How do you answer the socialization question?

Q: Do you have any articles or information I can share that will let my family and friends know that my kids will be socialized even though we homeschool?

homeschool socialization

A. Nope.

I mean, I can give you all kinds of information about the socialization process and how homeschooled children generally grow up to be well-adjusted adults. But will any of it convince your family and friends that you have not joined some fringe cult that will forever scar your children? Probably not. I’m not saying they won’t change their minds over time. It’s just that deeply held beliefs about how children should be socialized are not usually affected by articles and anecdotes.

The socialization process itself makes these conversations difficult. See, your family and friends have been “socialized” to have certain views on how a child should be raised in order to conform to societal norms and become a productive member of society. These beliefs are rarely critically evaluated. They are passed from one generation to another by how we were parented, by how we were educated, by the media we have consumed and by the friendships we have maintained. They are not taught explicitly and they are not evaluated critically.

And that’s the real problem. Everyone knows to ask the question, but few know what it actually means. Have you ever read Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? In it, they design a supercomputer to answer the question of life, the universe and everything only to find out they don’t understand the question. It’s kind of like that. Except that we designed and supported an entire education system to support the socialization process without truly understanding what socialization actually is. Even many homeschoolers don’t seem to have that firm of a grasp on the real implications of the term. If you ask, “What about socialization?” and they answer, “My kids have plenty of social opportunities!” they are not really answering the question. Socializing and socialization are two very different things.

So what is socialization?

According to sociologists and anthropologists (who spend a great deal of their careers studying how humans are socialized across cultures and within subcultures), socialization may be defined as:

the process by which culture is learned; also called enculturation. During socialization individuals internalize a culture’s social controls, along with values and norms about right and wrong.

It is a process which shapes all of us. It affects how worldviews develop, what we perceive as right or wrong, and provides the foundation of our social order. And yet we almost never really talk about it. At least not until you tell someone you homeschool and they blurt out, “What about socialization?”

As homeschoolers, I think we should stop answering this question by citing the social opportunities we afford our children and get to the heart of what we are really discussing. That means answering the question with another question.

Who should teach children right from wrong?

Most people’s first instinct is not to say, “Why the government, of course!” So why is it that the default institution Americans seem to trust most is the public school system? Frankly, it’s because we’ve been well-socialized.

Successful socialization can result in uniformity within a society.  If all children receive the same socialization, it is likely that they will share the same beliefs and expectations.  This fact has been a strong motivation for national governments around the world to standardize education and make it compulsory for all children.  Deciding what things will be taught and how they are taught is a powerful political tool for controlling people. Process of Socialization, How we we acquire our cultures, world views and personalities, by Dr. Dennis O’Neal

Standardized education . . . compulsory for all . . . a powerful political tool. Yes, this is what the public school sytem represents. That’s why there is a constant battle between the left and the right for control of the curriculum. It’s why eveyone asks, “What about socialization?” without really even knowing what it means.

So who should have the power of socialization?

Education is never  neutral.

It is impossible for me to think about education without considering the question of power, of asking the question: In favor of whom or what do we promote education? ~Paulo Freire

That brings me to my real point. Socialization is exactly why we homeschool. I view the family as the primary institution for the socialization of children and therefore the family is the most natural place for children to be raised and educated. The methodology we follow, the curriculum we select, the field trips we take, the church we attend and the media we consume are chosen for a purpose.

But your friends and family probably aren’t ready for all that all at once. Throw it to them all at once and they will know that you have joined a fringe cult. Because to homeschool is to stage a revolt. It may be small, but never underestimate its significance. So we are back to not really having anything that will change their minds.

Except one thing: their love for you and your family.

If they truly care about you and your family (and their constant nagging about socialization may be an issue of control, but it can also be an expression of love), they will notice. In time, they will come to see that your children are not living up to the stereotypes of the unsocialized homeschooler. Perhaps they will have to navigate some bullying situations at school. They may never fully agree, but the horror will lessen. In their minds, your decision to homeschool will go from YOU ARE GOING TO RUIN YOUR CHILD to I Can’t Imagine Doing That to Yeah, I kinda get it. And maybe, if you are patient and they have time to get used to a new idea, they might even come to understand and even support your decision.

Because we can overcome our biases and stereotypes with time and positive experiences. Love is a motivating factor where reason often fails. So go ahead and prepare yourself with all the arguments. They help you with your confidence in the face of sometimes overwheling opposition. But present it to your loved ones in small bites over time. Let your friendship be the tool that drops their defenses so that they can slowly come to accept that this, too, is OK.

Who knows? Maybe some day they will even ask you about how to get started homeschooling. Stranger things have happened.

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Christy Lade
Christy Lade

As always, I enjoy your well reasoned arguments. It is true, love and time do change hearts. The first announcement is the most difficult. Once they come to understand how mature and available your children are, their whole perspective changes. That happened for us. I was surprised at the acceptance by our community, at least from those who actually voiced their opinion to me. I guess they knew I was a teacher so that must have been ok. Btw, our adult children have always been able to find work and do very well, gaining the respect of their employers for… Read more »