Socializing and sociaIization

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Many people use these words interchangeably today but socialization stands for more than chatting with buddies in the lunchroom.(In fact, socialization as chatting is a substandard usage at best.)  Socialization also refers to a process in which children learn how to become productive adults, acquiring their personal identity by absorbing the norms and values of a culture and integrating these understandings into their behavior and social life.

Why am I bothering to draw this distinction? Probably because children don’t automatically mature into adults. Socialization is a societal, social and familial process. The role of schools in socialization has always been assumed, so much so that I am afraid the fact that our schools are exiting the process may go unnoticed.

What is whole child education? The definition has become murky. If we visit wholechildeducation.org, we will find that it is about every child’s right to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported  and challenged. While laudable goals, these expections talk about what we need to provide to/for our children. The goals only obliquely address what our children need to learn to do for us, themselves and others.

Once, whole child education included moral and ethical education. We are still educating students in these areas but mostly peripherally. We send students to the dean for various infractions such as fighting, cheating, lying and skipping class, among other behaviors. We practice PBIS, otherwise known as positive behavioral intervention systems, frequently with the secondary agenda of controlling classroom disorder; however, the only moral/ethical topic that comes up today in the classroom on any regular basis is bullying. We work aggressively in many schools to rein in bullying, because this always-crackling phenomenon has been supercharged by social media, and the ease and anonymity the internet provides. But we are dropping other topics.

We used to discuss a wide variety of behavioral considerations. For example, teachers would explain how to address adults and how what clothing to wear for different occasions. Teachers regularly took time out of their schedule to go over manners and “proper” behavior for a variety of contexts.

As we watch America’s children cut in line,  ignore people who are talking to them, and sit on benches awaiting restaurant tables while elderly women with canes stand nearby, we ought to pause to wonder if socialization is being neglected. We have always have rude children, of course, and all children have moments of rudeness. But the current testing juggernaut has resulted in many schools running back-to-back academic instruction, often scripted instruction, without leaving time for other topics. This opportunity cost from relentless, test-based teaching may be invisible, but its effects are not.

As I watch families sit silently at restaurants, the children glued to phones, pads and other electronics, I wonder: Who will socialize our children? Parents may mistakenly believe schools will pick up and carry this ball while schools expect parents to take charge. In the end, I’m afraid sometimes nobody is in charge and the effects have become readily observable.

In professional development, we often hear that there is no teaching without learning. We need to remember that the reverse may also be true: Except in rare instances, there is no learning without teaching. As we script in more obligatory math minutes and more test-prep essays, if nothing else, we ought to make certain that topics for some of these essays relate to morals, ethics and behavior. Many of us remember the famous words from John F.Kennedy’s inaugural address in 1961: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Our students need to absorb these words and their underlying message: Life in society carries responsibilities as well as privileges.

p.s.

Speaking as an old-school teacher, I miss the days when we taught geography, handwriting and manners. Our children may be able to survive without cursive writing, but I’m tired of adolescents who cannot tell Africa from Asia and who think they live in the country of Chicago. I’m also tired of children who don’t say please or thank-you, and who don’t wait their turns. (I’m sorry if this p.s. seems whiny.)