Wednesday, July 20, 2005

What is the Purpose of School? Academics? Socialization? Babysitting? All of the Above? Which is Most Important?

I always thought the reason for sending a child to school was to get an education, that is, to be taught things. That is the goal. Period. When considering homeschooling my number one concern was academics. Could homeschooling be good enough, academically? My answer was not only could it be good enough, but it may also be better. It could also be worse, but that is not acceptable in our family, and if my children were getting an inferior education at home, I’d send them to school!

According to the NEA, another goal of schooling is socialization of children. The NEA statement on homeschooling states that they don’t feel that homeschooling can give children enough academics or socialization to equal public schooling and therefore they don’t support homeschooling.

I am now realizing, through conversations with five homeschooling families which have taken place over the last two years, that some parents also consider socialization not only a main goal of public or private schooling but these families consider it a HIGHER priority than the academics. All five families stated that they feel the academics at public school is lacking (and inferior to the homeschooling job that they were doing). Some plan to “after school” their children, that is, the parent will teach the child more academic information after the child comes home from school. In these five families, eight previously-homeschooled children are now going to public school or private school. The families have different situations, some children went to school and took the children out to homeschool, and now are putting them back, while others homeschooled from birth but now are sending the child to school for the first time.

I am intrigued with the idea that a parent would put socialization before academics. The thought just never crossed my mind. I am not judging them. Each family has to make the decision that is best for each of their children. If that means that some children in the family are homeschooled and others go to school, or if all of the children in the family go to school, then so be it.

The only thing I wonder about, when a homeschooling parent says their child is not getting enough socialization is how hard did the parent try to achieve socialization? It takes work on the part of the homeschooling parent to get their children around other children. There are many ways, community sports, scouts, neighborhood children, other children in paid classes, homeschooling co-op’s, homeschooling park days, and private play dates with other children (with either homeschooled or schooled children). The organization of the social life of a child takes time and energy, and is not always fun. It is also certainly not as convenient as putting them on the school bus and considering that time in school as being the socialization time. One mother told me that she doesn’t like to coordinate playdates; she doesn’t like attending playdates or park days, and she likes to be at home. So she now sends them to school for their socialization. When the children are home from school, they stay at home with her for quality family time.

I have heard some stories, though, about how some homeschooling parents have gone to great lengths to have their children make friends with other children to no avail. Parents say the other children are too busy or are over-scheduled. If the children go to school, they are busy with school, extracurricular activities, homework and family time. If the child is homeschooled they may be over-scheduled with the homeschooling lessons at home, paid classes or sports, various homeschooling activities and clubs, travel, family time and playdates with other children. Some of the families also complain that although other homeschoolers generally have a more open schedule for playdates that their children don’t like the other close-by homeschooling children that are most convenient for them to see on a regular basis. I hope our family never experiences this.

I have privately been told by some homeschooling parents that they don’t want their children around certain other children due to undesirable behavior on the part of the other child (i.e. rudeness, bullying). As with parents of schooled children, some homeschooling parents don’t want to deal with the issue and be honest with the other parent, so they decline invitations with the explanation (excuse) that their own child is too busy.

Of course the other thing that some parents love about school is the babysitting function. I have heard lots of comments from parents of children in school, complaining about vacation time, summer vacation, half days, etc. They complain of having to find things for their children to do when school is not in session. I overheard two stay at home mothers complaining the other day that the town’s summer camp program only ran from 9:00am to 12:30pm. They said they felt it should be the same exact hours of public school (earlier start and later dismissal). They felt that 3.5 hours was too short. They also complained it was a drop-off camp, which was being held at the various schools in town. They wished that bus service ran so they wouldn’t have to drive them to and from camp (at the school). One mother also complained that her middle school aged child’s camp required face to face pick-up of the child (for safety’s sake/avoidance of abductions). She said she told them it should be like at school, where the child is let to go play in the playground until the mother arrives to get him. She was complaining of having to be at the camp at an exact time rather than “about 12:30pm”.

Working mothers and fathers have bigger challenges for school vacations and half days. I can completely understand and empathize with this. Most companies feel that the number one priority is the employee being at work at certain hours. There is no consideration or flexibility in most jobs, for working parents to be able to handle half days and summer vacation. Most employers don’t allow children to come to work with their parents, so the parent must either stay at home with the child or make babysitting arrangements. I guess this is what prompted the creation of so many full-day summer camp programs and also full-day camps during school vacation week (such as at the aquarium and children’s museums).

While most parents won’t say the main goal of sending their child to school is for free babysitting, it is a by-product that most like and that some rely on. As more American families rely on a dual income, or if they choose to be a dual-income family, the reliance on schools and paid caregivers to raise their children becomes more of an issue.


Melissa O. Markham said...

Reading this post made me cringe. I have heard stay at home mothers speak the same way about summer vacation and holiday vacation. I can't help but wonder why they had children in the first place.

While I understand that we live in an economy that makes it more difficult and for some impossible for the husband or wife to stay at home with the children, I don't understand when you have families where the mom or dad can stay at home and they can't wait to get rid of the kids.

I feel badly for those who would like to homeschool and cannot because of needing two incomes. My kids are like a drug to me and I am so blessed to be able to be home with them every day. I enjoy learning with them, watching them learn, watching them grow up (well, mostly I enjoy that, it just happens so quickly). I should hasten to say that not every day is perfect, there are times when my very independent vocal 5 year old makes me want to pull out my hair, and there are times when I do need some me time, but I invariably miss them when I am away from them and can't wait to see their happy faces when I return.

We have run into some of the same problems with socialization in that when we join locally run sports teams, most of the kids are in school and aren't looking to make new friends. The closest friend we have is a 20 minute drive away. But we see and play with other children at least three times a week for hours at a time. It does take a little extra effort and somedays I wish we could just stay home, but when I watch my children learning from other children (younger and older), and I get the chance to talk with other homeschoolers and unschoolers, I am glad I made that extra effort.

Didn't mean to write a book. Great post!

DavidofOz said...

I think socialisation is very important. That is why we home school. If you get the family, faith and socialisation right, education has the prime condition for success.
It didn't make sense to me that parents don't want their children around until I realised they don't really know their children. If you only get to see them tired in the morning and tired and grumpy in the afternoon, with busy busy busy at other times, how do you know them?
Schools cannot provide adequate socialisation. It is such an artificial environment, unlike anything outside the school system, how can it possibly provide suitable socialisation?