Like my title? I was aiming for an attention-grabber…
But a more accurate title would be, “Socialization Reconsidered.” My husband and I have been wrestling through questions on the subject of healthy socialization for our daughters. We homeschool, but so far we’ve felt like a square peg in the various round holes offered as organized social groups: our local homeschool support chapter, a Classical Conversations pilot group starting up in the area, and a local homeschool co-op.
Here’s what I don’t need:
- teaching responsibilities beyond what I’m doing with my kids (required in a co-op);
- business meetings (our local homeschool chapter’s monthly meetings);
- someone shaping my curriculum for me (Classical Conversations).
Here’s what my daughters don’t need:
- to be shoved into a clique of homeschooled kids who form a closed circle and told, “Go be socialized!”
- a setting that heaps on extra or irrelevant academic requirements;
- a program (vs. a community. There’s a difference.)
So far we’ve had a good experience enrolling my older daughter in basketball, some church activities for kids, horseback riding lessons, and swimming lessons. But what these lack is freedom. Somehow none of them have resulted in friendships that go beyond the bounds of whatever activity is central.
Here’s the thing, though: my daughters are glowing! They’re not pining away for social contacts, though they enjoy being with other kids when it happens. They’re friendly and outgoing. They give no appearance of lacking anything.
So how do I evaluate all this? As a person who enjoys people, but finds it pretty easy to be alone too, I’m thinking that they’re not in bad shape. They’re certainly not dependent personality types. But at the same time, I want to be living a realistic human life; we need other people, we need friends. The Well-Trained Mind does a great job of critiquing public education’s view of “socialization” as a competetive model, vs. the family as a cooperative model. A child taken out of public school isn’t removed from social influence, just placed in a different social setting organized around different values. For all the touting of public school as a way to socialize kids, I don’t see a very impressive level of civility or healthy social functioning anywhere in our society, from our public institutions right on down.
Family is a nourishing, realistic social context, but I want to supplement and ground us in a relational world bigger than just our family. It’s hard to find or create ways to do this that don’t involve paying money and signing up for a program. Church can be a place to move toward something more real than programmed, and I feel like we’ve found a church where this begins to be a real possibility. It can provide a bigger family than our own, one that spreads beyond Sunday morning. This is a family endeavor, though, not a drop-off activity; it’s an outgrowth of family life, not separate from it.
Another idea we’ve been playing with is passion-centric, rather than people-centric or curriculum-centric, social life. In other words, rather than enrolling in a co-op of some kind, we have this horse-passion going in my 7-year-old. It’s lasted a year or more, and there’s a good chance it’s here to stay. Why not seek out as many opportunities as we can that will enable her to run with this — more riding lessons, helping at a stable, etc. — and letting a constellation of relationships form in that environment?
Here’s what I keep coming back to: C.S. Lewis. Denise Levertov. Maurice Sendak. Madeleine L’Engle. These are not only remarkable artists and thinkers, but contented people. What do they all have in common? “Isolated” childhoods. They’re products of solitude, time spent between the covers of books and chasing imaginative pursuits with a pencil. Exceptionally gifted, no doubt. But I wonder how many average-looking people have exceptional gifts that never burst into flame because they never experienced a vacuum in a world increasingly full of chatter. These names we all know did. And they turned out all right, didn’t they?