By Diane Flynn Keith
I am sick and tired of defending homeschooling from the question, “What about socialization?” Members of the modern homeschool movement have insisted for thirty years that homeschooled children are well-socialized. We laughingly refer to socialization as the “S word.” We deflect the socialization question by insisting it’s a myth. And yet, it persists.
We trounced the academic argument long ago. Very few people challenge the notion that homeschoolers are intellectually curious, self-directed learners who match or exceed the academic prowess of their school-going peers. So, why do you think we can’t shake the socialization issue?
I’ll tell you what I think. The truth is, homeschoolers are not well-socialized.
There. I’ve said it. Someone had to.
I say this with the greatest respect and affection for the homeschooled or unschooled. Nevertheless, in my experience, homeschoolers deviate from the norm. They are not well-socialized in the traditional school sense. They are odd ducks swimming in a big, standardized social pool. They stand out from the crowd, and a trained eye can spot them a mile away.
Now, please understand that for years I’ve been a champion for homeschooling and have countered the socialization argument with rational explanations and practical examples of how homeschoolers are well-socialized. You know the drill:
- Homeschool parents model appropriate social behavior and teach their children how to interact and get along with others.
- Homeschoolers interact and play with other children and students through homeschool support groups at Park Days, in co-op classes, and on field trips, etc.
- Homeschooled children participate in (and win!) math olympiads, spelling bees, geography bees, science competitions, and debate teams.
- Homeschoolers join choirs, orchestras, book clubs, athletic events, and they even go to homeschool proms!
- Homeschoolers take classes and compete academically in community college, adult education programs, museum events, online forums, summer school, and at camps, etc.
- Homeschoolers participate in community activities such as Scouts, 4-H, Little League, Pop Warner Football, AYSO soccer, theater classes, martial arts classes, dance classes, etc.
- Homeschoolers volunteer in the community.
- Homeschoolers play with neighborhood kids from both public and private schools.
I’ve also pointed out the advantage homeschoolers have because instead of being socialized by interacting with the same 30 children in a classroom, who are the exact same age, on the exact same academic track, from the same geographic and socio-economic area — homeschoolers get to interact with people of varying ages, abilities, ethnicities, and socio-economic diversity on a day-to-day basis in the real world.
I’ve pointed people toward the always-positive research studies that have been conducted on homeschoolers over the past three decades by the U.S. Department of Education and other government and private organizations. Here is a random compilation of findings from the reports:
- Homeschoolers are not isolated.
- Homeschool parents actively encourage their children to take advantage of social opportunities outside the family.
- Homeschooling families are more likely to be civically engaged than families who send their children to public and private schools.
- Homeschoolers display fewer behavior problems than do other children.
- Homeschoolers have higher levels of parental interest and communication, peer independence, a sense of responsibility, and lowered anxiety levels.
- Homeschooled children have higher achievement and mastery levels.
- Homeschooled children have good self-esteem
- Homeschooled children are more socially mature.
- Homeschooled children have better leadership skills than other children.
- Homeschooled children who attempt higher education are successful.
- Homeschooled graduates experience no prejudice regarding employment.
- Homeschool graduates function effectively as members of adult society.
One research study even concluded, “The socialization of home-educated students was often better than that of their schooled peers.” The research proves homeschoolers surpass standard social expectations, and in exceeding them, they fall short of social mediocrity.
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but there’s nothing “normal” about our kids. Your homeschooled child is odd compared to the schooled population because they have not experienced ongoing school-based socialization and standardization.
When you consider that the homeschooled population makes up only 3-6% of the entire school-going population, you may begin to understand just how different your kids are or will be.
Interestingly, you can even pump them full of standardized curriculum and their homeschooled experience will still be so far outside the norm, that they will always think and act differently than those who attend traditional schools.
How could it be any different? They haven’t been indoctrinated in the same way. They have not been steeped in the popular consumer culture to the degree that most schooled kids have been. They are not adult-phobic and peer-dependent.
They haven’t been grouped and sorted according to age and academic track. They haven’t been expected to know their place and stay in the “class” to which they have been assigned. They haven’t been trained to respond to the bell and do assignments without question.
They haven’t had to surrender their individuality and will to an authority figure who may not have their best interests at heart. They aren’t subjected to judgment, grading, and the bestowment of rewards and punishments without the ability to object or appeal.
They haven’t been conditioned to be passive and compliant or dependent on others to tell them what to do or how to spend their time. They are not powerless. They have the choice to remove themselves from bad situations or people and change the curriculum when it’s not relevant, interesting, useful, or meaningful.
I don’t know about your kids, but mine were never taught not to question the control and power of authority figures. Heck, the very act of homeschooling questions the power and authority of government and societal norms. By choosing to homeschool, you have set an example for your kids to defy conventional wisdom and not to accept the status quo.
What part of any of that is typical? Why would anyone expect that such a marked divergence from the norm would produce a person who is so common or usual — or so “well-socialized” — that they fit right into the mainstream? Homeschoolers may develop skills that allow them to covertly blend in, but mark my words they will always be different.
Others may admire homeschoolers’ unique perspective or intellect, respect their individuality, appreciate their accomplishments, and even be attracted to their quirkiness — but they will definitely know that something about homeschoolers sets them apart from the rest.
As one twenty-year-old homeschool grad (who now attends Brown University) proclaimed to an audience at a homeschool conference recently, “Yes, I’m odd. So what? Get over it! I’m glad I’m not like everyone else!” We could all take a lesson from that young woman’s self-confident mind-set.
A homeschooler’s life experience and perspective is vastly different from a mind that has been shaped and formed by the social conditioning of school.
My own sons (now adults in their twenties) are keenly aware of the fact that their experience set them apart from their schooled peers. They think differently. They don’t see the world through the same filters. They are perfectly capable of “fitting in” to any social setting when necessary, but conventional notions and limitations on behavior or thought are not within their liberated comfort zone.
Unless you are an adult parent who was homeschooled, you cannot begin to understand how your kid’s brain operates without the opiate of schooling. You can insist all you want that your children are well-socialized, but the truth is they haven’t been assimilated.
And just to throw another fly in the ointment, if you have dared to challenge government schooling or conventional private schooling, I suspect you aren’t normal or especially well-socialized either. Somehow you were impervious to social conditioning enough to think outside the box. You’re probably a little odd too. No offense, but most of the homeschool parents I know, are. I include myself among them. We’re either deliberate, accidental, or reluctant social misfits who imbue our children with a set of values and beliefs that resist the siren songs of government schooling, pop culture, and social engineering.
Rather than worry that your kids won’t “fit in” or be “well-socialized,” celebrate their deviant behavior! Say it loud, “I’m odd and I’m proud!”
Copyright 2011, Diane Flynn Keith, All Rights Reserved