Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Socialization: How are Schools Doing?

Traditional public schools have a testing- and competition-focused model that often gets in the way of potentially positive social interactions. After all, you can’t test students in their personal interactions, so in what’s the point in fostering it?

When considering if school is a good place to learn healthy interpersonal relationships, it is important to make the distinction between socializing and being socialized.  

Socializing is fun. Being “socialized”... not so much.

When we think about school, we generally see 20-30 children, grouped by date of manufacture,  in a room with one adult. Order and rules govern the room. They are required to move from place to place when loud bells ring. Recess, another thing that can’t be tested, is fast becoming an endangered species.  Today’s schoolchildren enjoying 50% less time outdoors then when I was in school.  

The ability to be quiet is highly valued.
  • Do not talk during class.
  • Do not talk in the halls.
  • Be quiet in the lunch room.

Failure to conform to “shushing,” is met with a stern warning: “You’re not here to socialize.” Disobedience results in consequences, even low grades in “conduct.

I experienced this firsthand during my years in the Las Vegas public school system. My high school science teacher, Mr. Perez, during parent-teacher night, told my parents: “Yes, she is doing well with the coursework but she just yap yap yaps in class all the time. She needs to work on that problem or it will be reflected in her grade.”

God, his class was so boring! As a social learner, there was no place for me in school. His class and many others turned me off to the fun and excitement of a subject (in this case science) for years to come.

Teachers wanted us to sit, stare, and then quietly write. Talking to a peer in class or passing notes to communicate quietly is frowned upon.  Furthermore, communicating with those outside the school campus is often forbidden. Today, in most schools students are not allowed to use their own cell phones or other devices in class. School devices use filters to cut them off from the outside world.  Why? Because of the idea that students can’t possibly experience beneficial learning to one another. One is only allowed to learn from the teacher, and only what the subject dictates.

In school students meet friends because of forced proximity. Outside of school you learn to make friends because of shared interests. With the help of technology, you can do this with people around the globe. There is no global socialization in school nor is there much time to discover interests. Instead there is all this stuff other people decided you should learn...and “learn” doesn’t mean doing cool stuff.  It means reading, along with 20 or 30 other people, about stuff (cool or not).

In school, young people make friends often as a result of the shared experience of getting through boring material that they don’t care about.

Sit in math class and quietly do these problems. Read the textbook. Answer questions. And most importantly: Don’t talk. Don’t ruin learning for the rest of us.

Many students need medication in order to accomplish proper behavior in school.
Not surprisingly, teachers are very much aware of the lack of focus on healthy socialization. As a result more and more are leaving the profession. Stephen Round who left his position as a second grade teacher cited the following ways that school has become an assault on socialization:
  • Students have a confining and demeaning environment.
  • Breakfast no longer takes place in the cafeteria where students can talk and socialize. Instead it is piled on a classroom table so it can be consumed while students are working.
  • Kids are starved for socialization by lunchtime, but the cafeteria is too noisy to hear themselves talk. As a result, silent lunch is often implemented.
  • 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.
  • Because there’s so much emphasis on preparing for tests, there is no longer time set aside for celebration of birthdays and holidays.
  • 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.

More and more parents are aware of these growing problems, and turn to homeschooling where children can interact with people of all ages, all day long.  As education expert Sandra Dodd explains, “Schools ‘teach’ children to get along in school. Children who live in the real world learn to get along with real people of all ages, in all kinds of situations.”

Career coach Penelope Trunk explains why she choose to ensure her children were well socialized by taking them out of school.  Here are  three ways her kids develop friendships:
1. Parents use the language of friendship. The term socialization is what people use for school, to mean teaching kids to be like everyone else. In homeschool parents use language about self-directed learning, which teaches kids to bond over the things that make them special rather than the same.
2. Kids make learning social when they homeschool. Self-directed learning often involves other kids. If you choose what you do for learning, and you love collaborating with other kids, then you’ll choose to learn with kids. This is actually the opposite of what school is, which is 30 kids learning in a room so it’s inherently non-social and more like a factory.
3. Parents first teach kids to find an interest. My son loves dancing. It’s very easy to make a friends with kids who adore being on stage as much as he does. My other son is playing Minecraft every day with his friend in Pakistan. He has never met this boy, but they have a shared goal that they work toward each day, which is the high-quality type of friendship people yearn for as adults.
Amy Milstein discusses socialization without school in this video.
You can hear directly from Amy’s unschooled daughter Maya, in this podcast.

Perhaps Logan LaPlante says it best, when he shares what schools should be prioritizing: Happiness, health, and creativity. He did some more research and found that is achieved by incorporating the following into your life: Exercise, diet + nutrition, time in nature, contribution + service, relationships, recreation, relaxation + stress management, spirituality.


Unfortunately, Roger Walsh, the scientist behind the research that Logan discovered, reveals what Logan and other students already know: schools are not positioned to provide those important qualities of life.  

But why not? How can we create that change?

How are you ensuring these elements are a part of the lives of the children you know -- both inside and outside of the school environment?  

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