Sunday, January 17, 2010

The "S" Word - Socialization!

We've all been there.  It's're on a field trip, having a picnic at the park on a sunny afternoon, or, if you're like me, just running errands around town and somebody asks your child (probably because they're too chicken to confront the adult in charge) why they're not in school.  When you explain that you happen to be homeschoolers, you get the big, "OHhhh...I see," accompanied by the disapproving head nod.  These are the people who believe that homeschooling is inherently wrong because of the "lack of socialization." 

I call it the "S" Word because it's such a source of discontention for me.  I'll admit that I THOUGHT the original reason I began homeschooling was because of my son's ADD and learning disabilities.  But when I look back on the events that led up to our decision, it's clear that the real reason we made the decision to homeschool was based primarily on the negative socialization that was going on. 

When my son was medicated (which I now realize was a HUGE mistake), he was every teacher's favorite student.  He was loved on the playground and in the classroom.  He had more friends than he could count, and he made excellent grades.  He was accepted into a Math and Engineering school which is like a magnet school, only they work a year ahead of other schools, and they have direct ties to Texas A&M University.  It really is an excellent school (for "normal" kids, that is).

However, the minute that we took him off the medication, his grades started slipping.  The teacher started to single him out in the classroom, and guess what happened on the playground?!  You guessed it!  My son became the victim of 3 little bullies.  I spoke with the teacher and was told that I should tell my son to "just stay away from them."  Thankfully, the principal had more sense than the teacher and talked with the bullies and their parents.  And that stopped the outward attacks on him. 

But we all know that's not the end of the story.  My son went from having many friends to having NO friends.  His grades were falling fast, and there was talk from the school of shipping him back to our home campus because this school does not make accomodations for children with disabilities (I know - sounds wrong to me too - but these were their exact words, I swear!).  He was ostracized by the same people he used to play with...and we're talking about 3rd Graders, here!  It only gets worse with age.  I was at a total loss.  I attended a public school, and was in the "popular" crowd.  I honestly had no idea what he was going through.  I had never been part of any bullying, and I had never been bullied.  So I really had no idea how to help my son. 

One day he came to me with tears in his eyes and asked me if I would consider homeschooling him.  HE asked ME!  Tell me that he's better off in public school!  Tell me that he's going to be totally unsocialized if I homeschool him, and I'll tell you, "If that's the type of socialization he will encounter at public school, NO THANKS!!!" 

In fact, I can't see where there's a whole lot of POSITIVE socialization that goes on in public school at all.  I can say this with 100% confidence because one of my daughters still attends the same public school as my son once did. While Trey seems to pick up more positive social behaviors, Addison seems to pick up those of her peers at school.

I don't normally compare my children to one another, but for illustration purposes, I'll give you a couple of examples of how Trey is more socially mature than Addison.  Trey, at 10 years old, has no problem speaking in public, giving presentations, taking a message on the phone, ordering with confidence in a restaurant, or looking an adult in the eye and having an intelligent conversation about current and/or historical events.  He completes his chores without being reminded, and uses proper etiquette at home and in public.  Addison isn't there yet, despite being only 1 year younger than him, extremely well-behaved (and always has been), and lest we not forget - socialized! 

And it makes sense when you look at it from the perspective of Janine Cate, at Why Homeschool.  She contends that it all depends on what you value the most.  She referenced a conversation she had with a friend who works at a public school,in which the issue of socialization was brought up. Playground popularity was more valued by the friend because of where she works, and the nature of her job.  Ms. Cate writes, "When I define socialization, its end goal is not transitory popularity on the playground. I grade socialization by how well a child interacts in adult society and takes upon adult roles."  I encourage you to read her entire post, as it addresses this in more detail. 

And I'll take it a step further and say that the folks who believe that homeschooled children are missing out on the socialization aspect of public schools, obviously aren't taking into account the negative aspects of that socialization and what they can do to a child's sense of self-worth.  I've seen my son go from being happy to miserable in a matter of months.  But today...he is truly happy. 

Today, he came to me and put his arms around me and said, "Mom, I just wanted to say 'thank you' for quitting your job so you could homeschool me.  I love you so much!"  It brought tears to my eyes and I knew that despite the nay-sayers, I was doing the right thing.  Thank God we live in a land where we're free to raise our children the way WE see fit.  Thank God we're not forced into the public education system where our kids are so well-socialized that they are miserable.

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