Russell and Duenes

Public Schools: Kids Need to be Socialized

with 2 comments

school busPublic schools provide a primary and necessary context for our children to be socialized into American society. Kids need to learn how to relate to others, to practice the give-and-take compromises that will be so valuable as they mature. And where better to get this training than in public schools? Further, this will prevent children from becoming insular, sheltered, or just plain awkward and out-of-touch. If we want them to participate meaningful in American life, then we need to give our children the opportunity to be socialized in a community where most Americans will be socialized. This will allow them to be relevant to others as adolescents and adults. Christians seriously risk being irrelevant and ghetto-ized if they do not educate their children in the public schools, and the last thing Christians need is further marginalization in our society.

Let’s try to have a measure of honesty here. First, virtually no one who argues the “public schools are necessary for socialization” position has any hard evidence that kids are better “socialized” in public schools. They are simply giving anecdotal evidence, at best. The fact that a friend of a friend knows Joey next-door and says that he, being a home-schooled kid, is “awkward,” is hardly compelling evidence upon which to base one’s educational decisions. My first response is to give anecdotal evidence in return. For every person who gives me a story about a kid that allegedly needed public schools in order to be socialized into American society, I will provide a story of a child who was home-schooled or privately schooled who is just as well-socialized, if not more so, than the public school kid. In addition, the home-schooled kid can probably have serious conversations with adults, and enjoy doing so, which by itself should almost prove fatal to the public school argument.

Second, people making the “they need socialization” argument rarely take pains to carefully explain what they mean by “socialization.” Does it mean, “learning to stand in a line?” If that’s about it, then they’ll have to do better. But I’m guessing it means things like, “learning to share,” “learning to get along with others,” and “not being socially awkward” (whatever that means!). But one could just as well argue that the “socialization” that kids receive in public schools is one where they learn not to share, where every person learns to look out for himself. I’ve worked in the public schools, and at the elementary school level. There’s a whole lot of socialization going on, much of it consisting of learning how to push and shove, how to tell others to shut up, how to tease and ridicule others, how to speak about sexual matters that no grade schooler has any business knowing about, how to engage in abject narcissism, how to text sexually perverse things to others, how to use foul language, and the like. Why do we have such a massive anti-bullying campaign going on regarding the public schools? I thought the kids were being socialized.

Does this mean kids don’t learn these vices at home or in private schools? Hardly. But again, based on my anecdotal evidence of knowing home-schooled kids, and having worked in the public schools and at a private school for ten years, the kind of socialization the public schools provide is one I’d like to avoid. I do not believe that public schools sufficiently encourage relational virtues, even though such schools are not exclusive purveyors of vice. Frankly, I would like for my boys to be like most of the home-schooled boys I’ve met.

But let’s get to the “awkward” bit, because that seems to be the biggy. I’m not quite sure what counts as “awkwardness,” but my sense is that it’s not a big problem. Does it mean that home-schooled kids are not “cool” because they don’t speak the language of pop-culture or wear the latest hot fashions? If that’s true, then I say “amen” to home-schooling. Frankly, I would rather my kid be conversant in Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and the western literary canon than in Katy Perry, Jay-Z and South Park. I’m no obscurantist, and I like my Seinfeld re-runs as much as the next guy. But “coolness” and pop-culture literacy has no bearing on what kind of education I want to provide for my children, no matter how “relevant” it might seem to make them. Timeless truths will always be relevant. Having the coolest skinny jeans won’t be. Further, it seems to me that a bit of awkwardness and shyness around others can be easily remedied. Not so easily remedied are the practice and effects of narcissism, name-calling, clique-ishness, teasing, ungodly competitiveness and lack of respect for the elderly, all of which generally seem to be warp and woof of public school socialization. Violence appears to an up-and-comer as well. Will an explicitly Christian education shield my kids from “the world?” I don’t expect so. But I’d like them to be in a place that at least reinforces what we’re teaching at home, insofar as possible.

But perhaps it goes further. Perhaps the socialization that public schools uniquely provide stems from the fact that there are many different kinds of kids in the school, and exposure to them allegedly makes one broader in his thinking, more open-minded and more tolerant. Again, no doubt public schools have this effect to one degree or another. But this assumes that home-schooled or privately educated kids spend all their time only relating to family members or others just like them. I have found this not to be the case. In the home-schooling families I would seek to emulate, their kids have likely spent time overseas or in different cultures, have learned new languages, have learned more facts about other cultures, have been more intentional about finding venues to interact with different people, have learned how to speak seriously with adults and the like. Further, why should we assume that kids in public schools will spend all sorts of time with people different than themselves. Have you been to a middle school or high school lately? These are institutions of mass conformity, with most students finding others who are “just like themselves” and then hanging out mostly with them. They are hardly bastions of social inclusiveness.

If what one means by “more open-minded and tolerant,” is more openness to sexual perversion, self-adulation, statism and secular idolatry, then I have trouble finding this kind of “open-mindedness” to be a necessary virtue. Again, my kid might be “cooler” and less “awkward” if he was more open to these things. He might get on better in the world if he wore more hip fashions. But these are not biblical virtues, and as I said, I think there are other more important things in which to socialize my children. Home-schooling or private schooling need not mean isolation or insularity. Parents who are intentional about teaching their kids neighbor-love, respect for the aged, acceptance of differently-cultured people, service to the poor, evangelism of the perishing and general self-sacrifice, will certainly be able to insinuate these things into them. Indeed, I believe that an explicitly Christian form of education provides the best way of ensuring this kind of socialization, the kind that truly matters.


Written by Michael Duenes

August 4, 2013 at 11:26 am

Posted in Duenes, Education

2 Responses

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  1. D-

    There are some buzzwords in today’s society that are considered virtues and do not require proof or definition as such.

    “Socialization” is one such word. “Diversity” and “Social Justice” are others.

    Has there ever been any empirical evidence to show that racially diverse companies or schools outperforms those that aren’t?

    And what exactly is “social justice”? Does that mean the outcome of every ethnic group should be the same as any other, even though different ethnicities emphasize different values? Does that mean everyone should have the same wealth?

    These words are rarely defined, and if they are, there is no proof given for their virtuosity.


    August 5, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    • Agree totally. Further, when it comes to “diversity,” do they mean merely different skin color, or diversity of thought? Usually the former.


      russell and duenes

      August 5, 2013 at 9:56 pm

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