Building a Better Student: The Social Swamp

girl working on assignment at table

For a lot of students, school is just an excuse to stretch their social muscles. Too often it’s the only reason they still get up and go each day. They’ve completely checked out of the educational aspect, and simply live for the social interaction with their friends.

Social pressure on kids is daunting, but it also adds an incalculable amount of stress upon teachers, too, who – whether they like it or not – must factor in the social aspect of their students’ daily lives. Let’s face it, they’re not little robots sitting there; they’re living, breathing, and socially-active creatures. It’s a component that people on the outside of education often never consider, but teachers live with on a daily basis.

What evidence might be used to measure the differences between students mired in a social swamp at school and those who somehow steer clear of it? The answer: homeschooling data.

This is neither an endorsement nor a criticism of that concept. It’s merely an observation, a way of analyzing the impact of a child’s social circle.

There are challenges in a homeschool environment, no doubt. Keeping kids focused when they’re in a home setting versus a school setting, for one. Maintaining discipline when it’s too easy to take a day off. Overcoming feelings of social isolation. Additionally, the person acting as the teacher may not be sufficiently qualified, trained, or equipped to provide a solid education for the young person.

And yet, given these hurdles, many parents – and even many students themselves – mention over and over again one of its major advantages: the removal of distractions and peer pressure. As one father told me, “When I’m working with my son, I have his complete attention, and he’s not trying to impress anyone. He’s just working.”

Statistics indicate that anywhere from 1.5 million to 2 million K-12 students in America are being taught in the home, and the numbers appear to be increasing. Again, results are fiercely debated, but several independent studies have shown homeschooled children posting academic achievement scores surpassing those of public-school students.

There are a multitude of factors that people associate with these results, but one is obvious: the elimination of peer pressure to dumb down. Homeschooled students have no one in the back of the room asserting a bad influence or heckling them for doing well.

They are measured against themselves, and repeatedly challenged to do better. They know no other way than to sit there and do the work. There’s no whispering across the aisle, no ditching class to go smoke in the parking lot, and no fear of being ridiculed for giving a wrong answer.

Pressure to impress has also been removed; the studies take center stage, rather than someone’s clothes or gadgets, who’s hot or who’s funny, and the endless drama.

The lesson to be learned from this observation isn’t that every student should be homeschooled. It’s merely more evidence suggesting that negative peer pressure is a force dragging down the academic efforts of countless students. Once you remove that pressure, young adults are more likely to be personally invested in their education. Whether it’s at home, or in a public classroom, the goal is to place students in an environment where learning is valued and respected.

Remove the negative tagging of ‘smart kids’ and you’ll discover more and more of them. They’ve been there all along; they’ve simply been camouflaged behind a smokescreen of cool.

Excerpted from Dom Testa’s book Smart Is Cool, to be released in 2014. Dom is an author, speaker, morning radio show host, and has kept a ficus tree alive for twenty two years. He’s also the founder and president of The Big Brain Club, a non-profit foundation that helps young people embrace the idea that Smart Is Cool. More info at www.DomTesta.com

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