Saturday, 24 July 2010

The 'S' word

It is the one subject which everybody raises when talk turns to home education. Doesn't she get lonely? Aren't you worried that he won't be able to get along with others when he grows up? What do you do about socialisation?

Like almost all home educating parents I find this sort of thing extremely irritating. After all, one only has to observe the way that schoolchildren generally are raised and the way they behave to see that there is something pretty strange about their socialisation, never mind home educated children! I have been thinking about this over the last few days, as my daughter has been at a summer school held at Oxford University. This is a scheme to encourage state school pupils to apply for a place at Oxford, part of their scheme to encourage wider access. This was entirely my daughter's doing and I only saw those bits about it that she wanted to show me. One section, about travel, made her laugh out loud. Oxford pay the train fares of all the participants and there is an appeal to parents along these lines. 'For many students, this will be the first time that they have travelled alone by train. Please allow them the opportunity and don't bring them by car'. These are all Year 12 students, aged sixteen and seventeen, and the idea that many of them have never been on a train alone is pretty staggering. However thinking it over, it is not really at all surprising.

Hardly any parents seem to let their children out alone. They are driven to school until they are teenagers and never have the chance to walk anywhere alone. My own daughter started walking alone to the shops and library when she was nine and I have to say that this was a marvellous way of her becoming confident and independent. She visited charity shops and bought books, chatted to the librarians, spoke to neighbours whom she met in the street and so on. I have to say that one never sees primary school aged children out alone, either here or anywhere else. This means that their opportunities to socialise without the supervision of their parents is strictly limited. I don't really regard the highly artificial atmosphere of schools as proper socialisation. This too is done under the close supervision of adults and the whole thing is very stilted and peculiar. When did you last hear any woman being addressed as 'Miss' in the real world?

After I had given evidence at the select committee in October, I was approached by a group of home educated teenagers, all about the same age as my daughter. They wanted to speak to me about my views. I could not help noticing that all of them had that same maturity and confidence that my daughter displays. They spoke to me with an assumption of equality and expectation that I would treat them as reasonable people, which was quite refreshing. Most teenagers that age are either cocky and challenging or show an awful false deference which they have learned to display at school towards adults. These young people were quite different.

My daughter is almost invariably taken as being a older than her chronological age. This is not because her physical appearance is particularly mature, but rather because of the confident way that she talks and behaves. I have a suspicion that this would not be the case had she attended school. It is my belief that school actually harms the ability to socialise and can inflict lifelong damage upon children's ability in this field. The strict hierarchy, not only of adults and children but also between different age groups of children, the formal and structured way that relations are often conducted, the bullying, the being forced to associate with people whom one might actively dislike; none of these strike me as brilliant ways to encourage a child to become a social creature. Certainly, the products of these institutions are often not very good advertisements for the treatment!


  1. "I have to say that one never sees primary school aged children out alone, either here or anywhere else." Something of a generalisation. In our rural backwater, primary school aged children have considerable freedom to roam - the main reason they don't use public transport is because it's often inadequate.

  2. I'm not sure if I would describe Market Drayton as a 'rural backwater'; after all, you only live half a mile from a Morrisons! Whatever would your neighbours think to hear their town called a rural backwater?

  3. I think my neighbours would agree with the description. After all, that's why most of them live here. There's a notice outside the post office warning people not to ride horses along the pavement, and we're 15 miles from the next town. I think that makes us rural and a backwater.

  4. Our daughter (13) spends a lot of time around town on her own and is happy to get the bus or train as needed. As you say, this has been very useful in building her confidence. I think it is a shame that children travelling independently has become such an oddity. Some of it is the increase in car use, I guess, and some fear of stranger abduction. I believe that it makes our daughter safer in the long run. She is perfectly comfortable asking bus drivers or library/museum staff for information or directions, for example.