Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Outcasts?


Lately, I have had the opportunity of discussing, with a person I highly respect, the disadvantages of a system which is designed in such a way as to draw young children away from their mothers from an increasingly early age. I was struck by the following statement:

“There is no denying the system is faulty, but if you don’t want your children to become outcasts, you had better conform to it.”

In my eyes, this is a dangerous line of thought, and I can by no means be satisfied with such logic. Why? Because it implies that we ought to do what everyone else is doing, rather than what we believe to be right and best for our families. What follows next? “You had better not insist that your teenage daughter should wear such long skirts; after all, most of her friends’ parents are far more lenient – you don’t want her to feel like a weirdo”; “all my friends have a boyfriend, why can’t I have one too?” – I am not attempting to debate those specific issues, I am simply saying that –

We ought to be guided by what we believe is right, not by what everyone else is doing. Now, as we are Jewish, the principles we live upon of course have foundation in our faith – but it is very possible that other Orthodox Jews will live in a different way, when it concerns matters which are not entirely black and white.

Then the question is asked, are children made outcasts because they are the only ones educated at home in their area? I hope and believe not; of course if people have no contact with each other beside school and work, if community life is nonexistent and like-minded families are not to be found at all, it may be difficult. But the majority of us, with the help of conscious effort if not naturally, will develop a relationship with neighbors and friends. Of course, it makes sense to me that a homeschooled child will be less “blended in”, will experience less dependence on a group of peers. But who said it is a bad thing? I believe it is quite the contrary.

Israel is a small country, and education is very uniform around here. Schools and kindergartens are chiefly divided between the secular, and the different scale of religious. In all cases, however, children are educated in large groups, with little individual attention, from a very early age. Even before reaching the age of government-funded preschool, virtually all toddlers and the majority of infants from a few months of age, spend their days in daycare centers. Thus, without seeing much diversity of example, many Israeli parents have a difficult time comprehending that there may be alternatives, and that perhaps these alternatives are very, very desirable.

Also, because of the very short distances in most of our country, because of the virtual absence of truly remote and isolated spots, Israelis are forgetting that such spots exist all over the world, and that children are brought up in a multitude of ways and places and generally can grow up as fine adults without rigid requirements of a specific system.

As for the necessity of socialization… we are all social creatures, and there is a time and place for peer play. However, I am convinced it is not in the best interests of young children to spend the chief portion of their day in a large peer group.  The younger the child, the worse such an arrangement is for him. And I don’t really believe that it’s all about one “bad” child who is “spoiling” the rest. Rather, from my observation, children simply behave differently in groups, and the qualities brought out are not their best ones. I have seen several children each of whom is fine him/herself, behave in an unruly, insolent, even cruel way, when left together unchecked for any length of time.

I believe that an hour or two of play with peers of the same age is plenty for a young child of two or three, and that it is very desirable, instead of jumbling children of exactly the same age together, that a child will have the opportunity to also play with children who are a little older than himself, and learn more mature behavior – and also with younger children and babies, to learn gentleness and patience.

Children who have a sibling or two get all that and more at home, with the enormous advantage of their mother’s personal attention throughout the day, and the advantage of being part of a home life, of observing and performing real-life tasks from an early age. I believe it is far more beneficial for my toddler to be running barefoot among chickens in the yard, than to be shut up somewhere occupied by amusing but mindless tasks, the only object of which is to keep a group of children quiet.

Another statement that is imprinted in my mind: “your children will have to become part of an organized system at some point of their lives, so it is better for them to get used to this as early as possible.”

You know what this reminds me of? Hearing otherwise sensible parents saying, “our children will be exposed to candy sooner or later anyway, so it’s OK to start giving them lollipops when they are babies.”

They don’t realize that exposure to harmful refined sugar is not a Yes or No question. It is a question of quantity; and every month, every week, every day they can keep their child off sweets is a contribution to future health. Similarly, in many families it’s not a choice between handing the baby over to daycare from infancy, or homeschooling throughout college. There is a great area of diversity between these two ends, and every day and every week, every hour actually, that a young child spends with his mother is worth struggling for.

Let’s consider a child who followed the standard route of institutionalized schooling from preschool, versus a child who, for some reasons, was homeschooled perhaps through the first four or five grades, and then was entered into school. The first child will perhaps be better adapted to the system, but does it speak in favor of his mind when the adaptation is to rigid discipline, repetitive tasks and waste of time necessarily stemming from a large group of children being taught at the same time?

Now, the second child might go through a period of adaptation – a lengthier period than if he had been a toddler sent to daycare from the age of one or two years. But the value of what he had acquired during the years when his personality was shaping is immeasurable. If nature took its course and his parents were diligent supervisors of his education, he gained curiosity that wasn’t stifled, the ability of self-discipline and self-learning, and in all probability acquired the beneficial habit of reading for pleasure.

These qualities will remain with him throughout life, and will serve him much better as an adult, in whatever he is called to do, than the mere conformity to an artificial system. As for organization and discipline, if these aren’t found in our homes, if these are only imposed on us in school and in the army, then our situation requires serious re-assessment.

I could write a lot more on the subject, but as usual, time is pressing and I must stop for now. I eagerly wait for your comments on this, and remain your friend,

Mrs. T

11 comments:

Kate said...

Let us not throw our lambs to the wolves to satisfy the sheep.

Anonymous said...

Anna, how very kind of you to write down EXACTLY what I've been thinking about recently. My father-in-law is not overly keen on our intent to homsechool, and has made it clear that he doesn't think merely a (college-educated) mother can teach her children - how foolish and arrogant of me to presume to do so!! And there's been a lot of talk about Socialization, to the extent that I think many people don't actually think education is the point of school - they think being part of a system, and being "socialized," is the whole point and a reward in and of itself. I beg to differ. Anyway, thanks for making all these points so elegantly - I wholeheartedly agree with each and every one, and am so thankful to have the opportunity to keep my children at home and teach them.
Gracie

Rachel said...

I so agree that it doesn't have to be all or nothing. I'm thinking of sending my daughter to a very small, non age-segregated Christian school, that only goes from 8am till noon, instead of all day. My mother isn't happy because she wants her to be in the public Head Start and then in public school, and my husband's mother isn't happy because she homeschooled all 3 of her children full-time, and thinks I should do the same. I think sometimes you just can't win =/

The Retro Homemaker said...

I totally agree with you, Anna! Society has gone wrong on so many levels and too many parents feel pressure to conform.

It starts at home: the love of a mother and the morals and values she gives to her children is essential, so is discipline and education. Day cares are full of low paid workers who don't care as much about our kids as we do. Schools have a lot of children from different backgrounds and some kids can have a bad influence on others. It is the main reason why I want to homeschool.

It saddens me to see how society has become thanks to feminism...Homemakers and mothers are always targeted as being worthless as money has become the new god...

Nicole said...

I was homeschooled in an era and area that were new to homeschooling. We didn't know many (any?) other homeschoolers. It is do-able. I am now homeschooling my children. I think the hardest aspect for me (as a very social-loving child) was waiting for my friends to get off that bus at the end of the day...
You can totally do it. Just be proactive in finding social times for those who need it (like I did). Also, teach your children at a young age the why's of your homeschooling...something I wish I'd understood better as a child and something we talk about in our home on a regular basis.

Laura said...

I know a decent number of people who have been homeschooled, and i don't think socialization is really a problem. It is my experience though, that kids who have not spent a lot of time in 'the mainstream' grow up either afraid of it, or insatiably curious and interested in it. I know one lady who is pretty sure that all urban teens would rather mug or kidnap her than look at her, and for whom a trip to the city for groceries is a traumatic experience. and I know several from religious backgrounds that were quite prepared to run as wild as possible at the first opportunity for independance. On the other hand, I know a few that while not to wild, have done pretty well.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anna,

Yes, thank you for the post.

The statement, "There is no denying the system is faulty, but if you don't want your children to become outcasts, you had better conform to it."

That's interesting. That seems to be a fear-based perspective. The person is saying that we should all do something out of fear of becoming outcasts otherwise.

The way I would interpret this, is:

"There is no denying the system is faulty, but I've already bought into and invested my life in it so that people would accept me. I'd prefer it if you did the same, or else I would feel too much regret and remorse over my own decision to follow the herd."

Thanks so much for your courage & inspiration.

Rachel said...

My upbringing was a mixture of American public school and homeschooling. Having experienced both, I am now planning what to do for my sons (and any siblings they might have).

They will be educated at home. Of that much I am certain. For moral, ethical, academic, and religious reasons, I cannot send them to public school. However, I want them to be aware of popular culture while not being members of it.

For example, while we are Jewish, I will have my children study Christianity at a certain point. Since Christianity is the majority religion (and to a large extent the basis of American culture), I think it is important for them to understand what it is and how it works at the same time that I teach them that we are not part of it. On a social level, too many of my Jewish acquaintances are utterly unable to function in a mixed social environment during the majority's holiday season. That's not to say I want my children participating in those religions, I just want them to understand what's going on.

Likewise, when they are of age for secondary school I will start sending them to classes at the local junior college. The main reason for this is that our culture operates under the assumption that people think in a "classroom environment" mindset. My children will need that experience in order to handle the American workplace, and to a lesser extent, find common ground with their friends and coworkers.

In the meantime, I highly censor what print and digital media they are exposed to. I am equally picky about their toys and clothes. No product placement. No digital toys. Their toys are predominately used, and when they start to break, I often wait and see how they improvise solutions rather than throw the toy out immediately. I am very pleased that the result, thus far, is children who are more gentle, caring, quiet, and creative than their daycare-set counterparts.

Anonymous said...

This may become a non issue in the near future. I have wanted to homeschool all these years and my husband was against it. This year as my eldest daughter begins 9th grade she became aware of a school program done entirely at home on computer and signed up for it. She has the option to go over to the school for band choir sports etc. She is tired of the "socialization" at school and so now we are homeschooling her just like that. This is in the USA and seems to be a new public school option in our state but I can see that this may become the future as many families have computers in there homes. As for socialization ....it never seems to me that the children with good manners and good behavior rub off on those who haven't learned such.I have spent a lot of my moral teaching with my children argueing with them about immorality of all kinds which society had already taught them was fine by age 10....which I had been teaching them all along but school and peers have the louder more abrasive voice. Karen

Julie said...

I so agree!

Hilde said...

TTwenty-five years ago, my boys went to kindergarten from the age of three for about four hours a day. Primaty school started at the age of six and was four or five hours a day, too. Now it is recommended to send your children into "public education" from the age of one year, and more and more schools are full-day schools, while untilsome years age, the children were at home at noon.
There are two reasons given for this: First the posibility for the mothers to work outside the home, and second the fact that more and more children comr to school without with serious signs of neglect. Some of them obiously never have used a pencil, or a pair of scissors, they don´t know how to interact with others etc. What makes me really angry is the fact that the well brought up children are used as social workers for the others. And the teachers need most of their time to keep the noise in the classroom at a tolerable level so that they are able to actually teach something.
Homeschooling is illegal here in Germany, so instead a lot of private schools have opened in the last years. But is this really a solution? I don´t think so.