My daughter, now 24, has been through the school system since she was 5 years old. There was a time when I had a fleeting thought about home education. Without doing the research, I decided that I was not ‘cut out’ to home educate. I now have several friends who educate their young children, and one of them recently wrote this article. Imrans words really touched me so I thought I would share this inspiring article with you…
THE SCIENCE OF SOCIALISATION
“Kids educated at home are brighter and more impressively human than institutionalized kids simply because they are allowed to learn free of bells, bogus experts, phony sequences, endless interventions and similar junk.” John Taylor Gatto, (Former New York State Teacher of the Year, and three times New York City Teacher of the Year).
I am in Pakistan, visiting my family. My family are comfortable, middle class, and highly educated. Every one in my family has at least one degree. My brother has three. My cousins attended the top schools and colleges in Pakistan; the same ones where they now send their children, and no doubt the same ones that their children’s children will go to. We are a family of teachers, and doctors, and bankers, and army officers, and senior civil servants, and lecturers. So naturally on this visit here, they ask me about my children and my plans for their education. My eldest being 5, is now of school age. When I say that he is being educated at home, it is easy for me to deal with their concern about how he will learn. It is easy to point out to them that school is not designed to educate and never was. I only need ask them one question. “Do you think that the British brought schools here to educate Indian children, because they wanted to have an educated literate population to rule over?” They immediately understand the purpose of school. My cousins, who are the children and grandchildren of colonised parents and grandparents share a collective a memory of British rule.. The lessons learnt from the legacy of Empire have a long half-life. No more is said about how my children will learn. So they ask about exams, and subjects and tutoring, and sooner if not later comes the inevitable: “But how will they socialise?”
I could point out that my children get to mix with plenty of children, of different ages. I could point out that the kind of social milieu that home educated children are immersed in, is closer to real life than school life, because it is real life. Not for them the unnatural dynamic of a them and us world of authoritarian adults ordering groups of children all day long, five days a week, for 13 years, engaging them in meaningless activities, devoid of any context or connection, as preparation for an adult life that will be remarkably different. I could talk about the pernicious effects of bullying, how it diminishes the bully, and the bullied, and the witness, whose emotions are a mix of guilt that he didn’t stop it, relief that he was not bullied, and fear that he might be next. Or I could talk about the science of socialisation.
It starts with human biology. We are social animals, and have been social animals for many millenia. Being social is in our DNA. It is one of the defining characteristics of being human. The more meaningful relationships a person has, the greater the resources they have, the happier they are, with significantly lower rates of depression, and other mental health issues. Children that are deprived of loving relationships, especially early in infancy, tend to be smaller, more prone to illnesses, have smaller brains, and in the most extreme instances, they fail to thrive and die. Loving relationships are a vital component of human existence. No wonder adults are concerned about children’s socialisation. In order to get on in life,children need to be able to get on with others. This is what people mean by socialisation: the process by which social skills are acquired so that the child concerned can relate to others in a healthy, functional manner. Without bravado or timidity, the well-socialised child speaks to the other as an equal, with honour and respect, and is met with by the same. The unquestioned assumption about socialisation is that it is in school that children learn how to get along, that it is in the rough and tumble of the playground and the hustle and bustle of the halls and the quiet concentration in a studious class that children get socialised. If you stop to listen and observe you will see the kind of socialisation that school engenders. Children learn who is the coolest, who is the weakest, smartest and strongest, as they each struggle for status. They learn about values; not the values that are written down in the school charter or mission statement, but the lived values of the playground that arise when children who are but strangers to each other, are compelled to be together in the confined space of the school grounds. Playground discourse is characterised by vanity, cruelty, hubris and shame. Vulnerability is picked on. Empathy is absent and generosity scorned. Children tease and squabble and fight. They laugh at each other’s mistakes. They are picked on for being smarter, or weaker, or poorer, or different in some way. In this environment, no child can be himself. Each has to hide who they are. Each is compelled to conform. Lurking in the background, like a stalker standing in the shadows, is the fear that forms the foundation of the school project: the fear of being picked on, laughed at, found out, asked to read in front of the class, told off, or humiliated publicly in one of a dozen ways.
Fear gives rise to stress. It is one of the most basic of our emotions, since it warns us of imminent threat. The bodies response is to prepare for fight or flight. The limbic brain, which is the neurological seat of our emotions, over-rides the neocortex which is where conceptual thinking takes place. Thus the concern for survival suppresses cognition. Fearful children, like fearful adults can’t think straight. In an atmosphere of fear no one can truly be at ease. No one can truly be relaxed and be with another. The only alliances that are made, are those necessary for survival.
Nothing that school does has anything to do with how humans learn to socialise. That doesn’t mean that lasting friendships are not formed at school, just that school’s not designed to facilitate friendships. Children aren’t able to mix freely with whom they want to so they can find others with whom they can connect with. Their opportunities to play and talk and engage in social intercourse are subordinate to the demands of the school schedule, and the silence that the teacher demands.
Nothing that school does correlates with the way that socialisation is structured within our DNA. The processes by which self is moulded: attachment self-determination, reflection and modelling are disrupted, interrupted and corrupted by the inhumanity of school practise.
Before a person can be in a healthy relationship with another, she needs to know who she is as a self. If a child does not know who she is as a self, how can she know or ever hope to know, who another is as his self? In order to develop her sense of self, she needs to be related to in a healthy manner, by another who loves her. Self first begins to take shape in the bond between mother and child. This is the arena where the child learns how to relate and be related to. This is the attachment system. Attachment is the conduit through which connections conduct themselves. Without attachment, there can be, no love, no relationships. It is the process which compels parents to look after their infants, and compels infants to stay close to them. It is as important a system to human development as the digestive system, or circulatory system, or endocrinal system.
As parents feed and cuddle and sooth their baby, changes happen in the baby’s brain. Attachment causes a baby’s brain to grow, and the limbic brain in particular. This forms the foundation for the neocortex which governs abstraction and conceptual thinking. Like the superstructure of a house needs a strong foundation to rest on, the neocortex needs a developed limbic brain to rest on. The limbic brain regulates attachment at the same time as the actions of attachment encourage the limbic brain to grow. As they dance together, and the infant is cooed, and cuddled and held and soothed, he learns what relating is like. At the same time, the pleasure centres in his brain get formed and pleasure and relating get inextricably linked. He begins to experience the joy that can be found in connecting with another, and in doing so his self gets scripted in his brain. As a mother responds to her son, holding him, feeding him, soothing him, talking to him, his brain fires neurons at an accelerated rate, as do hers. How she relates to him is determined by her neural patterns, from the templates that were laid down in her infancy by how her mother and others were with her. If she is loving, and responsive, tending to his needs, he learns to be loving and responsive. He learns that in mutually loving relationships he can get his needs met, and meet the needs of others. If she is cold and aggressive then his brain lays down the patterns for coldness and aggression that will characterises his relationships later on in life. The infant brain copies the adult brain and relating gets written in the form of neural templates in a process that will go on all his life, but is at it’s most malleable and flexible before all the adult teeth are in.
By sending our children to school, or preschool before the age of 7, before the attachment process has completed the work of building the limbic brain, based on the loving interactions with his parents and other familial carers., we disrupt the attachment We disrupt the process by which a child gets to know, create and discover himself. Secure loving attachment, that meets a child’s needs, results in a child who is secure and confident in himself. He meets his newly created self in the loving embrace of his parents. The brain of a three year old, four year old or five year old that has been sent to school, has not completed the work begun within the family. The bonds are not as strong as they could have been. What is not commonly known is that the philosophers and thinkers and agitators for compulsory schooling knew this. The Prussians were the first to set up skoles in the early part of the 19th Century, with the specific intent of weakening the bond between parent and child. The British Raj knew this too, so they set up schools where Indian children would learn to follow the edicts of their British rulers rather than the cries of their parents.
We have forgotten how anti-nature this practise is. No other animal, no other bird, mammal or monkey or ape, gives away its attachment phase infants to genetic strangers. They all know that it is a recipe for genetic suicide. We have lost our way. We are social beings, but we are meant to be social with those in our communities, starting with our families. Our children should only move away from the base that our parents provide when the process of attachment has completed the writing of our socialisation script. Children learn the art of relating from those around them. Their neurons mirror the patterns of the company that they keep. At school that company is comprised of other children, each equally unsure of themselves, each an immature, lonely self, struggling for connection. In their hunger for connection each becomes dependent on his peers, and the playground becomes characterised by cruelty and fear. In contrast, healthy uncompromised attachment, gives rise to empathy, the ability to feel another’s pain. By sending our attachment phase children to school we compromise the possibility of what could have been. No wonder children in school are cruel. Empathy exists only as a phantom.
As well as disrupting attachment, school denies children the self-shaping practises of self-determination and reflection. Without opportunities to make choices, take actions and deal with the consequences, a child can never know who she is. She never gets to discover her passions, her limits, her longings. Her self remains a stranger. In school children’s activities are so heavily cirmcumscribed that children never find out who they really are, what they really like, and who they could really be. Told what to do throughout the school day, they never get to explore themselves as individuals, each as beautiful as an individual snowflake. The schooled child never gets to practise and play at whatever is her heart’s delight as the school institution herds her like a sheep from one pen to another. A shell of who she could be, she becomes obsessed with the superficial trappings of status and fashion, as she succumbs to the force of peer group pressure.
Not so long ago my son was being uncharacteristically quiet and still. My wife asked him what was going on with him and if he was okay. He said that there was nothing going on. “I am just thinking a big think”. She left him to be, a luxury that the noise and the demands of the school day would deprive him. In school there is no opportunity for quiet reflection: those moments where a child tunes into himself and explores the contours of his own being. In the silence that reflection allows, the quietened child can hear his self sing to him, and in listening to his song he fashions his soul, and his self. The clanging of the bells and the clatter of the pandemonium and the noise and the rush and the constant screaming and shouting and talking and pushing and shoving, the silence of the soul never gets heard. Self gets drowned out.
If I don’t know who I am, how can I ever hope to even begin to know who you are?
That’s socialisation in schools: baseless, groundless and heartless.
Back at home, my two are surrounded by people who love them, and who they love. They play with the children of our family and close friends. They are noisy when they will it and can be quiet when they need it. Their requests for hugs are almost always instantly met. They are never bullied, or ever witness bullying. What they see are adults who love and respect each other, talking and arguing and discussing and laughing and working and playing. Their neurons mirror the patterns of relating that their mature, mixed age community models for them. They make choices of what they will do and when and how and in dealing with the consequences of those choices, they create who they are. Best of all, I think, they have the luxury of being still in response to an internal yearning versus an external demand delivered at the point of a threat as in school.
And in being still, my son thinks a big think, and discovers who he is. He discovers his humanity. That’s how home educated children get to be human. They know who they are.
Imran Shah 19 Jan 2010.
The author is a qualified social worker, home education consultant, a writer and a father of two children who are educated at home.
Do you home educate? I’d love to know your thoughts so please do leave a comment.
“A General Theory of Love” by Lewis et al
“The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog” by Perry
“Hold onto your kids” by Dr Gordon Neufeld.
“The Curriculum of Necessity” by John Taylor Gatto (http://www.missionislam.com/homed/neseducation.htm)