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Socializing Remy
By David H. Albert

David Albert's dog RemyThis year (as some of you, dear readers, are already well aware), we got a new puppy, a delightful Welsh terrier named Remy. We purchased him from a thirteen-year-old homeschooler in Kansas who is breeding Welsh terriers to pay for her college education. Since he is a terrier (easily misspelled but well characterized as “terror”) and thus having a strong mind of his own, we took special pains in socializing him.

So what did we do? Well, housebreaking him came first, which is a matter of training him to tell us when he needs to go. Then a few simple commands: “Come, Sit, Off, Down, Wait, No! Drop It.” (We are, of course, still working on those, and probably will be forever – he is, after all, a terrier, and while he may understand entirely, he has a mind of his own.) Not to chase automobiles. Then to stay off the furniture (we lessened our strictures around that once he stopped chewing – our furniture is perfectly suited for dogs). Then we needed to acquaint him with the other pets, get him to stop jumping up every time Ugo the canary starts to sing, and teach him not to scratch at Echo the eight-year-old bunny’s cage. (Echo, by the way, thinks he is a dog; Remy is not convinced.) And then, when he gets his crazy puppy energy, to go outside to run it off! Digging is okay, just not in my flower garden.

Of course, that wasn’t enough. We made sure he got to sniff lots of visitors, and learn not to jump up on them (at least too much!), and to be especially careful with children (and allow them to pet him, which didn’t take too much convincing). And then it was off to the dog park. He needed to learn to behave himself around other dogs, big ones and little ones. Fierce ones with loud barks. Older ones who would put him in his place. Puppies. Frisky ones. Fluffy ones and bald ones, and ones who drool. Larger ones who want to throw their weight around. Others who simply like to lie down and be climbed over. (He managed to stare down the bully of a Jack Russell, and they went gallivanting off together.) He also needed to learn to respond to other owners in ensuring the dog park would be a safe place for everyone (dogs and people together). Later, we might start agility training, as Remy is a very athletic guy and loves to show off.

So we socialized him. He got to spend time around all kinds of dogs and all kinds of people because he would be spending his life around all kinds of dogs and all kinds of people. He learned some necessary rules to make our lives, and his, easier; he managed to rein in what are likely some of his natural instincts. And now he’ll be a great pet and companion, and a friend to many.

Socialization of children does happen in school, in a group of age-restricted peers. The question really is: What kind of socialization and toward what end?

School socialization is essentially a management strategy, and it imparts certain ideas, habits, and values. It teaches children that they are not to participate in adult activities, and to devalue intergenerational activities. It teaches them that they should not expect to learn from children or youth older than themselves, or that they are to engage in helping those younger than themselves (or anyone else, for that matter). It socializes them to the idea that their time is not their own, and space is not their own. It teaches them that the proper locus for cooperation is narrow and confined, although social punishment is acceptable when individuals break arbitrary rules. It teaches them to devalue empathy. It teaches them not to question, and they can be sure that they will only be asked questions for which the teacher already knows the answer. It socializes them to the idea that they have no learning needs above and beyond those which are dictated to them. In fact, it denies that they even have needs and desires (even the need to go to the bathroom when one feels the call). It teaches them to devalue their own thought processes, and to devalue difference. Most of all, it teaches them that rebellion is hopeless, resistance useless, and that, through some inscrutable process of which they are never made aware, they get what they deserve.

This is socialization taking place. Frankly, I think I do a better job with Remy. What is especially noteworthy is that this school socialization flies in the face of what we as a culture often claim to be our most deeply held values, and ones we recognize, and even celebrate, in adults. We praise those who learn from others and make it possible for others to learn from them. We appreciate those who make good use of their own time and space, who take responsibility for themselves, yet cooperate and collaborate with others. We value empathy and those who are able to express it and act upon it. We hold in high regard those who question deeply and think deeply and seek wisdom. We applaud those who think for themselves, and those who value and celebrate diversity. We honor those who resist injustice, who work for change even in the face of overwhelming odds, and commend those who put the needs of others before their own more mundane comforts.

Maybe we admire all of these qualities because, deep down, we can sense the common qualities that are a true expression of our humanity, but that, given our own socialization, often have difficulty finding full expression.

I’ve sometimes had this dystopian (don’t go look it up: it’s the opposite of utopian) vision of my office: all the cubicles filled by other sixty-two-year-olds who can’t get up from their chairs and desks, can see but never talk to each other, and with my boss making the rounds eight hours every day, asking questions for which she already knows the answers. It’s not a place I’d like to work, it’s unlikely to be a place I’d learn very much, and I seriously doubt very much would get accomplished.

But it raises an interesting question that homeschooling parents, or all parents for that matter, might want to address for themselves: If you kept your highest values for your children in the forefront of your mind, what would you really want their socialization to look like? I’m not going to short-circuit your thought process by providing you with an answer, as I will have failed mightily if I can’t socialize you to think this through for yourself.

David Albert is a homeschooling father, writer, and speaker. He is the author of “And the Skylark Sings with Me,” “Homeschooling and the Voyage of Self-Discovery,” “Have Fun. Learn Stuff. Grow. Homeschooling and the Curriculum of Love,” and “What Really Matters” (with Joyce Reed). He lives, works and writes in Olympia, Washington. When not learning with and from children, writing, and making music, he is raising funds for community development projects in South India and other good works like his foundation Friendly Water for the World (FWFW), which promotes the international use of biosand water filters. This essay is excerpted from his book “Dismantling the Inner School: Homeschooling and the Curriculum of Abundance.”

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