Most people readily concede that homeschoolers might be able to learn multiplication facts and coordinating conjunctions from their kitchen table, but when it comes to the non-academic stuff, they have their doubts.
“What about socialization?” they say.
And, “But I want my children to know how to relate to people who are different from them!”
“Oh, just think of all the children are missing!”
School includes so much more than just academics. In school, children make friends, take field trips, participate in clubs, play sports, act in plays, join choirs and bands, volunteer, and experience different cultures. Take school out of the childhood equation, and the void appears staggering. How do homeschooling families compensate? Could they even, if they tried?
The short answer is, Yes, homeschool families compensate, more easily and thoroughly than many people realize. Life-learning happens outside of school, too.
Below, I’ve jotted down a few of the most oft-heard assumptions and some brief rebuttals to go with.
Myth Number One
If you don’t go to school and hang out with a group of people the same age, five days a week, for twelve years, you won’t know how to relate to people.
FACT: Socialization happens when relating to neighbors, church members, employers, grandparents, doctors, clerks, siblings, and friends. There is no need to force it.
Myth Number Two
If you don’t interact with people who speak a different language or who are a different skin color on a daily basis when you are young, you will never know how to deal with someone who is different from you.
FACT: diversity is everywhere. Learning to respect and love your family and a few close friends lays the groundwork for loving and respecting all sorts of people. (It’s the diversity that’s closest to us—mother-in-law, spouse, dear friends—that rankles most.)
Myth Number Three
Homeschoolers weaken the community because homeschooling families are not involved in the school system.
FACT: the community is much bigger than the school system. There are many ways to be involved, to give back, and to help out.
Myth Number Four
Homeschoolers are awkward, isolated, and stunted.
I think socialization really depends on the family in question. I don't think I'd home school my children just because both my husband and I are very introverted and I don't think I'd be able to break out of my shell enough to go places and expose them to the social aspect they should get. That's more of a failing on my part though and not a reflection on how home schooled children are. I'm often amazed how I can live in a city of almost 3 million people and still be almost completely unaware of who my actual neighbours are.
I did know a family growing up who home schooled their kids until the oldest was high school age. The oldest two definitely had a lot more trouble adjusting to being around kids their own age but I think that was more a result of how excluded they were from people. I'm not sure they socialized much outside of Sunday church. If a person is going to home school their children, they need to be dedicated to the idea of social interaction and I think some folks just aren't.
I guess that's why I think that if home schooling is done correctly, it is pretty awesome but it's also something that can go wrong easily. I have a lot of respect for people who home school well because I don't think it's something I'd be able to do.
As you point out so well, it's a parenting issue. If parents are active in their community, their children probably will be, too (or vice versa). This stands true for children in all forms of schooling. There are lots of withdrawn, un-involved, awkward children in the school system.
But I wonder, is introverted and awkward really a bad thing? You may not know your neighbors, but you may have other keen observations and gifts. Not everyone is meant to be a social butterfly and that's okay.
I've enjoyed reading through your take on homeschooling versus other schooling. As I write this I am thinking through how to comment on myth number 5. I guess I don't agree with that one because… Well, through the birds and the bees anyone can have kids, right? (Okay, barring unforeseen difficulty anyway). However I have watched people I love (brother and sister in law) become so frustrated with their children and the different problems they had at their public school that they decided to pull them out to homeschool. Now, I could see from afar that this would NEVER work as the problems they were facing from the public school were not so much the school (well, maybe it was partly that too– they live in Hawaii and their schools are rated pretty low) but lack of motivation. This lacking was both on the part of the parents (who did not care what their kids were learning so long as they weren't flunking) and also on the kids (who were not effectively motivated either from themselves or by teachers.) So they enrolled their high school boys in a homeschool program in which practically everything was done for them– all the work was in order, my SIL didn't even have to come up with any sort of agenda or plan herself, just make sure the boys completed the book work and turned it in, once a week.
FAIL. Lack of motivator and lack of motivation. They have since changed schools once again– a different public school in the area. Guess what: they must have some wonderfully motivating teachers there because my nephews finally have a fire under their butts to make some good grades. My SIL called me saying she didn't know what happened or why they changed but she wasn't questioning it at all.
All that to say, I do think there are some people who are parents but are not cut out for being the main teacher of their children. I would hope that everyone who is a parent would care enough about their child to want to find any way they could to teach them and motivate them, but I know that at least in this case it doesn't happen. (Side note, my brother once joked that people should have to have a license or pass a test before being permitted to have kids…I sadly wondered whether he would have passed his own test. Believe me, it is a sad situation and the only reason it is not worse is God's grace. No, they are not believers but I am.)
Now, just fyi my husband is a teacher at a Christian school here in California. (He teaches band for grades 5-8.) I have joked about homeschooling once in a while and his response is that if you choose to homeschool then you must be dedicated to it. It is not something to flippantly begin. Currently I'm a stay-at-home mom. My youngest is in half day kindergarten. Next year will bring about changes here: part time work or part time school for me. Secretly I'm hoping God will bless us with a surprise bundle, but that is another matter. 😉
Thanks for listening to me ramble. I mostly just wanted to be included in the conversation, and to tell you that I appreciate hearing what you have to say on the matter.
~Jennifer in Sunny So. California
I said, "If you CAN parent, then you can homeschool." Everyone has a different idea of what "CAN" means. All parents make mistakes. Watching other people make what we feel are bad decisions is really, really hard to do. I'm glad your brother's children are now in a learning situation that works for the family.
Also, good luck on the baby bundle!
*Myth Number Four
Homeschoolers are awkward, isolated, and stunted.
*FACT: probably not any more than anyone else.
Yes. Oh, my gosh….yes.
Well put! That said, I will toss in my tuppence about Myth Number Two. In general, I encountered more diversity when I was a homeschool student than when I was in public and private schools. Until three years ago, I would have agreed wholeheartedly with your response to Myth Number Two.
But as a racial minority family in an overwhelmingly white city, we have encountered some problems due to a lack of education or exposure. Even if parents are well-intentioned, children don't learn by osmosis that God makes people with different skin tones, or facial appearances, or physical abilities.
My daughter regularly gets stared at, excluded from play because "she doesn't belong," and I have been asked by small children if "it's a little kid." A young deaf relative has similar experiences. I now think interacting with, or seeing, or at the very least reading books about people who are different does have value. Particularly depending on ones circle of friends and geographic location.
Compassion and understanding of "the other side" (whatever that may be) is a huge priority for us in our learning (as it is for many of my friends and family, regardless of what type of schooling they choose for their children). My children learn to think beyond themselves through all manner of situations, from sibling negotiations to learning to speak Spanish and live in a very different culture.
In my state (Washington) the majority of public school funding comes from property taxes. I'm not sure what the funding system is in your state. As a family that has opted out of the public school system, how do you feel about financially supporting public education. If school levies and bond issue elections are part of your school district's financial program, do you support them with your positive vote? I write as a 70 yr old former public school teacher who is a strong supporter of public education. Not every parent is capable of homeschooling their children.
I believe the main option for involvement in policy making is through voting for school board members. As far as I'm aware, there aren't any bond issues or school levies here. (Virginians, is this true?) Our tax dollars, of course, go to help the public schools.
No school bond issues or levies voted on by the taxpayers? How does your state support new school construction or remodeling for the public schools? Where does the money come from to add computers and new technology?
I disagree that schools serve no purpose as a community. Is that their only role, or even their primary role in most cases, no? It's also not the only way to find a community. But I'm thinking of the ways in which my own parents (I don't have children yet) connected with other parents at school. The school & school functions were places where community members met & worked together for the common good.
It's true that school systems are relatively new, but do we really want to go back to world without them? In my view, universal free education is an incredibly important development in human history. It's far better to have schools, imperfect as they may be, than to live in a world where only the wealthy could afford an education.
One other thought, controversial as it may be – some kids benefit tremendously from having adult influences outside their own family sphere. I’m not talking about cases of obvious abuse, because using that as an argument against homeschooling is just ridiculous. (If we only supported systems that were immune to misuse, then we wouldn’t have any societal structures at all.) However, as a teacher, I see so many students whose — mostly good & competent — parents put unreasonable pressures on them, or don’t always give them the emotional support or structure/freedom (depending upon the circumstances & child) that they need.
I say all this from the perspective of a public high school math teacher who had many friends & relatives who were homeschooled growing up. I find the idea of homeschooling appealing in many ways, and I’m glad it’s an option. I’d be really interested in hearing people's opinions on the role or value of schools in today's society, even if they don't send their children to them. Are public school’s wrong for everyone? Are there ways in which they could be made better? So many questions, some of them not completely formulated… I hope that I’ve made sense without being offensive to anyone.
I think many of us in today's society have confused community for social networks. Schools certainly can function as a social network. In fact, many of the institutions that we claim serve as community, in fact function more as social networks. They are really quite different. John Taylor Gatto has written a lot of interesting stuff on this topic. It's a sad fact that real community is exceedingly rare in this society, even in churches. Could a school theoretically function as a community? Perhaps, but I've never seen it happen, and I find it extremely unlikely that it ever will. Ultimately, there are so many sources of real potential community that I cannot conceive why anyone would search for such a thing in a school system. It seems more a justification-after-the-fact for an institution that has little justification than a real need that is being served. There are far better, and cheaper, ways to have community. Gatto estimates that it costs nearly $1 million dollars to "educate" the average NYC child from K-12. Surely we could come up with a far cheaper alternative to developing community.
Katherine, you ask good questions. I am homeschooling because I want to—not because I hope to reform the school system. (Much in the same way people choose to have a homebirth—their personal choice is not an effort to revolutionize the hospitals.) BUT when an increasing number of people make a radically different lifestyle decision, it does have an effect on society. I think this is exciting. I'm not sure what direction it will go, but having more independent, creative, self-aware thinkers is, I hope and trust, a good thing for ALL of society.
Institutions aren't capable of revolutionizing themselves. Little changes, yes. But great changes? No. They come from the outside.
Honestly. That picture.
(I get it.)
Oh dear. What do you get? What's "it"?
Now I'm all worried that I'm implying something I didn't mean. Stop messing with my mind!
I love this series. After not sending our kids to schools for 10 years (they've never been), the "What about socialization?" question always makes me roll my eyes. The assumption that one will learn good socialization best from a pack of completely unsocialized peers is a bit like thinking that a physician would best learn how to become a doctor by spending extensive time with a group of high-schoolers interested in biology and foregoing the rest of his/her education. Children become best socialized by spending lots of time with people who already are well-socialized…namely, their parents, grandparents, and elders in the community. Thinking that a single teacher (many of whom don't even share the same values as the child's parents) will be the sole socializing agent in a sea of dysfunctional children is absurd.
Many of my family members are educators and the "you're abandoning the school system argument" is also a common one we hear. You're dead on: this argument assumes that the school system represents some real, larger community. It does not. It is an institution, not a community. It is also an artificial construction that hasn't existed for most of human existence. Are Anabaptists abandoning the military because we don't encourage our youth to sign up with hopes that they'll influence the military institutions?
As a life-long Anabaptist, I have often thought of your analogy on the origins of Anabaptism and have equated non-schooling as the modern equivalent to a rejection of infant baptism. Infant baptism in the 1500s was the tool of the empire for the indoctrination of youth, co-opting them into eventual military service, and generally assuring that they would be tools of the empire. Schools largely serve these functions today and one would think Anabaptists would want to reject those forces today just as they did long ago. If Anabaptists are to preserve their peculiarity in a disturbing culture, a rejection of school will be essential. Great series. Keep it up!