Why Homeschoolers Will Never Be Truly Socialized

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I had an epiphany this morning. I have no idea why I was even thinking about this in those moments between sleep and waking, but I realized something about the word socialization.

This is my 7th year of homeschooling, and it’s been a full 9 years since I made that fateful decision not to put my child in preschool. I’ve had plenty of time to think about socialization. I’ve seen the arguments for and against the socialization of children. I’ve fielded questions from concerned family and neighbors about the issue. Generally, I’ve answered based on my own definition.

What Socialization Means to Me

For me, socialization has meant that my children are able to communicate with people from many different cultures and backgrounds. It means an ability to strike up a conversation, make friends, follow instructions, hold down a job, follow through on promises, and be the type of social person that people like to be around. Because this has been my definition, it has been easy for me to answer back to naysayers that my kids are quite social. They are part of several different groups and have plenty of friends and neighbors who they fight and make up with. They are confident to talk to adults and other kids of any and all ages. They aren’t restricted to playing with kids who are exactly their same ages.

At our weekly park day, the kids play together happily, regardless of age or experience. Yes, the teens tend to gather together, and the tweens tend to make their own flock, but there are certain times when they all gather together for huge games when even the little guys have a role to play and no one is excluded. My experience with homeschooled kids is that they are quite social.

I have been quite satisfied with how I’ve socialized my kids.

Unfortunately, I realized today that I’ve been operating on the wrong definition.

What Socialization Means to Others

When neighbors and family ask me about socialization, they mean something entirely different. I think, for most people, the definition of socialization actually means, “having a normal childhood experience that is just like that of other children.”

This is why comments against homeschooling usually include concerns about common experiences like “What about prom?” or “What about graduation?” They are concerned that the child will not be fully integrated into the standard American experience and all that goes with it. Sometimes they’ll also ask, “How will they know to get up early and get to a job on time?” I’ve heard that one, as though it really takes 12 full years to teach a person how to set an alarm.

Those concerned about socialization are actually concerned that my kids won’t have the basic vocabulary and common experiences that other children have. People are concerned that when homeschooled kids grow up, they’ll be missing out on basic pop culture knowledge that will help them share common experiences with others.

My husband was homeschooled. I will be honest and say he has some gaps. He missed out on the 80’s entirely. He doesn’t know all the song lyrics to all the annoying popular songs (I’ve forced him to listen to most of them, of course) and he watched Poltergeist for the first time last Halloween. Honestly, I envy him. It hasn’t changed his ability to be a hard-working, self-sufficient adult in any way. And honestly, those pop culture references are only valid to people in their thirties and forties now, and only when we’re feeling nostalgic. Otherwise, we’re making new pop cultures as we go. Younger generations have their own pop culture languages.

My kids haven’t dealt with the schedules that other children have. They don’t have homework (all their work is homework). They haven’t experienced having their own desks or their own lockers, living according to a bell, getting in trouble for talking, using passes in order to go to the bathroom, or having only 15 minutes to eat lunch while sitting in alphabetical order at the lunch table. I might even be teaching them things that aren’t included in the standard Holt or McGraw textbooks that the local schools use.

I realize now that my kids will never be socialized the way most people mean it. They just won’t. Their life experiences are very different than those of their friends in the public schools. Even if I offer my kids plenty of classes, clubs, and group activities, it will never be the same as having them spend 180 days in a classroom every year.

Normal is Just a Setting on a Washing Machine

People who are concerned about socialization are really just concerned about normalcy. They want my kids to be normal. That is all. And it’s a nice concern, honestly. I’ve met some real weirdos. No one likes true social deviants.

At the same time, those common childhood experiences don’t mean that every child in the public school will come out the same. I have two older brothers. We were all educated in local public schools. For the most part, we had very similar educations and upbringings. But now, a few decades after school ended for us, we are very different people. My oldest brother might be considered quite normal: he holds down a good job, owns a house and a car or two, has some pets, and lives your pretty average life. Only, he’s not all that normal. He’s raising a girl who is quite likely to be an Olympic figure skater, so their lives are spent at ice rinks and competitions. My middle brother is a career military man who never saw the point of school growing up. His kids are both in the public schools, but nothing about their childhood experiences could be considered “normal” based on how many times they’ve moved and how many times their dad has been gone on deployment. I don’t even really know what normal is anymore. And we were all raised in the same household!

I live in a culturally diverse neighborhood. I am surrounded by people speaking Arabic, Hindi, and Spanish more often than English. This has made me fully aware of my homeschooling privilege. I’m well-educated and pretty much standardized in this culture. I understand that for most of the neighbor kids, the public schools are a lifeline. The schools are where they will learn to read and write in English and where they will learn to live and work in the US. My kids and I have been happy to help and tutor them when we can. We work with two families in particular (one from India and one from Syria), and greatly enjoy helping them understand the things they’re learning.

At the same time, I know that not a single one of the kids in this neighborhood is going to grow up to be “normal.” Not even the white English-speaking ones. Each of them is coming from a unique home where they are experiencing unique lives. If they spend 180 days in a classroom each year, it’s not going to suddenly make them cookie cutter people. They all have different strengths and weaknesses that will change how they experience adulthood.

Striving for Common Experiences

Now that I better understand what both homeschoolers and proponents of public education mean by socialization, I think I can come up with better ways to answer the socialization question. I think the absolute basic question that is being asked is, “Will your child have things in common with other children?” The answer to that is a resounding yes. My kids play the same video games, watch the same YouTube videos, listen to the same music, and play with the same toys as the neighboring kids. They go to the same museums and zoos, they get scared of the same bugs, they get the same illnesses, and they are just as embarrassed about how weird their parents are. As much as possible, I strive to ensure my kids are socialized in this culture.

I know that not all homeschoolers strive for common experiences. I understand that some people homeschool in order to keep their children away from the culture around them. I know that legislators push for more regulations and more openness from homeschoolers for that reason. In my experience with hundreds of homeschool families across Washington and California, these types of homeschoolers are rare. I want to add my voice to the great chorus of homeschoolers who are out there working hard to give their children a great education that includes social, emotional, mental, and physical health.

At the end of the day, my kids will never be exactly like other kids. They’ll never have exactly the same experiences. The irony is that this is entirely normal. Even two kids from the same family won’t have the exact same experiences. There are definitely common experiences that many children go through. Ultimately, I’m going to continue using my old definition of socialization when people ask. Are my children learning to live in a community and to use empathy and to express themselves with kindness? In that case, we’re winning, whether we’re socialized or not.

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2 Responses

  1. Degsme says:

    The author only kindof gets it. First off she is wrong that the majority of west coasters homeschool for educational reason and not to isolate their children from society at large. My ex taught at a “homeschooling resource center” (funded by the local SD) in WA. At the height of the Harry Potter series, teaching an english comprehension class she asked about Harry Potter, and 80% of the class said he was evil because he did magic.
    .
    And these children were very much missing the abiity communicate with people of other cultures or be the kind of person others like to be around (unless they were from the same narrow religious sect) – and MOST IMPORTANTY – reason about the society and culture in an informed way.

    This last is what the author completely misses about what is meant by “socialization”. Simply because non-homeschoolers are not very articulate in their questioning, doesn’t mean that they are off base. Asking about “common experiences” is in some ways a proxy for “having a knowledge base with which to reason about society at large”

    Her example of her brothers “army brat” kids is a good one. Huge amounts have been written about the effects of being such a kid and how hard it is for them in early adulthood, to reason about the broader society in an informed manner.

    They may well adapt quickly to new settings, even relatively alien settings, but they tend to be as far afield in reasoning about society around them as the homeschooled kids who are intentionally held in social quarantine for belief reasons.

    And the result is that in early adulthood, a lot of these kids struggle. Because they literally do not understand the social codes that the society around them is expecting of them.

    And no that does not mean they lack the ability to get to work and follow through on commitments. Instead it means that they do not understand the social cues that are the oil that greases the gears.

    I was not homeschooled but I went to an ethnic supplemenatry school from age 4-18 (preK through 11th grade) . I excelled in this environment, but in missing Little League etc. I basically missed SOME of the acculturization of my broader society peers. But I got enough to realize what I missed.

    And now, living in France, even though much of the technology work here is done in english (simply because most tech companies are not like MSFT and do not do a good job of “localizing” documentation ), the “social grease” is all done in French with different acculturated symbols. Since I speak with an accent and at best “imperfect” French, I am given some leeway in my lack of understanding those signals.

    But that doesn’t change that I miss them.

    And this is what a lack of acculturization results in. An inability to read those social situations and a bit of alienation from that culture. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a thing. And it is what the author misses.

  1. September 4, 2015

    […] As to the first question, I have seen a great deal of humorous memes on my many Facebook homeschooling groups that poke at socialization.  The general gist is that it is ridiculous to say that the only way a child will be able to integrate into society as an adult is if they are thrown into a room full of kids the same age as them, and taught the same exact things as those other kids.  In the “real world,” that’s not how it works at all.  At my job, for example, I work with people of varying ages, races, abilities, and education levels.  We didn’t all go to the same high school, college, or always work at the same job together.  Yet somehow we manage to work as a team, mostly because we have to in order to complete our work.  Yesterday, I read a fantastic blog about socialization, and it really took the words right out of my mouth.  You can find it here. […]

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