Adult Homeschoolers Speak Out: Part Seven, What About Socialization?
HA note: The following series is reprinted with permission from Brittany’s blog BAM. Part Seven was originally published on June 14, 2012.
Also in this series: Part One: Why I Wanted To Write This | Part Two: Survey Stats and Large Families | Part Three: Top 3 Reasons Parents Homeschool | Part Four: Academic and Emotional Experiences, K-8 | Part Five: The Highschool Experience | Part Six: College? Prepared or Not? | Part Seven: What About Socialization? | Part Eight: The Best Thing vs. What Was Missing | Part Nine, Do Former Homeschoolers Want to Homeschool? | Part Ten: Are the Stereotypes Better or Worse?
Part Seven: What About Socialization?
Ask any homeschooler (past or present) the # 1 question he or she receives about homeschooling and it will be this:
What about socialization?
Most homeschoolers will laugh at this question and give some rapid-fire answers about the number of activities they are involved in or how they are so busy that they have to squeeze school work in their socializing schedule.
I have been anticipating this post for almost a month now and I have thought long and hard about why this is such a hot-button issue for people. Any Google search on “Homeschooler + socialization” will reveal a barrage of blog posts and e-articles that all profess that homeschooled children are, indeed, socialized and even better socialized their their traditionally schooled peers.
The comments to such articles are even more revealing. Every reader seems to have an opinion on this issue and the comment battles that ensue would probably fit neatly into the movie “Mean Girls.”
So why does the issue socialization bother so many people, both homeschoolers and non, seeming even more important than academic success?
I believe this is because social apptitude is spotted, judged and/or pitied long before intelligence is ever assessed in most social situations. In plain English, this statement could read like this: “He is so smart, but….bless his heart, he seems a little awkward, doesn’t he?” (That was the polite version. You can make up your own, non-sugar coated statement here.)
The issue of socialization and homeschooling is so dynamic because, whether homeschoolers like to admit it or not, what they are doing is counter-cultural. It isn’t “the way” most Americans are educated or how most adults learned to interact with the world.
This is neither good nor bad.
It simply is.
But because it is “different,” it may and often does present some challenges.
My survey results revealed some of the challenges that adult homeschoolers have faced as they entered adulthood. The numbers are primarily positive (though perhaps not as overwhelmingly confident as most homeschoolers, both past and present, may think they ought to be).
I had two questions relating to socialization:
Survey Question: Are people every surprised to find out you were homeschooled?
67% (29) of responders said “Yes!”
Most said people were surprised because they were “so normal!”
One woman said: “Yes! Just the other day a nurse was bashing homeschoolers and I turned to her and said that I was homeschooled. She was shocked.”
16% (7) said people were “Sometimes” surprised.
One adult homeschooler noted that “[u]sually [the statement] is followed by a question about being social and I have to try not to laugh, but most of the time people are positive about it!”
4% (2) said people were not surprised at all to find out they were homeschooled
11% (5) said the question either “doesn’t come up” or that they “don’t tell them.”
One man revealed, “People think I’m crazy or some kind of weirdo. I don’t share this unless I have to.”
My survey question specifically about socialization was linked to the question about higher education:
Survey Question: Did you pursue higher education after high school? If so, what is the highest level of education you have earned? If so, do you feel that homeschooling prepared you socially?
(Looking back I wish I hadn’t attached this question to higher education because not everyone pursued higher education and, therefore, did not answer this question — though only 2-3 did not.)
The statistics for this question are as follows:
60% (26 responders) said Yes, they felt socially prepared for higher education/the real world.
40% (17 responders) said either “No, they were not prepared” or mentioned difficulties they had
Of the 60% who said “yes!,” a majority argued that homeschooling gave them a chance to interact and socialize with people of all age groups instead of simply interacting in peer-age groups.
Megan W. 27 from GA: Yes. I had always been exposed to different people and encouraged to interact with them.
Ruth M. 23 from OK: Yes, I don’t think I had any more difficulty socially than a person who had gone to a public school. Actually, I believe homeschooling helped because it trained me to be willing to branch out and meet different people, even if they didn’t belong to what I saw as my “group.”
Elizabeth H. 21 from DE: Socially, I am comfortable talking to a wide variety of people, both age-wise and culturally.
Jonathan M. 30 from TX: YES!! I feel that I was better prepared socially due to the fact that while homeschooling I learned to sociallize with people of all ages. I have noticed that many people who went to public schools are locked into their peer group and have a hard time with people outside of their peer group.
Elizabeth J. 27 from KS: Yes, I had many friends, and lots of experiences that were similar enough to my public school peers that I had things to talk with them about. I was comfortable in the large groups of mixed ages and abilities, something that bothered a lot of my public school peers as they were used to same age grouping.
On the negative end of the spectrum, adult homeschoolers related these experiences:
M. G. 26 from VA: Although I have no social skills, I can’t blame that entirely on homeschooling. Yes, homeschooling gave me very few outlets to force myself to be social, but since people make me nervous and I don’t like to be social anyways, that may have happened regardless. . . Social function is probably the biggest disadvantage.
E. J. 24 from VA: That is a bit of a difficult question because I was an extremely shy child. I was socialized. There was a group of about 50-60 homeschoolers that would meet at least once a week to play, and I was often around adults that my parents knew from church, work, or their hobbies. As a child, I was very comfortable speaking with adults and I disliked events geared toward children as I found them condescending. However, as an adult, I have had some small issues with relating to everyone. Whether this is because I was homeschooled, or because of my personality, I am not really sure.
R. P. 30 from MS: I had good social skills for dealing with people of all ages in a personal and professional way. When I went to college I greatly gained social skills with my peers. Part of that may be delayed because I was homeschooled.
K. C. 24 from VA: There were some gaps in my social abilities, and felt socially immature for a while.
M. W. 30 from OH: Homeschooling set me back at least 2 years socially. I made up for a lot of it by getting a job at McDonalds my junior year in high school.
J. C. 28 from KY: I wish my parents had been more involved . . . in making sure I was involved socially, not just by putting me into social situations but by training me in how to act in those situations.
Whether the response was positive or negative regarding socialization, nearly all responders seemed to define “being socialized” as:
- Being able to talk to people of all ages
- Having friends
- Being involved in activities
While I think these three things are important, somehow these answers left me wondering: Are people really “socialized” if they have friends, are involved in activities, and can talk to people of all ages? Are these three things really what non-homeschooler are asking when they ask, “What about socialization?”
One woman wrote, what I believe is, an excellent response to this question. Though she had friends, close family relationships, outside activities, and a part time job while being homeschooled, she still said she was “Absolutely not!” prepared socially for life after homeschooling.
M.V. 27 from IA writes: Imagine human social lives like a game . . . In a real game, the rules are carefully explained. In society, the rules are unstated and must be figured out carefully (incidentally, they change from country to country and region to region). What kids need, then, is an opportunity to practice the game and learn what the rules are.
High school, mean as it can be, gives them that opportunity. It teaches them to respond appropriately to peer pressure, to interact with the other sex, to behave appropriately at social events, to make small talk.
Obviously, not everyone who goes to a public school graduates with a perfect knowledge of these rules, and not everyone who is homeschooled fails completely here. My sister, for instance, picked up social rules quite well. The fact that some people do fine, however, doesn’t change the fact that society does have rules and homeschooling reduces the opportunities by which to pick up on those rules.
Missing public school means that I missed four years of an opportunity to learn some of those rules. I had a very small circle of friends at [college] and had no idea how to interact with roommates; I started getting better in [grad school] and then [when I went to work overseas].
I found this response to be very insightful and true, in many cases. Learning social rules is difficult, and if one does not learn those rules as a child or teenage, then he or she must learn them (sometimes more painfully and embarrassingly) as an adult.
I can relate to this. Even as an adult, I sometimes lack insight into when it is the right time to ask questions, especially in a group setting. Growing up, “right now” was always the right time to ask any question! In college, I always forgot to raise my hand in a classroom setting, often blurting out whatever was on my mind, often to interrupt others or be reminded by the professor “to give someone else a chance to talk/answer.”
Although I have gotten better as I have gotten older (and wiser), I have even had difficulties at my job when, at a meeting, I asked a question that–I thought!–was very applicable. I was reprimanded later by my superior privately (much to my intense embarrassment). Knowing these “unspoken rules” of group settings continues to be difficult for me, though I am slowing figuring them out.
Another issue that I believe many homeschoolers struggle with socially can be related in this example:
C. M. 31 from KS: I was a bit green when it came to dealing with people who didn’t have my best in mind, and I found myself in situations in college that I would NEVER walk into now.
I have found that many former homeschoolers (including myself) feel blindsided when they discover that in “the real world,” not everyone has their best interest at heart. Growing up, everyone had my best interest at heart: my parents, friend’s parents (all of whom were homeschool families), Sunday School teachers, pastors (let’s see, who else did I interact with….?)
As a child, this trust in others is healthy. As an adult, naive trust in others can be disastrous.
After reading my “Homeschoolers Speak Out: the High School Experience,” one reader commented on the issue of homeschoolers making bad decisions, even after a moral upbringing:
“I am saddened by the (seemingly) higher rate of moral failure among our home schooled families (children). Is this because of over-sheltering? I don’t know.”
While I think over-sheltering may be (and often is) an issue, I also think it is also because some (perhaps many?) homeschoolers leave home believing that everyone has their best interest in mind. Many have made bad decisions as a result of naïvety, either in choosing friends, in dating or marriage, on the job, making large purchases, or making other life changing decisions.
Ultimately, socialization is a complicated issue. I do think that it is important for all children to have friends, opportunities for activities, and the ability to interact with both peers and people of all ages (yes, being able to interact with your peers is important!).
However, I believe that true socialization is more than that, including:
- Developing working peer relationships (with roommates, co-workers, in general social gatherings, dating and marriage)
- Developing conflict resolution skills with non-family members
- Being socially aware of self and others
- Knowing and acting within social “rules” (ex. Knowing when to speak, listen, respond, or just be quiet!)
- Being able to navigate social situations with confidence
- And more
I do realize that the above skills are not possessed by everyone, children or adults, homeschooled or not. But it is, of course, the hope and goal of parenting (and homeschooling!) to be able to socially prepare our children for life outside the home.
What do you think?
If you were homeschooled, do you believe you were prepared socially for “the real world”?
If you homeschool now, what are some concerns you have about the issue of “socialization”?
How do you answer the question, “What about Socialization??”
Please feel free to comment or ask questions below!
To be continued.
However, we homeschoolers have started to clutter up the google searches with our side of the homeschool socialization, lol. Good summary. We lived different lives; of course, fitting in is not always easy.
Thanks for your comment Lana. When I wrote this last year, the homeschoolers side of the issue wasn’t being discussed online. Amazing how much can change in a year!!!
“Being able to talk to people of all ages” is not enough: Successful socialization in our multi-racial, multi-religious country must require social interaction with all races and religions. That requires getting out of the white Christian home for reasons other than sports and church with like-minded people. Discovering “the other” is what being American is all about, and it’s a tremendously fun way to grow into a mature human being. At least, that was my experience. And don’t be afraid of stumbling around in the process…We all do that.
I agree 100% Lois! Thanks so much for your comment!
I was not homeschooled, but very sheltered to the extent that my mother could shelter me, and I would say that I have always felt socially awkward. I would love to see a statistical comparison between the responses of those who were homeschooled and those who went to a public/private school. Also, the question about whether people are surprised to find out that a person is homeschooled does not seem to indicate anything, because it depends on how that person thinks that a stereotypical homeschooled person differs from those who are not homeschooled. I never assume that a person who is awkward must have been homeschooled, and I would only express surprise at finding out they were only because I have met so few people who were.
This is truly insightful & (as a former homeschooler) is a breath of fresh air. So many websites about homeschooling address the socialization question with an eye-roll and comments like, “My kid can talk with anyone of any age & takes piano lessons – of course he’s socialized! Duh!” As someone who DID talk with people of every age & took piano lessons (and lots of other lessons, too), though, I can only cheer after reading insights that underscore how far, far beyond this socializing actually goes.
My favorite aspect of this article was the concept of the “rules of the game.” The spoken and ESPECIALLY the unspoken rules are ones I am STILL learning. I would love to know your insights as to HOW we homeschool moms can cultivate a sense of the “rules of the game” in our kids? It seems dicey. On one hand, I feel my children will be somewhat counter-cultural simply by virtue of being Christian — with no bearing whatsoever on where or how they are academically educated. But on the other hand, I feel they can retain a deep Christian identity while still being culturally “fit.” I have to admit, though, I didn’t learn to come CLOSE to this until adulthood. So what’s a homeschool-mom to do?! Can simply enrolling my kids in sports, Sunday school, etc. achieve these ends? I am doubtful. I would love to hear what others think…
Thanks so much for your comment! I know this is a few months late but I thought I would offer some thoughts on the HOW (though, as a mother myself, I think we are all trying to figure out the how-to-raise-our-children-thing). I think purposefully integrating your children into activities with people who are “not like them” is a helpful step. Growing up, I ONLY interacted with those who were home schooled, middle class, two parent homes, and white. Going to college was really my first experience in building relationships with people who had different upbringings, ideas, etc (even though I went to a Christian university! ha!)
Also, another thing that might help is allowing your children to watch TV and mainstream movies. I was not allowed this experience growing up. I think that at times, non-verbal social cues can be picked up from stories and shows if the child/teen is not exposed to them in real life. Watching shows and movies with you child can be a good way to discuss cultural attitudes and beliefs that are different that your own (non-Christian) that they will encounter.
Just a few ideas! I wish you the best of luck and God’s blessings as you raise your children to the best of your ability!
Helpful analysis as we are looking at homeschooling our kids abroad anyway, living in Nicaraga. My husband was homeschooled but I wasn’t so we discuss lots of sides of this issue as we now have our 5 year old in preschool/kindergarden to learn the language but plan to homeschool beyond that — I think socialization issue will look a bit different for us but I really appreciate this article as a springboard for clear discussion of it. Thanks for writing it!