Be sure to visit Roberta’s blog, Growing With Science.
We have heard so much about the S-word (socialization) and homeschooling. People who send their children to public schools always bring it up, seeming to imply that homeschooled children sit at home in the dark all day like so many mushrooms. I recently read a very interesting article in the February 2008 issue of Psychology Today, however, that presents some strongly worded criticisms in the reverse direction.
In the article Skinny Sweepstakes By Hara Estroff Marano the author describes some of the social problems that kids face, starting in middle school. For example, psychotherapist Steven Levenkron observes that these days “…the adults essentially outsource parenting.” RAND scholar “Richard Hersh calls it the culture of neglect: kids grow up overly dependent on their peers-‘in essence, kids raising kids’ – without developing a strong sense of self.” He goes on to explain how kids need to be mentored by caring and demanding adults. On the other hand, he also realizes that adults should not see kids as helpless and shelter them from a wide range of experiences. It is sometimes a delicate balance, but one that homeschooling parents have a great deal of experience with.
The author of the article examines how schools and colleges are set up to contribute to eating disorders, anxiety and depression, through artificially restricting students to same-age peer groups. Although the thrust of the article centers on eating disorders, the message comes through loud and clear that as schools become more and more homogeneous in age, and often in culture and class, kids are getting a very skewed idea of what the world is all about.
Think about how schools have changed. My grandmother taught in a one-roomed school in the 1920’s, where children of all ages interacted with one another. Over time, the schools have gotten larger and larger and the age range at a given institution has gotten narrower and narrower. Even the local university now boasts that it has classes for seniors, conveniently located at the town library so no seniors actually enter campus.
What options do you have when sending your child off to college? This article indicates that the greater the diversity in age per grade level, the better off your young person will be. One option to consider is a community college. Community colleges often have students enrolled from a larger diversity of backgrounds, both age and cultural. The average student age is higher than at your typical university, which means the students definitely bring a wider range of life experiences into the classroom.
So, next time your ten-year-old spends half an hour talking to the librarian and you are ready to go, be glad that he or she gets to spend time in the real world interacting with people other than only peers.