One of the main reservations that parents have about homeschooling is that their children will not have an opportunity to “socialize”. The image that many hold of homeschool kids is that they don’t watch TV or are not otherwise exposed to mainstream culture and, as a result, don’t have the same cultural touchstones that everyone else in their generation shares. And while this may be true of some homeschool families, it doesn’t have to be true of all. To be clear: just because a family homeschools doesn’t mean they have to move off the grid to a rural corner of the midwest and throw their TVs out the window. In fact, I would recommend against doing this sort of thing.
Concerns about “socialization” in the context of education reveal a number of assumptions about both socialization and education.
First, this way of thinking presupposes that “socialization” is a focal point of most traditional classrooms. This is not always the case. Many classrooms are structured with a teacher more or less standing at the front of the room, showing and demonstrating information and skills. Peer-to-peer interaction often occurs around the “edges” of these lessons and sometimes even in direct conflict with these lessons (think: note-passing, trips to the bathroom to meet friends, and other “covert” interactions with peers, friends, crushes, etc….). Sometimes peer to peer interaction is a distraction from the material.
The second underlying assumption is that the best or only way to learn how to be social is by interacting with your peer group. But are peers really the best people to teach each other how to be social? Certainly, there are children who are able to teach and model advanced social skills, but in the absence of a larger culture which prioritizes and values healthy and pro-social interaction, peer to peer interaction even in a seemingly highly controlled school setting, can slide into a “Lord of the Flies” scenario. And this is what we found in some of the more traditional school settings near us: a lot of unmonitored peer to peer time and a lack of a larger school culture that prioritized teaching children how to be pro-social. The end result was that our children were in environments that, by default, were anti-social.
We have had to change and expand the way in which we think about socialization in our homeschooling environment. And to be clear: we probably would not be homeschooling if we didn’t live in a relatively population dense area where social interaction is an almost unavoidable aspect of day to day life. By circumstance (not at all by any sort of carefully laid plans on our part), our children regularly interact with family, friends, and neighbors of varying ages and backgrounds. They have church friends, basketball (and other sports) friends, neighborhood friends, and family all nearby. Plus, they have each other and us, their parents. They regularly interact with the same people IRL that adults have to interact with in their day-to-day lives out in the “world” when they are buying things or running errands with me or their dad. The older nine-year-old interacts with different people in (safe and parentally monitored) on-line environments.
And, yes, they do sometimes watch TV or otherwise engage in popular, mainstream culture and, yes, balancing all of this is one of our main concerns and challenges as parents who homeschool. But what we have found is that finding this balance has felt much more attainable with our kids spending most of their time in homeschool rather than in a traditional school.