To most schools, Social Studies is the term for a mix of history, geography, current events, community studies, holidays, etc. It’s odd that they should choose the term of social studies — social defined by dictionary.com as (1.) pertaining to, devoted to, or characterize by friendly companionship or relations or (5.) of or pertaining to human society, especially as a body divided into classes according to status, and studies defined as (2.) the cultivation of a particular branch of learning, science, or art. By these definitions, social studies is not the part of school that studies the conglomeration of history subjects, but rather what one learns about fitting into their immediate world.
I can hear every homeschooler now, “Oh Beth, the dreaded socialization,” for honestly this is what we’re really talking about. Social studies should refer to learning about those rules of society that make any one person acceptable to the others based on the mores of their cultural. And this is a double edged sword, because most of that “socializing” that takes place in public school is done through a process of humiliation — children learning not to do something by suffering the heckling of others when they cross the line, or by observing another child being heckled when they do it. A lot of children successfully learn in that way, but at great cost. Very few people leave public school without emotional scars. Some grow up and write about it. Jeff Kinney wrote Diary of Wimpy Kid, Joss Whedon poured his scars into Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Claudia Mills aired her teen angst in Losers, Inc., etc. When you look at school socialization from this perspective, the homeschooling naysayers who think we are damaging our kids seem kind of silly.
Pumpkin is a spectrum kid. He doesn’t learn the rules of society by watching others. I was a working mom when he was small, so he was in a total of four fairly large day cares. He didn’t go to pre-school, but we tried public kindergarten. He was around other kids constantly from five months old straight through. He still didn’t realize that other children could be made uncomfortable by his comments, or that tattling could be frowned upon by other kids, etc. As a parent, I never much thought about how very cruel socialization lessons could be — I went to public school, too. But once he was homeschooled, I realized there was an option.
There’s a really great post on the blog, Watch Out For Gifted People, written by Sarah Wilson about hoping her child finds his “Watson”. The post, Finding His Watson, references a television show about Sherlock Holmes. In it Watson is more than simply the record keeper for Sherlock, he is a translator of sorts. His careful interventions make Sherlock more personable to the world around him, and his tactful reminders make it so that Sherlock can understand emotional motives as well as empirical data. Now turning that into a method to teach, couldn’t that be a much more comfortable and less traumatizing way for a child to learn the rules of society? This is kind of what we do.
For Pumpkin, these early lessons were in eye contact. He used to be very uncomfortable making eye-contact and so distracted that it didn’t happen. We worked on that. I made up a song to help him which we called the Greeting Song,
If you want to talk to someone
Look ’em in the eye
That’s how they can see
you are a personable guy
If you’re gonna’ tell a joke
or just say, “Hi,”
You wait for them to pause
and then you look ’em in the eye
Just look ’em in the eye,
yeah, look ’em in the eye,
they can tell you mean it
if you look ’em in the eye.
Rather silly, but it worked. A little too well. Shortly after this song was practiced and then used, the psychiatrist I’d taken Pumpkin to decided that he might not be an Aspie after all. It took another two years to get that corrected.
In that same year, we did silly little things like pick the face that showed sadness from a bunch of pictures of expressions. We wrote rules for every day living and we made a very ordered day to help him know what was coming next.
We still study the rules of socialization, sometimes with puppets. We call that “How do I handle this,” where we put together a scenario, let the puppets try their best guess, and if one fails, the next one might succeed.
Don’t get me wrong, Pumpkin still has plenty of opportunities to be with other kids. He’s in scouts, baseball,
swimming, music theater, and a bunch of other stuff. We have lots of play dates. There are neighborhood children to play with. The thing is, my kid can be socially awkward, and it isn’t because he’s homeschooled. Rather, he ended up being homeschooled because he was too socially awkward. That’s okay though, because I think I’d rather he didn’t have to learn this stuff via humiliation. And, I’d like to think that someday maybe public school could offer something like this too, not in place of history, geography, and current events, but as a separate and distinct study. Someday soon, they’re going to have to do something like that at the very least to handle bullying, because the way they currently handle that issue isn’t working.
In the meantime, my child can have it as part of his schooling. I just tell him we’re a few years ahead of the rest of the country, and that makes him feel good — something a child should get to feel a lot.