So why go this route? Why home educate? This is the question asked by many people whom I have dared tell about my homsechooling plans; and their question is, more often than not, accompanied by either a genuinely puzzled look or a stare of such abject horror that, despite their best efforts, they are unable to completely disguise it. What I have learned over time, as more and more people engage me in conversation about homeschooling, is that the real question on most people's minds (only they're usually, not always, too polite to voice it as their number one zinger) is: aren't you scared that your child won't be socialized? Ah, that's the nub of the issue for most people, the thing they always come back to if all other anti-homeschooling arguments fail in light of my superior debating skills. One person told me two weeks ago that he worried that Matthew would be socially retarded. That's what we call 'plain speak.'
So...what about socialization? I just googled the word and here are the first three definitions I came across:
1. The process whereby a child learns to get along with and to behave similarly to other people in the group, largely through imitation as well as group pressure.
2. The patterns of child-rearing that serve to endorse behaviours and understanding of the world that are approved of by society.
3. To make fit for companionship with others; to convert or adapt to the needs of society.
I've never seen these definitions until moments ago but, frankly, reading them offers me some reassurance that Matthew will emerge not too socially damaged as a result of being home educated, whether after one year or thirteen years of it. Though I fully desire that he learns to get along with other people and while I certainly want him to be fit for companionship with others, I strongly and completely disagree with other elements of these definitions. For example, I believe that he does not necessarily need to learn to behave similarly to other people in the group, especially if through group pressure placed upon him; I absolutely do not want to use child-rearing techniques that serve to endorse behaviours merely because they are approved of by society (this shocks me, honestly); and I don't have a need to make him convert or adapt to the needs of society. I want Matthew to be his own person: to be strong enough to diverge where necessary from the approved norms of society; to be undaunted in the face of group pressure to conform; and to choose to behave in a manner honouring of his values whether society approves of it or not. Hmm, that was an interesting exercise.
But let me continue by explaining, in my fragmented way, how I deal with the more general nature of concern surrounding whether or not Matthew will be adequately socialized if kept out of the public education system and taught at home. My first thought is this: wondering about whether or not a child can be socialized outside of the formal education system assumes, by the very nature of the concern, that the best/ideal way in which to socialize a child at the tender age of five is through the formal eudcation system. In other words, there is an underlying assumption by those who are legitimately concerned about Matthew's socialization that a child will be better socialized by virtue of placing them in a four-walled classroom for several hours every day with 15-24 other children who are in that classroom not because of mutual interests (in most cases), not because they live in the same neighbourhood, not because they all know and love the teacher, not because they know each other and are friends already, but because they were born in the same year. That's a huge assumption - that this is a better (or best, or only) way to socialize our children. So I guess a big first in my opinion is to suggest, tentatively, that I think there are alternate ways in which Matthew can be socialized. This does not mean that I think all parent should homeschool; I think it would be impossible or impractical for many, given life's circumstances and different interests. But it does mean to me that I truly don't need to worry that I'm depriving Matthew of socializing influences by keeping him out of the public education system.
Well, what about learning to play with other children, many people have asked. Great question. My perspective is that of course Matthew needs to learn to play with other children - and he already does play with other children. For anyone who meets Matthew, you would know in fairly short order that he is a social, well-spoken, verbal, curious child. In all truth, he is probably a bit more comfortable talking with older kids and adults than he is with children of his own age who are strangers to him; he's the kind of child who likes to observe the lay of the land first when it comes to a room full of unknown kids before launching into play, and his personality is such that he can occasionally be a bit of a loner when playing in a group of young children. But he knows how to share, he knows how to give way, he knows how to assert himself without violence (most of the time), and he's great at engaging people of various ages in conversation.
Another person asked me, along the lines of socialization, how Matthew would learn to stand in line behind other children to wait his turn for something if he doesn't go to a traditional school. All I could say in response to that question was that she was welcome to observe one of Matthew's gymnastics, swimming or music classes or even his weekly playgroup in order to alleviate this concern. I have other opinions on the subject that are underlying my reasons for preferring him to be socialized differently than through the public education system. First, I welcome the opportunity for him to be friends with, and to be mentored by (and eventually to mentor) people of various ages. When I attended a local homeschooling conference in late March of this year, I observed something very intriguing about the teenagers who attended their own series of workshops but who joined the main plenary sessions with the parents and other adults who attended. I saw kids who were engaged with many other people at various ages levels: kids who looked to be about 16 or 17 were hanging out and having fun with kids who looked to be about 12 or 13; I saw teens of all ages laughing at their parents' jokes and throwing a casual arm around their mom's or dad's shoulders and looking them directly in the eye. I was utterly fascinated by the dynamics I was observing and I want that for Matthew, too. One of the things this province has is a not-for-profit organization that organizes field trips and other, more regularly-scheduled events (such as gym, music or language classes) for homeschoolers; I'm hoping that this will be one vehicle for Matthew to engage and befriend boys and girls of his own age and other ages. I've also arranged for him to be a helper at his weekly playgroup; one of the community grandparents that organizes the playgroup will mentor him in this and Matthew will take on a role of learning to help other children, particularly those younger than him. Anyway, be assured that I take the role of socializing Matthew (sounds like I'm training a dog!) very seriously and I hope not to damage him at a social level by our decision to homeschool.
Second, and this might be more controversial an opinion to confess: For as long as possible I want Matthew to look to Geoff and to me as his anchor, as the source of his values and beliefs and ways of interacting with the world and other people. To paraphrase Dr. Gordon Neufeld from his book Hold On To Your Kids, I want Matthew to be attached to us rather than to his peers. Dr. Neufeld is of the view that kids are designed to be attached - it's just a matter of to whom they are attached: either it's going to be the other kids they're surrounded by on a regular basis; or it's going to be their parents (or someone else entirely). I'm not only selfish enough to want this, I guess I'm arrogant enough to believe that it is healthiest for Matthew at this point to find his primary attachment to Geoff and me. I want to hold on to my kid for as long as possible because I believe it to be in his best interest. Frankly, I think that the vast majority of parents want this exact thing for their children and do their utmost to make this happen. The only difference is that Geoff and I want to add to our efforts by trying our hands at homeschooling.
Well, now you know more than you ever knew you wanted to know about why we're home educating Matthew this year. Like I said, a year from now it would not surprise me at all to have discovered other 'cutting-edge' research that point me in the direction of enrolling Matthew in the public education system's grade 1 program (assuming he passes kindergarten with me!)...after all, the public system worked for me and it worked for Geoff, and for countless other people who have managed to eek out a decent and honourable life. The bottom line is, I suppose: I feel fairly certain that I won't be able to mess him up too badly in his inaugural year of school. I mean, really, how far can I go wrong in kindergarten? Surely I can do at least one year. So...let the adventure begin!