Thursday, January 13, 2011

School and socialization

Kimberly Rae and her mom were having one of those conversations about Conan and his future that involves a lot of things that are really impossible to know until we're there.

It's not a bad thing. Kim and I have those conversations a lot. It helps us to understand that we're on the same page about our parenting ideas, which is healthy.

They came to Homeschooling, which Kim and I are seriously considering and her mom opposes. Her mom apparently made some comment about the importance of teachers and their qualifications.

I do not have fond memories of my experiences with teachers overall, so I cattily scrawled "I will not accept any anti-home schooling argument that involves teachers being so qualified or the system being effective. That will be about the same as arguing I should feed only at McDonalds because the food is so healthy and the environment is so rich." on FaceBook.

So, suffice it to say, I got a number of responses. My brother Nathan, Greg Ferrara, Marty Langford and Rick Weber, of We Wrote the Book on Connectors, came down solidly and thoughtfully in favor of traditional schooling.

They offered a lot of nice personal stories of their experiences and those of their families with school and its benefits. They were reasonably careful to stay away from arguments about teachers and "the system" as their main point, and to stick to "socialization".

So, I don't want to disrespect the experiences, their sincerity or their meaning within their lives. I really don't, but to be blunt for a moment, "Who says?"

Not to deny the truth and personal meanings to their experiences.

I should not that I make no bones that my own personal experience was the opposite.

My first complaint would surround the way the actual education and discipline was handled. My experiences at the private Seattle Country Day School and the The Evergreen School feel as constricting, personally and intellectually, as the ones I had at the public Olympic View Junior High and Mariner High School.

Literally four of the worst five places I've been on the planet. They could all four burn to the ground and only improve the world... ok, assuming no one was physically hurt in the fires.

But, aside from being a location in which I was placed among other people my own age, I don't have anything positive to say about the "socialization" experience of school.

Admittedly, I am, if nothing else, not a very good example of anything, so I'm not trying to use myself as such.

But aside from anecdotal evidence, what is there?

The problem with it all is that goddamn near everyone went to school.

What do Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler have in common?

What do Gandhi and Obama have in common with Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold?

How about Vincent Bugliosi and Charles Manson?

It strikes me as something we all take for granted as making sense to the extent of being self-evident, but with little holding it up.

I'm not sure it's better than the Frederic Wertham argument that all of the juvenile delinquents he'd met had read comic books or the Women Against Pornography argument that most rapists read dirty magazines at some point.

Yes, the vast majority of well-socialized people in your life went to school.

But perhaps only because the vast majority of people altogether went to school.

The evidence is, at best, anecdotal and, at worst, specious.

I admit it's a subject I'll need to do research on in the next few years. I have no intention of flying blind into this... nor do I have any intention of making the idea of homeschooling as something that should be considered as only one option that won't necessarily be right for Conan's eventual needs as a real individual person.

I think a lot of people, because of their political or religious beliefs or because of their own poor socialization, do homeschool specifically in order to keep their children away from socializing with a diverse group of people, and I think any attempt to do a broad study of homeschooling right now would be hampered by the high percentage of those.

Brian Pitts, husband of my childhood friend Tiffany Pitts, and Rory Isbell, star of Lakeside (her blog, The Ethical Lush is an interesting idea, but as yet undeveloped), both gave accounts of their educations that included homeschooling and offered some pros and cons to either approach, which were very interesting.

Both reinforced my core belief that the worst thing a parent can be is unaware and willing to adapt to their child's individual needs in the best way they're able.


Greg said...

One of the reasons I come down on the side of public schooling is the social aspect but not of the teachers or structure that you so hated but simply the kids. I don't currently know anyone I didn't meet through work or meet through someone I know/knew from work. My wife and I, for example, met on the job. It's not that the job's better than working from home, but the community aspect is.

By the same token, my first year in college I commuted. I missed out on practically everything that happened there. The next year I transferred and lived in the dorm and everything changed.

I have no doubt whatsoever that you and Kimberly Rae would provide Conan with a fine education, one rooted in empiricism and critical thought as well as imagination and art. But he might miss out on the friends factor.

Now, as I recall, one of your commenters was home-schooled with several other kids so they still had that feeling of community and if that's the route you take then it may well be the best option. And that's really the only difference I see so, if you can get several other empirically minded parents to join in and make it a group, I say more power to you.

Neil Sarver said...

I'm totally socially retarded, so I can only appreciate a good deal of these things intellectually. I'm certainly glad, one way or the other, that Conan will have Kim in his life to counterbalance that.

I respect your point of view. I really do.

I've certainly never found places to meet people that aren't just the places I'm stuck at.

On the other hand, I'm just not sure that school is necessarily the best way to socialize children... at least not in the way that it's done in schools in my experience. I'm not convinced that I, of all people, am qualified to do better, which worries me, but I really do feel like there must be a better way to transition, develop and build a child's social skills better than simply dumping them into a place that happens to have other people their age.

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