There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he look'd upon
That object he became,
And that object became part of him,
For the day or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years...
I sincerely believe, based on much research into human Developmental Psychology, that putting children, (especially young children) in a large group of same-age peers is detrimental to their development. It is an artificial, unnaturally stratified and segregated social system.
The home is the natural social structure, and for millennia was the center of every child's life. In a natural social system there are members of diverse ages and abilities interacting together. As far as "learning to socialize" the best in human kindness, manner, and grace is found in the mature person-how can we expect children, who are immature, to learn this from one another? You say that there is a difference between the best system, and the best available system; I agree, I do not think, though, that "the best system" is possible in the modern world. And may need to be decided on an individual basis.
That said, I will point out a lesson I have recently learned. A friend from here in Vermont spent a year in France in an old house in a country village. What he tells me about the modern French way of life (at least in the country) is a lesson to me about how our own biases and beliefs do not necessarily apply to all cultures. You see, here in the "new world", ;) most of us do not live close to our extended family in a homogenous society, where the general expectations about behavior are tacitly agreed upon and understood by all.
My friend tells me that in the French village in which he lived, there are two hours each day given to lunch. Everyone goes home during this time, and spends it with their family! The schools, shops, and businesses are closed. Dinner is the same-a family affair. Life has a natural, unavoidable rhythm. On Sundays you walk, in the afternoon with your extended family.
I cannot begin to express to you how strange this is to North American life. Here, even the littlest children can spend an hour or more each way on school buses to and from school. They cannot go home for lunch, as distance won't allow it. Even if they live near the school they cannot go home, as no-one is there. After school they go to day-care until a parent can retrieve them. Most evenings they wolf down their supper quickly so that they can get to their swimming/piano/hockey/baseball/gymnastics/ballet/art class. They go home and spend some time doing homework, then fall into bed. OH! I forgot to mention T.V!! The average American child spends, I think it's four hours per day watching T.V.!!
They see their extended family rarely, as distance won't permit frequent visits. We live in a fractured society. A society driven by commerce where one of the most popular activities of teenagers is shopping at the mall. It is "un-cool" to be seen with one's parents past the age of about ten.
Those of us who have chosen to homeschool are "bucking the system" we are refusing to hand our children over to the "normal" North American culture. After hearing about my friend's experience in France, I can see that given the strong family orientation over there, school probably doesn't do much harm. That is not to say that it is the best situation for fostering a child's best creative potential, but it may not adversely affect children's emotional and social development. The culture, and strong rhythm of life enforces good strong family attachments, and a natural atmosphere in which to hand down ideals and ethics.
Here in North America, though, we have to fight for our children. Our fiercely individualistic culture worships the idea of independence. The culture strongly enforces strong peer attachments, and to hell with the family. Over here, children have been thrown together so much from so young, that they depend upon one another for their cues about how to behave or what is acceptable. Their parents can't even reach them anymore, they care only what their friends think, and are not interested in anyone else. We who homeschool care very deeply about both the intellectual development of our children, and the social development of our children. We are not handing them over to a system that alienates them from us at the age of five or six...we are taking them back.
The way I see it, ideally children would be home, in a village environment. In a non-perfect world, I choose to homeschool, as I think it best preserves my child's natural curiosity, openness, and love of life and learning. If I HAD to choose a school, I would choose a waldorf school over any other because of the waldorf sensitivity to child development, the appropriate pedagogical approach, and because the teacher stays with the children over long periods, giving them a good strong adult attachment. (A German friend tells me that even in public German schools the teacher stays with her class for years! Here, the children are thrust year after year into a new class with a new teacher, and often with different children too.) Perhaps others of you would choose something different. Perhaps it is not a good idea for anyone to decide what is "best" in all situations."
"If mothers could replace fear with certainty, children would have a much easier path before them!" ~Ghamin
"What children really need is a variety of experiences with the world of matter, and time so that they can learn about their new earthly home. These experiences can be provided just as well in the home as in a nursery school. The Waldorf nursery school is modeled after a good home environment." ~Lois Cusick
"Children that we train intellectually before the age of four or five take something really terrible into later life: we bring them up to be materialists. The more you raise a child intellectually before the age of four or five, the more you create a materialist in later life. The brain develops so that the spirit lives within its form, but inwardly people have an intuition that everything is only material, because the brain has been taken over by intellectualism at such an early age." -Rudolf Steiner