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The magic socialization of public school

It's odd. In the past few weeks I've received several strange real-life comments from real-life people. Some worried about all the "socialization" my homschooled daughter could miss. Others said something like "homeschooling is OK as long as you ensure the children are properly socialized". And "I knew this one person who was homeschooled and he was so shy and had no idea how to act in social situations!"

I've heard these objections online and in comments before, so they're not new to me, but I'm still at a complete loss. How can anyone who went through elementary/grade school think "socialization" is a main feature? How can anyone walk through a school and think it offers the best means of attaining it?

But what is socialization? And does a public (or private) school have some special magical version of it? If we take it to mean the obvious - "letting children interact with each other" - then I cannot see that a public school is, in any way, a good place for that.

If your school was anything like mine, for most of the school day, "letting children interact" is one of the main things teachers work to prevent. Besides the paltry 15-30 minutes allowed for recess and the time allotted for lunch:

  • Nearly every minute of the day is structured.
  • Things like playing, touching, and talking are specifically discouraged.
  • Most interactions are limited to the subject matter at hand.
  • Children are arranged alphabetically, or by other arbitrary system (you don't often choose who you sit next to).
  • Children spend most of the day with kids almost exactly their own age.

None of these equal "good socialization time".

What about recess? Surely there's plenty of interactions happening during recess? Here's what the "Wellness Policy Guidelines" say about recess:

The basic guidelines:

  • Elementary school students have at least 20 minutes a day of supervised recess, preferably outdoors.
  • Moderate to vigorous physical activity is encouraged verbally and through the provision of adequate space and age-appropriate equipment.

Here's what the advanced guidelines say:

  • Elementary school students have two 15-minute supervised recess periods daily.
  • Recess provides at least one moderate to vigorous physical activity led by trained staff.
  • Recess is offered before lunchtime.

The "exemplary" guidelines:

  • Elementary school students have two 15-minute supervised recess periods daily.
  • Recess provides a variety of moderate to vigorous physical activities led by trained staff.
  • Recess is offered before lunchtime.

If a school follows the best practices, recess is all about vigorous physical activity, and part of the short recess is given over to an organized sport. Organized sport may have merits, but "free socialization" is not one of them. Still, I suppose it's a kind of socialization.

So, granting recess, lunch, and the few minutes here and there between subjects/classes, what do we have? Like an hour a day of socialization, max? That's five hours a week of that high-quality, magical, public school socialization. If I promise (pinky-promise even) that my child interacts with other people, specifically children, at least five hours a week, will people finally stop worry-asking about "socialization"?


And finally, there's the "I knew this one person who was homeschooled: he was very shy and had no idea how to act in social situations!" Really? I've mentioned it before, but I'm painfully shy and awkward. Here's a recent transcript of me greeting someone I had met once previously:

Them, offering a hand to shake: "Hi!"

Me, grabbing fingers limply: "Good!"

You see, I had prepped my brain to answer the question "How are you?" That was not what was needed, but there was no turning back, because my socially-awkward brain wouldn't come up with anything else. I am social awkwardness. I went to "normal school". Sorry, social awkwardness is not a function of schooling: it goes straight through to the bone.

So if my daughter is shy and/or socially awkward when she grows up, she could merely be taking after her socially-awkward parents, rather than a representative of the homeschool environment.

2012-12-08 #school  

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