But what about socialization?

Homeschoolers are widely regarded as unsocialized

If I had a dollar for every time I heard the question “What about socialization?” I’d be incredibly wealthy by now.

Long before we made the decision to homeschool ViolinGirl, I asked the same questions. But the closer you are to the homeschool community, the sillier the question becomes.

The question could really be rephrased as:

“I attended ‘regular’ school and I remember that were tons of other kids there. Those kids must have been essential to my education and my social development since I turned out OK. And since they were essential to my development, they’re essential to yours and to your kids’”

I’ll grant the benefit of the doubt to most people who ask this question and assume that they genuinely have ViolinGirl’s best interest at heart. They probably think they are doing us a favor by pointing out the fatal flaw in our plan. “This all sounds good; but did you stop to consider that there won’t be any other kids around?”

Right, we forgot about that part.

I’ll admit that there are times I’d like to refer them to The Bitter Homeschooler’s Wish List.[1]

But since I rather be polite and more nuanced, what follows is how we really feel about homeschooling vs ‘regular’ schooling on the topic of socialization.

Socialization ≠ socializing

There’s a difference between socialization and socializing. Before you ask about socialization, consider whether that’s what your intending to ask about. Socialization is a process of acculturation. It’s the process by which we learned shared values, ways of communicating with one another, negotiation, and the ability to use communication to live cohesively with others. Socializing is just the process of talking with other people. Socializing is not the only way for children to experience socialization. If I were forced to make a choice (importantly, I’m not) then I’d prefer that the parents be the source of socialization rather than having ViolinGirl muddle through it with her age-similar peers.

Homeschooled kids have peers

Believe it or not, homeschooled children have peers. Outsiders view homeschoolers as quirky, socially-awkward people sitting around the kitchen table from morning to night. Or the equally strange kind that let their kids run around free-range. Neither is typical. While ‘regular’-schoolers are sitting at their desks, homeschoolers are out in the community. They are often with their peers in co-ops, clubs, extracurricular activities, park days, etc. Because homeschooling is so much more efficient that out-of-home schooling, they often have more time to devote to having fun with friends. I’d guess that homeschoolers have more friends and fewer acquaintances. That’s probably OK, given what we know about Dunbar’s number.[2]

The need for solitude

Some kids are energized by lots of socializing. Others are depleted. Out-of-home school offers no good options for children to seek out solitude when they need it. The always-on approach to traditional schooling detracts from positive socialization. I wonder if the kids that are depleted by too much peer contact become avoidant or anxious. We’ve seen evidence of this with ViolinGirl.

Stable adult relationships mean more

There is considerable evidence that kids’ success is mediated more by the stability and quality of their relationships with caring adults than by the number of their age-similar peer relationships. The picture of the rebelious teen may be mostly an artifact of the traditional schooling. When parents and kids lead separate lives, the less competent they become when trying to communicate with one another because they lack a common frame of reference; so they withdraw from one another. Among teens, this withdrawal can happen at a pivotal point in their development. Teens who lack a strong relationship with caring adults are more likely to seek to discover their identity from peers. So perhaps the archetypal withdrawn teen is not a sudden appearance at high school, but an artifact of the gradual withdrawal from family when the overlap in their lives is meager.

Bullying & adverse relationships

Not all peer relationships are positive. I’m certainly no sociologist; but observing children playing together in large groups at schools, I would guess that at least half of the interactions are conflictual. It may be more. The purpose of school is to learn. If negative social interactions affect one’s capacity to learn then the school’s mission is compromised. This is one reason why I regard homeschooling as more efficient. There are fewer negative social interactions to stand in the way of learning.

But aren’t adverse social interactions necessary?

Certainly we can learn from both positive and negative interactions. But perhaps even better is to have a adult safety-net. One author makes the analogy of a performer learning the tightrope act.[3] One wouldn’t make the argument that you shouldn’t have a safety net under the tightrope on the grounds that it doesn’t resemble the “real thing”. In a similar way, perhaps we should be more mindful about the social safety-net that we provide for children. The teacher of a large classroom is simply not capable to consistently serving this role.

Identity development

We’ve become increasingly wary of outsourcing the development of ViolinGirl’s identity. We feel that this is one of the social benefits of homeschooling. A person can only contribute to society insofar as they have a high self-regard. In other words, I can only contribute to the extent that I have something valuable to contribute. The development of an identity, then, is key. If a child has an identity of which she’s proud, then she will have something to bring to society at-large. But out-of-home school is, in essence, outsourcing a major part of the child’s identity-development. We may be regarded as helicopter parents; but I seen no other satisfactory option here: parents simply must jump-start the kid’s development of identity. Who cares whether or not it’s subconsciously fulfilling some latent need of the parents? If it’s done with the best interest of the child in mind, then it’s for the best.

These are among our reasons for not worrying about socialization. If we’re being mindful of attending to all of ViolinGirl’s needs, this is just one of the many things we’ll attend to.

It’s hard to imagine that two really good things: family-centeredness and learning are somehow detrimental in combination.

  1. Markus, D., The Bitter Homeschooler’s Wish List, Secular Homeschooling, Issue 1, Fall 2007. Link

  2. Anthropologist Robin Dunbar was the first to find a correlation betweeen primate brain size and the average social group size for the species. He estimated that the ideal social group size for humans might only be around 150.

  3. Gathercole, R., The Well-Adjusted Child: The social benefits of homeschooling, p. 113.