We've all heard it before -- "but what about socialization?" It may be one of most people's first concerns as they consider homeschooling, whether trying to decide for themselves or when hearing of others who are homeschooling.
This is one of the easiest questions for me to answer -- I can't quite articulate our educational philosophy to those who don't get it without sounding like a freak, but I can give a coherent, if not consise, answer as to why I am not worried at all about socialization. We live in a large metropolitian area where activities for children, homeschooled or otherwise, abound. We are close to Washington, D.C., so there are plenty of historical, educational, and cultural opportunities.
When a former work colleague e-mailed me with some questions about homeschooling and asked how I deal with the socialization issue, I answered,
"Ah, this is always a big worry, but it doesn't really hold up on examination. I can't tell you how many times I was yelled at in school for socializing -- you're not supposed to be talking to your classmates. What is school socialization? Learning to wait in line? Go to the bank or a fast food restaurant or the grocery store, library, etc. Taking turns? Go to a playground and try to get on a swing or play with a popular toy at a playgroup. Raising your hand to speak? Go to a library storytime or musuem program. And things that aren't learned in real life can be learned very quickly when the need arises.
As to playing with other kids -- we go to ballet class [now Irish Dance] and we have playdates and go to park days and on field trips; when they're older they can volunteer [right now, we all volunteer together]. The problem quickly becomes limiting the social outings; it's easy to get overextended. Another nice aspect of homeschooling is that socializing is not limited to the child's same-age peers; you can socialize by visiting nursing homes; you meet people at the grocery store and the library."
Now that my eldest is in "second grade," these issues are a distant memory. Of course, the question is sometimes raised when people learn I homeschool. However, it seems that more often, the person understands the negative aspects of school socialization (such as materialism and other nasty behaviors) and may have different questions about homeschooling.
I've recently been treated to a couple examples of what socialization in school can do for kids.
I was at a children's event this summer that included a tour of an outdoor theater. First, the parents and children sat in the house seats of the theater while the guide talked to us. Then, the guide offered to take us up onto the stage and backstage for a tour. My 7-year-old jumped up and on seeing me still seated, asked if I was coming with her. I was planning to wait until they returned because I'd been on the tour before. I asked her, "would you like me to?" She responded "only if you want to." I told her I'd be waiting for her when she came back. Shortly after our exchange, another girl, who was already on stage and saw her mom getting up to join the group, yelled back for her to stay in her seat. I felt bad for the mom and wondered when my daughter would be hitting that age of being embarrassed of me.
There were three of us waiting for the tour to return. The other two moms were chatting. They were talking about the embarrassed daughter's behavior. I asked how old she was, assuming she was 9 or 10. The mom said she is 7. The conversation continued without me as I pondered what I would have done if my daughter had behaved that way if I had wanted to join the tour. At some point, I was asked about my daughters and their ages. I mentioned that my oldest is also 7, and the one mom noticed that our daughters are the same age. I mentioned that my daughter is homeschooled and that perhaps she hasn't hit the embarrassed stage yet because of that. The mom of the embarrassed daughter seemed to agree but quickly noted that she didn't think it was the classroom, but the school bus that caused her daughter to be embarrassed of her. Eventually, the group rejoined us, and I felt so glad to have my un-embarrassed daughter back.
Another instance occurred when my husband and I were sitting with and talking to our neighbors, who have also have a 7-year-old daughter. The daughter had chosen to stop playing with the other kids for a little while and was sitting on her mother's lap. After awhile, the mother was physically uncomfortable having her daughter on her lap. She asked her daughter to get up and go back and play with the other kids. The daughter thought her mom was trying to get rid of her to have some privacy and said "oh, I know, you want to talk about s-e-x." We were all a bit flabbergasted, though I suppose we should have been pleased at her spelling ability. The mom quickly recovered and said that she thought her daughter picked that up at the bus stop from one of the older kids. I'm just glad my kids aren't hanging out at the bus stop. They are growing up fast enough without learning new concepts from other kids at the bus stop.
I have lately come to wonder why anyone would worry about socialization anyway? I'd rather raise my children to be civilized instead of merely socialized. Let's go to the dictionary (American Heritage), where I find the definition of "socialized" is "to place under government or group ownership or control." Wow, I wouldn't have thought that would be the first definition. Interesting - and so clearly not what I want for my children. The second definition is a bit more what I was expecting: "to fit for companionship with others; make sociable." I think that is what most people are wondering about when they worry about homeschooled kids being socialized. Well, it is nice to be sociable, and it's a handy skill in getting along in the world. I'm not sure that many children in institutional schools are fit for companionship, though, nor do I think institutional schooling is a requirement to become sociable.
Looking at "civilize," we have: "to bring out of a primitive or savage state." The second definition is "to educate or enlighten; refine." Well, I certainly like those, and I find it rather interesting that "civilize" includes the idea of educating which is lacking in the definition of "socialize." At least it's interesting since one of my goals in homeschooling is to civilize my children rather than only socialize them.
I want my daughters to know the best that the world has to offer. I try to expose them to things of beauty - art, music, museums. I try to take them to places where people are mature and interested in what they do and in how they treat others. I try to teach them to be well-mannered because life is nicer when people are considerate of one another. I also want to protect them from a lot of the unkindness that occurs in school. Also, I want to shelter them from pressures that they do not need to bear as young children. I honestly believe that nuturing and caring for them will create strong, independent young women who are less likely to buckle under pressure from their peers or from others. While I am interested in sheltering my young girls, I want to raise strong women, and I don't believe anyone who tells me that they must be bullied as children to become that way.
Children can be wonderful and interesting and funny. But sometimes they are simply little people who are not sure how to behave or how to control their bodies or emotions. The world is a big, overwhelming place at times; their bodies are changing all the time and sometimes they are clumsy. They don't need to be laughed at when they fall down. They need to be helped along and understood. As children age, their emotional lives may need more tending than their physical; but they still need to be treated with kindness and dignity, and I don't think that is likely to happen when they are in a room filled with their age-mates and very few others.
Certainly children can grow up civilized in school, but it's probably because of the efforts of their parents. Also, I wonder the price they pay for being civilized, mature, kind, and thoughtful in an institution that is often big and impersonal, where there are not enough adults to mediate and help and those who are there are busy trying to control a classroom and teach. I wonder if sometimes such kids are ridiculed for these qualities. It's so unnecessary. Adults are better able to choose how, where, and with whom they spend their time. Children do not need to be trained in cruelty to be able to handle it as adults. They will be able to get along without experiencing the special brand of childhood and adolescent cruelty that occurs in schools. Of course, bullies exist in the homeschool community, and if they aren't encountered there, there is always the possibility of dealing with them at dance class or on a sports team or elsewhere. I feel lucky that I am more likely to be close by when my children have to deal with bullies. Knowing what has happened makes it a lot easier to discuss it with my child. What about the kids whose parents don't know what is happening?
Marjorie has been homeschooling her two young daughters for a few years. Her family chose homeschooling for the freedom it afforded them -- freedom from the school schedule and calendar; freedom to follow her children's interests; freedom from labeling and categorizing her children; and freedom from testing and homework. She enjoys volunteering with her state's inclusive homeschool association and writing on her blog, unclimber.