Socialization in schools?

Everyone, thanks for your comments on my last post about socialization. It’s clear that I’m not the only one for whom this subject hits a nerve.

Charlotte made a comment about the flip side of this issue – socialization in schools. I normally try not to pontificate about schools (albeit with imperfect success), because I realize that I just don’t know. So I’m going to promote Charlotte’s comment to the main page, and hope that some other parents whose kids go to school chime in as well. She wrote:

I don’t always feel like they’re getting so much socialization there, but institutionalization. So much of the day is spent teaching kids to function in a large institution with many other kids, mostly for crowd control purposes. I understand why they have to do it, but watching them march silently in their lines (using the lines in the floor as tracks) all over the school several times a day just breaks my heart. Watching them have silent lunch for the last 10 minutes of their 25 minute lunch “hour” (and MUCH less for the kids who have to wait in line) makes me seethe. To me, and maybe I’m having a bit of “grass is greener” moments, it makes far more sense to organize social activities and moments of institutionalization (like sitting still in church) in a more natural environment. School is the only time in our lives when we really have to live like that.

Yes, this is one of the things that concerns me when I think about school. When I say that we homeschool partly for religious reasons, I mean that I worry that an intense focus on conformity and obedience doesn’t honor children’s inherent human worth and dignity. Some parent bloggers who have influenced my thoughts about this are Fed Up Mom at Coalition for Kid-Friendly Schools (especially her posts about the fad of “Whole Brain Teaching”) and Chris at A Blog About School.

My kids are normally pretty well-behaved, but I can’t imagine how my dreamy, thoughtful introvert would hold up in a classroom that required this level of constant knee-jerk call-and-response conformity.

Again, though: we’re not school users and never have been at the grade school level. I’d appreciate comments from people who are, and from homeschoolers whose kids have direct school experience.

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46 Responses to Socialization in schools?

  1. Eddie says:

    In our experience (my oldest went to school until he was 12) it’s very Lord of the Flies in a school setting. How are kids supposed to be socialized by being told what to do ever moment of every day and getting their social cues from other kids the same age? It makes no sense and we have moved so far away from the one-room schoolhouse it’s ludicrous.

  2. Mary says:

    We are homeschoolers in the same way any good parents of a toddler (eep, he toddles now!) are, and haven’t yet decided how his primary schooling will go, but this post really reminds me of why I want to homeschool. Not only are these kids waiting, and not learning effectively (at least for all kids, I assume most school methods work for a few kids at a time), they’re doing it for hours and hours every day, on an inflexible schedule that doesn’t allow for a day of recovery from the weekend Grandma visited and no one got any rest, or taking a week off to go to Florida to do space things and see a shuttle launch, or kids who really still need a midday nap or snack. Basically, at any given time, they’re serving the needs of a very few of their children, and the rest are waiting for what works for them, if it comes at all.

    And this isn’t the fault of the children, it’s the fault of an over-burdened, poorly-evolved system. Finnish kids get a lot more recess and a lot less time in structured activities, and their schools are phenomenal. They’re kid-friendly. What’s with us, that we think the ways to make ours better is to make kids spend *more* time doing what they call “learning” and spend more hours in the classroom?

  3. Mary says:

    (correction to my first reply: I meant “this isn’t the fault of the teachers,” not “this isn’t the fault of the children.”)

  4. nate says:

    Hard to say… being the eldest child in completely home schooled family there were good and bad things about it.. I never finished, and quitting at 11th grade and going out to get a job at a local call centre was quite the culture shock as the training class I was part of was about the same size as my families entire local social group… Now i’m 23 and going to a public high school for adults to finish credits and get an accredited diploma.. I’d certainly much rather be attending university at this age but can’t dwell on what could have been, only work on what comes from now on :)

  5. Flo says:

    I actually think the strategies used in the video are probably really effective for keeping a lot of the kids engaged while learning something that is essentially pretty boring. There’s a lot of meta-teaching going on, but the kids also have a lot of opportunities to talk and move, which is pretty good for a seated classroom. But it certainly wouldn’t work for every kid.

    As for the larger question of socialization in schools, well…If you remember, one of the goals of widespread public schooling, at its beginnings, was to educate the masses all the same way (important in a time of increased immigration) in order to create a national consciousness. And so, yes, institutionalization of a sort continues to be the goal today, I would guess. Socialization, in terms of “social skills”, is not something that I remember (from my teaching days) as being actively taught in schools, like a subject. The only thing close to it that I ever saw actively taught was a values class 8th graders got for one semester, in one of the schools where I taught. And of course values education is a pretty dicey subject to broach, because you have to decide whose values you’re teaching…

    I think when most people talk about socialization, what they really mean is the opportunity to be around other kids their own age, without parental interference, for most of the day. And lots of homeschoolers do this kind of socialization to some degree (maybe not all day, and maybe not totally without parents). But I think many people have forgotten what kids gain from spending a little more time with family, and a little less time with peers.

    I don’t think that all school socialization is bad-I think there are a lot of people who have more good experiences than bad ones during their school years. And homeschoolers are not immune from negative social experiences like bullying and peer pressure. I don’t think that the social experiences of homeschoolers are really that different from “in-schoolers” (except for the fact that none of it happens in school, of course). I think the biggest difference is that homeschool socialization is somewhat more intentional (parents have to seek it out, and can do more to encourage the kinds of friendships they want for their kids, and discourage the ones they don’t want) whereas school friendships happen somewhat outside a parent’s sphere of influence.

    Anyway, I’m really enjoying these posts!

  6. Ailbhe says:

    Lauren Child’s Lola says “I probably do not have time to go to school. I am too extremely busy doing important things at home.”

  7. Zelda says:

    This video disturbs me for some reason. I can’t put my finger on why but it does.

  8. Dawn says:

    This video disturbs me because the kids are being turned into zoombies who will repeat anything they are fed. Thank goodness we homeschool.

  9. tinderbox says:

    Zelda, I also find it really disturbing, because (1) she makes them say they’re excited about learning something that is clearly not exciting, (2) she keeps asking them a question and then cutting off any answers by saying it’s her turn to talk, (3) the knee-jerk obedience and rote repetition.

    Flo, I really appreciated your long, thoughtful comment, and especially the point that “socialization” and “social skills lessons” are not exactly the same thing. I think I learned some unintended social skills lessons in school that were not very helpful.

    About the video, I think you’re right that the movement and talking are a good release valve for a lot of kids. It bugs me that, although they get to talk and move, it is completely scripted and controlled. And I think that in particular this would be a nightmare for Alex’s personality type. She’s a sociable, friendly kid, but she also really seems to need big chunks of quiet and privacy in her day. After a playdate she’s likely to disappear into her room for a couple of hours. Obviously in a school you can’t have physical privacy, but watching this video makes me wonder when kids even get any mental privacy – they’re constantly on the hook to produce the scripted responses. And it would kill her not to be able to ask questions or give her opinion. ;-)

  10. Julie says:

    I agree that the movement and interaction in the classroom would be great for my kids, they would love that, and I believe that is valuable, but the militaristic style disturbs me. It reminds me of video clips of countries with dictatorships who require students to repeat specific things by rote. It also disturbs me that the teacher in this clip only addresses individual students two very brief times.

    My oldest went to public school only for kindergarten. There was definitely a lot of time spent on crowd control and various strategies to get kids to behave. I understand that to a degree, I mean I have 3 loud, high energy kids and sometimes I need to do crowd control myself. We call that “separate-quiet-activities-so-mommy- can-hear-her-self-think-time” in our house. But it is unfortunate that so much time has to be spent on that in public school. I guess it’s to be expected in classes with 25+ kids, however.

    Last fall, we covered the structure of a sentence in my 7 year old’s grammar curriculum. I showed him one or two examples. He wrote a few himself. Done. Now, had he not gotten it, we would’ve practiced it some more, come back to it for a few days or moved on to something else (I might’ve thought, “Meh, maybe he’s not ready, sheesh, he’s only 7.”) Never would’ve occurred to me to use the Drill Sargeant method. But maybe that’s just me.

  11. Jess says:

    I can’t imagine doing well in a classroom like the one in the video. Way too frenetic and distracting. I felt my anxiety levels going up just watching it (and I say that as someone not prone to anxiety attacks). At the same time, I was ready for her to get to the point already without all the random summer campy scripted responses.

    I think there are good elements and imagine that it’s all research-based and so on (In fact, I’m pretty sure I read a relevant study the other day: And I suspect that I’ll remember the definition of a sentence for the rest of my life. But no, it isn’t what I want for my kids.

    At the same time… it’s a charter school. They make a business (often literally) of doing things differently from standard public schools, for better or for worse. I don’t think this can be considered a representative 1st grade experience.

    We’ve homeschooled from the start, so don’t have any current relevant public school experience to add. We utilized a public school independent study program for the first two years (until we moved away from that district, though we likely would have stopped anyways). It certainly didn’t focus on conformity, but was essentially designed to keep those student dollars within the district, so they did what they needed to do to keep the parents, who were largely not particularly conformists themselves, happy.

  12. DeNae Leverentz says:

    I think a lot of the stereotypes of homeschooling and socialization are based on experiences 20-30 years ago. I was in school, although I was in private school. Several close family friends home schooled. The home schooling which was happening in the 80′s was largely driven by parents who strongly wanted to control their childrens’ interactions and socialization. Homeschooling was a way to remove their children from worldly influences and experiences. There was a lot of media coverage focusing on the conservative/withdrawing type of homeschooling. Apparently, a powerful myth developed around that. Even then, that wasn’t entirely accurate. My friends who were homeschooled had an orchestra, field trips, and other group activities. Their main social focus was the church, which was why they were home schooled.

    Even now, much exposure to home schooling is from TV shows like Law and Order. The stories are about kids who are hothoused or isolated. Media portrayals just aren’t realistic. It’s frustrating.

  13. Kathleen says:

    The shocking and pitiful thing about this video clip is that this teacher is probably considered outstanding by her administrators. Although she is into rote learning and making robots out of these poor children, she has complete control of the classroom, no discipline problems here, uses her whole body in teaching, allows them to speak (while so many teachers make the kids sit silent while the teacher drones on) and so she has student participation. I hated this video but at the same time could see why many parents would be begging to have their child put into this woman’s classroom.

  14. Deb says:

    I will echo what Jess says above: this is a charter school, so it is by definition an experimental model — usually designed to try to reach and improve the performance of low-income students/students who do not have support for academics in their homes. I watched a bit of one of the other videos that comes up when this one ends, and they had little float-over text boxes explaining the rationale behind some of the things the teacher is doing (meaning these techniques would be just as alien to many teachers as they are to us.)

    As far as regimentation and conformism, it is the extreme of the extreme. Bit of a straw man really.


  15. Kathleen says:

    I read what Julie said and totally agree about the dictatorship aspect. These children are looking at the teacher as if she is God. The more intelligent ones who had grasped the concept the first time and tried to tell their partner everything the teacher said about a sentence, were reprimanded. I could just imagine how the students in this classroom would have been forced into learning to repeat “I hate Jews” during Hitler’s time. There’s no time to process or think about it … just repeat exactly what you are told to repeat — and it you say a bit more, then the entire class will have to go through the exercise again. It’s actually blood curdling how easily this method could be used to teach young minds almost anything, evil included.

  16. tinderbox says:

    Deb, I didn’t mean to put out a straw man. I’m not trying to say that this is what schools are like, period. I have seen a lot of stories about this model being pushed, supposedly because it’s backed by neuroscience (I am doubtful). It seems to be pretty similar to what is used in KIPP schools, which are common in cities. And there are also a lot of pressures on urban schools to go to fully-scripted direct instruction.

    I was a little surprised to hear Charlotte describe her sons’ school as so regimented, because it’s not a high-poverty urban school and I know she sees a lot of positives there. That’s why I asked for other people’s experiences. I’d be interested to hear what the behavioral expectations are like at J’s school…

  17. FedUpMom says:

    For the commenters who say that this is a charter school, I can assure you that Whole Brain Teaching is also being used in regular public schools, where the parents had no say in the matter.

    Rivka — thanks for linking to my blog!

  18. Chris says:

    I think many people spend a large part of their early adulthood unlearning the social “skills” they learned in K-12.

    It seems to me that a lot of the negative social interactions that occur in school are a reflection of how the kids are treated by the adults: policing one another’s behavior, for example, for non-conformity to group “expectations.”

    I like your description of your “religious reasons” for homeschooling. My sense has always been that religious homeschoolers are very stereotyped, when in fact they share many of the same motivations for homeschooling that lefty-secular homeschoolers have. They all want their kids to be treated as individuals and as people, not just as data points on someone’s year-end assessment.

    I’m not a homeschooler, but if I were, it would be more for values-related reasons than academic ones. I don’t like the values my kids are being immersed in at their school — largely authoritarian ones of the type that Charlotte’s comment describes.

  19. liese4 says:

    Wow, I know a lot of kids who would go insane in that classroom. My kids have never gone to a brick and mortar school, my husband and I decided we’d HS before we even got married! (So, our kids never had a chance!) I just graduated my son, he’s 17, graduated early, has some college classes already under his belt and is working on his pilot’s license. The girls are 13, 9 and 6. I am not raising geniuses, just good citizens with good morals and for goodness sakes – character that makes people take notice.

    People can’t believe that my kids are HS’ed because they are so ‘well socialized’! Newsflash – not all homeschoolers are inept, secluded, ignorant and unsocialized – and neither are all public schoolers. Public school doesn’t always make idiots but neither does homeschooling. Ever seen a shy kid from a public school? Hmmmm…how can that be if they are so well socialized? Oh, not every kid likes to engage with others?! Yet if a HS’ed kid is shy they must be under socialized.

    I get the reverse comments, not ‘how do you socialize?’ but, ‘when do you have time for school?’ which is a whole other post in itself.

  20. Siobhan says:

    Wow this is timely, as I just finished with Anthony’s IEP on Tuesday and he was at home yesterday with a cold, and Andy did a lot of work with him on math. We also have a client who is a specialist in professional development for teachers, especially in the field of diversified learning. And a lot of the comments showed me a lack of understanding of how public schooling really works.

    First of all, I didn’t watch the video, but please note that any technique is used in conjunction with other techniques – one on one time, small group learning, because frankly, one size does NOT fit all. So your kid would be ill served by rote memorization? My kid would be well served by it in certain contexts. The point of group education is to educate the group, and that means some kids don’t get the best mode of instruction for them all the time, a luxury offered by one on one customized teaching that homeschooling or individualized tutoring has.

    Educating a group of kids, all with different learning styles, different home/education backgrounds, different cognative abilities, different languages and cultures, different socio-economic conditions, and developmental speeds is freakin’ hard. There is a TON of research and a TON of money going into how to do this successfully while supporting a child’s emotional and social development as well. How well a particular school does it is dependent on too many factors to list exhaustively, but key elements are parental involvement, quality of the teaching staff, quality of the administrative staff, and level of the kids entering into the school to begin with. It is a heck of a lot easier to teach kids who all have educated parents at home, who come from families who have the time and the context to support learning and pay for extra support (like OT, tutoring, or therapy), or who are not hampered by hunger or fear at home. But all teachers have to be prepared to teach kids who do not have these conditions, and that is a ton of work.

    School has also changed since I was there. During the IEP, we had an extended conversation about social skills as Anthony has aspergers. Much to my surprise, and part of the core curriculum, the entire 2nd grade class is working on developing community manners and guidelines on how to be kind to each other, how to work well together, etc. The school offers lunch bunch for a group of up to 6 kids at a time with the special ed teacher to help them develop smaller group social skills (it is not restricted to special needs kids – all kids are included in the groups). They have the older kids mentor younger ones in reading groups. They work hard to develop a community that cares for all students.

    I am so thankful to Anthony’s school for their wonderful teaching. Is it perfect? No, but the alternatives are private school (at $20K+ a year) or homeschooling. Private school can have similar issues, with the added lack of socio-economic diversity. And since my kid has special needs, many private schools won’t accept him.

    To homeschool, I’d have to quit my job (and therefore fold my business) to focus on something that I am frankly not great at, he get less range of teaching styles and skills, and he is not exposed to as many opportunities to be fully integrated into a community that doesn’t involve me. He is developing relationships with other adults who care for him deeply and who want to help him succeed. And he loves it. He loves his teachers and is starting to care deeply about his classmates and friends. And he loves that he has a world that isn’t lead by mom and dad, but he can invite us into.

    I didn’t mention Liam who is in Kindergarten. Kindergarten is the hardest grade for a lot of kids as they are so diverse at that age and stage. He is bored, but the school acknowledges that and are actively working to get him into more advanced work. They do not want to hold him back, – they actually have three teachers in the classroom of 18 kids, so now that they are in the second half of the year, they can provide him with more advanced work.

    We actively monitor how our kids are doing in education and will make sure they are being well served. We don’t sit back and let the school make the decisions – instead we ask questions, challenge, and discuss with the school, which has lead to some changes both in their instruction of Anthony (and now Liam) and also at home in how we reinforce it. I find a lot of homeschoolers tend to forget or underestimate how involved parents are in the education process of kids who go to school.

    My 2 cents.

  21. Siobhan says:

    Also, conformity and obedience are the negative ways of describing respecting social and safety rules. Are there teachers who are mad, power hungry despots? Sure, but there are parents who are too. Most teachers have rules so that all may learn. We had issues with Liam shouting out answers and not respecting the fact that other students (who are quieter or shy) also need a chance to answer. At least at my kids school, they always give reasons for the rules – quiet in the hallways because those hallways reverberate and frankly the noise is overwhelming and quite dangerous to young ears. Raising your hand so others have a chance to answer the question.

    I think one of the biggest criticisms of homeschoolers that I have seen is that by offering such individualized education and schooling experiences, they can inadvertently set up their kids with unrealistic expectations of how much they have to follow rules set by other people. I think thoughtful homeschoolers accomplish this through a variety of means, but I think we all know the stereotype of hs kids who don’t understand that their boss is not going to spoonfeed them instructions or respect the fact that they don’t like sitting at a desk all day. (btw, I am a boss of employees so having employees who know how to learn independently, how to adapt to an existing culture and set of office rules, and how to figure out how to serve the company is actually pretty damned important to me.)

    Please note that I am NOT saying that one particular schooling type causes this sort of entitlement. However, I’d like to hear about how HSers address those concerns.

  22. tinderbox says:

    Siobhan, thanks for taking the time to leave such a long and thoughtful comment. It’s great that the boys’ school is working so well for them. It sounds like the school has done an excellent job of developing strategies to address social and behavioral issues, and has been very responsive to your specific concerns about your kids. It’s wonderful that you have that situation for your kids.

    I didn’t mean for this to be an indiscriminate school-bashing thread, and I’m sorry that some of the comments have taken that turn. I think one thing that is easy to forget is how different schools are from each other – there might be some overall descriptive trends, but what there is more than anything else is a diversity of settings, experiences, policies, and attitudes. I am really glad to hear from people whose experience in school is positive, because, as you know, a lot of parents that I totally respect and a lot of kids that I am very fond of are using public schools.

    As far as this is concerned:

    Educating a group of kids, all with different learning styles, different home/education backgrounds, different cognative abilities, different languages and cultures, different socio-economic conditions, and developmental speeds is freakin’ hard. [...] It is a heck of a lot easier to teach kids who all have educated parents at home, who come from families who have the time and the context to support learning and pay for extra support (like OT, tutoring, or therapy), or who are not hampered by hunger or fear at home. But all teachers have to be prepared to teach kids who do not have these conditions, and that is a ton of work.

    No argument from me. I could never, ever be a classroom teacher. It is just too hard and I couldn’t do it.

    The question about how homeschoolers develop the ability to conform to rules is a good one. I think I’ll promote it to the main page in the next day or so to encourage more people to weigh in, as I did with Charlotte’s comment.

  23. Liese4 says:

    I like the way this conversation is going. Usually PS vs HS ends up with bashing on both sides. I can only speak for my family and what we do and what works for us. That said I’d like to hit on the topic of rules.

    I’m not sure what was meant by entitled, I really don’t see many homeschoolers who feel entitled, but I guess there are some. We have rules, they may be different rules than you are used to, after all why raise hands when your ‘classroom’ totals 3 people? That said, my kids know to raise their hands when we are somewhere like the library and they are asked a question.

    Have you ever seen what usually happens when a teacher leaves the room? (I have, I was in public school), it is utter chaos. When I leave the room, I expect that my kids will be doing whatever it is I left them doing, that’s just the rule at my house.

    I have a saying that I made up to help some people in our homeschool group. We have a few people who are struggling with whether they will continue homeschooling or go the PS route. It goes like this: Unless there are cookie cutter kids, there is no cookie cutter solution to schooling them. That just means that what works for me might not work for you…and that’s okay.

    Public school is not evil, neither is homeschooling. PS can create an environment for learning and so can HS, PS can create a bad environment for learning and so can HS. I can not worry about how other people educate their children, I have no control over that. But, I can give my own children an education that inspires a love of learning.

  24. Siobhan says:

    Thanks Rebecca,

    Home schooling gets bashed a lot, I know, and it isn’t fair. There is a ton of misinformation about the hows and whys of homeschooling. Homeschoolers have every right to defend their decision and describe how uncomfortable they are with public or private options.

    I just want people to understand that blanket statements are rarely accurate and rarely helpful. For one thing, there is implied judgement in these condemnations of public schools – because if they are so clearly inferior to home schooling, why would ANY good parent actually send their kids to public school (aka evil desparkling factories of doom)? I am clearly either ignorant or selfish to not want to avoid turning my children into zombies who conform and obey without thinking. ; )

    Secondly, I wonder about the broader public policy implications of these condemnations. If public schools are so terrible, what about the kids for whom private or home schooling is just not an option? I know that my primary responsibility is to my kid, but I do live in a world where I and my family are directly impacted by other people not being well educated, especially those who do not have the resources to home school or fund private education. Does my responsibility to my community end at my child? I went to private school for much of my late childhood, so I do know this is not an easy question to ask. But it is something that I think we all need to ask ourselves at some point.

    I find sometimes that homeschoolers can really undervalue the time and energy they put into homeschooling and fail to recognize that the reason why more people don’t do it is because it requires a tremendous amount of time, work and dedication. I have a ton of respect for how much work it is, which is one reason why we do NOT home school. There is no way I could home school AND run a business AND sleep.

    It also does not escape my attention that most home schoolers I see are moms who do not work outside the home. Rebecca, your situation where you co-teach with Michael while both holding down professional jobs is as admirable as it is unusual. There are some significant logistics issues when trying to combine a full time job with home schooling, especially in regard to childcare during the working day (which is very rare and basically only offered by babysitters since daycares do not offer programs to school aged children during the school day) . So the option for most families is to have one parent at home, which is increasingly problematic in our current economy.

    Anyhow, as I said before, I have a lot of respect for home schoolers and the dedication and hard work they put into it. I just wanted to put out my thoughts about blanket statements and assumptions that will hopefully allow us to continue this discussion.

  25. Charlotte says:

    My anti-spam word was “whoa”, as in “whoa, my comment might get lengthy.” :-D

    Rivka, you know, but some of your other readers might not, that I’m on the fence right now about where to continue with our kids. I’m ready to jump from PS, but there are several factors standing in the way of that right now. So, it might help to know that some of my comments stem from from my frustrations of the moment.

    This conversation reminds me of a story one of my history profs told in college. He had been teaching Chinese history to a group of adult students (teachers, maybe?). The students thought that the Chinese Legalist system was pretty harsh, so my prof came up with a little exercise. He gave some parameters – you are the leader of a country with over a billion people, many of them poor, etc. etc. Come up with what you think is the best method of governance. Almost every person in the room came up with something very similar to Legalism.

    I don’t actually think that what our school is that regimented, compared to what other public schools do. These things drive me *crazy*, but I honestly can’t think of good ways around them. The kids have recess, lunch, and an outside of the classroom “special” every day, so they have to be in the hallway while other classes are going on. They have to be quiet. The more they remain in line, the more quiet they are. The lines on the floor are something for them to focus on. It doesn’t allow for individual expression, but what would individual expression *in that situation* lead to?

    Jeff and I were discussion Edward’s upcoming 504 plan meeting, and brainstorming things that give him trouble. “Hallway” is a big issue for him. Jeff suggested that they figure out a way for him to not have to line up for 10 minutes at a time several times a day. I agree, but how will he get from place to place without a designated adult with him at all times? There’s no easy answer to that one.

    I don’t know how I’d run lunch differently either, and if I did, I’d bring it up with PTO, the principal, etc. The cafeteria only seats so many kids at a time. Each class gets officially a half hour, but it’s realistically 25 minutes by the time they line up to go back to class. Kids who bring their lunch get the whole time. Kids who wait in line for milk or food get less (this is why the boys bring those Honest Kids juice bags now, instead of buying milk). Kids who have less than 10-15 minutes are allowed to take their trays back to the classroom to finish, but it’s not allowed often. Frequently, the kids who were last in line end up at one end of the table, not allowed to interact with the other kids, since then they would be too distracted to eat in a reasonable time.

    I don’t know how to speed up the line, or how to give them more time. Fifth grade starts eating at 11am and the last lunch is done around 1pm or a little later. It’s also not right to have kids eating way earlier or way later than that. It’s also tricky to encourage more parents to pack lunches, since most of those who do send total and utter crap. I do wish that the lunch attendant ladies were a little less “tough” and a little more inclined to positive encouragement, but I can’t say that I wouldn’t be cranky after years of ushering several hundred students a day through lunch. ;)

    As for teaching, I haven’t seen anything like the video in our school. Well, the kindergarten teachers do this “Kiss your brain!” and “Pat yourselves on the back!” thing, and all of the kids respond accordingly, but it’s nothing like that. I’m with some of the other commenters – I can see how keeping the kids going and moving would help with attention, and it would be better than having to just sit there quietly. It reminds me a little of how the boys’ karate class was run. Of course, Edward was still off on the other side of the room doing his own thing… I do think a little would go a long way, and it did elicit a negative visceral reaction in me.

    I think I’ve worked out pretty well in my own mind how we’d manage socialization (both types) if we did homeschool. There’s definitely an active local community to get involved with, and the boys would have ample opportunity, through that and the rest of our lives, to interact with other kids on a regular basis. At school they get things like assemblies, that they have to sit quietly through, and they can get that through church and Henry’s concerts (I definitely want them learning this – it’s an area where even Jeff can’t cope as an adult). :) I was just thinking about how they could have other “important adults with authority” in their lives, and between music lessons and scouts, I think we’re on track there. I do think they should learn how to wait in line and raise their hand or wait politely in a discussion, as both of those are things you might use as an adult, I’m just not sure they need them in such large doses as they’re getting now. I know I’m not thinking of any. I wish there was some sort of “socialization checklist” to go through, to see if we have everything covered in a format outside of the school. Maybe there is?

  26. Charlotte says:

    Also, I know it’s incredibly difficult to say “This is why I chose X” without also saying “This is why I didn’t choose Y.” FWIW, I think you do a great job of that. I’ve never felt judged by you for making a different choice. Only envy at your great work. :-D

  27. Ailbhe says:

    I don’t have a lot to say on this because it requires more brain than I have, but I’m glad Siobhan commented because when I was managing a team of people who were fresh out of uni – a thing which has only happened to me twice, thankfully – I found the extent to which they expected to be told what to do and how and when to do it incredibly frustrating, and it’s nice to know that that’s not the norm for fresh grads, since if home ed people do it too, it must be something else causing it.

  28. Laura says:

    I had lunch in December with a new friend who is homeschooling her five year old and will do the same with her three year old. She made an interesting observation that when children are forced to wear identical outfits in age delineated groups and then placed in a highly controlled environment, that bullying may result because natural ways of establishing individual identities and hierarchies are removed.

    I don’t know if it is true or not, but it has caused me to think.

  29. Ruth says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    I’ve been following the blog for a while, because though I plan to send my son to school, I believe a lot of learning happens at home, and I’m interested in learning how to do that better.

    One point in favor of public schooling that hasn’t been raised yet is that it is more likely to expose kids to diversity – socioeconomic, racial, religious and political. From a public policy perspective, I think this is important for civil society. It’s not that homeschooling parents can’t do this for their kids. It’s just that I’d hazard that on average, it’s less likely to happen. How many homeschooling groups include kids from families on food stamps or recent immigrants whose first language is not English? How many activities like ballet or scouts have the same level of diversity as the public school system? It’s not that I think public schools do this perfectly, and there are trade offs. But just a point I hadn’t seen raised so far.

  30. Liese4 says:

    One point in favor of public schooling that hasn’t been raised yet is that it is more likely to expose kids to diversity – socioeconomic, racial, religious and political.

    I disagree, it all depends on the school. In my neighborhood my kids are surrounded by married white protestants. In my homeschool group my kids are surrounded by single parent, divorced, married, pagan, christian, black, brown, Russian, Spanish, Indian, Chinese, deaf, handicapped (physically and mentally) and more people. True, I have the best homeschool group in the world, you won’t find a more diverse group, we are different colors, races, religions, have different political beliefs, and all have different ways of homeschooling. At my local school my kids would be surrounded by kids just like them. – period. We have rich people in our HS group and people who until a few months ago were homeless and living in a shelter. We have people on food stamps and people who get food at the food bank and people who store food under their beds.

    You could just say, well you’re lucky. But, even if this wonderful group were not around, my kids would be surrounded by people in the real world that we come into contact with every day that are not like us. You don’t have to go far from home to find homeless people in need of a meal, kids who want to learn to speak English but can’t, handicapped people in need of help, people not of our faith who might need a kind word and people who don’t share our educational values but love to converse with those wacky homeschoolers.

    There was a time, not too long ago, where school was the least likely place to find diversity. My Mom went to a school where everyone was white, just like her, and it wasn’t until her 10th grade year that the school was integrated. My kids were shocked to find out that Grandma had no black friends (or any other race) at school until she was almost grown. Because my kids have such diversity in their circle of friends (again: black, brown, white…..every other color too, deaf, asperger’s, schizophrenic, in a wheelchair, in leg braces, autistic….and lots of other handicaps, pagan, buddhist, christian, mormon, jehovah’s witness…and a ton of other religions) they see everyone as just….their friends.

  31. Danna says:

    Here are some anecdotes about my step daughter’s socialization in public school (she’s 22 now). In the 5th grade, she came home from school and asked me what oral sex was…the kids were discussing it on the playground and she felt stupid because she didn’t know what it was. In 7th grade out of a group of 10 girls she hung out with at school, 3 had pregnancy scares and 4 were kicked out of school after drugs were found in their backpacks. She wasn’t one of either group. Things didn’t get better in high school. Behaviors that would get you fired at work were routinely allowed and ignored at school. We’re homeschooling this round, my boys are 3 & 5 and I’d like them to stay children a bit longer than public school will allow.

  32. Danna says:

    BTW we lived in an upscale suburb of Seattle when my Step daughter attended school. Our district was #4 in the state, our high school was in the top 1,000 in the nation in terms of # of AP tests passed and college admissions. Not like we were living in the ghetto.

    Now we live in Phoenix AZ, were the schools are in the bottom 25% of the nation statewide. So, homeschooling it is.

  33. tinderbox says:

    Wow. Danna, that kind of overheated rhetoric and massive overgeneralization is not at all a helpful contribution to what has been, up to this point, a civil discussion among parents who have made very different educational choices.

    And by the way, don’t use the word “ghetto” in that derogatory way on my blog. Your own anecdote should have tipped you off that there is no justification for attributing worse morals to the urban poor, or to African-Americans. Quit it.

    I’m going to ask that other people not engage, please, so that things don’t slide further downhill.

  34. tinderbox says:

    Holy crap, I think this is twice as long as my previous longest comment thread. Keep it coming, guys. It’s fascinating.

    Siobhan, if you still haven’t watched the video, watch the video. The zombie/conformist drone/evil desparkling factory comments seem to me to be very specific emotional reactions to a specific classroom portrayal. I don’t blame you for feeling offended and defensive if you take them to be comments on school-in-general, but I really don’t think they are. (Hey, homeschoolers: if they are supposed to be judgments of school-in-general, cut it out.)

    Siobhan, I hope that I haven’t sounded homeschool-supremacist in our personal interactions. I do think that, as with so many parenting topics, it can be very very difficult to talk about why you have chosen to do a particular thing, and what concerns led you not to do another thing, without people who did the other thing feeling attacked. It’s this massively judgmental parenting culture that surrounds us.

    I do have reasons why I homeschool, work for wages, hospital birth, breastfeed, respond to nighttime crying, vaccinate, don’t spank, expect obedience from my kids, limit electronic media, don’t limit sugar much, etc. etc. etc. I think it does our communities a disservice if we can’t openly explore the complex calculus that brings us each to our own decisions. But you know, some of my reasons are going to be applicable to other people’s decision process and some of them aren’t.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think you should homeschool. I mean, you know, not that it’s my place to judge. But the reasons you’ve outlined for why you’ve made the educational decisions you have seem really good from my perspective, and your kids are thriving.

    I completely agree with you that our society will always need public schools, and that we need public schools to be as excellent as possible. I’m aware that there’s a libertarian streak a mile wide in the homeschool community, and that a lot of people do have the misguided notion that universal public education could just melt away and leave us all better off. To me that’s nonsense. I do feel a sense of larger responsibility towards the education of the whole nation’s children; I just don’t think I need to exercise that responsibility by putting my kids in school myself. I wrote about that at length here.

  35. Liese4 says:

    I do feel a sense of larger responsibility towards the education of the whole nation’s children; I just don’t think I need to exercise that responsibility by putting my kids in school myself.

    Well said.

  36. Siobhan says:

    “It’s this massively judgmental parenting culture that surrounds us. ”

    This. You personally, no never. It is not part of your personality or value system to be judgmental of other people’s thoughtful decisions, even when they don’t agree with your own. It is one of the reasons why we are such good friends – we both agree that parenting is hard, we do the best we can with the resources we have, and respect for others goes a long way. It is why I love reading your blog.

    I also love reading your blog because I get a lot out of it for ways we can supplement our kids’ education at home – we just bought cuisinare rods, for example, and two Japanese Abacuses (Abaci?) based on my reading of your experience with them. I have gotten a lot of ideas about how to take some of the more superficial coverage of history (like Rosa Parks, for example) and deepen it at home. And it makes me feel more empowered with the school – teachers can sometimes get into the mindset that they are the ONLY experts on education for ones’ child, so being able to speak with confidence when discussing educational strategies is very important (I also find that teachers respond well in general when they feel supported and not challenged).

    I watched the video. I think though the way you introduced it made it sound like it was an example of common teaching types at school. At least that is how I interpreted your words.

    However, I think this form of teaching would be highly effective for certain types of kids. I went to a great talk by an expert on educational accessibility for the disabled, especially for those with ADHD. There is a lot of concern also about right brained learning, especially with kids with ADHD being very poorly served by traditional “sit in your seat and listen to the teacher” types of learning. Most schools do a lot of small group work and so forth, but in large classrooms there is always a need for introducing a concept to all kids at once, and then work individuals as needed. The method in the video needs to be contrasted with someone up front lecturing for 10 minutes while the kids squirm in their seats not paying attention.

    This type of educational format, which involves kinestetic, visual and verbal is meant to work with much broader educational abilities and learning types than the standard lecture up front and kids listen quietly. By requiring the kids to respond, they are engaged. They know what to say, and they say it. It is frankly much more fun than the traditional method. Note the age of these kids too – I presume this is not how you would teach 10th graders or even 6th graders.

    I don’t see this as some evil form of indoctrination, but rather an attempt to break out of the old form of teaching into something that works for more students (especially boys at this age who tend to have a hard time sitting in their seats). Girls who are easily distracted too may find this sort of physical call and response type of learning to be more engaging and energizing than the traditional formats. I am sure there is lots of literature and research about retention rates, progress to more complex concepts, etc.

    Control and keeping kids attention is a big issue in a classroom of over 20 kids – many schools have 30+. It is a big challenge in any group schooling format. But since group schooling is the only logistical way to educate the millions of American children we have, comparing group schooling to individualize tutoring/home schooling is like comparing riding the bus to being driven in a limo. Being driven in a limo is clearly better experience (more efficient, more pleasant, faster) but doesn’t have any applicability to whether the bus service is sufficient to the needs of the population…


  37. tinderbox says:

    Okay, I think that a huuuuge range of options are excluded when the choice is presented as “require kids to sit rigidly motionless and silent” vs. “require kids to move and speak without deviating from a rigid script,” but at this point I think that any further critique I have is going to be dismissed with “Well, we can’t all ride in a fancypants limo like your family does,” so I’m going to bow out of this part of the conversation.

  38. Ailbhe says:

    I only just had the time to watch the video, and I had to stop after a few call-and-response bits, because putting me or a particular one of my children in that situation would be outright abusive. I had problems with the institutional nature of schooling when I partook in it, but it wasn’t as bad as the problems I’d have had with that video. Srsly.

    I do know a bit about what schools around here do, and it’s pretty good. They rely fairly heavily on the unwaged labour of women – volunteer parents are almost always women – but they work hard in very difficult circumstances to get a high adult to child ratio, give kids individual attention, mix up the ability and age groups within certain limits, etc. Within the classroom there’s a mix of gender and socioeconomic groups, but those break up into strata at lunchtime, playtime, and after school. Pretty dramatically.

  39. Liese4 says:

    I prefer to think of our educational style as riding along in a battered old VW Vanagon with aboriginal whale paintings, geometric designs, outlines of B-2 bombers and swirly-girly hearts drawn by a 6 y/o painted all over it. Inside there are cd’s and books littering the floor, and Moby Dick is playing on an audio book plugged into the radio (hey, the van might be old, but we would have a sweet sound system in there!) Every once in a while we stop and dance for no reason at all.

    Call us…suburban Hippie homeschoolers….

  40. Deb says:

    Funny; my word is “peace.” I don’t think Siobhan was setting up that kind of dichotomy at all. I think she was responding to your comment where you said “The zombie/conformist drone/evil desparkling factory comments seem to me to be very specific emotional reactions to a specific classroom portrayal. I don’t blame you for feeling offended and defensive if you take them to be comments on school-in-general, but I really don’t think they are. (Hey, homeschoolers: if they are supposed to be judgments of school-in-general, cut it out.)”

    As you know, I read your original post the same way (sounded as if you were presenting that video as a typical school experience.) But in the comment you redefined it (no, the comments on this thread are talking about this particular weird classroom method.) So she moved away from school-in-general and commented about this video in particular, with some speculation about what teaching types it might actually be intended to be better than. Her earlier postings (when we were talking about school-in-general) show the huge middle ground.

    I heard the limo vs. bus example purely as individual vs. group — not as an accusation of privilege. Look at the begining of the comment, where she is talking about how great it is to supplement what kids get at school by doing individual activities at home and how much we learn from seeing how homeschoolers teach. That’s a great middle ground.


  41. Ruth says:

    Liese4′s homeschool group sounds awesome! But I personally would worry about my ability to expose my kid to certain kinds of values diversity (e.g. Republicans) unless I were forced to do so by sending him to school with peers not handpicked by me.

    Ailbhe is spot on about self-segregation in nominally diverse environments. My liberal parents sent me to public schools with low-income peers. There was rigid self-segregation. But it forced me to learn how to interact with people I had nothing in common with, a skill that has served me well. Though painful at the time, in retrospect I think it was also useful to learn how to deal with irrational and despotic authority figures (TSA, anyone?). Not that there aren’t other ways to learn these skills than by going to school of course, but to emphasize that sometimes there’s an upside to experiences that might not seem ideal.

    Despite where I went to school, I excelled academically, and what I take away from the experience is that parents can often successfully support academic achievement at home, even if the school is not ideal along that dimension. That’s why I’m here – this blog does an awesome job of showing how parents can support learning and balanced child development at home.

  42. Siobhan says:

    Thinking back on my example, I think I prefer “battered old VW Vanagon” vs. a limo, because limos do bring up connotations of the 1%. And that definitely was not the intended implication. I am very sorry that it came across that way; I should have reflected more on my words before submitting.

    Rather, I was more trying to get to the heart of the inherent differences between group schooling and individualized schooling, and that allowances need to be made for those differences.

  43. FedUpMom says:

    @Siobhan, the astonishing thing is that the promoters of Whole Brain Teaching do indeed promote it for all age groups — including college! It’s sold as a one-size-fits-all panacea to education problems.

  44. lisa says:

    My 15 year old daughter’s comment while watching the video with me, “Is that lady a psycho teacher or something?” I think her comment pretty much sums up what Whole Brain Teaching is all about!!!

  45. Miss Amber says:

    I happened upon this board by chance in search of more information about the Whole Brain Teaching Method. Little did I know, 15 minutes later, I would be posting! I am a bit of a misfit to this board as I am not a parent at all, but rather a teacher with a self-led curriculum set in Northern Thailand. I work at a Thai government pilot-project ; this leaves our foreign teachers in an interesting position. We are given a sparse translated version of the Thai standards and the rest of the curriculum is left to us.

    I have found blogs written by families that homeschool to be the most incredible resource. Most educational online resources come at a cost, whereas many moms and dads out there are letting the world know what fabulous things they are teaching their kids at home! So on behalf of all of the teachers that learn through your posts, thank you!

    Now with all of that out… I first heard the name “Whole Brain Teaching” (WBT) when a friend sent me this:

    A few days later I substituted a kindergarten class (my first time with the little, little ones) and they were wild! I tried to point, I tried to count, I tried to lure them in with a smile and a gentle nudge… but NO! And then I remembered some of the things I saw on that video, and my goodness gracious, the little ones listened! They sat in a circle! They blew their answers into their hands and shouted them out together! (This, by the way, was with no prior WBT training)

    I have been doing a lot of research on different teaching methods recently and wanted to know more about the Whole Brain Teaching approach. I found a few perspectives here and am grateful for that. I just wanted to mention from my experience, as an extremely student-based teacher, I found a few of the Whole Brain Teaching tools to be quite useful. Though the video that spurred this massive dialogue does, indeed, chill my bones a bit due to the brainwashing implications; Whole Brain Teaching, used in moderation, may have its uses after all.

  46. Miss Amber says:

    Oops… it looks as if the embedded video above didn’t post. To see a more positive representation of WBT please watch this video:

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