Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The company you keep

This post has been rattling around in my brain for months. It was finally shaken loose by some things Gatto said about school and family, and some conversations with friends.

First: My kids are far from perfect. Those of us who are Lutherans understand this, but I felt like it was a necessary disclaimer given what is coming. This post is a response. It is a response to questions I have been asked many times, by different people. It is difficult to write, because I know the imperfections of my kids and our family. I don't have all of the answers. But these are the answers I have.

The question has been some variation of,"Your kids are so nice/helpful/polite/well-spoken. You all get along so well. They all get along so well. They read all kinds of good books. How have you done it?"

My first answer is, I've had a lot of help. In fact, in many ways that is my answer. The other is that I have resisted two urges that I have seen in the homeschool community, both of which are--in a way--reactions to the larger society. The first of these is the urge to control. The second is the urge to mimic school socialization.

The urge to control comes out most frequently as limits on time spent doing various activities: Watching TV, playing with toys, playing with video games or on the computer, reading for pleasure, playing musical instruments, or just laying in the back yard daydreaming. The other form is limitation of content. We did this to a very, very small extent, mostly vetoing kids TV shows full of snotty attitudes. The urge to control comes in large part from the checklist idea of education as tasks to be completed. It places higher value on some activities than others in a way that is often arbitrary, based on some outside idea of worthwhile activity.

My kids didn't have time limits. So one day they might have done nothing but play legos while watching musicals. On Monday Bethany might have reread Anne of Green Gables for the 15th time and played the piano for four hours. On Tuesday she might have spent all day playing Zoombinis and playing in the back yard. There were days on end where none of us left the Oregon Trail. In later years the boys might have spent six hours playing Age of Empires and then turned on the news. This post isn't about what they've managed to learn. That one is still to come. This is about why I believe they've become who they are.

Here is, I believe, a huge part of the key. We didn't "do" "socialization." The s-word is the big bugaboo in the homeschool community. Everyone knows that homeschooled kids overall do well on tests, etc., but "WHAT ABOUT SOCIALIZATION?!" We've all heard it. Generally the answer is, "We have groups. We get together. Etc., etc., etc."

We didn't. We didn't do homeschool groups. Or scouts. Or 4-H. Patrick's sensory issues made large groups of kids torture. Part of the time we lived where there were no groups that we were compatible with, when there were groups at all.

Of course the kids have had friends. They played one-on-one with neighbor kids, were on soccer teams, and made friends at church. As they've gotten older they've developed friendships with other homeschoolers, often those who live elsewhere that they met through Higher Things or other church-related functions. But the social activities that they've been a part of have been family-oriented. They have been socialized by our family and friends. They have been socialized by adults who we like and admire and have chosen to spend time with. I firmly believe that one of the worst aspects of conventional schooling is the division by age and the imposition of barriers between child and family.

As a result of our not being group-oriented, I think we have missed out on some of the attitudes and behaviors that come from kids socializing each other. They grew up socializing freely with those older and younger than them. They didn't learn that their parents are uncool know-nothings and that younger siblings were pests to be avoided.

As I said, we've had help. Our older kids have helped socialize the younger ones. I love seeing Patrick's civilizing influence on his younger brothers. Their grandparents and other relatives have had their parts. The hours that the kids have spent in the company of various pastors, both formally and informally, has had a tremendous influence on their thinking. Being a part of the life of the church, trained and useful, as acolytes has helped the boys to deal with the forced uselessness of that time society calls adolescence. The women who are my friends have had a profound impact on my kids. I love it when I see a glimpse of Susan, or Lora, or Lori, or Jacqui--and these are just the glimpses I see the most--in something one of the kids says.

So that's my answer, I'm not saying other choices are wrong, but I've been asked what we've done. And this is it.


Ewe said...

When we came to your house your children were able to entertain our little boys. Partly they knew it was just a few hours, but they didn't act like they hated the evening either! Our whole family enjoyed the evening talking to both you and your dh and all of your children that were home that evening.

Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake said...

Thanks for sharing!

The schedule issue is one of the things that I think most clearly shows how little schools are actually concerned with preparing students for the "real world". In my work, for instance, I am either focused on one particular task, problem, or topic for days or weeks at a time, or I'm juggling a dozen different tasks that all have to be completed on different timelines. Neither situation bears any resemblance at all to spending exactly 55 minutes on each subject each day.

Amie said...

THANK YOU for sharing this, I am trying to strike this balance and find our place in the "socialization" conundrum. The pressure to "get them out there" and not "making them mama's kids" is SO huge. I hate it, they *ARE* Mama's kids! I love the way that my children play together and can talk to adults (I have one with anxiety issues as well and that complicates things). Anyway, I am rambling now, but I really appreciate your blog (was sent here by The Rebellious Pastors Wife, btw) and will be adding you to my daily reading. Blessings, Amie :)

Adrienne said...

I think this post is awesome!!!!