“What about socialization?”
It’s one of the most common questions unschoolers are asked. People are deathly afraid that a child who doesn’t attend school will become a social misfit.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Stop for a moment and think about the idea that school is the best place for children to be socialized. We’ve heard this stated so often that it’s become a largely unexamined piece of conventional wisdom. Ask people to explain why school is the great socializer, and it’s highly unlikely they can come up with a cohesive or convincing argument. That’s because there isn’t one.
When children are socialized in school, their resources consist of a high percentage of children their own age, and a relatively small percentage of adults. This does not reflect the real world at all.
When children are spending vast amounts of time socializing themselves as a largely unattended mass, yes, socialization happens. But that does not automatically mean they are learning healthy, adaptive social skills. Usually it’s quite the opposite. And who could blame them? They are learning mainly from other people who have as little experience as they do in working cooperatively, solving problems in a productive way, and being part of a team.
So what usually occurs is something akin to survival of the fittest. Kids learn from each other the most effective way to handle a situation, not necessarily the most adaptive. For example, in my neighborhood, a popular technique is, “If you don’t (insert some desired behavior here), then I won’t be your friend anymore.” Clearly not the healthiest approach. But highly effective. The schooled child learns from a slightly more experienced one how effective this tactic can be, and so perpetuates it.
Yes, there are teachers present to model more desirable social skills. But increasingly, teachers are pressured to put aside facilitating social skills in order to spend more time focusing on academics. Also, the number of interactions children have with each other far outnumber the ones they have with adults. And many of those interactions go unnoticed and therefore are not used as the teachable moments they could be.
Now take a look at the unschooled child. He is spending time out in the world, often with a parent by his side. He is learning social skills through a number of relationships with adults and children of varying ages. When young unschoolers meet for group activities, parents are usually present and very involved. When problems arise, parents are readily available to step in and facilitate. This provides a vast number of opportunities for children to observe adaptive social skills and to practice them. Because of this constant modeling and adult guidance, unschoolers gain social skills that allow them healthy, satisfying relationships with people of all ages and backgrounds.