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Socialization and the Homeschooled Child

Homeschooling parents will tell you that the comment they get most often from well-meaning adults is that their homeschooled kids might not get proper socialization while being homeschooled. Usually the well-meaning adult has an example or two to give as proof of the deleterious effect of homeschooling on the social skills of children.
Homeschooling parents get angry about it, joke about it, brush it off, but still it keeps coming back and back.
I’ll tell you my own experience: being in school five days a week had an awful effect on my daughter’s social skills. She started kindergarten generally happy. She left kindergarten in a different state entirely.
She went to a school where the word “bad” was never spoken by adults and never tolerated from children. Not a single adult or child referred to her as “bad” in her entire three months there. Yet by the end of her short kindergarten career, my daughter was drawing self-portraits with the word BAD scrawled at the bottom. She would say things like, “Mommy and Daddy are good, Brother is pretty good, and I am bad.” She had nightmares and said that everyone hated her.
How did that happen?
A structured kindergarten environment was the very worst social experience for her. Her small, quiet, orderly program was the worst sort of place I could have chosen, but I didn’t know that then. My daughter stuck out as different. She had a lot of trouble following some of the rules, and because the rules were so strictly enforced, she was often called on for not following rules. The other children noticed. She started to be made a scapegoat in the classroom.
When I was a freshman in college I wrote a paper about George Orwell’s “Newspeak” in the novel 1984. Orwell posited a world in which the government controlled people’s minds by using a language that made bad things sound good. To a certain extent, this is just what advertising does. But really, there’s no way people can change fundamental ideas. You might use the word “ungood” for “bad,” but it doesn’t cancel out the concept of bad. You replace a set of sounds with a new set of sounds, but you can’t change the concept.
Every child, whether or not they’ve been called “bad,” (my daughter hasn’t been, to my knowledge) can tell you who the “bad” kid is in their school classroom. Even if they don’t use the word “bad,” they know who it is. In my daughter’s case, when she was very young she wanted a word that expressed a revulsion at something, not just “bad” but really, really gross and awful. The word she invented was “gox.” Food she didn’t like was gox. Clothing she wouldn’t wear was gox. She has stopped using the word, but the concept remains.
So for my daughter, the most socially healthy thing I ever did for her as far as schooling goes was to take her out of school. Now she sees her school friends a lot less often. And yes, they still, in their limited times together, notice that she is different. They notice that when they sit in circle, sometimes she sits in circle, but other times she lies down in the middle of the circle, pulls up a chair outside of the circle, or turns her back on the circle and ignores it completely. They notice that if they do something she doesn’t like, she’s likely to react in a stronger way than other kids. But she doesn’t have to be with them all the time. She doesn’t need their constant approval. Twice a week she gets to play and have fun, to share her interests and passions, and the rest of the time she can relax. She no longer finds herself playing the “bad” kid so often, and so she is happier. Her self-portraits now have gone back to having the word “love” or “I love you” on them. She’s back to being herself.
I realize that there are some people who homeschool because they want to keep their children away from society, but in reality homeschooling families are anything but homogeneous. If you spend time with a bunch of homeschooled kids, you’ll find that they are as ungeneralizable as any group of people. Yes, as younger children they are probably harder to corral into a unified activity — this isn’t something they practice on a daily basis. But the most compelling argument against homeschooled kids not being socialized well is right there in front of you in every mainstream school in this country: when, in the rest of your life, are you going to have to march around in a group of people all your same age, have a set place in line, do what you’re told, and learn a set group of facts that will be tested by filling in bubbles? These are not social skills any of us need in our daily lives. And certainly we don’t need to be forced into situations where we constantly feel bad about ourselves. For now, as long as she needs it, I’ll take my happy little girl feeling good, and drawing her lovely, loving pictures.

Posted in Homeschooling, Psychology.

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