Friday, June 09, 2006

Lessons for the Real World

I'm reading a book called Choosing Home: Deciding to Homeschool with Asperger's Syndrome. It's written by the mother of an aspie who started being homeschooled for grade 7, and intended mainly for other parents facing a similar choice.
In her chapter on socialization, she says:

"Critics of home education say that school provides a view of reality that will toughen the youngster up for life in a harsh world. Homeschooling parents question whether or not school actually is a lesson in reality. It may prove to be a lesson in unreality and cause poor behavior as a result."

I don't think the issue is that simple. To a certain extent, school is a lesson in reality, but not a good lesson. It magnifies harmful tendencies that are prevalent throughout society, such as conformism.
I often find myself using sexual abuse as an analogy. Our society has image of the sexualization of women all over. Just look at a magazine rack in an ordinary convenience store and see just how many images of scantily clad women are there.
A person could argue that sexual abuse, magnifying this tendency for a child, teaches the child about sexualization in general. It certainly does provide a lesson in that. But what is the lesson? That you are powerless to defend yourself from sexual exploitation, and must simply learn to tolerate it.
Back to school. It provides a lesson in the view that different is bad just as sexual abuse provides a lesson in the view that women are just sexual objects. It magnifies a harmful tendency in our society until it emotionally overwhelms the person. And the child is powerless to stop it. All they can do is learn coping strategies to numb themselves to the pain of it.
As a result, a sexually abused child often grows up to be less effective at fighting back against sexual exploitation, and a bullied child often grows up to be less effective at fighting back against insults aimed at those who don't fit in.
But a bullied child or abused child could learn a different lesson. They could learn that they can do something to stop it. I learnt that from my parents, because when they first suspected my cousin was abusing me, they sent him to another home. I also l;earnt that I can leave a bad school situation because my parents pulled me out of three of them. Unfortunately, I also seem to have learnt that chances are, wherever I go next will still be bad.
In that book, she also says:

"We tell our children to walk away from bad situations, but then we let them wallow in an environment where they expend too much valuable time and energy just learning to tolerate the intolerable. I feel that by making the decision to homeschool my AS son, I have taught him an important life lesson. If you are in a bad situation, do something about it. You don't have to tolerate mediocrity and unkindness."

I agree. It's better that a kid never be exposed to such things, but if they already have, the best thing is to teach them that they don't have to put up with it. For an abused child, this means that as soon as you learn of the abuse, you should take measures to stop it - especially if they took the risk of telling you about it. For a bullied child, don't stick with a bad school setting once it's obviously not working.


Blogger n. said...

You have some good insights here! I agree but had not thought of this aspect (reality concentrated to its worst). My own time in the public schools was just run-of-the-mill verbal bullying, nothing very dramatic.

By the way, did you get my email about the nursing students' survey? I am 'n' from Ballastexistenz.

4:33 PM  
Blogger Ettina said...

I didn't get your e-mail, sorry.
Did you try to e-mail me at If so, you should know that I have a really extreme spam filter system set up that only allows e-mails with the word nkalamo in the title. That may be why I didn't get it.

11:19 AM  

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