Homeschooling & The Great Socialization Debate

photo 1 (6)As I debate homeschooling for my son, the main issue that holds me back, and always has, is socialization. And it’s not just a theoretical concern anymore.  My kid has an amazing group of friends at school and loves school for this reason. And he’s being socialized in the most amazing ways that I cannot imagine happening at home.  Here’s a wonderful example:

He was at a water park last weekend with four close friends. When he arrives they announce their intention to get him down the slides (he is incredibly cautious).  One thing leads to another and he comes back to sit with us, clearly distraught.  We let him sit until he finally volunteers that “we might as well go home” because the peer pressure slide issue led to a declaration by his friends that, “slides are all we’re doing this weekend.”  I’m overwhelmed with sadness as I try and think of the right things to say while remembering similar experiences at amusement parks, etc. as a child. We do our best to let him know that a) It is highly unlikely they will only use slides for the next 48 hours. b) He can still have fun, if only with his lame parents.

Just as his eyes well up with tears because he’s not buying it, his friends come back and ask if he wants to go shoot hoops in the pool. Later he tells us they apologized for throwing down on the slide thing.  They just really thought it would make him change his mind.  How cool is this? They learned that peer pressure and coercion share a fine line. My son learned that not giving in works out and that people make mistakes and are still decent.  How can I possibly replicate this sort of thing in a home school environment between kids he hasn’t bonded with over the last 5 years?

So, of course, switching to homeschooling fills me with fear.  He would have to start over with friendships, he’d be with us micromanaging parental types ALL the time and he wouldn’t be immersed in social experiences like this daily during free play at school (only when we parents arranged it [arguably like the water park gig]).

Anyway, I’m sure home school families are sick of addressing the socialization fears of generations past and new parents with school age children. Google search results certainly imply as much, but I think those of us new to the idea or considering it can never read enough because of our fears for our kids.

I’m not saying those who home school are fearful, but let’s face it, people who home school are typically ultra-focused on their kid’s ideal childhood education and social experience. Some undoubtedly had shitty socialization experiences in public school and fear their kids will experience the same things. My point is, the socialization debate is key for a reason — our generation is focused on the kids more than anyone in generations previous.  For better or worse. And maybe, just maybe, we’re a little bit afraid. Or we can at least admit we want “better” for them and we can’t find “better” out there due to location, money, cultural or philosophical differences.

So let’s define socialization: For a lot of people “socialization” just means managing bullies, which is, of course, bullshit. In my opinion, abuse is never a matter of socialization, but human rights. It is about learning to respect others, have empathy, maintain friendships and resolve conflict.  I will add… managing peer relationships outside the watchful eye of adults.  

Now let’s look at the research done on homeschooling and socialization. This article, from Responsible Homeschooling, is the most thorough and unbiased compilation of research I’ve read on the subject. It notes the potential source of everyone’s fear of homeschooling socialization issues — those kids from the 70s and 80s who were some of the first homeschoolers and typically from strict religious upbringings.

According to this Cardus Education Survey, religious home schooled kids from 30 years ago did struggle socially later in life. By their own reports they had trouble with goal setting, sense of direction in life and dealing with life’s difficulties. However, these were kids raised in non conventionally religious homes and they were home schooled before the amazing network of communities that currently exist.

I guess, in the end, research isn’t going to make anyone’s decision. It’s just one of those net gain or loss debates that depends on a thousand different factors. And so it is with my kid at the moment and I am deep in the mire of trying to remove cognitive biases and fear from decision making.

I ask this if you’re still reading . . . which is more important in childhood — your academic experience or your social experience?  Which was more important to you at the time and now in retrospect?



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