It's a myth that school is good for socialization

This is a picture of a teacher in Providence public schools reading his resignation letter. He teaches second grade, and he's fed up with the changes schools have made in order to ensure that kids are good test takers. At the end of his letter, what's clear is that a huge result of test-focused schooling is that the socialization aspects of school are lost; you can't test socialization, so in a test-based system there is no point in having it.

You can hear the whole resignation letter here.  These are the highlights:

1. Kids have no socialization time to reconnect with their friends at the beginning of the day.

2. Kids are starved for socialization by lunchtime, but the cafeteria is too noisy to hear themselves talk.

3. Recess is the best time for socialization. It is only twenty minutes out of the whole day. And, on top of that, teachers use it as a carrot to get kids to behave, and it's the kids who need recess the most who often get it taken away.

4. Because there's so much emphasis on prepping for tests, there is no longer time set aside for celebration of birthdays and holidays.

5. There are only five kids in this guy's class who could hold it together  socially and emotionally to face the unbending classroom routine day after day.

Every parent I talk to who reads my blog and has their kid in school tells me they have the kid in school because of socialization. I don't believe it anymore. It's absurd that homeschoolers talk to people of all ages, all day long, and kids in school have to listen to a teacher all day long. I simply don't believe that the real barrier to parents doing homeschooling is loss of  socialization. I think it's fear of being home with kids all day.

But if you focus on the fear you really have, the barriers that are really there for you, then you can make better decisions for your kids. It's fine if you are too scared to homeschool. I was one of those people too. But don't make it about socialization. It's just not even a contest: homeschooling is better for socialization because parents value it so much and schools don't.

Posted in Socialization
33 comments on “It's a myth that school is good for socialization
  1. Paxton says:

    Recess only once a day?! WTF!!!? What a sad state of affairs. I remember having recess twice a day at that age.

    My dad went from teaching Head Start to teaching public junior high. He absolutely hated the entire public school institution and he no longer teaches.

    Socialization was the biggest reservation I had about the homeschooling method. Thanks for challenging my belief that school is necessary for socialization, I can't disagree with anything that you posted.

    • BJ says:

      As a former middle school and high school teacher, I think there
      is no great argument against public schooling than socialization.
      Yes, AGAINST.

      In schools, the squeaky wheel gets the grease and parents have absolutely no say over with whom their child is assigned to be educated. The better behaved the child, the more likely he/she will be seated next to a troublemaker, "socializing" all day long. I likened seating chart development to playing the computer game "Minesweeper", strategically placing my "bombs" spread out as much as possible throughout the classroom. In many classrooms, teacher spend all day diffusing the troublemakers – socially, what does that teach our children?
      And are those lessons we want them to internalize?

      Homeschooling affords parents the opportunity to have adults shape a child's social skills, to have them experience all of the things Rebecca mentions in her post above. The real world DOES involve negative influences, but ideally don't have to learn to deal with them while we are trying to learn Algebra. Or instead of learning Algebra.

      Personally, I am incredibly extroverted and love people. This makes socialization even easier: I can accomplish it anywhere! I don't need 27 proximity acquaintances to socialize.

      As long as public schools are going to spend the most time, money, resources, and political capital on disruptive students, this will continue. Public schools were not designed to carry this burden and we have got to stop pretending that they can handle it. They can't. They aren't. And socialization failure is the tip of that titanic iceberg.

  2. Nicole says:

    My child's only a year old, so I'm merely researching homeschool at the moment. Socialization is the biggest road block I've come across so far.

    My daughter is surrounded by doting adults, but she wants to socialize with other children. My partner and I moved shortly after she was born, so we have no local friends. (And honestly, I didn't have many before — I'm not the most social person.) I'm trying to find some way for her to meet other children, but haven't come up with much.

    I never bought into the school = socialization equation (it certainly didn't work for me), but I don't know how else she's supposed to meet and play with other kids, short of having another child.

    How do you give your kids the opportunity to socialize with other kids?

    • Daven says:

      "How do you give your kids the opportunity to socialize with other kids?"

      You could do like the public school kids do, and have the kids play with the other kids in the neighborhood after school and on weekends. (One difference will be that your child isn't all worn out from sitting in school all day. Another is that she might not know which of the neighborhood kids is supposed to be the smart one, the dumb one, the class clown, the troublemaker, etc., so she might not judge them by their classroom behavior.)

      In addition, most communities have groups that gather for homeschool park days, co-ops or homeschool enrichment classes, and homeschool field trips, and she could make friends at dance or art or karate or music lessons, community youth theater, or summer classes and camps.

      • Penelope Trunk says:

        The part about being warn out after school is really true. My seven-year-old's best friend goes to school all day. Many days we pick him up from school and he plays at our house and has dinner with us.

        The friend is absolutely exhausted. He needs time to zone out after school, and often he is too tired to play the games I know he loves playing, like football and climbing the tree in our yard.

        Whenever I worry about what we are doing in homeschool, I see this boy exhausted after school and I think that no matter what, the homeschool I'm doing is better than sending my kids to school.

        Penelope

        • mh says:

          Yes.

          Thank you. We're surrounded with non-homeschooling family this time of year as we travel around the country. Some aunts and in-laws are teachers. We homeschool.

          When I see how the compulsory-school neighbors' children behave after they get home from school, there is no way that homeschooling could be WORSE for kids than that.

          It's hard to explain to judgmental relatives and non-homeschoolers that school is unhealthy for kids. It gets worse all the time.

          School-as-default-educational-option is too prevalent among the middle class. A tipping point wil come, probably accompanying an economic crash, an inability to pay the salaries of public workers, and long-term teacher strikes. And boom, the entire system will collapse, because middle-class parents will find another way.

    • Becky Castle Miller says:

      I was homeschooled all the way through high school graduation, and we never lacked for friends and great social experiences. There are SO many options for you as a parent to find friends and help your kids do the same:

      -homeschool co-op (as a highschooler, I taught creative writing to younger students once a week)
      -homeschool support group (when we lived in Alaska, we got together with other families in the middle of winter to have gym day)
      -community sports teams (my brothers played soccer)
      -private sports like gymnastics and martial arts (I did gymnastics and my brothers and I all earned our black belts in hapkido)
      -community theater (our library put on plays)
      -church activities if you are religious (I was really involved in my youth group, led a small group Bible study, taught Sunday school for younger students, etc.)

      If you pick activities for your kids that coincide with your interests, you'll find kindred spirits among the other parents as well.

    • Sarah says:

      We home educate my daughter and she is a very extroverted, social being! The problem, I assure you, is not lack of socialisation…we invited 45 children to her last birthday party!!! There are some practical issues as going to school would bring her into contact with children who lived in the same neighbourhood, where our social network covers about 50 miles or so so involves more planning and driving! She is 9 now and does drama, irish dancing, tennis and sailing where she meets other children, as well as going to home ed workshops and camps where she has other opportunities to make friends. Of course she also socialises with family, neighbours and other adults and children in the course of day to day living!

      Also, people say "socialisation" as I;ve used it here, where they mean socialising, but "socialisation" means to teach how to be a fit member of society and unless a child has very dysfunctional parents, they will learn that better from loving adults who actually *care* what the outcome is than from one adult split between 30-odd children and their peers who also have immature skills! I'd rather be the one deciding which values my daughter acquires!

    • Liesa says:

      Nicole,

      First of all, please consider having more than one child, or several, and plan so that they are not more than 2 to 2.5 years apart. The best playmates your kid will have are her siblings.

      Secondly, even if you are going to homeschool later, consider sending your child to a good preschool, maybe one that meets three mornings or afternoons a week. Make sure they have a variety of indoor and outdoor play areas and some structured learning time (phonics, letters, etc.). Your kids will have a great time and you will meet other moms.

      When your kids hit school age, get them involved a homeschool group. They will meet kids of all ages and have opportunities for social and play time. Many of these groups have large families which have kids in several age groups, and they even have proms and dances together!

      Make sure your kid (at 7-8) gets a chance to play some sports and tries out music lessons, art lessons, etc. Their interests and passions will also lead them to meet and socialize with others.

      I am an introvert too, but I find that helping my kids e in teh world, gets me out there too.

  3. CJ says:

    At little to the side of topic…isn't the word in and of itself a joke? "recess?" it is the admission of guilt in my book. The schools are well aware that they will lose all control if they don't give children a break, a reprieve, a gift, a time out, a recess from the ridiculously mind numbing curriculum and sit still for six hours at a desk cruelty. It is the same as the prison yard for inmates and the kids feel it in their bones. Also, going from a human health stand point- children should get to run and play for ideally a couple of HOURS in a day. Play and exercise (ideally both at once) works out the body and among many other things it oxygenates the brain which increases IQ and memory retention over time, it mood stabilizes, making happier more adjusted social beings of us, and especially in a lock down environment, it provides opportunity for working together, etc. Between the taking away of recess and cut back on the arts, scholastic institutions are accomplishing utter brain dampening.

  4. Jana Miller says:

    Penelope,
    Thanks for telling the truth.

  5. Daniel Baskin says:

    You're just writing these one after another! I like the pace (though, I understand if it's unsustainable).

    Socially starved…yeah, I can see that. I was never socially starved in school, but that was because my needs for social interaction were pretty easy to meet (low need). I can't relate to my students who are so social (it baffles me), but I know that it comes hardwired for most of them. Knowing that they are socially starved makes me feel better about having a less rigid classroom atmosphere.

  6. Mark Kenski says:

    What seems especially sad to me is discussing this with an advocate of traditional schools and agreeing about what you talked about, Penelope, but having them argue yes this is the socialization kids need: to be taught to sit still, shut up, shut their minds down except for paying attention to teachers and doing what they're told. Because this is what the world demands in their view. They actually think this is "reality" that kids need to adjust to. This is an argument that kids need to be "broken" like wild horses, and domesticated. Indoctrinated.

    I call this process ruining a child. It sure as hell has nothing to do with any reality I recognize.

    At http://www.cantrip.org/gatto.html you can read John Gatto explaining this far more eloquently and powerfully than I ever could. If you have any remaining concern that missing school is missing out on socialization, go read this, and print it out so it can become a reference and touchpoint for you, as it has been for me.

    • CJ says:

      Mark, I think your writing is equally eloquent and I always look for your comments on this blog, as do many of my friends.

      As soon as I read this PT post, my thoughts went to Gatto as well. I am still fantasizing that Ken Burns will take up Gatto's work on his film since he is now recovering from his strokes and having difficulties with enormous medical bills.

      Peace and love

  7. Kay says:

    I totally agree w/ you Penelope. Though I think the biggest problem in parents deciding not to homeschool isn't fear… it's the need for "free" daycare. It's difficult for a lot of people to run a household on less than 2 incomes these days, so having a "safe" and inexpensive place to watch their kids all day is important. That was the biggest thing I heard parents complaining about during the Chicago teacher strikes, "Where are my kids going to go during the day?" As a former substitute teacher (taught K-12, all subjects, short term and long term), I decided not to pursue teaching as a career. It was frustrating seeing how little I and other caring teachers could do to foster growth within the proscribed system. The modern school is little more than a babysitting service that crushes critical thinking and creativity and fun. I haven't observed anything more detrimental to the development of future thinkers, scientists, artists, writers, musicians, entrepreneurs, and other talented individuals than our school system.

    • Christian says:

      Hi Kay, it is no different in Germany. There is an ongoing debate on how to foster children's individual skills. However through cuts of public funds more kids will be taught by fewer teachers while individual skills are overlooked more and more. Here in Berlin we have a growing awareness that our children need a revolutionized schooling system. Its in German Language but very Interesting concepts (for those who speak the language ;): http://www.gerald-huether.de/. More on FB: http://www.gerald-huether.de/. An interesting school project here in Berlin Is: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Initiative-Schule-im-Aufbruch/132525720227479

    • Karen says:

      Kay – I think you are right, although to some extent I don't think people want to admit it. Lining up all the traditional arguments against homeschool, including the socialization argument, makes it easier to reject the idea of homeschool without having to look at the evidence, and without having to admit that you'd rather keep your cable television, cell phone, and restaurant meals (etc.) than sacrifice for your child's education. The financial piece is very scary and difficult – one that I haven't figured out yet, even though I plan to homeschool once my daughter turns 5 this summer.

    • mh says:

      Serious question — what is critical thinking? How is it different than thinking?

      Apparently, in America we're "missing" it and our schools don't "cultivate" it, but what IS it?

      The ability to spot baloney? The ability to look for the second right answer? The ability to agree with a teacher and disagree with a parent? How is critical thinking defined?

  8. Rebecca says:

    I am a firm believer that homeschool is better socialization than school. My kids interact with adults and children all day. They know how to address the clerk at the grocery store and care for a little baby and play with the neighborhood kids who are all different ages.
    One big reason I chose homeschool was so that my kids will learn from wise adults (myself and my husband) how to handle themselves and life circumstances. The most important thing for me is that my kids are equipped to live life In The real world not just to know how to ace a test or excel in the educational system- life skills is what I am all about. How to forgive a friend, pay a clerk, help and think of others and get excited to learn new things and think for themselves.

  9. Mark W. says:

    Seeing that socialization is such a hot button topic and an excuse for many parents to send their child to school, I'm surprised you don't have a separate category for Socialization in the right-hand column.

  10. karelys says:

    I think it's so interesting that when I first started looking into this I felt scared because the idea of it was so new.
    Now, I read the title and I thought "why is she writing about this? we already know socialization is not what we think it is in school!"

  11. karelys says:

    Also, long ago I watched Catch Me If You Can (wiht Dicaprio). The character fakes identities and degrees, doc licenses etc. But he legitimately passed the bar exam.

    At the end of the movie he said that he studied for the test like crazy and passed it with flying colors.

    Looking back I am not even afraid to unschool because if my kid wants to go to college to get a paper that is going to allow him to enter the game well he just has to pass tests. I'll occupy myself teaching him how to be a life long learner.

  12. susan says:

    Most communities offer home school programs, classes, campuses, athletics, days -the zoos, museums, etc usually have homeschool days.

    There's more unique and focused time for homeschoolers to socialize than in any traditional setting I know of.

  13. kristen says:

    I don't like small children.
    They are whiny, messy, and disorganized. They lack focus and social graces. This is why I don't homeschool my 1st and 4th grader. But they are improving and I believe I will enjoy spending the day with them and following their lead by the time they hit middle school.One of the reasons we are planning on homeschooling through middle school is to avoid the "socialization" that takes place there. Come high school,I'm hoping they will be ready to decide for themselves how they want to be educated…homeschool, public school, private school or boarding school.

    • Splashman says:

      Kristen, the fact that your children are whiny, messy, disorganized, and lacking in focus and social graces, means that they need your guidance (and your husband's). Because school is filled with other children whose parents don't guide them, the behaviors you dislike in your children will be exacerbated, not mitigated.

      Children's minds and temperaments are most malleable (open to molding) before the age of ten. The longer you wait to begin guiding them, the harder will be your job as parent and teacher, as school will have already molded them.

      Your dislike of small children (even your own?) is something that begs for introspection. I hope you do it.

      My children aren't perfect; nobody's are. My parenting isn't perfect; nobody's is. When I recognize a behavior which makes my children less likable (such as whiny-ness, bossy-ness, or bad table manners), I train that out of them. Not by punishing them, but by teaching them. Of course, Rome wasn't built in a day, and my children can not and will not become mature adults in a week or a year, so I must be realistic about my expectations, and allow for failures and slower progress than I'd like. As a result, I can truthfully say I have enjoyed being around my children (now 13 and 10) since the day they were born. I don't mention that to gloat; I mention it to point out that it is possible. Disliking your children is not a foregone conclusion.

  14. kristen says:

    Splash-
    It's not really an either/or phenomenon. Sending them to school does not mean that I don't guide or parent them. For me, it is about outsourcing some of the basics. I have found a school where I really like the teachers and I want them in my children's lives. At this point, they are better at educating my children then I would be. I don't have the patience to be around small children all day. And while I could allow the screens to occupy/babysit my kids for a large chunck of the day, I think the teachers at this particular school do a better job than Minecraft and Wild Kratts would. However, I do guide them, I just don't want to spend all day with them. As they get older, they grow more independent so it becomes easier for me to spend the day with them. It's not a question of me not liking my own children but of me knowing where my weaknesses lie and how I'm willing to mitigate those weaknesses. PT does it with screens, I do it with teachers. If I didn't have access to a project-based, experiential, multi-aged charter school with a total school size of under 90, a school garden and a school forest…well…Minecraft and Wild Kratts might have won.

  15. Peter says:

    I was homeschooled and have spent my life explaining to people why I'm not as socially awkward as they expected. Thanks for posting this!

  16. Le Bon Vie says:

    I homeschool three kids and have for the last 5 years and the most asked question is, "But how do you socialize your kids?". What you wrote above is basically what I answer. I think that people – who know nothing about homeschooling- generally believe that homeschoolers are are weird, anti-social beings who never leave the house.

    • Kirk says:

      I am a weird, anti-social being, who rarely leaves the house, because no one outside the house talks to strangers and it's all jocks and I'm a nerd.

      I had plenty of friends and socialization during the 3 years I went to public school, and only 2 in the 12 years since then, and I only had them because they walked up and asked me if I wanted to be friends.

  17. Sam says:

    Hi today is the first time I have ever thought about home-schooling I am from a small town in England and I have never come across anyone who homeschools before, I decided to research it after reading that our government are talking about extending our children's school days from 9am until 6pm this is something I am not comfortable with at all, I'm not the most intelligent person and didn't do great at school myself but I want the best for my children. Homeschooling is now something I am seriously considering as my children are 5 and 2, however I worry that I am not intelligent enough to teach my children, am I being silly?

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Hi, Sam. There is very good research about what makes homeschooled kids successful, and it's clear that parents do not need to be educated in order to homeschool. Self-directed learning does not require a teacher. It requires a parent who loves and cares for their kids and helps the kids discover what is interesting to them. Keeping kids in school until 6pm is like jail to the kids. Kids do not need to be told what to do for an entire day – it crushes their natural creative impulses.

      There is a lot of information on this blog about self-directed learning and that children do not need teachers. I hope information in that vein gives you the confidence you need to take your kids out of school.

      Penelope

  18. Kirk says:

    I am homeschooled and I do not talk to people of all ages any day. I only have 3 little roads that I get to go on, no friends, never had a girlfriend, and I do nothing but schoolwork. I never meet anyone go out and have fun socializing, or do anything.

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  1. When Money Matters Over Kids « The Boulder Psychic says:

    [...] The current education system is broken. It doesn’t work. Take it from me. I said I wanted to teach from the time I could answer the question. [...]

  2. Random Monday - Not Inadequate says:

    [...] • I still find Penelope Trunk interesting. I love this post in particular – It's a Myth that School is Good for Socialization. [...]