A few things I’ve been asked recently, are how will my children learn to be with people they don’t like, how will they learn to negotiate, and how will they learn to deal with bullies, if they’re not at school?
I guess this falls into the idea of ‘socialisation’, which is never far away when people ask about home education. I’ve seen my childrens’ inner core of self confidence, their team-working and negotiating skills absolutely bloom in the past eighteen months. But I know I had all the same socialisation concerns about homeschooling until a couple of years ago. Without ever having thought about it a great deal, I had a vague, abstract notion that home educated children would be on their own all day, being lonely, and socially awkward. Let’s say ‘wierd’!
One of my fears used to be that my children would be different, or wouldn’t fit in. Probably what I meant by wierd in this context. But ironically, was that fear in fact generated from my school days in the first place? Where I remember the pressure to conform, and avoid humiliation was paramount? I feel now that being unique is a fantastic, highly desirable thing to be in life, in a career, and in making friends. So many situations call for people who stand out, have the courage to be different, are comfortable within themselves, and are brave enough to go against the mainstream. Isn’t this in fact what most people want for their kids? But many of us will remember it was a hard thing to be at school.
But back to the negotiating, and the dealing with bullies and difficult people thing. I wonder where we, myself included, got the idea that years in a room with the same thirty children the same age, was the only way for children to become ‘socialised’? And what about what children do the rest of the week? No socialisation there? If we take time to think about it, there are numerous better ways to provide children with social learning than children all the same age in an unvaried, indoor environment. It tends to create hierarchies full of pettiness and peer pressure, that children are ill-equipped developmentally to deal with, particularly in their younger years. And essentially, they are trapped.
And as an aside, no one should have to put up with abuse or bullying, should they? Schools have anti-bullying stances and policies, which are, however, often ineffective in the face of the psychological tactics of the bully. It’s pretty much sink or swim, often without either the development, or the life experience a child needs to cope. A school child cannot escape their tormentor(s), day in, day out, year after year. Any parent who has had to deal with their child being bullied knows that it is luck of the draw as to who gets bullied, and that despite school policies, there can be pretty much no answer to it. It is a harrowing, scarring experience, often with no end until the child leaves school. At the extreme end of this issue, school children have taken their own lives due to bullying. And is all this what we think of as ‘learning to deal with bullies’?
Home educated kids attend different groups, classes, and trips, with different children of all ages, along with many different adults. They also have playdates, social meet ups, and online friendship groups. Plus of course their general interactions out in the real world. Because of the variety of groups and activities, and the opportunity to follow a child’s natural learning styles and interests, the situations are less claustrophobic, and emotions are less intense, than at school. However, homeschoolers certainly encounter plenty of difficult characters and situations. And they are highly motivated to work through any problems, as they have chosen the group or activity themselves, and don’t want to have to walk away. But, more healthily, and like in the real, adult world, they are free to ultimately leave a toxic situation.
When it comes to learning, are all of us able to learn well when surrounded by thirty other people, coughing, sniffing, moving, talking? Do all of us thrive socially, and in terms of our wellbeing, when continually surrounded by a lot of people? Well some of us do, and some don’t. For some of us it’s pretty detrimental.
Despite the above I’m not actually trying to do down the school social experience here! Clearly many children have rich social lives at school, gain many social skills, and make lifelong friends. And it is felt to be the only viable option for the majority of parents in our country. Its just that the balance of thought on home educated socialisation is overwhelmingly negative. By pointing out all the social opportunities home schoolers do have, and that as a provider of social experience, school life certainly has its flaws, maybe this can be evened up a little. And considering that even if being homeschooled does make children, when compared to the mainstream, a little different or unusual, without the peer pressure of the school environment they are often able to embrace this and blossom within it. Knowing who they are in this way, will be a positive thing for the life ahead of them.