect, responsibilty, 'working' in a structured environment, dealing and coping with vast unique situations (yes, some negative, such as rejection and cruel kids, but that's a huge part of life). A child's experience in school teaches them important aspects of life, which absolutely can NOT be taught at home by their parents. Not to mention, teachers have years and years of experience and education, and are actually certified in teaching children the appropriate curriculum, and are able to monitor a child's progress accurately. Children have more opportunities and resources in a public school as well. I am not completely against homeschooling, especially when there are valid reasons to home school, such as overcrowding in the public schools, or possibly living in an unsafe area. There are pros and cons to any type of schooling, but I think whatever decision parents make, the ultimate goal should be providing their children with optimum learning and opportunity. Every parent feels they know what's best for their child, but that's not always realistic thinking. I just hope when parents are choosing to home school, they are sincerely doing what they think is best for their children, and not what's in their own best interest...

Jenn said... [Reply to comment]

@anonymous I absolutely am doing what is best for my children, and I know that as a trained educator who has taught in the public school system. Homeschooled and unschooled children are given amazing opportunities to participate in learning cooperatives, do field learning, and encounter people of all ages, races, cultures, and classes. They are given more freedom to pursue curriculum geared to individual interests, intelligences, and skills as well as more individualized attention.

I don't believe every parent has the interest or drive to homeschool, but I think very conscientious parents should consider it a viable option and be encouraged to pursue it. Instead their interest in often beaten down by people who proclaim their children will be uneducated, social misfits. It's condescending and misinformed to presume that school is the only way to provide socialization.

And it is in my best interest to have happy, intrinsically motivated children who see themselves as part of the world and not a piece in a mock social hierarchy, because my primary interest is in my children.

Jeanine Byers Hoag said... [Reply to comment]

"Children learn much more than just how to 'socialize' when they attend public schooling. They learn how to interact with peers, interact with adult authority figures other than their parents, respect, responsibilty, 'working' in a structured environment, dealing and coping with vast unique situations (yes, some negative, such as rejection and cruel kids, but that's a huge part of life). A child's experience in school teaches them important aspects of life, which absolutely can NOT be taught at home by their parents."

Well, that all sounded kind of harsh to me. And I disagree.

Children learn how to conform and assimilate but not necessarily how to socialize in school. A lot of the time, their mothers or fathers coach them at home about how to deal with tough situations or feeling like no one likes them, etc.

Most homeschooling families are not isolated. They often participate in one or more co-op classes with other homeschooling families or they get together with them for field trips and extracurricular activities.

They may have a place of worship they attend regularly.

Such is the case (both examples) with my own homeschooling family.

"I just hope when parents are choosing to home school, they are sincerely doing what they think is best for their children, and not what's in their own best interest..."

I think most are!

Just imagine, these moms (and dads) could have the day to themselves but instead give it to their children because they believe that spending that time together will nurture the attachment and connection and bond they are creating with their children. Studies suggest that it works, too!

One of my goals is to help my son think for himself, be true to who he is, and enjoy learning. I want him to be attached and secure so that when life gets tough, as it does for us all from time to time, he is better equipped to handle it.

I did not get that at public school and I would guess that most children don't.

Jeanine

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I have a college education, as does my husband. However, I wouldn't dream that I would have the capacity to teach my child everything he would need to know to advance to a university. Do I think that I could create an enriching experience for my child? Sure. I plan on exposing my child/children to all sorts of adventures that they will not be able to get inside of a classroom. But the nuts and bolts of an education? No, I will leave that up to professionals.

My husband is a product of homeschooling (at least until the 6th grade). His mother did not finish high school and they are the conservative fundamentalists that make most prgressive Americans cringe. He is one of the lucky ones, I believe. He graduated from one of the top engineering schools in the country - not without struggle. Being homeschooled (or as he says "a victim of homeschooling") was an massive hinderance to him. He is shy and awkward people he doesn't know. Is every person who is homeschooled like this? Thank God, no. But it didn't get to be a stereotype by accident. Similarly, his brother's wife homeschools her four children (all under the age of 9). Said wife was homeschooled herself and the children's education is a joke. It is exacerbated by the fact that their third child is delayed and they have sought zero help for her.

I think the main problem I have with homeschooling is that there is no accountability. Yes, the chlidren have to take mandatory state tests but those tests are not reported to any state agency. That is why there is no statistical information as to whether homeschooling is working and children are on par with their peers. The test scores are mailed to the parents and they must keep records for up to five years. [disclaimer: I am speaking solely for my state.]

I wish you the best in teaching your children. I sincerely hope that you can help to change the public perception of homeschooled children. Sadly, the perception of homeschooled children is such because there is little socialization within homeschooling communities for a variety of different reason and thus the stigma.

Good luck to you - and remember: They are your children. You don't have anyone to answer to...

Pocket.Buddha said... [Reply to comment]

I don't yet have a set opinion on whether home schooling, un-schooling, public schooling or any other form of education is right for my son. We're just not there yet.

But I wanted to comment on how ignorant the following statement is...

"...it didn't get to be a stereotype by accident."

The definition of a stereotype is:

"a simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group"

Stereotypes are typically socially oppressive tools used by groups to maintain the social hierarchy that keeps them in a place of power or importance. They are nothing short of social propaganda. You CAN NOT use a social stereotype as proof positive of the world as YOU see it.

Let's imagine for a moment that instead of home schooled children, you were talking about a racial/religious/social group.

You can't say 'the drunken Irish man with more children than he can afford is a stereotype for a reason and proves that most or all Irish men drink too much, have more than 5 children, and don't make enough money to support them'

You can't say 'The stereotype of a terrorist is a middle-eastern Muslim suicide bomber and therefore all Muslims are terrorists and suicide bombers.'

You can't say 'Gay people who party to excess and have multiple partners is a stereotype because all gay people party to excess and sleep with multiple partners.'

Not just because it would be incredibly rude and inappropriate to say these things, but because each statement would be an egregiously false assessment.

It is equally as offensive, ignorant, rude, inappropriate, and false to say so about home schooled children.

Did they teach you those kinds of reasoning skills in public school I wonder? If so I think I will be looking a little closer at home schooling as an option when the time comes.

Certified Holistic Health Practitioner said... [Reply to comment]

"I think the main problem I have with homeschooling is that there is no accountability. Yes, the chlidren have to take mandatory state tests but those tests are not reported to any state agency. That is why there is no statistical information as to whether homeschooling is working and children are on par with their peers."

Research shows that homeschooled children tend to do better on college entrance exams.

I am sorry that your husband didn't have a better experience when he was homeschooled and that his experience and the family you are observing that homeschools has affected your views. Those types of experiences are the exception, I believe, but I respect your difference of opinion.

MamieCole said... [Reply to comment]

@ Anonymous- Are you attributing your husband's shyness and awkwardness to being homeschooled? i.e. homeschooling made him shy and awkward? Do you not think, that just possibly, he would be shy and awkward no matter what? Are there not countless shy and awkward children walking the halls of school buildings all over the world right now? Personality is not only present at birth, but is pretty much set by age 4. After that, it can be influenced, but a shy person does not become socially outgoing simply by attending school.

In regard to homeschooling in general, schools are constantly trying to find ways to lower the student:teacher ratio to facilitate better learning. Homeschooling offers 1:1 instruction (or 2, 3, 4:1 depending on the number of siblings.) There is no way a teacher with a room full of 20+ kids can give my child the quality of instruction that I can at home.

Public schooling instruction in a typical classroom meets the needs of about 1/3 of the students. 1/3 is so far behind they don't understand and the other 1/3 is far beyond the lesson being taught and as a result are bored. I'm not willing to risk my child being in the majority that aren't getting their needs met.

Certified Holistic Health Practitioner said... [Reply to comment]

I wanted to comment on that, too, actually. I was shy and awkward all the way through my public high school experience and then, in college, and then, in grad school. When it became obvious to me that being shy was affecting my job (not my first job as a therapist but my 3rd in a substance abuse tx center), I began to work on putting my clients at ease.

So now I know how to "mingle" and "be sociable." But I am still shy.

Though my son is shy around people he doesn't know, I am making sure he has excellent social and conversational skills. And he does!

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

"@ Anonymous- Are you attributing your husband's shyness and awkwardness to being homeschooled? i.e. homeschooling made him shy and awkward? Do you not think, that just possibly, he would be shy and awkward no matter what?"

Actually HE attributes homeschooling to being shy and awkward. He was secluded (literally) in the woods and never had any peer interaction -- a peer being someone, ANYONE his own age. He does not count his brother who is ten years older than himself as a peer. The occasional trip to the grocery store does not a social gathering make - considering that his family grew their own vegetables and livestock, therefore seeing anyone who was not in his family was a rare instance. Imagine for a moment being a pre-teen and trying to learn how to go up to someone your own age and start a converstaion. He was not given the skills. Granted, he aquired those skills but it was well into his twenties before he did so.

Should he be the standard that homeschoolers are measured? No. His situation is different, but not unique, as it is still going on in his family and in many other families of people in that region.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

@PocketBuddah:

"Before we can do anything to protect our children from cyber bullying, we must first take a good hard look at the way we conduct ourselves online." http://pocketbuddha.blogspot.com/2010/04/cyber-bullying-are-we-leading-by.html


"Did they teach you those kinds of reasoning skills in public school I wonder? If so I think I will be looking a little closer at home schooling as an option when the time comes."

/eye roll

All of that because I used the word "stereotype" Someone has their panties in a bunch. I have a different opinion that yours. We all have life experiences that color our opinions on different matters.

And no, I'm aware that all Muslims are not terrorists just like I'm aware that not all Christians are Republicans... although I live in a red state and according to election commercials, that is requirement numero uno. I digress. We can agree to disagree as mature adults can and will do. I don't think that it's fair to attack you because of semantics or anything else I read from your blog that you posted under - which I don't think is wise, but that's my opinion and a horse of another color.

pocketbuddha.ca said... [Reply to comment]

@anon

I was not attacking you personally. Nor would I dream of doing so on this blog which is devoted to bringing like minded parents together to discuss these issues.

I am sorry you took it personally.

You still cannot use a stereotype as fact the way that you did. it doesn't matter what word you use.

It's not arguing semantics to tell you that your argument is faulty. when an argument is faulty it's time to reconsider the resulting opinions and I saw fit to point that out to you.

For the record, *I* was home schooled/unschooled for 6 years. I am far from shy or awkward and did better in most of my university classes than my mainly public schooled peers.

So in the same breath I apologize that you took my comment personally even though it wasn't meant as such, I want to point out that your own suggestion that home schooled children are ill socialized misfits with inadequate educational foundations who's selfish parents either didn't know any better, weren't 'realistic', or didn't care WAS personal.

Your husband's experience is unfortunate maybe, but is not representative of all home schooling experiences. I would encourage you to talk to others and become more familiar with home schooling and unschooling practices before you pass any more judgments.

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