Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Robert Hughes Addresses the Socialization Issue

One of the issues that we struggle with as a homeschooling family is the infamous socialization one.

As a homeschooling mom of an ONLY child, I really like what Robert Hughes has to say about the subject.

Solitude is, beyond question, one of the world's great gifts and an indispensable aid to creativity, no matter what level that creation may be hatched at. Our culture puts enormous emphasis on "socialization", on the supposedly supreme virtues of establishing close relations with others: the psychologically "successful person is less an individual than a citizen, linked by a hundred cords and filaments to his or her fellow-humans and discovering fulfillment in relations with others. The belief becomes coercive and in many cases tyrannous and even morbid, in a society like the United States with its accursed, anodyne cults of togetherness.

I can't say that Hughes is pro-homeschooling. I have no idea what his thoughts on the subject are, although maybe I'll go try to find out later. He DOES though seem to be very much in support of the only child situation.

I struggle with the socialization issue; but no I don't worry about Jack missing out on school. I think schools can provide adequate social opportunities, but I don't think they are the one and only way.

The question then is how much socialization does a homeschooled child need? And more specifically how much does Jack need? Because each child is different and each one has different needs.

Right now, Jack doesn't have frequent playtime with other children. We have homeschooling friends he plays with every few weeks. He sees his cousins a few times a month. Comparing that to a child with multiple siblings and/or one who attends school, he's deprived.

But does he act deprived?


For the most part, he seems very happy--a little fearful and has some traits of Aspergers/Autism. But he RARELY seems lonely. He seems content with his life and the amount of socialization that he gets.

He enjoys having the playdates, but doesn't get upset if a playdate is canceled.

The other day I started feeling guilty and questioning myself. Tim and I talked about ways we could increase Jack's contact with other children. No, not because Jack was asking for more time with children. It was more about us feeling we weren't living up to the American standard of being super social.

Even the homeschooling books and websites, I read, try to push this social butterfly ideal. The classic response to the lack-of-socialization accusations gets something like this.

No, Johnny doesn't get go to school. But he has tons of friends. We go to church groups. Johnny is on a soccer and basketball team. He's in a drama class and science class. Every other day, we meet kids at the park. He probably plays with more kids than he would if he was in school!

Would it be that shocking and horrible to say. Well, Johnny likes to play alone most of the time. He loves reading books and writing his own stories. We have long intellectual dinner discussions together and every week or so he gets together with his best friend down the street.

I started to think I need to pay less attention to what society expects out of us and more about what human beings actually need. And again more importantly.....what does Jack need?

So, starting at the minimum.

1. Can a child survive in a long-term situation where they have no contact with any other living thing? No, probably not. I'm not even sure they could survive physically. I think they'd be heartbroken. I think at the very least they'd have deficits in language development. So I KNOW that Jack at the very least needs to be around some people on a regular basis.

2. Can a child survive on a deserted island with just his/her parents and absolutely no other children around? Would they be forever damaged? I personally think the child would probably be fine, depending on the situation and the personality of the child. A child who has previously had large amounts of time with other children, and craves their company, would probably be angry and devastated. A child like Jack (who can take kids or leave them) would probably be fine. Although if there were hungry genetically engineered dinosaurs on the island, we might have a problem.

3. How about if the child's siblings are on the island? Would that be enough? I think to some people it wouldn't be. They'd still see the child as isolated--even if the child was happy and had almost constant childhood companions.

4. How about if the child has one or two best friends (either within a school situation or homeschooling) but the child isn't popular. Is that enough? For some people, it's not. For some people, you're child is not well socialized until they're popular and getting multiple invitations to the prom.

I went to school. I was properly socialized in the Democratic American way.

I was not an only child. I had two sisters.

I was lonely--very lonely at times. And I'm not talking about the times I was alone. In those instances, I usually wasn't lonely. I wrote stories. I played with my stuffed animals. I daydreamed.

I was more lonely at school, on the days I felt rejected. And those days weren't that rare.

I don't know.

My feeling is whether you go to school or are homeschooled does not change whether or not you are a social child or not.

I think in terms of social/friendship needs, Jack are I are very much alike. I think I would have been a happier child if I had been homeschooled. I think I would have had less pressure to make friends and be popular. I think I would have felt more comfortable with myself.

I think if Jack is sent to school, he'll be less happy than he is now. I think he'd start feeling pressure to fit in and be popular. I think he'd feel more rejection. I think he'd feel more lonely.

Not all kids are like that though. There are some kids who are incredibly happy in school. They need that constant social contact. They feel like crap if they have to spend time without another child. The first thing they want to do when they get home is invite a friend over.

Would homeschooling work for them? Maybe. I think the ideal situation would be for them to be in school. But if they weren't, I think they would manage to find social opportunities elsewhere. They WOULD be like little Johnny I mentioned above. They'd fill their days with sports teams, church groups, and other extracurricular activities. They'd join a homeschooling group and attend every event.

We're all different and have different needs.

Besides thinking about Jack and the whole homeschooling issue, I am also coming to terms and finding peace in my own social situation.

I have two very social and popular sisters. They have always had a wide selection of friends and go out with them on a very frequent basis. I haven't had a lot of friends. Until recently, I felt the need to measure up to them. I compared myself to them and always came up feeling like a complete failure. A pathetic loser.

Now I don't feel that way. I like my social life.

I have one best friend in Texas that I absolutely adore. She's the mom of Jack's infrequent playdate kids. I love talking to her. She makes me feel comfortable and she makes me laugh. Some could say it's pathetic that I have only one friend in town. I'm okay with it.

I have an Internet best friend in Australia. No, we don't see each other face to face. I can't hug her and laugh with her. But we write each other everyday--sometimes multiple times a day. We've helped each other with some difficult and painful situations by just listening and being supportive. If something silly happens to one of us, we can tell each other. No, I can't hear her laughing with me. But in some ways, we're still sharing a laugh.

Some people think that Internet friendships don't count as being real friendships. Is this really true? Are they less in quality than real-life friendships? Or is it just another one of those things that are rejected simply because it doesn't fit mainstream standards?

Some could say I'm socially deprived.

But honestly, I'm at the peak of what I can handle. I rarely feel lonely these days. It's more the opposite. At times, I feel overwhelmed. I have my two best friends and then a nice handful of other friends that I email on a fairly regular basis. I have a husband and son that I spend a lot of time with--who I consider to be my ultimate best friends. I have sisters, parents, and other relatives that I love. I have blog acquaintances that I hope to grow friendships with.

I have enough people in my life to make me feel all warm and fuzzy. I feel greatly loved.

We all have are social limits and my bar is quite low.

Jack's bar is quite low too. For now. Who knows. It could change in the future and I'd be happy to make any changes in our lifestyle to fit his needs. But I'm going to concentrate on our TRUE needs and not society's expectations.