If you look up the word socialize on Dictionary.com, you’ll find this definition: “To make social; make fit for life in companionship with others.” You’ll also find this definition: “To behave in a friendly or sociable manner.” And you’ll also see this: “To prepare for life in society.”

Taking this definition, we can see that socialization for children is simply the means by which they learn to interact with others in an appropriate, friendly, considerate manner. It’s helping them become the kind of people that make friendly neighbors and good citizens. It’s helping them learn how to have solid, healthy relationships.

Up to this point, we and our critics would probably be more or less in agreement on these basic definitions.

Moving deeper, we can ask a second question: why is peer-based, age-segregated socialization beneficial for children? And if we decide that it is beneficial in some quantity, why is it needed in the megadoses provided by institutional schooling?”

We can pursue it further: could it not be argued that school-style socialization is actually false socialization, given that schools create an environment that will seldom—if ever—be replicated in life beyond the classroom? After all, when else in life are you compartmentalized with a group of age-segregated peers? Certainly not in the workplace or community.

Additionally, if this form of socialization is so beneficial, why is society not more uniformly considerate and genial? After all, the vast majority of people in our country have gone through this model of socialization as they grew up. Do we see a society filled with wonderful, healthy relationships, or do we see a culture coming face to face with the reality that we have almost lost the idea of what healthy relationships look like? With half of marriages ending in divorce, rampant rebellion among teens, estranged relatives, and young people serially hooking up, shacking up, and breaking up, can we say that the worldly way of socialization has worked? Are we better for having universally followed this model?

Could it be that the socialization found in institutional schools breeds selfishness and a me-first attitude that carries over into adulthood? Could it be that the children who push and shove for their chance at the playground or the drinking fountain—pushing and shoving because being polite and waiting your turn rarely pays off—are the ones who will continue to push and shove their way through life, putting themselves first and others last, because that’s the way they’ve learned to get ahead? Could it be that, in the insufficiently supervised, child-dominated world of institutional schooling, poor social behaviors—selfishness, bullying, intimidation—are rewarded more materially than proper social behavior?

How can we expect children—who are inherently selfish due to their sin nature and inherently unwise because of their age and inexperience—to form proper social attitudes under these circumstances?

When we place children in social situations, they’re going to learn to think, act, and respond to the influences around them in certain ways. If they were already wise and mature, they might be able to navigate the waters more productively. But children aren’t born wise and mature—they have to be trained and nurtured until they gain wisdom and maturity. So when we place them in these situations, we’re leaving them to their own devices. Some will discover that aggression will get them what they want. Others will discover that by simply keeping out of the way, they can avoid confrontation. Others will resort to excessive silliness or other antics to get attention. In any one of these scenarios, we have children trying to figure out how to respond to the world around them based on their fears, insecurities, or selfish desires rather than being guided and assisted by a wise and mature adult who can help them respond to the world in a healthier manner.