Monday, July 30, 2012

Raising Adults

An article by Quinn Cummings appeared in Saturday’s WSJ that shared some of her experiences homeschooling her daughter. Having completed a year of homeschooling, she offered a couple of insightful observations in the piece called My Education in Home Schooling:

But the biggest thing people want to talk about is socialization. Everyone is worried that I keep my child in a crate with three air holes punched in it and won't let her have friends until she gets her AARP card. There's a long answer, of course, but I'll sum it up this way: Homo sapiens have walked the Earth for at least 130,000 years and, in this time, they learned to be human from their elders, not from their peers. Mandatory education in the U.S. is less than 150 years old. Learning to be a productive adult human by spending a third of every day with other kids might be a good idea, but it's too soon to tell. I'm still unsure that the people best equipped to teach a 14-year-old boy how to be a man are other 14-year-old boys.

Many people seem to assume that since we send our kids off to school today (at earlier and earlier ages), that’s how it’s always been. But in fact, this has been a relatively recent development. In the United States, it wasn’t widespread until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when American educational and political leaders decided that Prussia (renowned for the free thinking ways of its people) was the wave of the future and that we should emulate their systems. Up until that point, children learning from their parents at home (at least at early ages) was the norm. So from a historical viewpoint, the idea that children would be educated and have their values developed by their parents instead of teachers and peers is not on the extreme (as it sometimes is portrayed today), but rather very much in the mainstream.

When we first decided to homeschool our eldest son last year, the socialization concern was also the one that we heard voiced most often and one that we were probably least prepared to refute. Now, after a year of homeschooling under our belt ourselves (I say that collectively with full acknowledgment that all the hard work here has been performed by my lovely wife), it’s rather easy to argue that socialization may be one of the strongest arguments for homeschooling.

Implicit in the concerns expressed about socialization for homeschooled kids is an assumption that socialization is an obvious good. While no one can deny the benefits of learning how to get along with others and make friends, there are a lot of aspects of socialization (in the context of attending school with other children your age) that are not so grand such as peer pressure, group think, and bullying to name a few.

Dennis Prager likes to say that parents should not be raising kids, we should be raising adults. And as the author of the piece notes, do we really think the best way to teach kids how to be adults is to have them spend significant amounts of their day with other kids? Parents like to think that they have a lot of influence in how their kids will turn out. The truth of the matter is that nature has more influence as do the peers who their children spend their time with. The die has already been cast when it comes to the genetic side of things, but by homeschooling you can at least have some control over the influence of the peer angle.

Homeschooled kids learn to be comfortable speaking and working with adults and, if they have siblings, with children of other age groups. My wife recently attended a conference where she heard a speaker describe this as the “one-room schoolhouse” benefit of homeschooling. When I mentioned that to my father-who attended such a school in Wisconsin-he immediately understood the concept. While children in the room would be learning different lessons at different levels at different times, they were all in the room together. So as a younger child, you couldn’t help but pick up bits and pieces of what the older kids were being taught. And if you were ahead of where the rest of your age group was in a particular subject, it was relatively easy for you to learn that subject with a group at a higher level. And you also were taught (to some extent at least) how to get along with and work with kids of various ages instead of being in a silo with children the same age as you.

We’ve only been homeschooling for a year and we’re certainly no experts in the matter. And the way our children have turned out so far likely has far more to do with their natures than anything we have done. But if you met any of our boys, I doubt their being properly socialized would be among your concerns. Our oldest son has no problem carrying on conversations with older kids and adults and actually seems to revel being on a public stage (which he’s had the opportunity to do a couple of times). My wife and I aren’t sure exactly where that came from us as both of us are more introverted personality types. And the other day at a park, I observed an interaction with our middle son that made me a proud papa. He crossing from one place to another on a piece of playground equipment when an older girl (whom he did not know) told him that wasn’t “the way” he was supposed to do it. Without missing a beat, he confidently explained to her “Well, that’s my way.”