Whether you are new to homeschooling, a veteran home educator, or just considering it for your family, you are bound to come across many people who think that even the idea of parents teaching their own children at home is a ludicrous throwback to a more primitive civilization. Visions of socially-stilted children with unkempt hair locked in a dungeon, learning nothing more than how to load a gun, fill the American psyche about homeschooling.
As a homeschool “graduate” who completed virtually all of her schooling at home through high school and went on to become a top student at college (as well as now a mother who is in the beginning stages of homeschooling my own toddlers), I would like to put some of the most pervasive myths to an end. At the same time, homeschool parents, please be vigilant so that all homeschoolers are not pigeonholed because of the slip-ups of a few families.
How Will Your Children Be Socialized?!
Probably the first objection you will hear about homeschooling is, “How will they ever learn to work with other people?” or some other variation of a concern about proper “socialization.” In order to deal with this myth, let’s start with what socialization means in the first place.
According to Dictionary.com, socialization is: “a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position.” 
So let’s break that down a little. Socialization is a “continuing process,” one that happens throughout life, not just at “school.” In fact, it happens at home every day, no matter where your children go to school. They are learning how to be a family, how to manage the day-to-day of life from you, their parents.
As for the second part, “an individual acquires a personal identity,” how much does that really happen at school? In fact, school teaches children to conform, to stand in line, to fit in with peers or be miserable, and generally to be like everyone else. Now of course there are exceptions, and some schools are better than others at encouraging individual gifts, personalities, and traits. However, the school system is simply not set up for this kind of individual nurturing. Schools are forced to teach to the lowest common denominator, and it is crucially important that all the children follow certain protocols.
Of course, the critic will insist that this is the same kind of group accommodation that goes on in the “real world” for which we are preparing children. However, there is a big difference between adults and developing children, and group accommodation naturally happens in a larger family at a developmentally appropriate level.
Finally, socialization is supposed to teach children “the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position,” basically, equipping them to interact in the world in an acceptable manner for the good of the whole society. But what kind of socialization does school actually provide? It teaches children to primarily interact with a very narrow peer group and a small selected group of adults that are quickly classified as “other.” The “real world” does not function this way. In fact, it operates in exact opposition to this. Whether you work, or just go to the grocery store, adults are expected to interact with, communicate with, and empathize with, a wide variety of other people, including people much older and much younger. Homeschooling creates this multi-generational/multi-age environment quite naturally.
How much socialization really goes on in school anyway? As we have already noted, between age groups it is virtually non-existent. And even the racial integration that is supposed to exist is few and far between. Before my kids came along, I was the coordinator for an inner city after-school program. As I read about civil rights and school integration to these children, I saw blank stares on their faces. After some inquiry, I found out why – they only had one or two white students in a school of several hundred. Integration meant nothing to them. This is true the other way in many (almost) all-white rural schools too. And while many ideologies may be present in a public school, is there any affirmation for the Judeo-Christian values that your own children are espousing?
Which brings us to the last point. As homeschool parents, we are drawing a line in the sand that we care more about our children’s position in the Kingdom of God than in the world’s system. Spiritual training and giving our children a good moral compass is the best thing we can do for society, and something that not only cannot, but should not, happen primarily away from the family unit.
Behind every myth is a truth, and here is where the socialization myth can become true: homeschool parents need to work at filling in the gaps to expose their children to other types of people. Other racial groups, socioeconomic classes, ethnicities, and yes, even other religions are all still people – a fact that all children should be taught not just in a pedantic way, but in practical terms of knowing these people. As noted, even children who attend public/private school could use some extra help in these areas. Here are some possible ways to “socialize” your children appropriately:
- Be active in church. Consider churches that are diverse and that reach out to groups outside their own.
- Volunteer. Whether it is serving at your local soup kitchen, reading to underprivileged children at the library, visiting nursing homes or hospitals, or even going on short-term mission trips to other places, make sure to do something. Not only will this expose your children to a wide range of people and situations, it will help them develop the compassion and love for others that is an integral part of our faith.
- Join a homeschool group. Admittedly, many of the people in this group may be a lot like your family. But that is a part of socialization too, as children learn to build relationships with other children in a safe environment. If you have a smaller family with only one or two children, this is essential.
- Go to school. The laws are different in every state, but in some places public schools are required to allow homeschool children to participate in any school activities ala carte. Obviously, this is best suited for older children who already have a strong foundation to protect them from the wiles of peer pressure and other influences, but can be a good supplement in the right circumstances. Art class, band, sports, or drama are all things that may be available.
- Get involved. Often there are numerous community groups and activities available to families. Boy scouts or girl scouts, community theatre, little league, YMCA classes, etc. Look around and see what you can find! Of course, do your due diligence as a parent, and stay involved so that no surprises pop up. Always keep the lines of communication open with your children/teens to keep everyone safe and on track.
Unfortunately, socialization is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to negative press regarding homeschooling. Stay tuned for part two!