Monday, June 7, 2010

"What ABOUT socialization?"

It eventually became a bit of a joke between us but it didn't start that way. The idea of homeschooling our kids came to us in the company of two big gnarly questions. One of them was distinctly Ev's and really only gnarly to her. When it first showed up, it appeared like this: "Could we do it?" --- but being translated, I knew my good and godly woman was meaning that she wondered if she herself could do it. I had the answer ready to go before she asked it, based on our fourteen years of marriage --- and the years prior that I had devoted to convincing her to marry me. Conscientious, dutiful, organized, industrious and intelligent. These are words I had always used to describe the woman I fell in love with (when I wasn't so much focusing on what I thought of her appearance). I had no question about her ability to handle the lioness's share of the homeschool work load. So from the very beginning, I took the positive position and worked to convince that she was way, way, way more than simply up to the challenge.

The gnarly question we initially shared was about the actual lasting effects of homeschooling, especially the effects pertaining to socialization. Being ourselves both self-confessed happy products of the public school system, we held to the usually unarticulated and unexplained belief that an important part of a child's education was learning all that was learned from adjusting to the dynamics of the classroom experience. Our assumption was that good educational things happen at school just because the child in question, from the age of 5 to the age of 18, spends six or seven hours of every school day in the close company of two dozen or so children of about the same age. So the gnarly question was, "Will we be depriving our children of valuable learning experiences for the year that we school them at home?"

It was the gnarly question that provoked us to talk out some details of our children's schooling experience in a new way, that is, with the live possibility of an alternative form of education. The difficulties that Ben had been having at school and the corresponding difficulties that Ev had been having with his teacher in addressing her concerns was one thing. One significant thing.

At the same time, we had a whole set of concerns from Jess's experience. Prior to the start of her Grade 5 year, we had sat down with her to make an arrangement. In this case, I was the appointed explainer. "Here's the thing, Jess, " I had said. "This year you are likely going to hear some of the kids in your class telling jokes and talking about things that you won't quite understand. Whenever it happens, what we don't want you to do is to ask the kids what they mean. What we want you to do is to wait until you are home and ask us. We'll explain whatever you would like explained." Happily, Jess was fine with the arrangement and stuck to it the entire year. The result was that by the time she was graduating from Grade 5, she had heard her mother or me explain to her (in summary form, usually!) just about every sexual practice and preversion we ourselves knew of. It was all very enlightening to Jess but it was heartbreaking to us. Our innocent little girl! At the time, the disillusionment seemed like some sort of inevitable rite of passage. But now that we were discussing the startling possibility of homeschooling, we thought about it as a particular instance of socilaization. As the memory of the unsettling experience came to mind, it led us to asking the basic question with a different sort of emphasis. The question was "What ABOUT socialization?"