It's certainly a book to read if you're wondering if that sulky, unmotivated pre-teen of yours would be better off at school. It seems he would stay self-absorbed, spacy, hormonal and unmotivated because to an extent these are developmental imperatives and part of the process of learning to reflect and understand himself, but he would be in the equivalent of an echo chamber where he could receive the worst effects of everyone else's developmental process plus the worst of a materialistic, pornographic culture. And even the purely educational aspect of it would probably do less good than you would hope.
It looks worse for girls than for boys in the book, because the majority of boys at that age still have the goofiness and lack of insight that protects them from the worst of harm, and it looks worse for the more emotionally sophisticated "popular" girls than it does for the more achievement-oriented or still-childish girls, because this geekiness does seem to cast some bit of a protective veil over the worst of the environment.
I never realized how much poverty is a protection (probably not in a broken, culturally-trashed home so much, but in a relatively stable and involved family). One quote that will remain in my mind:
"One study found that someone between 12 and 15 spends, on average, 59 dollars a week, about one third on clothes, the bulk of the rest on entertainment. And that doesn't even count what their parents spend on them."These are preteens. They don't have jobs. Where are they getting that money? Can I stand in line? I certainly don't have that much disposable income. That statistic seems really disturbing to me in itself. If it is true, that is a problem.
After reading this I am truly wondering again what "socialization" means to those who use a supposed lack of it as a criticism of homeschooling. I can see someone arguing that the kids get to show good qualities while going through this kiln-like rite of passage to the teenage and adult years. This is true -- you can't help being impressed by the signs of some fundamental decency in the kids in the books, even though it is beleaguered and often diverted at the source. I can see someone arguing that schools don't cause the problem -- they aren't the ones that let kids spend hours IMing gossip, shop at stores with names like Skinmarket and Piercing Pagoda, and buy foul rap music. True enough, too. But not quite the point, if you are argung that the benefits of the school environment outweigh the drawbacks or that there aren't really any drawbacks to start with. The echo chamber or ricochet effect is the point.