moving beyond mass socialization

by Ryan M (Flickr) under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license 

Three Ways Homeschoolers Socialize Differently Than Schools Kids
I’ve been in the depths of back-to-school preparation on multiple fronts, and I’m continually astonished that people still bring up the old “socialization” thing with respect to homeschooling. So let’s be blunt: Homeschoolers do not socialize the way school kids do.
It’s a spectrum, of course. There are many school families that don’t get sucked into the assembly-line socialization rut, and thus teach their kids to cultivate a mature social life long before graduation. There are likewise homeschooling parents who cling so happily to their middle school social skills that they pass them on to the second and third generation. [...] 
Attachment Theory and Sexual Assault on College Campuses
This week my daughter leaves home for the freshman Red Zone. While I will be there for her in so many ways, I will not be able to scan the environment continually, watching for predators. My absence will be one factor that places her at risk for sexual assault. Another will be the impulse, refined through millennia by evolutionary pressures, to find a new attachment figure.
It is time to discuss how we can begin to build healthy social lives and the importance of a society that acknowledges this primal need of human beings. If our society does not support healthy social lives for all citizens, and the US system does not, it will be very costly in a myriad of ways. The growth of mass schooling and its extension into decades impacts the social nature of our lives in ways few societies have lived through. Attachment theory is one tool that helps us grasp some aspects of the problem and move toward positive change.

The first post above discusses the ways homeschoolers socialize differently than kids in the mass system. Many homeschoolers have spent years fending off the concerns of other parents about socialization even as schools are filled with bullying, peer pressure, grading, and extracurriculars and special programs that filter students but also have harmful social impact. It isn't just other kids who cause the problem (though studies about class size should focus also on the social aspect of large class sizes in societies that have very large numbers of weak or fragmented families, like the US) but the very structure of school itself works against human social instincts and needs. It isn't just a matter of having a good anti-bullying course: the very nature of being compared and ranked fights human social instincts in ways we should consider more deeply.

Building a healthy social life for children and young people isn't easy for any family and, surprise, money really helps. Families with money (whether homeschooling or in school) can counter a lot of the peer pressure and bullying with special trips to build family team spirit, gifts that buoy low spirits, and clean, outfittted homes with adequate transportation that provide venues for alternative social experiences. Sometimes even less wealthy families have extended family members or some other situation that helps. And for many decades in the US, neighborhoods provided more social capital for families as neighbors knew neighbors and often lent a hand.  Kids could roam widely and play in open spaces for free. 

But many families today have far less today in terms of economic power, social capital is low as neighborhoods decay, people work longer hours and commute, women work away from the home, and extended families are growing less common. Open and common spaces are few, and curfew laws and police limit children and teens ability to play and police in schools criminalize youthful behavior. As Ferguson shows, many poor communities are under police siege by a predatory capitalism that feeds it.

And wealthier schools, often exploiting the public system by adding funds to their own public-private school, also learn that the soft authoritarianism and grading/sorting that does not deeply affect their lives making it seem a valid way to manage society. The impact of mass socialization in the factory system on those who fare well is less talked about but perhaps even more important. 

All of this means that mass socialization of schooling, where compulsory attendance has been extended into many long years, provides an increasingly negative social life for children and teens. The second post above presents a brief discussion of attachment theory but it doesn't have the space to pursue a deep discussion of the aspect of college social life that greatly impacts the sexual assault discussion: the need for adult attachment figures. The referenced Atlantic link on fraternities did discuss the ending of in loco parentis though they did not really acknowledge the transitional nature of social life at these ages (and they blamed young people for doing it, unlikely).

Young adults still need attachment figures and the hand-off to college the author discusses really works best for wealthier parents who can use colleges as marriage sorting institutions as well as credential programs. When even the well-tended campuses of liberal arts schools are struggling, you can imagine how tough it is for those in local community colleges or state universities. Recognizing the necessity of strong social relationships that are not only intergenerational and striving to conserve the family relationships that children already have will have to become a conscious focus of schooling because that's how human beings are built. We can easily extend schooling but we can't easily change our inborn natures. This isn't a limit of money or political will power or organization: schools are up against the limits of human nature itself. 

A Learning Services Model Would Support Families 
Creating healthy social lives for all citizens should mean a stronger economy, if the numbers were honest. Changing the social life within mass compulsory schools means:
  • allowing families to choose courses and paths within their neighborhood schools
  • networking kids across district lines to open up segregated social spaces even as families and kids remain in control of their social lives by having course and activity choice
  • Knowing that supporting families' social strength helps kids, too
  • allowing families to create courses and help build out more services
  • allowing schools to provide so-called non-educational services like: bikes and classes, gardens, play areas, parent support meeting spaces, cooking classes, music lessons, martial arts, chess, etc.
  • ensuring schools are community centers providing space for friendships and activities for families whose homes cannot easily accommodate these
The factory model wants to ensure each child is installed with the same content. An open model, like that of the 1970s, is completely possible. as are schools without walls. Indeed, homeschoolers have shown that accessing college can be done outside the factory model. The failures of alternative approaches all happened before homeschooling. Homeschoolers have created awareness of the nature of the system by having families experience learning outside of the system. And homeschoolers get into colleges and a wide variety of training programs and other credential programs right now, with alternative credentials.

This means the factory model can and must change to a learning services model. In fact, there is no other way to go in a nation-state as large as the US. Stealth standards, tied to corporate curriculum, and foisted on all 50 states will not replicate Finland, as the entire structure is not only imposed from without but lacks the deep connections and coherence that national systems in smaller nation-states achieve.  Test-based accountability is an attempt at enforcement that wants to to make change across the entire nation (since it is illegal to have a national curriculum). But this effort also makes the Federal role not only a very negative one, chief enforcer, again unlike Finland, but because it is not deeply rooted within states, it is also a structure dangerously authoritarian in nature. We need to have change that is feasible and a model that allows states and communities to move forward and help build on it.
"The ability to build communities of people committed to lead change within their environments is the shift of focus from reaction to response." Kenneth Chomba, Tatua
There is no other way to change mass schools except to move toward a learning service model. The very fact that the high school degree is widely acknowledged to be worthless only proves how zombie-like the factory model is in reality. A learning services model supports families and brings them into the fold by allowing them deep choices as well as access. Accountability has to come from below as it cannot be imposed from above in a nation-state the size of the US without winding up in an authoritarian nightmare (and a major asset grab by corporate players).

No, the answer isn't school boards, but the actual users of the system itself: families. Families need to have some power in a system that has completely shut them out through compulsory attendance laws and the insularity they created. Parents and families tend to care about their kids and if they were deeply involved, we would have the best shot at accountable systems that are responsive to the people in them.

It is important to note that it is a false choice: local control versus national control. We need families with real power and we need systems that allow local schools to network across wider areas in new ways. This would build neighborhoods and lessen segregation while allowing individuals to build social networks that make their lives and neighborhoods better. We need a healthy relationship between local schools, districts and states as well as on the national level. And that will start with a healthy relationship with families.

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