Monday, 22 February 2010

So tired of the socialisation question

So, seriously. I don't get it. How does school make kids social? It surrounds them with a bunch of kids about their age. It tells them what to do and when to do it. It tells them when they can be social and when they cannot.

We hear a lot about how home educated children are not socialised. It's the main point most people want to make when the topic comes up. They won't have friends! Poor children! They won't know how to make friends or be with other kids or any of that essential life stuff.

A few weeks ago, C and I went to the dentist. We were new patients at that practice, so we went early to fill in paperwork. Armed with forms and a pen, we went to the waiting room. I sat at the table to do the writing. C nearly sat next to me, but asked if he could go sit over there. On the couch next to two waiting children. A boy of about 11 and a girl, probably 7, both in school uniforms. C is drawn to children. They have a lot in common: Childhood. I said it was fine with me if it was fine with them.

So he went over and politely asked permission to join them. They shrugged and grunted okay. He sat and showed the kids his DS Lite, pointing out that it actually does have a microphone, just like a DSi does, so you can do games that want speech. Cool, eh? There was a nature DVD on about reptiles, and C commented on interesting things. The older boy picked up a magazine and occasionally glanced over at C with an uh-huh.

Eventually the boy was called in to see the dentist. C slid over and asked the girl if she'd like to see his game. She shrugged and looked down. Over the next 10 or 15 minutes, she started warming up, getting closer to C and carefully observing everything he did. His game. His getting a cup of water. His cleaning up his spilled water. By the time she was called out, they were sitting an inch apart, heads together, sharing attention on his game. She never said a word.

So which child was "properly socialised"? Mine was friendly and outgoing, but clearly wasn't put off by the disinterest of the school kids. He ignored social signals, so I suppose we could argue that he's missed out on some social training. At 8, does he need that particular training? But what about the other kids who wouldn't engage with him? All right, the boy was older, and might not want to talk to younger kids, but the girl was age-appropriate, and seemed interested, but had no idea what to do about it. She was afraid to talk to C. She couldn't accept friendliness.

It's entirely possible that the girl was just naturally like that, and would be like that in school or out. And that C is just naturally like that, in school or out. And if that's the case, home education has nothing to do with it. Moot point, can we drop it now, please? No, it seems we can't. It always comes up. Always. Evidence changes nothing.

C was also very friendly with the dentist, and asked a thousand questions about how things work. I was very pleased that she answered him and thought his interest was great.

Today we returned to the dentist for a quick repair to my work done last week. When we were called upstairs, C asked the assistant if he could please bring the display book on teeth with him as he didn't want to stop reading it. Asking permission sounds very social to me. Afterward, he returned the book to the waiting room, but on his way noticed a second staircase. He asked me where it went. No idea. He asked me if he could ask someone who works there. Yes, but they might not tell you. So he went to the receptionist on his own. He asked politely and got a polite answer.

C found some foreign currency from a recent holiday. I'd told him we could change it for him, or he could go to the Post Office and do it himself. He chose the Post Office. He walked up to the counter (I was behind him, just in case), and told the woman he would like to change US dollars for British pounds. He was told the value he'd get, and he accepted it. Able to conduct his own transactions sounds very social to me.

So we have a boy who makes friends easily, isn't afraid to ask questions of people he knows have the answers, will talk to children just because they are children, and can conduct his own business. Honestly, what was school supposed to give him that he didn't get anyway?

All right. That's all sort of rambling. Bottom line: Some kids are just not social no matter where they are. Some kids are social and go to school and follow school rules. Some kids are social and don't go to school. It's not the same thing, but why is anyone assuming that school social is superior to unschool social?

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