losing my footing

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the most frequent questions that homeschoolers get is, But what about socialization? Despite it being a common query, and even though I’ve been responding to it my whole life, it still catches me off guard every single time. Probably because it feels so irrelevant that I don’t know how to answer it relevantly.

If that makes any sense.

But I’ve been doing a bunch of reading and have learned two things:

1. The socialization question is actually quite relevant, but not in the way that everyone is assuming it is, and,

2. Healthy socialization, studies show, is not acquired in schools.

First, in Free to Learn, Peter Gray explained all about how and why young mammals (a.k.a. children) need to play with other young mammals in order to properly develop. If deprived of that opportunity, the connectors between the frontal lobe and the rest of the brain—the areas for impulse control and emotional development—are diminished (176). Assuming that the socialization question stems from the concern that homeschooled children aren’t getting sufficient playtime with other children (because their mothers chain them to the kitchen table, roar), then the socialization question makes sense.

Except it doesn’t. Because in that first sentence about mammals, the key word is “play.” Socialization requires play, and the definition of play is activity that is self-directed and self-initiated with the ability to quit at any time. Except for brief bursts of time on the playground, children in school are doing everything but playing. When looking at socialization through this lens, there is much cause for concern, though not in regards to homeschooled children.

Second, I’m plodding through a brutally dry, research-based book called School Can Wait. It’s so chock full of studies that it’s barely legible. I’m able to get the drift, more or less, the gist of which is: studies from the 1950s showed that poor, underprivileged children benefited from early interventions so educators/politicians/social workers/whoever decided that all children would benefit from early interventions even though other studies showed that children from average homes were actually hindered by these same interventions. These authors say, based on their studies that I can hardly decipher (sorry to be so nonfactual), that the longer children remain in the home, the better socialized they are. This is the exact opposite of what our culture would have us believe.

The authors also mention an intriguing study in which a woman  named Janet Kastel studied the non-family-oriented Israeli kibbutzim and observed what happens when children are constantly in the presence of peers. In these situations, children are less likely to take initiative and be creative. They hesitate to make independent decisions. As they get older, they become unsure of themselves and don’t know how to act without group approval. These people, Kastel says, make excellent soldiers (32). This same age-regimented system is very similar to our school systems, and it yields similar results. Which should be no surprise as it was the goal of the school system in the first place. (Go on, click the link. It’s a doozy.)

Socialization is all about developing a personal identity and interpersonal skills, and becoming a contributing member of society yadda yadda yadda. If, because of a plethora of reasons (the lack of play and the age segregated groups being just two of them), school children are hampered in their socialization, then it is for these children that we ought to be the most concerned. Perhaps it would be more accurate to ask the but-what-about-socialization? question of the children in the school system instead of the homeschoolers.

Yikes. Why do I just feel like I mouthed off to my grandmother?


When I talk about homeschooling, I feel like I’m walking on eggshells. I truly don’t want to hurt feelings and put up walls. This is Big System I’m railing against, not ordinary moms and pops. Heck, I am an ordinary mom, just muddling through, doing the best I can with what I have.

Yet now, thanks to my reading and ever-growing personal experience, I find myself listing more fully into the homeschooling/alternative education camp. It’s getting more difficult to see the value of the other choices. Oh sure, I know lots of great kids in the school system, kids who will turn out better than wonderful. But that in itself is no longer enough to justify the system. It’s becoming harder and harder to walk the line between the two worlds. I’m losing my footing.

I believe personal stories, not sermons, are most effective in inspiring change. Yet a pulpit-pounding sermon can be an invigorating wake-up call. I actually really enjoy reading bold tirades. They make me think, and when I’m thinking, I feel more alive. So maybe I need to stop worrying about offending the participants of The Institutionalized Education Big Leagues and start writing for the scrappy bunch of punks playing stick ball in the empty lot down the street (or in the back yard). Maybe it’s time I start writing what I want to read.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.27.13), one dead mouse, and just the tip.


  • Anonymous

    In the education business too many people in state and county and school system administration are running the show. Talking heads–with unreasonable powers. (People need jobs and so the bureaucracy grows.)

    Here's my–I'm not an administrator–crude, off-the-wall idea: Operate teaching as a business with teachers advertising for students and renting facilities/equipment. Possibly market forces, and not testing, could meet the needs of students and families. See the possibilities! And, of course, the problems.

    Just this morning I read in an email from CW, the principal at the school where I teach, of an initiative to which our school is subscribing. The stated goal is to prepare every student for college (etc.). If only we would focus on adequately preparing those who want to go, we'd be more realistic and many steps ahead of our current performance which is wasting time and energy on the other students. Untrained people can change their minds later as their life goals evolve (think Aunt P. and Uncle G.).


  • Stephanie @ The Cozy Old Farmhouse

    Amen sistah!! We're homeschoolers and what I see in the public school system downright scares me!

  • Anonymous

    "It's getting more difficult to see the value of the other choices…" as home schoolers, haven't we been on the receiving end of that sort of conclusion too often?

    • Jennifer Jo

      So true. I need to do better than that. (We watched Long Walk to Freedom last night, so this "going higher" thinking is fresh in my mind.)

  • Michelle @ Give a Girl a Fig

    Very well stated…and if I had it to do over again? I'd home school in a heart beat. I made the mistake of listening to others (family, mom, aunt, husband…and I felt HIS support was most important so not having it swayed my decision) when I voiced an interest in home school (when my kids were 3 and 1…looking back, I knew what I was talking about) and they argued the whole "socialization" issue. So I listened to everyone else, rather than my own gut. Apparently I'm a part of the Israeli kibbuztim…unable to make a decision independent of my peers. My oldest went through "the system" just fine. My 16 year old? Not fairing so well. I don't have a lot of regrets…but NOT homeschooling is one of them. Thank you for sharing your thoughts…I find it all very interesting.

  • Patrick

    Would love to hear more of your thoughts on John Taylor Gatto. He's the reason I changed my mind from conventional non-thinking, "Schooling helps our kids relate to the outside world" to realizing that it is a tool of the Empire designed to create compliant cogs. One particularly disturbing point in the Gatto article is the comment about schools as an excellent preparation for creating future soldiers. I wish more pro-public school Anabaptists who view teaching as a "service" (like my mom) could understand that supporting schools and espousing pacifism are mutually exclusive.

    One other thing that I think is important to the debate is the issue of timing. Many of the usual pro-schooling points are valid they are just way off in their understanding of when such things are age appropriate. Sure puppies need to be "socialized" with the "outside world" and so do kids. But thinking this should be done when a human child is 6 years old (on their own, 8 hours a day, sans parents) is absurd. Anyone who spends significant time in the world of biology is disturbed by the fact that relative to the size of their brains, no species throws their genetic offspring out of the "home" more quickly than humans. The loss of knowledge about raising children (outsourcing the rearing to 3rd parties whom we hardly know) and lack of desire to raise our own young (and yes, folks that means in your home, by your side until age 18) does not bode well for our species.

    John Taylor Gatto is a gem. The Underground History of American Education is a monster of a book, but another Gatto work that is worth looking at.

  • Rebecca

    Our scrappy bunch of punks is thrilled to have you writing for us! In our family, we've gone from "well, this works for us" to "it's time to bring this tool of the empire DOWN!" Or at the very least, we're no longer scuffing our toe in the dust when the tired old question of socialization comes up.

  • marie

    Fantastic post. Are you sure you weren't at our home school park day yesterday? This sounds just what we were talking about. Thank you.

  • Suburban Correspondent

    I find that, in discussions like these, there is always the risk of overgeneralization. Are some homeschooled kids inadequately socialized? Yes. Are some public school kids inadequately socialized? Also yes. I think each family does what works best for their children and for the family as a whole. I also think that institutionalized schooling (for want of a better term) works GREAT for some kids. And, probably, these are the kids who would thrive no matter how they were educated…

  • Anonymous

    Just found your blog and I appreciate hearing your comments and observations.

    I guess I'm an outsider looking in. All three of my children have gone through or almost at the end of their public school life. I feel that my children benefited greatly from attending school. Do I wish I could go back and home school all 3, no. I guess from my perspective, similar to your choice to home school, you only get what you want out of a situation what you put into it. I am an involved parent. I make myself available and ask to be included in activities concerning my children. I feel that it's lead to them having access to activities and events that would not have been possible any other way. Travel, friends and advanced learning opportunities. I think where the public school system fails is when the parent sends their kids to school and uses it as a babysitter service, rather than a teaching and learning and growing tool.

    I am in awe of a person who has the knowledge, the will and the patience to teach their children at home. The resources today via the internet and even the public school programs is amazing. But I might suggest just as those that home school feel belittled for their choice at times, those that choose to send their kids to public school should be not be put down for doing so. Few of the comments I've read on various blogs make me feel like I'm a bad parent!

    I have been enfolded into a local group of home schooling parents. Not sure how this came about but as the outsider, I do think I can offer a few candid comments that many do raise as a concern about homeschooling, especially in light of your current post.

    My husband and I have noticed a tendency of the homeschooling kids to have a great play mentality-just like you commented in your blog post. Heck my daughter gets right in the middle of it when the group gets together. The imaginations run wild and you can see the joy and yes, learning that goes on with their play. What we see though is that relating to the "outside" world for lack of a better phrase is hard for some of them. We do a lot of work with our local extension and 4-H/FFA program. Homeschooling kids have great projects, put a lot of time into them, but relating to a person who is judging their project, explaining and being confident about what they are presenting, is hard for many of them. That interaction between two people and being able to expound on their thoughts in a meaningful and understandable way isn't always the easiest and smoothest. Does this make any sense in the context of someone asking about socializing and home schooling?

    Let me put it this way-we raise dogs. I refuse to let my puppies go to new homes until a certain age. There is a direct correlation between social skills obtained with siblings and the dam of the litter and how a dog matures and handles social interaction as it gets older. Especially interaction between other dogs. Yet also noted is that a certain age, generally 11-12 weeks it is imperative for proper social growth of that puppy for it to leave the siblings and known adults behind and get out in the world! Not saying that it totally leaves behind puppies of it's own age range or siblings, but it has to interact with new and strange people, dogs, objects. If we are okay with comparing ourselves to studies of how other animals learn, ie, through play behavior, I think we need to step aside and also look at the social interaction aspect and the "outside" world.

    Thanks for letting me post my thoughts. From what I've read, you have some great kids and they will grow into wonderful adults-making their own mark on the world. But remember, we all have the option of choice, it's how we use it that makes the difference.

    • Suburban Correspondent

      The comment about the 4-H group does strike me as overgeneralization. I can think of many kids at my public school (including myself) who would have had trouble "…relating to a person who is judging their project, explaining and being confident about what they are presenting…" I also can think of many kids in our current homeschooling circles who would accomplish these tasks just fine. People tend to see a problem with a kid and ascribe it to the homeschooling, but it is just a false correlation. Shy/introverted is shy/introverted, no matter the educational method.

      In addition, homeschooled children do not socialize only with their families (referring to the puppy analogy here). They are generally involved with many outside groups, including but not limited to Civil Air Patrol, 4-H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, organized sports, lessons of all sorts, etc. As I point out in my comment below, I think the method of schooling best suited to a child can vary, and very often that best method is determined by what is best for the family as a whole.

    • Starr

      I don't know any homeschoolers who don't live in the outside world. Most are busy going to co-op, enrichment classes, jr. college, church, the library, the store, wherever!

  • Anonymous

    Wow, I love this! When our boys were school aged, in the 70's and 80's, John Holt and the homeschooling debate was just emerging, or maybe I was just becoming aware of it for the first time. We had one son who loved school, and one who hated it, though both did equally well scholastically. I started reading and fell in love with the idea of homeschooling, but there was very little support at that time, and I just talked myself into believing I was unqualilfied to teach my own children. The studies that you are now reading are amazing and I urge you to write more about what you are learning and your own experience with homeschooling. This discussion needs to be in the forefront of the public consciousness. ~Sherry

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