Tuesday, April 12, 2005 in education, homeschooling

What about Socialization?

If our experience is any indicator, variations of this question are one of the most common that home educating parents are asked. Since we have been home educating many years, we have had a long time to consider why that question is so prevalent. It seems obvious that our society believes that the socialization that exists in ‘school’ is unique and necessary to the social development of children. We feel that most people who have asked us about it are genuinely interested in the children’s well-being.

Over the years we have come to believe that they have not really thought about what the word means. Think about these words: Modernization, purification, clarification, simplification and amplification. All of these are actions with ‘tion’ added. They all tell us what was done to their object. In the same vein, socialization is something that is done to the child. When a child socializes of its own free will, that socializing is not socialization because nothing is being done to the child to induce that social activity. In reality, socialization is what is imposed (socially) on the child that it would not do on their own.

A couple of years ago, I was asked, “What about socialization? How are your kids going to learn how to get along with people their own age?” My answer was to the point, “Where in life, besides school, do they have to have to get along with people their own age? There are about 20 people in this room and no one is my age.”

What we have concluded from the many conversations that we have had on the subject is that the logic behind socialization is rarely assessed. The fact that most children graduate from schools with social skills is not evidence that socialization is necessary to develop social skills. On a more fundamental level, if the only children you are going to assess for social skills are those that are a product of socialization, do not expect that you are going to learn anything about how well children will develop social skills without socialization.

Although they might not recognize it, a person asking about socialization often betrays, through the rest of the conversation, that they feel that their school years left them too little time to be social. Recently, I saw a documentary piece on a high school student who had 2-3 hours of homework in the evening every night. That student’s complaint was that they felt as though they had no social life because school took too much of their time. Yet, many adults seem to have forgotten that for the majority of the time spent at school children are not allowed to socialize. After years of being asked about socialization, we found irony in the fact that, if anything, a home education will increase the amount of time a child spends being social.

If you are patient, you will often find that what the person believes about “socialization” is contradictory to what they feel about things that are socialization. The simplest example of this is bullying. We have talked to people who feel that being the object of bullying will help prepare a child for the adult world, but those people are exceptions. Most people we have spoke to believe being bullied is not good for children. By definition, bullying is socialization.

Finally, if someone asks you about socialization, have compassion for them. Likely, the only world they know is that children go to school to grow up. You know that school is the place where our society sends children while they are growing up. Rest in the knowledge that children grow up anyway.

(This article has just appeared in HENB‘s Homeward Bound newsletter, the Spring 2005 edition. Ron will be speaking at their conference in May.)


  1. Andrea, this is a very interesting piece. Gave me lots to chew on . . . even as an educator in the public school system. Imagine that!:lol:

  2. I’ll tell Ron you liked it. 😎

  3. Such good points!

  4. A very important post! My ex-husband and I were recently told by a therapist who evaluated Brielle that it was her “educated opinion” that Brielle would do better being put into school to fail and be picked on ~ because it would MOTIVATE her. Never mind that she has been simply blossoming at home and we are learning how she learns best(V/S) and working with that info. That when she WAS in school she wasn’t eating, had a hard time sleeping and was coming home with her clothes CHEWED right threw at the sleeves and neck. That when we first brought her in the therapist told us that she was showing signs of depression from being unable to adjust to “school”. Somehow all of those concerns evaporated when my solution was homeschooling . Um, what about the children who aren’t “motivated” the ones who turn to drugs, violence and any other forms of self-destruction as a result of failing and being picked on. How could anyone POSSIBLY recommend this? Her response: It’s not my fault I feel that way – I am a mommy and it’s my job to want to protect her. WHAT?!?? That’s the best answer your “educated opinion” can give me? I need a better suggestion than that – because no one is going to gamble with my daughter’s self-esteem .

  5. So, as homeschoolers, I feel it is important for us to truly address this question instead of fluffing it off. Raise the issue and question the staus quo. Well done Andrea!

  6. I agree. There’s a very good book called something like “Teenagers’ Guide to the Real World” that urges teens not to waste their time on learning to fit in with other teens when it’s adults that run the world.

    In our case, I value the fact that K’s public schools were so racially diverse. There were times when she was the only white kid in her class. The upshot is that she knows on a gut level that the two fundamental groups that people are divided into are those who are basically nice and those who have a mean streak, and that both varieties of people come in every conceivable color, shape and size. I couldn’t have given her that. But we got all the good that there was to get on that topic by about 3rd grade.

    And like the other commenter, I was shocked when the school’s response to K’s reaction to being teased was that I needed to sign her up for “anger management counseling.” I told them they needed to come up with ways to keep her from being made so angry, and that she wasn’t the only one who was angry about the treatment she was getting. I think they were ready to sign me up for counseling too!

  7. the number one reason I want to keep my kids out of school is to prevent the socialization that takes place there! my eldest daughter was seriously bullied from grade 5-8… it was heartbreaking… and the school did nothing.

  8. I think sometimes socialization is mistaken for social skills – how will a child learn to share and take turns? How
    will a child learn to have empathy for another? But what I learned in school is how to be bullied, how to be
    picked on and how to hide within the pages of a book so deeply that I never trusted anyone who claimed to be
    a friend. How is that helping with social skills or socialization?

    It’s strange, though, that the very people that say my son isn’t being “socialized” comment a lot about how grown up
    he acts and how polite he is. My brother even admits that he’s better behaved than his daughter, and my youngest
    brother said he would hang out with William alone but not with my neice alone because of her behavior. Despite the
    fact that my son is an only child he has learned to share and take turns and be polite because there are other people
    in this family – me and his father. We have to share a bathroom, after all 🙂

  9. Great post Ron! As one who is just embarking on this homeschooling adventure, I really appreciate the insights of those who have been down that road already!

  10. Maybe you’ll want to enter this in the Online Homeschooling convention ~check out my blog for the link.

  11. We homeschooled our two oldest kids for a few years and are preparing to homeschool our youngest next year. The socialixation issue is of great importance to us, but not merely because that is the major challenge people give us. The question I walways ask is, “Socialization into WHAT?” Into rudeness and violence? Into inappropriate competition and speech?

    When we think of public schools we tend to think of academics – schools exist to educate our kids in what they need to know for life. They take classes in Math, English, History, Science, etc. Socialization? It just sort of happens. But in the history of the American public school movement socialization has always played a key role. In the early years the influx of huge numbers of immigrants (particularly CATHOLIC immigrants) was of major concern. What would happen if all these kids went to Catholic churches (not our own Protestant churches), and started their own Catholic schools? Why, it would ruin society! We need to make them come to a place where they can unlearn papism and backward ideas and become like us. In other words, there were clear plans of socialization in public schooling, and these plans involved a kind of secularizing. At first this secularizing was toward a Lowest Common Denominator kind of Protestantism (the stuff ‘Everyone’ believes), though in recent decades it has become just plain secularism. (For an account of this process see the essays “Educational Elites and the MOvement to Secularize Public Education: The Case of the National Education Association” and “Reforming Education, Transforming Religion, 1876 – 1931” in teh book, The Secular Revolution: Power, Interests, and Conflict in the Secularization of American Public LIfe, edited by Christian Smith. The whole book is well worth reading.)

    Now I’m not a Roman Catholic, but as a Christian, I want my children to be socialized into the Kingdom of God and its values. Not only is this not a goal of public education (and I don’t think it can or should be), but there are some features of public education – some intentional, some accidental – that positively work against this kind of socialization.

    I will remain a supporter of public schools. My wife and I have friends in all levels of the local establishment. We respoect them and think they’re doing a good job. Our two oldest kids will finish out high school in the local PS. But we also give thanks that we have the option of doing something else – and think the more options people have the better. (More options for all people help relativize the secularizing tendencies of Public education.) We can’t offer our kids all that they need educationally. But we can offer them some important things that the PS system can’t.

  12. The question I walways ask is, “Socialization into WHAT?”

    That’s exactly it. The real test should NOT be whether kids can get along with people their own age, but whether they can get along with adults. I’ve seen a lot of people who went to high school with me who were fantastic about playing the “Lord of the Flies” social system among the kids, but who were terrifically inept at dealing with adults.

    Personally, the homeschoolers I’ve met do better with adults than publically schooled kids. While I know that it’s only anecdotal, I think it counts for something.

    P.S. I’m also a WordPress user, and I’m wondering how that really cool preview thing works. Is it a plugin or PHP trick?


  1. […] ments, tests, and classrooms. And, the unshakeable belief that education is a byproduct of socialization. The term “unschooling” suggests to me that perhaps unschoolers perceive the publi […]