Friday, February 03, 2006

From the outside looking in

The perspectives are, simply, quite different.

CNN has a brief article on unschooling, a portion of which says:

"There is nothing like the texture of kids having contact with each other, making friends and relating to different adults in a school setting," said David Tokofsky, a longtime educator and member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education.

Funny. Here's another quote:

"There is nothing like the texture of kids having contact with each other {through our homeschool group, the "Moms Group" that meets in my home, art class at the local arts center, swimming with friends, and our American Girl history club}, making friends {with a rich array of people of all ages, including age-mates}, and relating to different adults {from all walks of life, as they interact with adults in real ways in the real world, rather than in the artificial world that a school setting creates}," said Karen Edmisten, longtime parent, homeschooler and member of a group of parents who believe in the invaluable practice of observing their children and catering to the ways in which they best learn.

5 comments:

Melissa Wiley said...

Bravo, Karen!!

Now send that to CNN.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you -- assuming this (homeschooling) is done correctly, which, from my experience, it hardly ever is. (And believe me, I have many homeschooling families to observe!)

This really stands out to me:
"making friends {with a rich array of people of all ages, including age-mates}, and relating to different adults {from all walks of life, as they interact with adults in real ways in the real world"

So many homeschoolers never make the effort to make friends "with a rich array of people" or relate to adults "from all walks of life". Unfortunately, so much of the time, the only people many homeschoolers interact with are people who think and act just like them -- OTHER homeschoolers. And when it comes to adults, their interaction is with their parents, other family members, and adults from church.

You talk about the real world... how is this going to help them in the real world once they leave the nest? How will the homeschoolers I'm referring to (and there are MANY -- in fact, my extended family is made up of many, not to mention their friends & circles, etc.) be well prepared for the diversity that is the real world when all they'd known up to that point were like-minded people?

Again, I think homeschooling can be beautiful if done correctly, but all too often, it's not. That's why we hear the "what about socialization" question all the time. I realize that homeschooling parents must get tired of that question, but I do believe it's a valid one. And until I see more homeschooling families do their job right, I'm gonna keep asking it.

Karen Edmisten said...

Dear Anonymous,

I must begin by saying that it's a bit unfair that you know to whom you're writing, but I don't. :-)

You said:
"So many homeschoolers never make the effort to make friends 'with a rich array of people' or relate to adults 'from all walks of life'. Unfortunately, so much of the time, the only people many homeschoolers interact with are people who think and act just like them -- OTHER homeschoolers."

Why does it logically follow that "other homeschoolers" cannot be a rich array? I know homeschoolers who are Catholic, Protestant, non-Christian, school-at-home types, unschoolers, and everything in between. I know people who are shy, bold, witty, quiet, and that's just in one family. :-)

Additionally, couldn't it be said of most people who send their children to school that they mainly associate with people who are OTHER schoolers? :-)


You also said:
"And when it comes to adults, their interaction is with their parents, other family members, and adults from church."

The family is the first society most children will know. Parents are the primary educators of their children, and siblings are the first society they have to navigate. That's rich and valuable training ground. And I'm shocked to hear you imply that the "adults from church" basically don't count.

You also wrote:
"You talk about the real world... how is this going to help them in the real world once they leave the nest?"

I'm sorry, but this doesn't make sense to me.

"How will the homeschoolers I'm referring to (and there are MANY -- in fact, my extended family is made up of many, not to mention their friends & circles, etc.) be well prepared for the diversity that is the real world when all they'd known up to that point were like-minded people?"

*My* point, and with all due respect, I'm not sure what yours was, is that in our homeschool, which extends beyond the four walls of our home, my children *are* exposed to the diversity that is the real world. I'd say they are exposed to it even more so, and in a more realistic way, than they would be sitting in a classroom of age-mates all day. In what area of real life am I forced to sit in a room full of 40-something people for 6-8 hours? I can't think of one. The insular world of a school is most unlike anything I have experienced in my adult life.

I am, btw, *not* opposed to public education. I am married to a teacher, and I believe that everyone is entitled to an education. But to say that a school situation is the most ideal thing for all, or even most, children is simply not true.

My original point was that homeschooling offers all the texture (and more) of school, and that it can even offer it in a deeper way.

Liz said...

Dear Anonymous,

As the parent of two former homeschooled students who went on to graduate from college as well as a former public and private school teacher, I think I've seen all sides of this socialization issue.

In my experience, parents who have the means to do so make every effort to have the children in a school district where the families are the most like them. Around here realtors often advertise that a particular home is in a particular well thought of school district. If parents are especially blessed financially they send their kids to private school where the other families are the most like them. The big complaint that a lot of people have about homeschooling is that finally people who can't afford to move, or send their kids to private school can finally have some control over their children's academic and social environment. In my experience schooled children do not socialize with all different kinds of kids at school. They may be in a classroom with them, but that's about the end of it. Having watched what happened to the less well off children in both the private and the public school setting I am totally unimpressed with the socialization that was happening. Cruelty, yes, understanding, hardly at all, especially from middle school on.

My children were involved not only in church and homeschool activities. They were also involved in 4-H where they got to know kids who came from less well off families and more well off families all within the context of a shared activity. My children were friends with kids whose parents were doctors and whose famlies were on food stamps. They got to know people of color (which is no small feat since we live in Vermont!). They got to know adults who were on welfare, at least one who went to jail (have your kids ever visited someone in jail - mine have) as well as adults who were very successful. They got to know Catholics, Protestants, Bahai's, and atheists. They got to know a man who was dying of AIDS. They got to meet these people in natural normal situations where they could actually talk about differences as well as experience similarities.

My brother-in-law's children are growing up as homeschoolers in the Bronx. They are one of a handful of white families living in a neighborhood that is predominantly black, Asian, and Hispanic. The family has adopted a blind little girl from China. My niece has taught herself Chinese and traveled back to China without her family twice since the adoption of her little sister. These children have had a far different home school experience than my children, but it has been different kinds of rich socialization (they've never visited jail - for example)not necessarily richer.

I know that there are homeschooling families who choose to isolate their children more than this. Many of them are very careful about the contacts their young children have. You, however, are making sweeping statements about most homeschooling families that simply are not true.

We had the interesting experience when my children had been in 4-H for a couple of years. One of the newer moms in the group asked how it was that my children were going to be involved in a particular event that was taking place during school hours. She wondered whether their school started later in the month than her children's. I told her it started whenever we decided it would because they were homeschooled. She was completely surprised and said, "but they are so normal, I never would have guessed." We didn't wear signs saying homeschooler, although most people were aware of it. My kids simply were a part of the same activity as her children.

I suspect that there are always limitations on socialization no matter where you live or how you educate. Private school kids tend to not have public school friends and vice versa. People who live in rural Vermont, or rural Monatana are less apt to be acquainted with people of color. Urban dwellers are pretty unfamiliar with farmers or others whom they might term rednecks. Georgia farm kids are probably not terribly conversant with the mores of those growing up on Beacon Hill in Boston.

When my daughter was living in Pittsburgh last fall she conciously chose to shop at a grocery store that was in a working class neighborhood rather than going a bit further to the store where her classmates shopped in a more middle class area. The store she shopped at was working class, but the working class there was over 90% black. She actually preferred it to the middle class mall culture. Yet she grew up as a sheltered homeschooler in the whitest state in the nation. Was her socialization deficient, is she unable to deal with people of different cultures?

I truly believe that you are looking at a brief snapshot in the lives of the homeschooled children you know. What you are seeing is sort of like looking at the life of a seedling in a greenhouse. Eventually the seedling gets transplanted into the garden and thrives. I've known many grown up homeschoolers and none of them are the social retards that you predict.

I've seen the homeschoolers who went to college and became friends with gay students (while still disapproving of the behavior), Christian homeschoolers who became friends with atheists (while still disagreeing with their position), low income kids who became friends with rich kids (although that was difficult because of certain biases the rich kids had), white kids who became friends with non-whites. I've also watched homeschoolers who didn't go to college, who went straight into the work world whether through apprenticeships, or entry level jobs, or the military. They've all gotten along just fine with people who were very different from them. In fact these kids seem to have had fewer difficulties adjusting than many of the public and private school kids we knew who preferred to hang out only with their own kind, or their old friends.

One thing adults who are not homeschooling parents have told me is that homeschooled kids interactions with them are different. They look adults straight in the face, they see adults as people, not the enemy. Consequently, the adjustment to the adult world is actually easier in some respects.

One thing that I saw about homeschoolers social interactions that was different is that they were not age restricted. They could relate equally well to kids a few years older and a few years younger as they could to kids their own age. They mentored younger kids, they looked up to older kids, they had close friends who were several years apart from them. This is so unlike the school setting where your friends are nearly always people born in the same calendar year as you.

The reason that people say that homeschooled kids have a more normal socialization is that in terms of the broad scope of history (not just the past 100 years), they do. They go to the grocery store with their moms or dads. They go to the bank, they go to the hardware store. They visit with the people in nursing homes, not just as part of a large singing group that comes in once a year, but one on one. They sometimes are involved in family businesses and actually deal with customers. They get to know people of all ages in a natural setting.

My daughter's friend Jeff put it this way, "you were socialized differently." We will certainly grant you that. When you look at the results of the "normal socialization" in our society where we are questioning what ever happened to civility, I wonder how you think homeschoolers could do a worse job than the conventional schools have done?

Alice Gunther said...

I love this, Karen!

I also couldn't agree more.