The biggest thing I hear about homeschooling is “socialization.” Really, what people are saying is, “Homeschooled kids are weird and lonely.” I’ve said the weird part myself while growing up. Those homeschooled kids were odd, socially awkward, and didn’t fit in. In my opinion homeschooling socialization was non-existent. They never got out of their house.
While those things may have been (at least partially) true of some of the people I knew that were homeschooled growing up, I have since met many others who were homeschooled who I haven’t found socially stunted in any real way. Also, here’s a question – are these individuals socially different because they were homeschooled, or because they are just socially awkward. Because, let’s face it, I knew plenty of socially stunted, weird, odd people in my public school classrooms. Some people are just weird. Some people probably think I’m a tad off myself, but that’s perhaps a discussion for another day.
Many public school or non-homeschool advocates argue that homeschooled kids will not be given the chance to learn how to deal well with other people. They won’t learn and be tolerant of others’ differences. They argue that kids need to learn how to handle being picked last, standing up to others, sharing, rules, and social norms. Public school parents also want their children to have friends, to feel included, to have fun!
It is this social aspect that often is the first thing that people voice in favor of public schools and institutional schools in general – kids need socialization! (I find it ironic that they don’t often say “I chose public school because the education they receive is top notch!”). But, what is socialization, and why do our kids need it? And, is homeschooling socialization less than regular school’s?
What is Socialization?
According to the New World Encyclopedia, socialization is the “process of learning one’s culture and how to live within it. For the individual, it provides the resources necessary for acting and participating within their society. For the society, socialization is the means of maintaining cultural continuity.”
Essentially socialization is learning the customs and traditions of our society. It’s meeting social conventions. And one of the largest and most accepted social convention is that children must be in school full-time starting (at the latest) by 1st grade or the age of seven. Anything other than that does not fit into our society’s social mold. It is not maintaining cultural continuity. It is odd, strange, and some find it not socially acceptable.
However, if you think about the individual becoming socialized, per the definition above, you realize that homeschooled children and public school children can all learn the necessary resources for acting and participating within society. Some would agree that one or the other does a better job of doing such.
Do kids need Socialization?
Yes. Of course they do! Everyone need socialization. You can’t function properly in society without understanding your culture. Certain things are acceptable in our culture that are offensive in others. You won’t get far if you don’t follow cultural expectations and rules. While I am not opposed to people expressing themselves and challenging long-standing cultural norms, you still need to be mindful of them and know what they are.
But, socialization as taught in school systems is not quite the same as the socialization taught at home and in society. One of the greatest things about homeschooling is that your child is not cut off from society, but living and breathing it every single day. Homes and families are the basic unit of societies, not schools. Homeschooled children have greater opportunity and time to be involved with local events, charities, and workforces. Children in school aren’t fully participating in their community culture when they are in a locked, super regulated school for 7-8 hours a day, and then forced to do more school-work at home.
But what about friends?
We all want our children to have friends! Friendship and love are one of man’s strongest desires! And though families are super important and are forever, it is very good to have friends outside of our families. When children are in schools, they are surrounded by people like them,: they are all the same age, learning the same things! And it is of course easier to connect emotionally with someone who is on or near the same emotionally plain (pretend play for a 3-year-old is very different from a 10 year old’s pretend play for example). Schools are where you make friends, see them regularly, and talk and play with them at recess.
But, I find that the greatest hurdle to friendship socialization in schools is that you aren’t actually allowed to talk to each other but for a small part of the day – 10 minutes before school, 25 minutes at lunch, 15 minutes at recess, and 5 minutes after school. In fact, you often get punished for talking too much, for socializing too much while in school (ironic, since that’s what people love about school).
While I don’t have much first hand experience with homeschooled children during the day, it seems like with the ever-growing popularity and acceptance of homeschooling, many homeschool families get together throughout the weeks to have their children play, to teach each other, and to learn together. In big cities like Indianapolis, there are many homeschooling groups and co-ops, some of which even do things like sports and scouting together.
I’ve read that many homeschool children like that they don’t have to only play with children their own age. Some children love playing with toddlers and babies. Some enjoy teenage or adult conversation. You aren’t forced to get along with someone in your class in order to have a “friend.” These social encounters are often much more free and open for the students to really get to know each other. Homeschool children can still have friends.
What do children the same age learn from each other?
This question is perhaps the most important one to consider when thinking about homeschool and its socialization impact. So many harp not so much about making friends in school, but about learning how to work with peers and to solve conflicts. But, what are our children learning from each other at school?
While children hopefully learn good social practices like sharing, opening doors, being conscientious of others, returning borrowed goods, how to talk about differences instead of fight about them, and so on, there are also a huge slew of other social things that our children are likely learning. It is in schools that children learn (more) about lying, stealing, cheating, arguing, popularity, name-calling, teasing, sarcasm, differences (in a bad way), and generally being mean. Kids are mean. (Remember Lord of the Flies?) Children are often bullied. Children are isolated because of some physical characteristic. Children learn about judging others as they are taught by their teachers about “diversity.” Schools present a lot of negative social encounters as well as good ones. And unfortunately, teachers will not always be there to protect your children from social abuses. It my guess (though I don’t know) that there is less depression and suicide rates among those who are homeschooled.
School is not like our society
And the reality of our society (outside of school and after K-12) is that you will never ever again in our culture be forced to be with people only your same age. The work force is based upon skill and knowledge, not your date of birth. Colleges accept Freshman students of any age as long as they meet the requirements. Groups and gatherings will be of people from your community who happen to share the same interest.
A sixteen year old who only knows only how to deal and talk with sixteen year-olds will not be prepared to work under a 30 year-old manager. Only knowing about what you and your circle of friends are interested in will not help you understand and empathize with others.
When you are in school, the world revolves around you. But, life is nothing like school. No one calls your parents when you don’t show up to work. Cheating will not mean failing a test, but being fired, kicked out of college, fined, or put in jail. Also, people will not be there, holding your hand, making special arrangements for you so that you can succeed. Society doesn’t slow down for the weakest in the group. Our culture and society (for better or for worse) is a dog-eat-dog world.
How socialization plays into my thinking about homeschooling
My daughters are very bright, and I have no doubt that they will excel in a formal school setting or a homeschool setting. But, they are very different from each other socially at times. Lisa is more reserved, more of a “loner.” She isn’t bothered by being alone, working on a project by herself. But, Alison wants to be with people, snuggling, laughing, and smiling with them, even though she doesn’t actually talk as much as Lisa at home. But, I think homeschooling, though they will not be around others as much as in school, would be fine for both of them. The big reason is that they always have each other. That special twin sister bond. They have a peer to play with all the time.
But, I also don’t worry about them socializing with other children, because they attend church, play groups, play dates regularly. We also get out and explore things like museums, parks, play centers, and stores often. My girls have friend now that they talk about all the time, that they want to see, that they want to play with, and they aren’t even in school yet. They are very social. I feel like keeping them home with me would not stunt them socially as long as I keep them involved in our community.