April 17, 2003
Socialisation (again)

Today's electronic Independent has an interesting article about home schooling. It's not all that negative, and it's there. That's the big story here, not the details of what the story says. The Internet features prominently, as the means by which parents can obtain educational materials, and of course it is also one of the ways that parents learn about the home schooling option in the first place. But, inevitably, the "socialisation" objection to home schooling is also raised.

Amazing as it seems to those who can't wait to offload their kids in the morning, growing numbers of parents are educating them at home. With the resources of the internet it is easy to replicate classroom work at home, but harder to provide the teamwork and playground games, the fallings-out and makings-up, that are as essential to a child's growth as mental maths and basic literacy.

What the author of this piece, Hilary Wilce, suggests as the answer to that dilemma is a compromise. Some home schooling, and some regular schooling.

Look west and you will find a primary school in Devon that takes one child in for two days a week, and another for three, under an agreement with their parents that the rest of the children's education will be at home. The head's view is that half a week in school is better than none, and that it works if everyone co-operates.

But, as any home schoolers reading this will not need to be told, it is precisely the "socialisation" offered by many schools that they are often anxious to avoid. The kinder, gentler rhythms of family life are not merely preferred on narrowly education grounds, but precisely because it provides a superior sort of socialisation, in the form of a more gradual easing of children in to the wider world.

Consider this article which today's Independent also carries:

Children as young as four are being traumatised by a regime of formal school instruction in the Three Rs that has turned early learning into a straitjacket, teachers said yesterday.

Delegates at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' conference in Blackpool said children, especially boys, became disruptive when starting maths and English lessons at too young an age. They were not ready to accept regimented lessons at four.

They called for the formal school starting age to be put back to six, as it is in most European countries.

The central point of this piece, alluded to in that last quoted sentence, concerns an old argument about when formal schooling should begin. From what I've heard and read, the continentals do this better, as this piece says. They provide a softer social landing for children in the transition between home and school.

But what the piece also illustrates is just one of the many ways in which a school can be deeply unsatisfactory, and thus home schooling loom larger as a preferred option. Here we have a new kind of bad British school, in the form of the examinationally neurotic school, which straps little tots to desks two years too soon so that they can get ahead in the exam race and hopefully stay ahead. All that actually happens is that their socialisation is messed up, in other words it is exactly where schools are supposed to be superior to home schooling that such regular schools actually fall down.

The more familiar form in which regular school "socialisation" is so often found wanting is that schools are too full of bullying not, as in the above case, by teachers of tiny pupils, but of pupils (and teachers) by other pupils. There is a huge national debate in Britain, which will never end because what it debates shows no sign of ending.

This Guardian article puts a new slant on this familiar theme by talking of the nastiness often inflicted by teachers on one another:

More than half of teachers and lecturers are being bullied by their colleagues or the parents of their students, a survey revealed today.

Responses to a questionnaire from 2,000 members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers showed a "grim picture of isolation and intimidation" in schools and colleges, the union said.

That just may be somewhat of an exaggeration, but it makes the point yet again that many schools are, precisely in their "socialisation" effects, deeply unsatisfactory places.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:56 PM
Category: Home education