We have not bothered much with summer camp for our kids. They have a pretty good life as it is. They are with us all year as homeschoolers…my husband and I juggle our freelance employment and adjunct teaching so that we are home with them a lot. We go on a yearly camping trip with other homeschool families and trips with our own extended families. This summer though, my 13 year old son got the chance, (thanks to the beneficence of his grandpa) to participate in a rowing camp experience. He loved rowing.
He was less enthusiastic about the crash course in school kid socialization. I long ago stopped worrying about my kids’ lack of “socialization”. As a matter of fact, I am growing increasingly convinced that their so called “lack” of socialization gives them a huge advantage as far as the cultivation of their own strong moral and intellectual convictions, not to mention social consciousness. My son called nightly very upset about the callous “Lord of the Flies” sort of treatment that the older boys on the trip subjected him to. I encouraged him to go ahead and punch the offending kids in the face, which is not exactly perhaps the optimal response, but the focused verbal brutality that my son was subjected to eventually drove me to it. To his credit, my son bore up to it without resorting to his fists, though he did eventually refuse to give up his chair to the skinniest most offensive older boy who seemed to be the ringleader. My son apparently pushed him forcibly away and this move seemed to establish some sort of new order that gave my son a respite from torture for a day or too. It seemed pathetic to me that a group of 16 and 17 year old boys who all knew each other from school would make my 14 year old son a scapegoat for the duration of the trip. Didn’t even one of them have any kind of awareness or misgivings? or even enough pride in himself to question this behavior?
My friend who has religiously sent her son every summer to all sorts of interesting camps assured me that this raizing process is part of the camp experience. Does this mean that my two older sons who never went to camp and therefore never experienced this torture are somehow missing an important component to their childhood? their education? Is this the “socialization” that we are missing out on by not going to school?
My son was also deeply offended by the apparent bigotry and racism of the kids rowing. They are from an affluent town about an hour north of New York City and I had hoped that socializing with kids from such an area would expose my son to a more liberal and educated peer group than the one that he is subjected to here in a very backwoods county of New York where the kids on his sports team poke fun at the one non-white boy on the team. My son has been reporting on this dynamic for several years and regularly steps in to defend the affronted kid. My son also invites some of these same kids to play additional sports in a neighboring town where kids of all sorts of diverse religious and racial backgrounds turn up to play, but he cannot get the kids on his sports team to play in such alien conditions. Always the optimist, I suggested to my son that maybe the boys on the rowing trip were just throwing words around in a stupidly playful way that they didn’t really mean. My son assured me that they were not, that it was pervasive and consistent and he was sick of it.
Towards the end of my son’s camp experience, I actually mentioned this problem to the camp organizer and also to my friend who had sent her son to the same camp in previous years. When I related that my son was reporting specific bigoted language and attitudes, both of these adults exclaimed with surprise, “Really???” “No, that can’t be true.” They explained that the parents of these kids are liberal educated people who would be horrified if they thought their kids had such attitudes. It is not the first time that I have had other adults dismiss my son’s concerns as too fantastic to be entertained. Well, not only do I believe him (Why would he make this up???) but I have seen for myself that his local sports friends will not join him in the next town with the “alien” kids,though they will drop everything to play the same sport amongst themselves in the safety of their own environment. I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but bigotry and prejudice is alive and well in our school district, and apparently in many others.
It is only parents who homeschool who will truly understand the irony here! As soon as a parent decides to homeschool their child, they are barraged with all sorts of concerns, but the biggest one is “What about socialization?” Well, What about socialization? Is the socialization that occurs in a classroom of 25-30 kids all the same age but of varying interests, experiences, and abilities really something to aspire to? Or perhaps worse, the socialization that occurs in a classroom of kids all the same age and similar socio-economic experience? Is this why these kids cannot consider people from outside their experience, age group, or racial group as worthy of fair and open-minded treatment?
I would not write about this if it wasn’t a thread that has continued to disrupt the fabric of my son’s childhood. I am appalled that in 2013, we are still raising children who judge each other based on color. I am relieved that the lack of socialization that my children have been subjected to as homeschoolers has seemed to give them open minds, so that they actually seek out and welcome experiences with kids of other colors and backgrounds. I homeschool my kids for lots of reasons, but I guess I have to add to the list that I homeschool them to prevent them from learning bigotry, prejudice, and cruelty in the school environment.