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What About Socialization?
Learning the Rules and Roles of Society
By Theresa DeMario

“What about socialization?” That’s the go-to argument against homeschooling and life learning. Naysayers are quick to point out that your child is going to miss out on all that important socialization that happens in school, and aren’t you afraid that your poor isolated child is going to suffer?

The evidence shows that if anything, homeschooled kids are better socialized than public schooled kids, not vice versa.

Socialization Defined

Before exploring the issue of socialization, we need to define it. Dr. Dennis O'Neil can be found in the Behavioral Sciences Department, Palomar College, in San Marcos, California where he teaches Anthropology and does and exceptionally good job of explaining socialization in an online document he uses for teaching called simply “Socialization.”

“Human infants are born without any culture. They must be transformed by their parents, teachers, and others into cultural and socially adept animals. The general process of acquiring culture is referred to as socialization. During socialization, we learn the language of the culture we are born into as well as the roles we are to play in life […]

Socialization is important in the process of personality formation. While much of human personality is the result of our genes, the socialization process can mold it in particular directions by encouraging specific beliefs and attitudes as well as selectively providing experiences.”

So, to sum it all up, socialization is the process by which children are taught about the rules and roles of society.

Publicly Educated Socialization

Let’s take a closer look at how public schooled students are really socialized. They spend an average of six hours a day, one hundred eighty days a year in a classroom where they are not even allowed to socialize. And then during recess, breaks, and lunch, when they are actually permitted to socialize, it’s solely with kids their own age. Their adult contact during this education day is limited to rare one-on-one interaction with their teachers.

Writer and leading figure in educational reform John Holt, said in the book Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling about socialization that “the social life of the children [in public school] is mean-spirited, competitive, exclusive, status-seeking (and) snobbish.” Knowing how crucial the social education of our children is, is an age segregated, group education the environment in which we want our kids?

Former New York teacher of the year award winner and homeschool proponent John Taylor Gatto says in his essay, How Public Education Cripples our Kids, that the current method of education is a “forced confinement of both students and teachers - as virtual factories of childishness.” A friend of mine once put it this way: “Take a walk down any high school corridor during break and show me three behaviors you want my kids to emulate.” I think that gives a pretty accurate picture of public school socialization!

Dr. Dennis O'Neil describes socialization as a “learning process that begins shortly after birth.” He goes on to say that this early childhood period where we are learning the fundamentals of our culture is also a time of the most intense and the most crucial socialization. He notes that it is also when much of our personality takes shape. When we look at socialization from a social science perspective, again, I don’t think the “childish” environment of public school is an appropriate place to grow.

Socialization looks much different when a child learns without school. Homeschooled kids have more social interaction time with their family, something they will have every day for the rest of their lives. They will also participate in many groups and activities, educational co-ops, outings, clubs, and frequent field trips to a variety of public places where, it’s guaranteed, they’ll find other people to socialize with. They’ll chat with the librarian about their favorite authors and ask the plumber to explain exactly what he’s doing to the sink. In the quest to educate their children, homeschool parents have endless opportunity to expose their kids to a large variety of social behaviors.

Dr. Larry Shyers, a psychotherapist and Chairman of the Florida Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy, and Mental Health Counseling, wrote about socialization in his 1992 doctoral dissertation at University of Florida's College of Education. In Comparison of Social Adjustment Between Home and Traditionally Schooled Students, he said that “a child's social development depends more on adult contact and less on contact with other children,” which gives the life learning child who spends all day with their parents (and other adults) a big advantage over their schooled peers.

Still, there are people with doubts. For instance, there’s the group that thinks that since homeschools are not strictly regulated, there’s no guarantee that the parents are good socialization role models. The thought here is that the values may be narrow-minded and there may not be enough exposure to different ideals and ideas. To that, I hardly have a reply as I feel it’s getting dangerously close to a discrimination issue; I mean if they aren’t fit to socialize their young, how about deciding if they're fit to parent? And who, exactly shall we get to decide this fitness?

“Socialization” has become a catch word used in many arguments against homeschooling with little or no basis on factual evidence or even a clear understanding as to its meaning. The best response I ever heard to the question of socialization, I read on a blog; this mother told her relatives “Don’t worry, we have that worked out. Dad and I will take turns stuffing them into lockers and stealing their lunch money.” I think that’s a brilliant answer, but I’m trying hard not to use sarcasm to deal with all the well-meaning, ill-informed queries I receive. So I just smile, and wait for them to figure it out for themselves or get frustrated and wander off, whichever comes first!

Learn More

Holt, John; Farenga, Patrick. “Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling.” 2003 Holt Associates.

O'Neil Dr., Dennis. “Socialization.” Palomar College; January 14, 2013.

Kruse Dr., Jack. "Living an Optimized Life." Dr. Jack Kruze, 08 2011. Web. 12 Mar. 2012.

Price Dr., Jeffery. "Circadian Rhythm." Honors Colloquium. University of Missouri/Kansas City, 10 Feb 2011.

Author of Science Experiments: Homeschool Style, Theresa DeMario enjoys a professional writing career and a life surrounded by her family of life learners. Life can get hectic when everyone stays home, but for Theresa and her family, there was never really any other choice that made sense.

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