The S word

The S word

The one question you are bound to hear more than any others when you proclaim that you are thinking about homeschooling is “What about socialization?” Or some variation thereof.

The Headmistress at The Common Room has a good post on the subject. Among other things, she says, it is helpful to realize that people mean various things when they ask this question and it is helpful to first determine what it is they are really asking.

I have learned to answer the S question with a question- “That’s an interesting question. How would you define socialization?”

It has amazed and amused me how many people really do not have a definition. They have not actually thought about socialization, what it is, and how it works, and what they think it should accomplish. They just know that schools are about socialization, whatever that might be….

Of course,some people do know exactly what they mean by socialization- but it’s
still helpful to ask for their definition because they don’t all mean the same thing. You can tailor your answer to meet their concerns. Some people just mean “will your child have any friends?” Some people mean, “I want to homeschool myself but I’m worried about isolation. How do you take care of this?” Still others define socialization as the ability to work well with others, and what they are asking is, “Will your child be a misfit, an oddity, a hissing and a reproach?” Some people mean, “Look, I had to deal with bullies in school, and it’s not fair for anybody else to get out of it.”

I think her approach is a good one. Before one can have a reasonable conversation on the subject, it is necessary first of all to find out what the person is really asking.

I think that when many of my peers ask they are really reacting emotionally. They mean something like: I had many miserable experiences at school and I put up with these things because somehow they were good for me. In this model school is a common bond between adults, rather like the common experience of people who’ve survived bootcamp or been prisoners of war. They feel that somehow school gives us a common language of experience and fear that a person who lacks that common experience might have trouble fitting in with others who have been through it.

THe other most common objection, that homeschooled children might not have any friends, might be lonely and isolated, or that they might be overly sheltered are fairly easy to answer. Homeschooling does not mean never leaving the house or having friends. Today there are homeschooling associations—my sister-in-law has connected with the Catholic homeschooling group in our area—which meet for fieldtrips and parties and educational activities. Homeschooling kids can get involved in “extracurricular” activities: sports leagues or scouting and other activities not associated with a particular school(my brothers played soccer in an independent league, my nephews likewise play little league baseball.)  They can join clubs, participate in spelling bees and science fairs. We won’t be living in the backwoods.

But even if we were, would that be such a bad thing? Kids with siblings learn how to relate to other people first by learning how to get along with their brothers and sisters. With extended families you can add cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents to the mix.

Where do children learn how to get along with others? From a group of twenty to thirty of their own peers? Aren’t they more likely to learn bad habits from their peers? As a smart lady recently remarked to me, anyone who has spent time with kids knows that kids don’t have to be told how to be bad, how to misbehave. They must be told how to obey, how to control their reactions, how to say I’m sorry and ask for forgiveness. They don’t learn these skills from each other but from loving adults.

And who has more time and energy to teach these skills a teacher looking after an entire classroom or a mother teaching her children? Who will love your children enough to correct them time and time again? A teacher who has them for a year and then when fall rolls around again has to learn the names and personalities of a whole new group of kids?  Or mom and dad who have known them and loved them since before they were born, who know all of their strengths and weaknesses and can work with them over the course of their entire childhood.

No, I’m not worried about socialization. I could see how some people’s take on homeschooling could lead to problems. People who choose homeschooling because they are rigid or isolationist or want to shelter their children from any knowledge of evil. But to the homeschooler who is willing to engage in society there are plenty of opportunities to let children be children, to let them have firends and interact with people of all ages and walks of life.

After all, where else except in school do you spend your days with a group of people all within a year of your own age? School is an artificial environment and mostly it teaches kids how to survive in that kind of environment. It doesn’t necessarily teach you how to deal with people who are older of younger than you are. It can create problems that will never arise at home such as bullying (a terrible thing for the kid who becomes a bully as well as for the children who are tormented) or the profound isolation and loneliness of being an outsider.

Anyone who really remembers being a child knows that children can be cruel and that childhood can be a frightening and lonely time. Only adults with amnesia idealize childhood as a happy time with no pain and suffering.

So I’m not advocating homeschooling as a universal panacea to the woes of growing up. But I do see that it can provide a better environment, one with love and support in a family environment that can nurture a child and help her to develop a strong faith, hope and love. An inner strength rooted in Christ and in the sure knowledge that she is known and loved.


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