Today’s Musing is actually a triple-header. It was inspired by an Ask the Rabbi question. In order not to make that answer too long, I intended to follow up with a Practical Parenting column. Finally, I decided to bundle all my (our) reflections into one Susan’s Musing.
Here is Dave’s Ask the Rabbi question and our answer:
Greetings Rabbi and Susan,
I’m a long-time listener and grateful beneficiary of Ancient Jewish Wisdom, the Podcast, Thought Tools, Susan’s Musings and your books.
My question is in regards to the most recent podcast on “Dealing with Death.” In it, Rabbi, you mention that most mass-shooters are basically lonely men; unmarried, childless, disconnected, involuntarily celibate, etc. I completely agree. However, you mention that if these men were more connected to family, friends, sexual relationships, etc., the problem would be virtually resolved.
When I heard this, I couldn’t help but think about homeschooling. As a homeschooler (which as I understand your family did also), I often find myself defending our decision to homeschool against naysayers who argue that my children will not receive the necessary social skills they’ll need to function in society. Usually, it goes something like this: “You’re sheltering your children; they’ll never make any friends being cooped-up in your house all day.” Surely they’d receive all their “necessary social skills” in public school. I was the product of a GIC [Government Indoctrination Camp] (one of my favorite acronyms or yours, I must tell you) and will never be an apologist for them. In retrospect, it seems that being forced to go to a place with thousands of my peers every weekday provided harmful “over-socialization” if there is such a thing.
I remember from my school experience is that there wasn’t much learning going on. Instead it was an utter fashion show. I spent every day being hopelessly obsessed with girls, the latest loud music and my own popularity. Now twenty-five years removed from high school, I can’t think of even one life-affirming or life-enhancing connection that remains.
Still, it seems that homeschooling is antithetical to your point about mass-shooters needing more connections. Is this a legitimate disparity, or one of life’s many paradoxes? Furthermore, I’m sure you and Susan heard the same objection to homeschooling. How did you defend your decision?
Thank you again for all you and Susan do. It is more valuable to Christians like me than you might ever realize.
You are presenting us with quite a dilemma. The problem is not that we have trouble answering your excellent question, but that we struggle to answer it sufficiently briefly. When we launch into the topic of homeschooling, it is hard to get us (especially Susan) to keep it short. [Let it be noted as I (RDL) often do, that one of the many, many great kindnesses that Mrs. Lapin has extended to me has been homeschooling our family. I cannot overstate how much of my current familial satisfaction is due to those many years our family was all together in our own homemade school environment. Though I immodestly claim “we homeschooled” it is in the same spirit that I claim “Between us we changed about 30,000 diapers.” True but hardly the whole truth.] For today, however, our solution is to partially answer your question here and then Susan will continue answering.
If your children are actually “cooped-up in your house all day,” we might be concerned. Somehow, we doubt this is the case. We feel confident that like most of the millions of children being homeschooled, your children do field trips, outings, and perhaps co-op classes with dozens of other homeschooling families. Additionally they probably attend family gatherings and enjoy playing with neighborhood and church friends, some of whom probably are sentenced to GICS .
A troubling book, Educated, by Tara Westover, describes her upbringing as the daughter of a severely dysfunctional and abusive father who hid many of his activities under the guise of homeschooling. While that book would seem to be an argument for forcing all children into school, to be fair one would also have to read, A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer. This harrowing book describes his experiences with a severely dysfunctional and abusive mother. He did go to school and for years teachers never followed up on the many overt clues suggesting that he needed help.
Of course, one can also read stories that are sadly available about bullied students and abusive teachers. In other words, it may be a tragic reality, but it is a reality that sick and evil adults can cause great pain to children. Children can also cause a great deal of pain to other children. We do not order society on the basis of assuming that most adults are sick and evil or that any gathering of children will be a replay of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Following that train of thought is futile.
Back to your family. Most homeschoolers we know have a wide variety of activities outside the home and are also part of the larger homeschooling and general community. They also have extremely strong relationships with their parents and siblings. As your memories from school remind us, being around others of exactly the same age as us does not necessarily help our social skills.
If a teenage boy, in particular, whether he is homeschooled or in a conventional school, has no friends, a poor relationship with his family, is broody and disconnected from all other people spending most of his time alone, we would worry. However, suggesting that homeschooling leads to that conclusion has nothing to do with how the world REALLY works.
In love with lifetime learning,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
Did I (Susan) have more to say on the topic? Of course! Here are a few more of my thoughts:
Tell people around you that you are even thinking of homeschooling and before long someone—or many—will exclaim, “But what about socialization?” Most veteran homeschoolers will burst out laughing at that question. Often, their children are busy with so many social activities that they struggle to find time for basics like math. Nevertheless, let’s take a deeper look at the question.
Why don’t we start by looking at the Bing online dictionary definition of the word. My search yielded the following:
- the activity of mixing socially with others.
“socialization with students has helped her communication skills”
2. the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.
“preschool starts the process of socialization”
3. organization of an industry or company according to the principles of socialism.
“planned economic growth was accompanied by the socialization of agriculture”
One could argue that many professors at university schools of education hew most closely to promoting definition #3. Many parents, seeing polls showing that after years of indoctrination in school a shocking number of young adults think socialism is preferable to capitalism, could understandably decide to homeschool precisely to counteract the effects of socialization.
Yet, most people (perhaps naively) are referring to definitions #1 and #2 when they question homeschooling. Let’s deal with those in reverse order.
I disagree entirely with the example for the definition that reads, “ the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.” First of all, in my homeschool we would capitalize the beginning of a sentence. More importantly, the sentiment is far more troubling than the grammar. Society has many very unacceptable ideas today. The less exposure to them that children get, the better off they are.
Even if positive values are being imparted, preschool, which today generally starts between the ages of three and four, should not be the beginning of learning how to interact with others. That process must begin three to four years earlier. A newborn is completely self-centered. A three-year-old should not be. During that interval of time, little ones should learn many lessons as they recognize that they and their mothers are two separate people and that screaming and crying are not the only responses to discomfort. By three and four they should have been introduced to ideas ranging from standing to the side when waiting to enter an elevator out of consideration for those exiting, to sharing toys with and offering a drink to visitors. If none of these and myriad other ideas are not already familiar by the time a child enters preschool, that poor preschool teacher is facing an overwhelming task.
However, definition #1 is probably what most people have in mind when they question homeschooling. Their imaginations travel to a lone child sitting in isolation, looking longingly out as apple-cheeked and cheerful children prance happily down the block looking forward to a day of education and fun. Seriously, other than pictures of Dick and Jane in the appalling primary readers that helped pave the way to wide-spread illiteracy do either of those images seem realistic?
Most homeschoolers are involved in all sorts of activities ranging from karate to volunteering in old-age homes, from orchestra to geo-caching. There is a major difference however between these social interactions and those in school. The partners in these activities tend to span a greater age range than is found in the classroom. More like real life, you could say where your co-workers and friends are not all born within the same year as you. Rather than taking your social cues from other ten-year-olds, homeschoolers have the opportunity to model themselves after older peers and to be a model to younger ones.
Not every school is a den of bullying and not every homeschooling family reflects the finest character traits. But if socialization means learning to mix socially with others and to cooperate and function in group settings, then parents should feel confident that those skills can be learned both within the school setting and outside of it.