Socialization: if ever there was a polarizing issue in the homeschool movement, it is this.
I was homeschooled from 1st-12th grade in a time when parents, like my own, were forging a new education path for themselves, their children, and for future generations.
So much has changed in the homeschool movement (Example: I just read a novel where the main character was homeschooled and it was a NORMAL thing, not some fringe, weird, reinvent-the-wheel movement. WHAT??? Incredible!).
However, so many of the attitudes and beliefs within the homeschool system remain the same, especially ideas about socialization and the negative influence of public schools.
I read a blog post recently about this issue. The author is a homeschool mom who wrote about the negative socialization issues that her children are avoiding by being homeschooled. Here’s an excerpt from her post:
Yes, my kids are missing out on being socialized in a schooled environment. And you know what else? I’m extremely happy about it!
I do not want them socialized to conform, fit in, gossip, bully, compete, and lose their compassion and individuality.
I want them socialized to have empathy and understanding for others, to be helpful and cooperative, to be friendly and accommodating.
Putting a group of kids of the same age and social skills together does not achieve this. We’ve all been there.
If you’re worrying about homeschooled kids being socialized, you’re worrying about the wrong group. We’re doing just fine thanks.
I was brought up to believe and defend this notion myself, the idea that the homeschooled environment of family, education, and faith would “save” me from the pressures and social corruptions that are inherent in the public school environment.
However, while my homeschool socialization was different and positive in many ways, there were still cliques, mean spiritedness, and shutting people out. Human nature is still human nature.
Here’s a sad story to illustrate my point:
When I was in high school, my friends and I wanted to have a party. No, not THAT kind of party—a happy, fun, homeschool kind of party! A GAME NIGHT!
I organized the whole thing, a tournament board game night. We had to have a certain amount of people to make the tournament a success so I chose the guest list with care.
I only wanted my best friends there, my fun friends (not anyone annoying or weird).
So I purposely excluded one of my friend’s brothers.
The night of the party, my friend confronted me and asked if her brother could come. I actually protested: “We need a specific number of people to make this game night a success. Sorry…”
She was disappointed and frustrated: He really wanted to come. He didn’t’ get invited to very many things. Can he come?
“Fine,” I huffed. “He can come.”
I was in a bad mood for the whole party.
As an adult, I am so ashamed of how I acted. My heart really aches to think of my attitude and actions, as, knowing what I know now, I would guess that this boy was on the Autism spectrum, just like my son. He was very smart, socially awkward, and very, very keen to talk about his special interests. I didn’t know anything about Autism back then. All I was thinking at the time was that he was annoying and awkward and I didn’t want him at my party.
I was mean, petty, excluding, and a snob. I was a “popular girl” who didn’t want to invite the “weird kid” into my group.
I was a homeschooled girl who never went to public school and never hung out with “bad influences” (ie. Public schoolers).
The “Socialization” the author talks about in her article wasn’t a public school vs. homeschool issue.
The way I acted was a result of a selfish, sinful heart.
Many parents, both today and when I was growing up, believe that the homeschool environment will “save” their children from “evil,” social or otherwise.
But this isn’t true.
Bullying doesn’t have to happen in a classroom; it can happen in sibling relationships.
Competition and feeling superior to others happens at kitchen tables, not just in classrooms.
In my homeschool group, full of children who could spout off thousands of Bible verses, “prayer request” was a synonym for “gossip.”
And you all just read my damning story about my own lack of compassion for a boy who I felt was too “different” to be my friend.
As much as we want to protect our children from the world, we, as parents, can’t save them from their selfish, sinful human nature. Ultimately, only God can do that.
I appreciated the desire and sentiment of the mom who wrote the article. I get it, I really do. I was homeschooled myself and I had to defend my homeschooling experience as “just as good” or “even better!” to every person I met.
However, after growing up and gaining some perspective about my educational experience, and now being a public school parent, I’ve realized that my homeschool experience was simply “different.” And different is great—but it doesn’t make it morally or socially “better.”
Homeschool or Public School both offer gifts and challenges to a parent, and it is up to the parent to shape the character of his or her children with the gifts and challenges presented.
I remember many mornings when I walked my boys to school and we saw a boy getting off the bus. The boy had some special needs and often had a hard time making the transition from the bus to school.
As the boy screamed or flailed, my son frowned and said, “That’s Landon. He screams a lot.”
“Why do you think he screams?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t like him. I don’t like to sit with him.”
“I think Landon has a hard time communicating what he needs or wants. What if you couldn’t tell people what you needed or wanted? How would you feel?”
A pause. “Mad…and sad.”
“Maybe you would feel like screaming too.”
“Yeah, I would feel like screaming.”
“I bet Landon feels the same things you do. He wants to be understood, and he wants a friend. If he makes you feel uncomfortable, I understand. But I always want you to be kind to him. He’s a person, just like you.”
My son nodded. “Okay, Mom.”
Character shaping and enlarging small hearts can happen any time—around the kitchen table learning fractions, or walking to school each morning. But an immature and selfish heart will find it hard to grow when the barriers between “us” and “them” remain intact.
It’s been many years since I was that snobby, selfish high schooler. I’ve learned a lot since I’ve had my own children. I’ve learned even more since my own children have been diagnosed with special needs.
I’ve learned that my experiences as a first generation homeschooler were unique and different, yet neither “bad” nor “better.”
I’ve learned that socialization is usually “mainstream” or “avant-garde” but that doesn’t make it right or wrong.
I’ve learned that it is up to parents to teach character, morals, and how to treat others with kindness, compassion, and respect and that, homeschooled or otherwise, it takes effort and patience to instill these Positive Socialization values within our children.