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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Homeschooling Is Not Anti-Social - Guest Post

Today, Tracey from Inside the Mommyvan has a post about something that scares the crap out of me. Homeschooling.


Anyone who has homeschooled, or has even discussed homeschooling with others, has undoubtedly heard the socialization question. It is #2 on the hilarious—and accurate!—Bitter Homeschooler's Wish List:

Learn what the words "socialize" and "socialization" mean, and use the one you really mean instead of mixing them up the way you do now. Socializing means hanging out with other people for fun. Socialization means having acquired the skills necessary to do so successfully and pleasantly. If you're talking to me and my kids, that means that we do in fact go outside now and then to visit the other human beings on the planet, and you can safely assume that we've got a decent grasp of both concepts.

I've heard several variations on this theme: an acquaintance who allowed that homeschooling was OK, except that it's too easy for the kids to be abused and no one to notice (if you require an explanation of the absurdity of this thought, please let me know); the generally well-meaning-but-ignorant queries that seem to all start from the (erroneous) belief that I'm trying to shelter my children from the evils of the world through homeschooling; the ones who believe that the only path for a child to learn social skills is in a grade-school classroom setting.

Recently a new type popped up out of nowhere. It's not the Socialization Question, it's the Socialization Compliment. Just in the past few months I've been praised, once embarrassingly effusively, for nothing more than taking my children out of the house for the purpose of participating in extra-curricular activities. I suppose I could be thankful that I'm not being grilled about the particulars of our every social interaction, but at least those people stop after I give them a reasonable and straightforward answer. I've got those stashed away in a special corner of my brain, you see, right next to the Answers to Twin Questions I've been practicing since the birth of my elder two. I feel as though perhaps I'm contributing to the homeschool community, in some small way, by taking the time to politely but firmly educate the masses on one of the most misunderstood areas of non-traditional education.

The Socialization Compliments, though, just keep coming, and any response at all is awkward. "It's so nice that they have friends who go to regular school!" Really? Are your kids' only friends the kids at the adjacent desks in school? "That's so great," another says, "That you let them go to scouts/dance lessons/summer camp!" Really? Isn't this part of that whole parenting thing? I haven't heard of one other parent at the Wednesday children's program at our church earning any words of praise whatsoever for dropping their kids off for a couple of hours of free activities once a week. More important is the erroneous, and frankly, quite insulting assumption that any of this is an effort worthy of a Mother of the Year nomination. You know, for a homeschooler, as if a run-of-the-mill homeschooler would, by default, keep their kids locked in the cellar 16 hours a day. To attempt to correct that notion makes me come across as an ungrateful jerk, but to quietly accept their praise seems to verify it in a way that makes me very uncomfortable.

Let me tell you a little about the reality of socialization for homeschoolers. There are a few families who do, in fact, wish to shield their young children from the world's ills for a while longer. I really can't fault them for that desire. How it will affect their children remains to be seen, but I knew just as many kids growing up in a traditional school setting who were expected straight home after school, who weren't allowed to visit friends' houses, and so on. In addition, homeschooling used to exist on much shakier legal ground than it does today, so many of the past stereotypes may well have been driven more by a desire to stay under the radar than from willfully keeping their children away from social activities.

Anyway, back to how it really happens for my children, which is remarkably similar to most other homeschooled kids we know. First off, understand that the term homeschooling does not even imply that all of our educational activities take place at home, much less our social interactions. My kids attend co-op classes, including plenty of time in the lunchroom and on the playground, one day a week. We generally have a fun activity or field trip of some kind planned with friends—homeschooled or not—on another day each week. We currently attend dance lessons, children's program at church, scout meetings, church, and Sunday school, all weekly. Only a fraction of this time is spent primarily with kids their own age; the rest of the time they play, converse, and interact with everyone from infants to senior citizens. They also accompany me shopping and going about our regular household business, plus occasionally to doctors' appointments, choir rehearsals, community organization meetings, and other places where we meet people and make friends the same way most adults do, by introducing ourselves and making conversation with people we find interesting or who share common interests. My children do this comfortably and naturally, much less hesitant than many of their traditionally-schooled peers to speak to an adult to whom they've just been introduced.

They also show kindness and compassion to children younger than they are, but don't let themselves get pushed around by bigger kids. Bullying is extremely rare in the homeschool groups we attend, and is generally rapidly dealt with by the kids themselves or a nearby parent, but we've run into a few at other activities. Oddly, it's been the worst at the activities populated mostly by those paragons of socialization, kids who spend their days in traditional classrooms. My son learned a couple of weeks ago, thanks to a group of these kids, how to gang up and harass the girls on the playground. Fortunately I observe enough of their interactions up-close that I could nip it in the bud. Maybe not permanently, but it's stopped for now, and my son has a very clear idea of why it is undesirable behavior. How well are those anti-bullying programs working at traditional schools? How many of those boys' parents, I wonder, had any idea that their kids were instigating this sort of behavior?

I'm not here to bash traditional schools, nor to promote homeschooling as the one true way (all I know is that it's working for our family so far, but that could change next week). I will point out that sitting at a desk next to some randomly-chosen other kids within 12 months' age of each other for 6-8 hours a day (with maybe 30-60 minutes of lunch + recess, for those schools that still have it, where kids are mostly unsupervised as long as they don't actually throw the food) is most certainly not an ideal environment for teaching, or learning, social skills. And I will ask that you consider, before you open your mouth to (or about) a homeschooler, that we're probably doing everything within our power to set our kids up for happiness and success as adult human beings in the real world where we live every day.



  1. I was homeschooled for a couple of years in middle school, and my parents specifically prevented me from going back to the classroom in seventh grade because they didn't want me to learn about how to use a condom. Seriously. No, really.

    Seventh grade was pretty miserable and unproductive, and by eighth grade I noticed that I'd missed a lot in terms of social studies, since my own homeschooling was basically self-guided (not parent-guided). I was lousy with geography and history since I'd never done much in terms of those areas while I was homeschooled. That being said, sixth grade was a wonderful year of reprieve from merciless teasing and bullying I had received in fifth grade, and I was grateful for it.

    Homeschooling can be a wonderful thing for a lot of reasons, but that's assuming the parents are hands-on and proactive like you. If you get a smart, rebellious kid like me, and parents who have a bunch of other kids and full-time jobs like mine had, the necessary supervision might not take place, and important content might be missed. But I also remember getting to go out and do all kinds of interesting things that I wouldn't have had time to do if I'd been in regular school.

    Homeschooling is a mixed bag, just like traditional schooling. *shrugs*

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