Tuesday, July 04, 2006

On Socialization

When my wife and I decided to begin homeschooling, we expected to get more than a handful of snide comments. To our surprise, most folks in our circle are supportive. In fact, virtually all the parents in my church with school-aged children have opted for some variation of homeschooling.

One of the questions I do get, however, has to do with socialization. When someone raises the issue, my first response is to ask how much time they spend with children, particularly teenagers.

Last spring, I recall taking my oldest son (six) to a high-school basketball game. Here in Indiana, HS b-ball is king, and the local high school has a gym that can seat something like 10,000. (Though I had seen 'Hoosiers,' I wasn't prepared for the basketball-mania that sweeps Indiana every winter.) As we took our seats, which are ticketed, I noticed that we were sitting in front of a gaggle of boys who appeared to be between the ages of 14 and 16.

Over the course of the first half, before we moved to an emptied out area of the facility, we were subjected to all manner of vile talk, sexually charged chatter, and even a bit of blasphemy.

This came to mind yesterday when I took two of my children to play at a nifty little spot with a bunch of inflatable trampoline-like toys and a miniature golf course. A group of "summer campers" from our local YMCA was on the premises. I'm not sure exactly what I expect from children who spend nine months of the year "socialized" in public schools and summers flitting about at the Y. After all, manners are externally imposed behaviors compelled upon young children by loving and caring adults (i.e., parents). Surely, a group of "counselors" (strangers) and peers at the YMCA cannot be expected to turn little children into responsible young adults.

Nonetheless, I tend to expect a certain level of behavior. Instead, I was subjected to children who looked like they were "socialized" along with Piggy, Ralph, and Simon in Golding's "Lord of the Flies." Pushing, shoving, cutting in line, taking twenty minutes to complete hole number seven while I stood glaring in the background, asking ME for money--all just the tip of the iceberg.

I'm not exactly clear how tossing a child into a group of his peers all day long is the best way to bring out his potential. Ultimately, parents have the responsibility to raise children to honor and glorify of God. To teach them about God, and to also teach them that a Godly order includes manners--opening a door for a lady, to take one example—is ultimately my duty, not the role of the State or some other institution. While I can and perhaps must rely on a community to educate and raise my children (it does take a village), the ultimate responsibility is still placed in my lap.

Part of the problem is our view of children. When I referred recently to my youngest son as a "bundle of sin," I was practically anathematized. I'm no expert on the matter, but it seems that generally, there have been two views of children. One, descending from John Locke, says that children are effectively blank slates and just need to be filled with the right "stuff." This seems to be at least part of what undergirds our theory of public education. Skilled technocrats at the behest of the State are going to "create," in God-like fashion, children who will become responsible citizens and take their place in the democratic, globalist machine.

Secondly, via Rousseau comes the notion that children are noble savages who should not be enslaved by institutions and authority. This is the theory on display at the YMCA summer camp described above and seems to be the theory driving “unschooling” as well.

But children are not blank slates. They are created in the image of God, although that image is marred irreparably by the presence of sin. Likewise, children are not noble savages, for youth is almost always associated biblically with folly. Our contemporary version of schooling, including Sunday School, merely creates an environment that could be described as folliness squared, foolishness on steroids. This is what my well intentioned inquisitors call socialization.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

After all, manners are externally imposed behaviors compelled upon young children by loving and caring adults (i.e., parents).

Most people think so, and not unreasonably. Is this what you believe? I ask because later you express some misgivings:

I'm not exactly clear how tossing a child into a group of his peers all day long is the best way to bring out his potential.

You may find this interesting. Here is an excerpt from some promotional text:

Whether it's musical talent, criminal tendencies, or fashion sense, we humans want to know why we have it or why we don't. What makes us the way we are? Maybe it's in our genes, maybe it's how we were raised, maybe it's a little of both--in any case, Mom and Dad usually receive both the credit and the blame. But not so fast, says developmental psychology writer Judith Rich Harris. While it has been shown that genetics is only partly responsible for behavior, it is also true, Harris asserts, that parents play a very minor role in mental and emotional development. The Nurture Assumption explores the mountain of evidence pointing away from parents and toward peer groups as the strongest environmental influence on personality development.

As common sense would suggest, it is wise to be wary of 'socialization' -- clearly all forms of it will not be equal.

4:12 AM  
Blogger Darrell said...

Yes, I do believe that children frankly need to spend signinficant amounts of time with their parents, and with other adults rather than being tossed willy-nilly into a group of peers.

I've heard of the book that you link to above, and I have seen similar arguments made vis a vis education in the pages of the Washington Post. Seems to like a cottage industry is developing to effectively say to parents that it's just fine to let someone else raise your children.

They aren't likely to get me on board.

12:41 PM  
Anonymous melanie b said...

Harris asserts, that parents play a very minor role in mental and emotional development.

Well, it depends on what pool of kids Harris is looking at, doesn't it. Sounds like in the case of those YMCA kids the parents have played a very minor role in their socialization, having abdicated their parental responsibilities to other caregivers. I assume that if the researcher's pool were your average group of public schooled kids this would be the findings. But if she turned her attention to a group of home-schooled kids wouldn't the parents be found to be playing a major role in their children's socialization?

All Harris the researcher has done is observed the state of affairs in contemporary society. Those who try to turn that factual observation into a statement of the way things "should" be are clearly lacking in critical thinking skills. I believe that's a logical fallacy, argumentum ad numerum to be precise. Just because "everyone's doing it" doesn't mean it is the right way or the best way to raise your kids. In fact, I think judging from the very messed up state of contemporary American society, it's a good argument for what not to do. Which is why (one reason at least)homeschoolers choose to homeschool.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Calamity Jane said...

Wait a minute! Not all, or even most, unschoolers believe in the Rousseauean child free from original sin. My family, for example, believes in original sin, the necessity of discipline and training in marrers and godly behavior, and the efficacy of unschooling. We make an effort to be polite. thanks for the post.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Darrell said...

Melanie--You classed up the joint with the discussion of logical fallacies and the Latin.

Yes, I was expecting to find some unschoolers who found my (perhaps) overly broad generalization a tad unfair. Looking at your profile, Calamity Jane, you seem like the ideal unschooling parent. Keep instilling your children with the virtues of Christianity.

Ultimately, I do believe that parents have the duty to see that their children are educated. That you are unwilling to willy-nilly hand your precious ones to the State is more than enough for me.

3:22 PM  

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