I just read this story on the CNN site and it made me very sad for the family and angry at whatever made this happen. As a former teacher of children in public schools I saw more than my share of playground behavior. Even students in private schools can be very cruel. When my son was still in public school, he was happy in the classroom and miserable on the playground, even though he was friendly and outgoing. At the time he was still a foster child and some of the other kids knew it. My daughter, in another school’s special ed program, was perfectly happy for two years with a wonderful teacher. Then that wonderful teacher had a sabbatical midyear and her class (in which Sarah was the only girl) got a male long-term substitute who didn’t mind pushing values that were different from ours (and the former teacher’s) at his students in the 3-4 grades. But it was the playground that was the worst problem. Our daughter would come home and complain that the boys were always propositioning her during recess. (She was a very attractive fourth grade girl.)
We complained to the principal and were told that the teachers on duty at recess can’t see and hear everything. As to the classroom situation, the best we could get was that Sarah would be moved to a resource room with a female teacher after her female teacher aide went home the last hour of the school day. These are the things that are part of the background of my reading this news story. I also lost my son , but not this way. My heart goes out to the mother and sister who got the terrible shock of seeing their loved one hanging in the closet. It’s a terrible thing to lose a child. You don’t ever get over it. But to know that your child was so unhappy at 11 that he would take his own life — that is one of the very worst ways to lose a child. There is only one way I can imagine that would be worse, and that way always makes the news, too.
On our journey to finding the right education solution, we tried private schools. We finally found one that would take both my bright son and his sister, who was behind due to some emotional baggage she was carrying from her life with her birth parents. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, as it turned out, the school closed after one year.
The next year we found a principle approach private school that was just right for the next two and two-thirds years. I had always wanted to home school, though, and that last third of the last school year, I got my chance. My husband was on a contract job in the Seattle area and we all went up to see him during Easter break. We went with another family to let the children play in the snow, and my daughter’s sled got stuck. When my husband freed it for her, he tore a ligament in his arm that required surgery, and he needed us to stay and help. I called our principal at home, and he convinced my husband, who was always the one who objected, that I would be perfectly able to teach the children, who were then in grades 5 and 8. I had been teaching English part time in his school for a year.
Washington was a marvelous state in which to begin the home school adventure. Although we had textbooks at home that were used at the school we were coming from, they were still at home and we couldn’t leave for a couple of weeks to go and get them. So we used the Auburn Public Library, near where we found a house to rent. The school district was also good to us when they heard of our situation.
We loved home schooling, but we heard what almost any other home schooling family hears from friends and neighbors. What about socialization? Many people think that home school children sit home with their books all day and never see anyone outside the home. Maybe they don’t realize that children who study at home still play soccer, go to youth group, join the scouts, play with the neighbor children, and learn to get along not only with their peers, but also their families and people who are younger or older than they are. Jason’s social life improved 100% when he started studying at home. He could actually get along with children who couldn’t get along with anyone else.
In public school, Jason had been teased because he was small for his age and because he was a foster child during his kindergarten year. He often came home unhappy. He loved learning, and was naturally compassionate and helpful. I had watched him comfort younger children in the neighborhood who were crying, but he didn’t know I was watching. He didn’t know how to respond to the meanness he encountered at school on the playground. Is this what a child needs to be considered socialized? To learn to respond to bullying and meanness from others?
One of the boys who lived next door to us was also an adopted child, and he had been abandoned in Korea by his birth father — just left at the train station. He was also handicapped — he had a leg brace. He was dealing with a lot of issues. Jason had lived in his house first, and that’s how we met Jason. I will call the other boy X, since he became the neighborhood bully who delighted in getting the younger boys in trouble and then would disappear just before the adults came on the scene. There were enough adults around, however, to make sure things didn’t go too far, to give comfort after such an event, and to try and help prepare our children for the next temptation to misbehave X lured them into. X never was able to overcome his emotional baggage, and he caused even bigger problems in his adoptive home than he caused in the neighborhood. Eventually he had to go back to the juvenile system. Meanwhile, though, while he was still around, all parents kept a watchful eye when the children were all outside playing.
So just what is socialization? According to my American College Dictionary, to socialize is “…to make fit for life in companionship with others; to make socialistic; establish or regulate according to the theories of socialism.” The application for education is “to turn from an individual activity into one involving all or a group of students. ” For the moment I won’t ask just what part of this definition others are concerned about when they ask how home schoolers will socialize.
What I don’t see here is that to socialize means to accept bullying, learn to be insulted at a young age, subject oneself to verbal abuse and just shrug it off. On one hand we are told how devastating it is when a parent or other adult is verbally or physically abusive. If such socialization occurs at home and it is reported, the children are often removed from the home. Yet we mandate by law that children must go to school where they often receive this kind of abuse and more from their peers, and the principals and teachers say they can’t really prevent it — in spite of their anti-bullying programs. That’s what it says in the CNN article. That’s what I found in my child’s school in a good neighborhood. This doesn’t just happen in the inner city.
I do not think socialization is good in itself. In my opinion, there is good socialization and bad socialization. Children get their first introduction to socialization in their families, learning to speak, share, take turns, sit and eat and talk with the family, etc. They learn to get along with their siblings. They still do all these things when they study at home. They also, as mentioned before, socialize in sports, community, church, and home school groups with children and adults. My son’s friends’ parents were amazed that my son always chatted with them when they came to pick up their own children from youth group. Their school-socialized children avoided talking to adults unless they had to. My son enjoyed talking to them because he considered adults people, too. His very best friend was a fireman who had acted as an adult mentor when my husband was on those contract jobs. But the friendship went two ways. Jason tried to comfort Terry, too, when Terry’s marriage was breaking up. Both Terry and his wife were Jason’s friends, and the break-up was hard on Jason, too.
When Jason died in an accident at 14, I was amazed at all the friends of various ages he had. Some were younger children he played with. Some were his own age. Some were boys and some were girls.
Many were adults we didn’t even know he knew from around the neighborhood. He would ride his bike around and start talking to any adult who appeared to be doing something interesting outside, especially if they were doing something mechanical. (That’s actually how I met Jason when I was working in the garden in the front yard.) These became his new friends. He’d get up at 6:30 AM to go visit with a construction crew in the neighborhood while they had their cofffee before starting their work day. They even let him watch them work for a bit before he had to come home for breakfast and to start his school day.
One day he came home from a construction site in the afternoon. (He often went back when school was over for the day.) He was very exited because he’d met the geologist who was checking the area around the site for signs of faults. He also brought home clay from the soil on the site the geologist had given him . He was excited because the geologist told him they were building the homes on a fault. What a tie-in to a science lesson.
I think Jason had a very active social life — more active than he ever had when going to school. He also kept ties with friends made in his last school by joining their Boy Scout Troop. His Scout friends played an active part in his memorial service. And Terry stood there and cried, along with about 399 others.
So what was missing in Jason’s socialization? Being bullied? Being subjected to peer pressure to do drugs? Learning words that would not really enhance his vocabulary? He got enough of some of those things just playing with the kids in the neighborhood. Would it have been better to get more of it on the playground where there were not enough adults to intervene? Just how much did socialization help Jaheem Herrera? How I grieve for his family, who will miss socializing with him the rest of their lives. How glad I am that when my son died, it was not like that, but while he was out at the lake with his friends, where he rode a jet ski to Heaven.