She's ten. She looks a bit like a pixie, small, impish, the slurred voice of an active child. She has ten students who are "loyal" to her.
"Like the mob?" I ask.
"Oh, no. Some kids use others to do evil. I use my people for good."
"Uh-huh," I say, convinced more than ever that the school is run by a child mafia. Or, perhaps, the mafia is using the school to train the next godfather. Either way, this doesn't sound good.
I was unable to extract any more useful details about how kids at her school use other kids to shakedown, beat up, or bully the classmates not "loyal" to them. I couldn't help but quip to myself that I needed some muscle to be loyal to me so I could get more information from this girl. Her "people" follow her orders to clear the chalkboard, straighten the rulers, and generally tidy the classroom. Sure, not evil -- good, even -- but ... but ...
Two thoughts burned through my mind like a car hit with with a Molotov cocktail as we chatted:
1. Cliques, Posses, Mobs are very real socialization ills wandering our schools. The teachers can't be oblivious to the language their students use to describe their "tribes." The vocabulary word of choice tickles my spine the way the sight of a large man in a black hat and trench coat in an alley at night would prickle my skin. This isn't optimal. And while I have coworkers who are friends and others whom I merely greet in passing -- if that -- there is no talk of loyalties. We work together and should factions arise it would be detrimental to everyone. Schools, I feel, should be similarly motivated.
2. The focus of schools is not primarily academics. As Paul Graham argues so well in his essay on nerds, school is not about the colloquial "3 Rs." Graham claims that schools exist "to keep kids locked up in one place for a big chunk of the day so adults can get things done." He's not the only one to make that point. I've heard people suggest that school days should be longer and more frequent so parents who have to work can have a place to keep their children. The parents I know who both have to work tell me that day care is absurdly expensive; tax-funded classrooms are a much cheaper babysitter. As the holidays roll around, they begin to wonder how they will keep their children watched after while they go to work. We rightly want to protect children, but when the very structure in which they spend the majority of their waking hours is built around loyalties to other children, Graham's essay shows itself ever more true.
I am not at all suggesting that you should homeschool to avoid the problems of even inert cliques. I've written before about how I reject a bunker mentality of homeschooling. I do not want to push you toward homeschooling. Rather, this conversation once again turned the interrogation light on homeschooling.
And for all the pressure, threats, and good cop/bad cop games, homeschooling came through unscathed.
The story is consistent: Homeschooling is a great option.
Don't run from schools because cliques and posses exist. Run toward homeschooling because the learning environment is built around parental love. Join the homeschooling "tribe" because we love learning, and we encourage it in everyone.
Where we are part of our own movement, we're no better than the posse my young friend runs (doing good even, but ... but ...). Where we isolate ourselves, we're as bad as the most exclusive high school clique.
Homeschooling is great. Let's stick with that.
There's no need to check to see if those around us have similar loyalties.
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad