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Thursday, 21 May 2015

Socialization - What is it?

Socialization: Another one of those terms tossed around, debated, and assumed to be something "for good", often without any definition.  Well, my training in philosophy will not allow me to discuss a term without first defining it.  So, here goes.

"Socialization, also spelled socialisation, is a term used by sociologists, social psychologists, anthropologists, political scientists and educationalists to refer to the lifelong process of inheriting and disseminating norms, customs and ideologies, providing an individual with the skills and habits necessary for participating within his or her own society." (Wikipedia.org)

I like this definition because it mentions a lifelong process.  Socialization starts from the moment a child is born and introduced to others in a society.  That society can be initially as small as a family unit.  They gradually learn the routines and patterns of that unit.  They then branch out to larger units and continue to grow.  My difficulty arises when a person is introduced to a unit which has little or no reference to the society in which the child will eventually have to participate.  Let me give an extreme example.  Children born in war-torn countries without any stability may not learn the skills of participating in a peacetime society.  This has proven to be a significant problem in several parts of the world.  So it is important that children learn the skills and habits which will help them to succeed in the world they will inhabit at adulthood.

The most common use of the world "socialization", at least from my perspective of education, is in reference to homeschooling.  Parents seeking to homeschool teenagers are warned that the children might not learn to socialize.  This is based on the assumption that public high schools are microcosms of the adult world.  Let us examine that assumption.

Public School (PS):  All members, with a few exceptions (teachers and administrators) are born within a few years of each other.

Real World (RW): Multi-generational and multi-aged in almost all sectors, private and professional.

PS:  Members are grouped by age.

RW:  Members are grouped by common interest.

PS:  There is one dominant culture and all students are pressured into participating or being marginalized.

RW:  There are a multitude of cultures (social, professional, athletic) and members select the groups

PS:  Members develop special language, habits, customs that are only relevant within that specific culture and are often contrary to the customs of the larger world.

RW:  Different habits and customs are developed within the context of participating in the larger world, or not, if that is the preference.

Okay, so my bias is definitely making itself known and perhaps I am not being entirely fair.  After all, students still join other groups and have home lives.  My point is that high school is not the place to learn social skills.  Those are better learned by participating in the real world.   I will not repeat what has been said before about the socialization skills of homeschooled children.   This is a topic which keeps repeatedly raising its head, even though it has been answered numerous times.  To read some of those answers I refer you to the following link : http://ontariohomeschool.org/socialization/

Children will socialize just fine.  They don't need to attend a public school to do so.  In fact, they will learn better socializing skills by visiting their grandparents or helping a neighbour rake the yard.   For anyone who confuses socialization with the ability to be popular, you might want to read the following report from Time.   (Especially the part about "popular" kids!)
http://ideas.time.com/2013/11/18/does-high-school-determine-the-rest-of-your-life/

I am not against children attending public high schools but send them for academic reasons, not because they will learn social skills to help them later in life.  You're looking in the wrong place.

To do or to just think about it

Theory or practice.  If we get stuck in theory then nothing ever happens.  If we make the bold move to putting theory into practice then we risk disillusionment.  Particularly if we are dealing with a huge immovable bureaucracy.  This is my dilemma.

For years I have read about education reform.  I even did my Masters of Education hoping to find insight into the area.  I have thought extensively about how education should be.  I have even taught in my own school in this fashion and have tweaked and polished my theories.  I think they are valid.  I think they have merit.  But what does it matter if they are not applied on a larger scale.

My theories are simple:
1)  All humans are learning creatures.
2)  The mind must be engaged in order to learn.

These are, to me, rather obvious.   Give anyone the opportunity to learn something they love and the job of the teacher becomes the job of the mentor.  A mentor guides, assists, encourages.  That is the job of the teacher.

I applied this at my little school.  I still apply this to my students who come to my house.  It works.  They learn.  I guide.  We have fun and education is achieved.

So to that extent I apply my theories.  But what about the thousands of children stuck in an antiquated behemoth of the public education system.  They are not learning, largely because they are not engaged.  Hours, days, and years of boredom are destroying any desire to learn.  Time and youth are wasted.  Teachers prepare lessons for non-existing standardized children.  Even those children who find morsels of information in this wasteland achieve a tiny fraction of what they could.  We are destroying them and our future.  Parents know this.   Children know this.  And, above all, teachers know this.  But no one does anything.  Because that antiquated behemoth rolls over anyone who suggests that it is destructive and should be destroyed. 

So I ask the question that all reformers must ask: Is it worth dying for?  Literally, probably not.  But do I give my time, my energy, my passion to pit my little, tiny David against that Goliath?  The immediate response is that to do anything else is cowardice.  But where is my slingshot?  How do I find a chink in the armor?

The answer surely lies in getting other Davids together.  There are so many out there, each choosing their rocks.  There is a tendency to want to create another Goliath to make this a fair fight.  If we can get enough people invested in taking down the beast, it might work.  Except that we might just replace it with another monster.  It is not the monster that we need to change but the very ground that it walks upon.  As long as we base any educational model on a business model, we are doomed to failure.  There are no best practices.  There are no products or methods that work for all children.  We need to stop looking out there for the perfect way to teach.  We need, each teacher, that is, to look at the children right in front of us each day and guide them. 

Parents do not teach their children to walk.  The children learn that all by themselves.  They provide a safe, conducive learning space and let the children figure it out.  That is the first school.  That should be the premise for all schools. 

Coming next:  The blueprint for educational spaces

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The dangers of the Comfort Zones

Boxes.  We all have them.  They are also called comfort zones.  They are ways of looking at the world that are comfortable to us.  Perhaps one box deals with relationships.  In that we put our ideas of friendship, marriage, parent/child.  Another box deals with work - ideas of productive activities, financial security, working towards retirement.  Many of these ideas come from others.  We get ideas from parents, school, friends, mentors, media.  They become ours either because we have considered them and agree or because we have had no reason to question them because they work.  However we arrive at these ideas, they give us comfort.

The fascinating paradox about boxes is that some will stay in them even when they don't work.  When they see that the box not what they wanted.  When they complain about the results.  They still don't step out of the box.  They somehow think they are better complaining about a broken box than risking the unknown involved with building a new box.

People will stay in an unsatisfactory job rather than launch into a new venture which might be financially, status-wise, egotistically risky.   They will conform to standards with which they don't agree.  They will keep their children in the same school system even when the children hate it and are failing.  Just how uncomfortable does a box have to get before people will go out of the box?

If something is not working, change it.  Don't complain, don't accept, don't blog.  Change it.  Out of the box is much less frightening than most people think and infinitely more rewarding.  Try it!

*****

So far I have been speaking generally but I do have a specific box in mind.  The Education Box.  This box is highly structured.  All children enter at a specific age (4,5,or 6 or whatever the local school board determines).  All children are classed together by age.  They attend school for specific hours Monday to Friday between September and June.  There they will be taught lessons by a qualified teacher in a systematic way, separated by grade and subject.  Their learning will be assessed by an objective standard.  They will remain in school until they are able to take their places as adults in the outside world.  This has been the public school system for a long time.  And it sounds great.  We teach them how to be adults in the real world.  Except that it doesn't work.  And it hasn't worked for a long time.

If we take these pieces of structure one at a time we can see that it is doomed to failure.  Real life does not categorize people according to age.  In jobs people are sorted by ability.  In social groups people sort by interest.  Learning takes place continuously, not just 8 am to 3 pm on weekdays.  If these hours are intended to teach children that misery has these hours and play is only after misery, then I guess we have prepared them for miserable careers.  Is that what we want?  Why can't we play all the time - both kids and adults?  People who love their jobs do it.  Play does not equal irresponsibility.  Play is not a waste of time.  Perhaps it is the boring job that is the waste - of both time and potential.  The objective standard has fish being graded on how well they climb trees (in that popular FB post).  And lastly, life is not separated into subjects.  We all need the creativity of the arts, the precision of mathematics, the communication skills of language, the perspective of history.  And we need it all together for each situation.

It is time to rethink our education system from top to bottom.  What is the goal of education and how best to get there.  Stay tuned because I have a few ideas!