My Social Dilemma

Friday, October 15, 2010
This past year has been a strange year for us in many ways. Lots of strange things happening around us - and with a few exceptions, (like the earthquake), they haven't really affected us directly, but more our family and friends and we've been caught up in the drama and in some cases the impact and aftermath which has all been rather unsettling.

And on top of all that, we've had the uncertainty of change in our own family. We chose to homeschool our children before we even had children, for a variety of reasons. There really is no one reason why we chose homeschooling-but many. I do believe that homeschooling gives a child a true education - it is broad and can focus on important subjects that are nowadays left out at public school. I love classic education and I don't think there's too much of that anymore at the schools. However, in saying that, we are not 'anti-school.' Both homeschooling and public education have their pros and cons.

In choosing homeschooling I am aware of some of the disadvantages and I have tried to compensate for them in my own children. The big disadvantage I find in homeschooling is the social networking. Not socialisation. Let me be clear on that. Please don't misunderstand the difference. In most homeschoolers, socialisation is a myth, I am happy to say. Of course there are the extremes (as there are in any aspect of society).
You can go to school and still be unsocialised - in fact school is a breeding ground for unsocialised kids. Just think back to your own school days and remember. One of the differences between homeschooled kids and public schooled kids is that homeschooled kids have a broader acceptance of all types of people in society.

When I say that a disadvantage of homeschooling is the networking, it's more subtle than it seems and is quite hard to put into words. I think it comes into effect more when the children are at school-leaving age. University, part-time jobs, having a group of friends that they can identify with, having a history together. I remember my own small group of friends and the fun we had in exploring the world, feeling our freedom; meeting each other for lunch in the city was a novelty after sitting cross-legged on the playground at school with our sandwiches;  finding part-time jobs - helping each other find part-time jobs, talking about old times. As it turns out, we've followed each other through life - through love and loss, engagement, weddings, marriage, pregnancy, babies, child-rearing, wedding anniversaries, school choices for our children, and I suppose the next thing will be traversing through the teen years.There will always be that common connection between us - that special link of growing up together, of facing the challenges of the classroom together. It has been a good experience for me, and I would like that for my children. But I do realise too that the world has changed and so have many of the dynamics of school life, although human nature is still much the same as it ever was.

The social networking is one reason why we are considering sending the children to school - at least until highschool level, and then homeschooling them again through to university. My son really wants to learn technology (woodworking, metal work, etc). To take part in that in the homeschooling world, I have to set aside a whole morning out of the week to drive him clear across the city, with my three other children in tow, who are all too young to take part. Which means they are missing out on their education too. So I have had to let it go. He also really wants to get involved in more sport. At the moment, we can only commit to one sport for him and his brother in the summer, and his sister in the winter. If he were going to school, we could work in with the other parents, but when you're homeschooling you're mostly on your own, unless you find other homeschooling families with similar interests and goals, and in New Zealand that doesn't give you a huge amount of choice. The big question is, which is more important for my child - education or social networking?
My head tells me that education is more important that anything else - it is what will make them successful in life, able to earn money, provide for their families and not end up sleeping under bridges. Yet, if they don't have that sense of belonging among their peers, that can be just as damaging as not having an education. I know it is true, because I have been around cloistered homeschoolers long enough to see it happen. Sweet, lovely kids turning into tragic cases because their parents have not given them the freedom they desired at the right stage of life.

However, just this last week I have heard negative things about school that have got me thinking again about my big dilemma. To homeschool or to school? A friend's daughter who is 11 years old is not allowed a cell phone of her own, or to use the internet unsupervised. Reasonable, don't you think? I would do the same. Perhaps we're old-fashioned. But this has branded her beautiful, intelligent, friendly daughter a weirdo at her school and she now finds herself on the bottom of the ladder socially, and is subsequently miserable. Which is not conducive to a healthy learning environment.

Another friend's child who goes to public school is having to daily deal with a 'mean girl' - who excludes her from playing with any of the other children. It's completely random - some days are good, some days are not and is all at the whim of this selfish, ill-bred girl in her class.

Then I hear from some older girls who stayed with us last weekend after helping out at a holiday camp. They were horrified at what the 10 year old boys knew. Things that 10 year old boys shouldn't know. My oldest boy is ten and has no idea about this side of life.

If I were to send my children to school, even if the majority of the children were nice and good and from happy homes, it would only take one of these children who wasn't  to destroy their innocence, to change their wholesome world view and to take away their happiness of a happy and carefree childhood.

Yet, I know that I cannot cocoon them at home for the rest of their lives. There will come the day where they will know about these things, they will have to face it, deal with it and move on.  I would not keep them here at home where they are safe and innocent all their lives, so when does that transition happen? Should it happen at 10 years old? I don't think so. But how do you ensure your children adjust in a healthy way from childhood to teenhood to adulthood? These are the questions that I am asking myself these days. These are the decisions that are weighing on our minds. All we want is the best for our children, and it is deciding the right path with the least amount of conflict.


Sandy Addison said...

Oh Rach what a dilemma Are the any good Christian Schools nearby? But These are topics that I know I will face sending the kids to a state school. But you know alot these stuff vary from year to to year depending on the class the kids are in. Do you have in Christchurch Christian schools that support homeschoolers - we have one in Brisbane where the kids can come for a I think a week a term and be involved in normal class life. I so wish I could pop over for a cuppa and chat with you

Clara said...

This is a dilemma indeed! We decided against school for our children because of the fact that we think young children are still building a foundation - we think they are not strong enough so young to be able to make the right decisions when faced with many moral choices in the world. My mother sent us to public school (homeschool wasn't really available in the same way back then or she said she would have homeschooled if it had been) but because my parents had standards, we were not allowed to do MANY of the things other children did and we stuck out like a sore thumb and had other kids be mean or tease us mercilessly. There is no way I would want to subject my child to what I went through! :(
On the other hand, a Christian school might be a different story - if the other kids have parents with standards too, there would be much less of that...

Networking never really happened for me even though I went to a public school. Because we were different (and my mother would not allow us to compromise in order to close the gap), I never really got close to the kids at school and even though now I have some of my old school peers on my FB, we barely communicate! They were just too different! It doesn't bother me that I have no real network; and my husband was homeschooled and it doesn't bother him to have no network. I guess that could depend a little on what kind of person you are... But the other thing I was thinking... if you have never had a network of peers... can you really miss something you never had?? Just a few thoughts that are mostly just my opinions! I'm not sure what you should do, but I thought maybe if I shared our thoughts it might give you more things to think about!! :) :)

Anonymous said...

I think you probably answered your own question in a way – for children to benefit from social networking, they have to be exposed to the negatives of it as well. It teaches them that the world isn’t fair and that as adults they are going to be exposed to just as much of the same. Unkind people, people that will exclude them. Learning this is important, without it we don’t build a resilience to successfully navigate our way in the world. On the positive side, social networking as a growing child is vital to a successful adulthood. Trying to be part of an adult world, at work, at home, at sports is 100% more difficult without the skills learnt from social networking as a child (having been homeschooled myself). The path of less conflict isn’t always the right one.

Cottage Tails said...

As you know we have homeschooled.
One thing I have found as a benefit with homeschooling is when issues did come up with peers we had a close bond & were able to look at best ways of handling things.

A lot of the peer things is age related - girls especially can be rather catty - friends one minute, not the next.

It depends on each child's personality for their needs. eg in our family DD is like me & has close friends rather than acquaintances, Ds is like his grandfather & very social everyone is his friend.

For us the main disadvantage of homeschooling is being able to tap into a greater network of like minded people. Schools often can give this.

We found kids up to age 10 were happy to tag along to homeschool events, just mix & be with our friends kids.

Once they hit preteens they decided who they wanted to mix with and not mix with. Through their different activities in the community (not homeschool community) they have made a nice group of friends. Part time jobs has also opened up a new social network for them.

Love Leanne

Deb said...

I love your post Rachel. When I first sent my kids to Hillview Christian School, I thought they would go there till they went to Middleton. Education complete. while there was lots I liked about a Christian school, it didn't actually fit for our children, and now I have two at Unlimited and one at the local primary school. I think the thing with parenting is that there is no actual rule book! no exactly the right way to do things. But we work out as we go what works for our personalities, our family culture and our learning styles. I do find that parents of younger children get very hung up on technology issues (like cellphones) and really that is not an issue. The issue is teaching your child to communicate and interact with those around them. A cell phone is just a tool, it is not evil in itself. It's actually hugely helpful to be able to text your teenager who may be going through a bad patch and communicate with them on a level they are very comfortable with. We must not be afraid of technology. {{hops off soapbox}}

Yes it's true that your precious precious child will learn stuff from others that you wish they hadn't learnt, and it's true their hearts (and yours) will be broken.

But on the flip side, your child gets to share your family values with others (in our house they are Christian values) in ways that those other children might never be able to receive them otherwise. This is truly awesome.

Sorry this is a long comment, but I could talk about this all day! I've learnt so much as I parent and because of our unique family, I do think I have a different perspective on it! lol

I don't know if this helps at all? I guess what I'm saying is that there are always pluses and always minuses, but your family culture will be strong enough to carry you through which ever decision you make!

Deb said...

I just have to add, that we are going to make a decision about a completely different school for our baby! (We have a 17, 14, 8 and 18month old)

Heather L. said...

such a dilemma!!! And no one but you two can make the best decision for your kids. Pros and cons either way. We're always told the most important thing is to get their heart and hold it and point them to Christ and then they can weather most things around them.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that just because you enjoyed so much one aspect of school doesn't mean that your kids will be missing out if they don't have it. You made lifelong friends with your school mates, but your kids will have other things that kids sent to school do not have. Just like kids who move around can fall into a circle of friends, so your kids might do the same when they get out more. I reckon it to this - I grew up in the woods and loved exploring the woods. My kids are growing up in a small town. They do not have places they can wander alone or woods to fall in love with. I felt so bad for them missing this wonderful part of childhood, until I realized that they have other things that I did not have - friends down the street to play with, a playground in walking distance, neighbors to interact with everyday. They might not be getting the same experiences that you had, but they are getting something else that can be just as wonderful in it's own way.

Jackie said...

oh rachel, bless you.
as you know, I went through this, and mine are currently in school - how long for the financial situation being what it is, who can tell - and loving it.
If there is the option of a small christian school, I would consider it, to be honest.
I still long to bring mine home, I still miss homeschooling, I still wish there were a way - but we had no social network, and while their little network in their tiny christian school is almost negligible compared to a big state school - they are thriving.
You are right, you can't keep them wrapped up for ever.
If I had it to do over, I'd make the decision earlier, save the money, and resolutely only send them through their senior school years (age 11 - 16) which would have meant having one at home and one at school for a while. I resisted this, but for me, a definite plan like yours (and have them back for 6thform/college age til Uni) would have felt better for all of us.
Praying you'll come to the right conclusion for your family.

Rachel said...

Thank you all so much for your comments. I can't tell you how nice it is to bounce these things off you - and I have been encouraged by what each one of you has had to say - it has been truly helpful.
Sammy - we are thinking of a christian school, but we'd have to move to send the kids there - but it is our first choice.
Clara - thank you for sharing your experiences - it's always helpful to hear from those who have come through homeschooling (I never did).
Leanne - it's so nice to get your wise advice. We are working on building those close family ties with each other.
Heather - you are so right! :o)
Deb - I really appreciated your nice long comment. Thank you so much. It was very helpful. I do give my 10 year old a cell phone when he is away for sports - it's not so much that it's a problem for me or him - I just worry more about the other kids and the nightmare stories you hear about text bullying. But I do tend to think the worst about those sort of things (it's a bad habit of mine).
It is interesting to hear your story about Hillview. While I think I would prefer a small christian school, I'm actually not too worried if they do go to a state school. We're out in the country and country schools are great, right? Such big decisions, but it was really great to hear from you and I'm taking it all in!
Jackie - thankyou so much for commenting. What you had to say hit right on the nail for us - has given me a lot to think about.

Anonymous said...

Rachel, I have found that we can keep our older children innocent of many things for much longer than the youngest ones. Our older ones have brought many things into our home (and not sinful - but just for more mature thinking) and younger ones exposed and I can't think of how it could have been prevented. Granted we have an 18 year span in our children's ages, but it happens. I have also found that homeschooling high school has given them social networks - that's when we do more cooperative classes, but they can also drive themselves to events, or have older siblings drive. My husband has always said it's not really the quality of education or teachers that bothers him in public/private education but the peer relationships. You can't really control that.

Ginny E

Jackie said...

I so think it depends where you live! I had to smile at Ginny's post above!
What are co operative classes? In England, you are in school, or you are not. There is no network of happy homeschoolers to share classes with, well not christian ones anyway. If you want to do Earth Worship 101 you might be in with a chance!
And drive? They can't drive til 18, and where on earth they would drive themselves to is another matter!
Homeschooling when talked about online always seems to be set in a US context, and believe me, if I had the number of christian homeschoolers around me that a lot of my friends in the US do, I would still be homeschooling!

On technology, both mine have mobile phones, because they have a lot of freedom round here, they ride out on their horses, for example, and I want them to always be at the end of a phone, neither of them abuses it.

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