“Oh, you HOME school?”
I recognized the tone.
Two (I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and call them well-intentioned) retired educators proceeded to ask me, my husband, and our three children predictable questions. We gave the usual answers.
A third woman complimented my daughter’s hair, then started chatting with her about school. My daughter told the woman her favorite subject is history. She’d been studying ancient history.
“Now, do you just use the Bible, or do you use textbooks, too?”
That was a first.
My seven-year-old daughter looked confused.
Yes, we’re Christians. And the Bible is important to us. We believe it’s useful in educating our children, but really?!?
This woman, as others, had doubts about the quality of education we provide our children.
Interestingly, it turned out the former teachers were less interested in what and how we taught our children than in how often they left the house and interacted with others. They weren’t thrilled with the current state of public education, so after hearing about various activities with our homeschool group, involvement with kids’ groups at our church, soccer, summer camps, winter camps, field trips, one wrapped up our conversation with, “Homeschooling is GREAT. As long as they’re SOCIALIZED.”
What is Socialization?
The term gets thrown around quite a bit in discussions about home education. It’s one of the most common arguments against schooling children at home. But what is socialization?
According to Merriam-Webster, socialization is “the process by which a human being beginning in infancy acquires the habits, beliefs, and accumulated knowledge of society through education and training for adult status.”
Some boil it down to preparing kids for the “real world.” They fear that homeschooled kids are more likely to grow into adults who lack necessary skills to effectively interact with people who are different from them.
But how many of us who went to public school could carry our limited social construct over for effective use in the post-school world? I’m 43. I have peers perpetually stuck in the angst-ridden behavior and relationship patterns of junior high. It’s unhealthy. Most of us were ready for a change, but only a few of us had any idea of how to go about interacting with the world, and our peers, as adults. On its own, the socialization students receive in public school is inadequate to produce emotionally and socially healthy adults.
People who criticize parents who choose to educate their children at home believe that the public school education better ensures that kids turn out normal.
By whose standards?
Small Town Public School Socialization
I went to public school. Kindergarten through senior year. Thirteen years with the same kids, for the most part. Some families would move into or out of the district. Just over 70 of us graduated together.
Some patterns of interaction were established early on. We tucked or stuffed each other in boxes, and most of us just stayed in them until we were let loose on the adult world to find new boxes to fall into, and shove others into.
Kids who were less concerned with school’s social norms were just as likely, and unlikely, to be well-rounded, well-adjusted adults as those who shone in their particular area of typical school excellence.
Not every public school student is a sheep, but one thing I appreciate about the different type of socialization my kids get is less exposure to pop culture and peer pressure to consume it in large quantities and emulate it.
What I learned from my classmates and our generation’s entertainment…
I have to look a certain way – be pretty enough, skinny enough, sexy enough, wear clothes that cost enough – for people to pay attention to me.
I’m not good enough.
The female body is a commodity.
My worth is based on the value others’ place on me.
I may have rationally detached from these beliefs, but I still have to battle the doubts about myself and my worth they planted in my heart and mind.
From small rural schools to large urban ones, these pervasive cultural messages thrust upon our youth haven’t improved over the years. And they start so young.
Home Education Socialization
The thought of having our kids “socialized” the way my husband and I were in public school was a big part of our choice to not send our kids to public school.
Something I love about my oldest compared to how I was at his age, is his willingness to figure out who he is independent of a particular social group.
Our Christian faith is a vital aspect of our identity, so it’s important in our education of our children. Some believe this is restrictive and exclusionary, but I see it as liberating. We believe that God created each of us unique, to fulfill a purpose; people’s opinions don’t define us. We believe what the Bible says about loving our neighbors, serving others, protecting the vulnerable, and the inherent worth and dignity of all people. ALL people.
We don’t have to agree for me to treat with you with respect.
It’s true that on a typical school day our kids spend more hours at home than kids who go to public or private schools. But it’s also true that we have more opportunities for atypical school days. Besides getting together with our homeschool group for gym classes, art classes, and science labs, we’re able to take more field trips, on our own and in groups. So far this school year, our family has visited a science and technology center, and this semester’s planned group trips are a history museum, pumpkin-picking and apple cider-making, and a ballet.
So, do I think all these experiences and interactions ensure my kids will grow up with unshakable self-confidence and perfect social skills? Nope. In fact, if you met my sons today, you might see the older as a shining example of homeschool socialization done right. My younger son, well, he doesn’t do so well on first meeting. Sometimes not the second or third, either. If he were my only child, you might think our approach to socialization is insufficient.
We want our kids to be comfortable conversing with people of all ages and backgrounds. We want them to have confidence in their beliefs, and the ability to express them, graciously.
My kids are each very different in how they approach social situations. And that’s okay. In fact, that’s normal.
As their mom who has also chosen to be their teacher, it’s not my job to make any of them just like anyone else. It’s my job to make them okay with being unique. I need to help them find their strengths, and appreciate others’; support them in their areas of weakness, as they learn to be kind and patient; and teach them they are incredible, just like everyone else.
Melinda VanRy writes about mental illness and faith on her Fruit of Brokenness blog. She wants everyone to know they have inestimable worth, though she often fails to believe it for herself. Bouts of severe depression have nearly destroyed her but instead make her stronger and give her a desire to help others who struggle with mental illness and faith as she does. Melinda lives in New York with her husband, their three kids, and more cats than she ever wanted. If you’re thinking big city, don’t. The VanRy family makes their home in rural Central New York. Way closer to Canada than New York City. And not far from Lake Ontario, which she loves.