As a homeschooling family, my wife and I occasionally get the predictable, worn-out question, “But what about their social life?”
First of all, the question is utterly bizarre to me, given how much social interaction our kids get between several homeschool groups with tons of activities and outings, and myriad other activities, such as art classes, dance classes, cooking classes, Judo, flag football, etc., not to mention how much they play with neighborhood kids.
The idea that homeschoolers don’t get healthy social interaction is such a backwards, 20-years-ago perception.
Secondly, it makes me laugh when I think back to my public school experience.
Here’s what public school taught me about socialization:
- It’s okay — encouraged, even — to make fun of anyone “different” than you and your core group of friends, particularly the weak, weird, mentally and physically disabled, and poor.
- Within an “acceptable” range, everyone should dress, act, and think like everyone else, and those in any way and to the slightest degree outside of the norm should expect to be mocked mercilessly.
- Appearances are everything.
- You should only interact with those in your grade. Those in higher grades are cooler than you (and are therefore entitled to bully you and everyone else younger than them), and those in lower grades are less than you.
- You should compare yourself to and militantly compete with others.
- What your peers think of you is far more important than what you think of yourself, or what God thinks of you. Sacrifice everything for popularity.
- Don’t question authority; teachers and other authority figures know best. Stay in line. There’s an established, “right” way for everything — don’t deviate.
“The idea of learning acceptable social skills in a school is as absurd to me as learning nutrition from a grocery store.” -Lisa Russell
Based on most accounts I’ve heard, this is quite typical public school “socialization,” which is interesting in and of itself.
But here’s where it gets really interesting: Nowhere outside of high school have any of these been my experience, at least not nearly to the degree felt in high school.
Sure, I’ve experienced the very typical (and relatively benign) perceptions and comments regarding our non-traditional views on things like education, homebirthing, politics, etc.
But nothing even close to the overt and extremely aggressive ostracization, mocking, competitiveness, and bullying I witnessed in high school.
Rather than attending high school my junior and senior years, I attended a community college through a program called Running Start.
Not a single person in college ever cared about what clothes I wore, who I hung out with, what my interests were, how old I was, etc.
It was a completely different world than high school.
In fact, in college diversity was appreciated and encouraged much more than conformity. Everyone I interacted with was respectful and accepting.
It was encouraged to question commonly-accepted truths, habits, societal arrangements, etc.
Since leaving high school, I’ve never had a single friend who cared one whit about my fashion sense (or lack thereof, as the case may be).
I’ve yet to interact with an adult who thinks it’s really cool to make fun of those less privileged than them.
I’m still waiting for an adult to bully me because they’re a year older than me, or an adult to fear me because they’re younger than me.
If socialization outside of public school is nothing like, or is at least substantially different from socialization in public school, then what in the name of John Dewey are we socializing our kids for?
For those who disagree with my experience with and perception of public school socialization, who really value socialization and worry that your kids won’t get it outside of public school, I have a sincere question for you:
What do you want your kids to get from public school socialization (or socialization in general)?
I imagine your responses would include:
- You want them to be confident, emotionally mature, well-adapted, respectful, and considerate.
- You want them to be able to interact with, relate to, and positively influence anyone, regardless of age, race, culture, or any differences of opinions or perceptions.
- You want them to have the courage to stand up for what’s right, even and especially when it’s not popular.
- You want them to be a leader, not a follower.
- You want them to learn to strive for excellence, but without feeling the need to “beat” or denigrate others in the process.
- You want them to develop the maturity to respect authority for the right reasons without accepting it unquestioningly, and, as needed, to learn to question and change things wisely and effectively.
Well, we share those desires.
I’m not trying to convince anyone that homeschooling is better than public schooling — as a well-adjusted, socialized adult who believes in freedom, tolerance, and diversity, I wholeheartedly respect and embrace you, no matter your opinions on the subject.
But I am inviting those who advocate public school for the sake of socialization to question what your children are actually getting in the way of socialization.
As Manfred Zysk wrote in his thought-provoking article “Homeschooling and the Myth of Socialization,”
“A family member asked my wife, ‘Aren’t you concerned about his (our son’s) socialization with other kids?’. My wife gave this response: ‘Go to your local middle school, junior high, or high school, walk down the hallways, and tell me which behavior you see that you think our son should emulate.’”
And for those concerned that our homeschooled children aren’t getting enough or appropriate socialization, I’m inviting you to consider that there are other ways to achieve healthy socialization, and we’re not raising our kids to be cloistered, introverted misfits.
We’re not opting them out of society.
We’re just opting them out of the strange public school bubble that, in our experience, doesn’t even represent normal, healthy society.
In other words, we’re socializing them for what they’ll actually experience beyond high school.