Any homeschooling family will tell you that one of the most frequently heard objections to their educational choice is “socialisation”. Though generally well-meaning, but often ill-informed, people will always bring this one up. They are concerned that your child, being deprived of a traditional school experience, will not be well socialised. There is a perception that homeschooled children must be kept locked up in the house with their parents all day and never encounter any other kids.
Now, I find it quite ironic that the issue of socialisation arises over and over as one of the main arguments people have against homeschooling. It’s as if the pro-school crowd recognises on some level that school isn’t really about education. And it’s not. And that’s why the issue of socialisation should be addressed in this context.
Socialisation is a code word for conformity. Socialisation at school means your children learn to do all the same dysfunctional things the other kids do. They learn how to bully and be bullied. They learn how to cheat and how to tattle. They learn to submit to authority. They learn to think (or not think) the same things in the same way as all the other children, who are all being told what to think by their teachers and textbooks.
Obedience is a public school virtue. The more obedient the child, the more successful they are in a school environment. However, obedience is a form of self-hatred and this sort of socialisation teaches children to disrespect and dishonour themselves by prioritising the needs of authority figures ahead of their own best interests. Socialisation is the opposite of individualism and it crushes the child’s developing sense of self-identity and teaches them that they should not trust their own minds and judgment. This does not set children up to become successful, well-adjusted adults, but rather the opposite.
I have been around school children and school environments across a range of countries and socioeconomic classes, from elite private schools in London to poor country schools in Midwestern America. The behaviours I have seen in the school yards and classrooms are not ones that I would want my child to emulate. I have also worked privately with children as they transition into school for the first time and the change in their behaviour at home is noticeable. They become meaner and more argumentative. They develop shyness that didn’t exist before or a grandiose sense of entitlement. The change is rapid and drastic, noticeable within the first few weeks.
This is not what people have in mind when they bring up socialisation, but that is what socialisation actually is. It’s not about being able to be on the school football team or participating in the science fair. Socialisation is ultimately about imparting customs, values, attitudes, and ideologies.
We all get socialised in our lives. It’s part of growing up around other people. We learn how to behave and act through the process of socialisation in which we learn from other around us. This is a necessary part of living in a society with other people and is not an inherently bad thing. However, the primary agents responsible for a child’s socialisation, in a perfect world, should be the parents of that child. Not a teacher at a state school, not other children, not the government. Parents have a responsibility to teach their children how to behave and guide them in their beliefs and parents have a vested interest in doing this job well.
I find it extremely concerning when I hear people talk about how school is essential to a child’s socialisation. While they are usually just thinking about extra-curricular opportunities and whether or not the child will have any friends, it shows a disturbing lack of awareness as to the effects of turning one’s impressionable young child over to someone else for eight hours a day. At school, socialisation means crushing a child’s individuality and instilling obedience. This doesn’t produce healthy, self-motivated, highly capable adults.
I do also want to touch on the idea of having friends of a similar age, given that it is often the central point of any argument in favour of school socialisation. Because schools group children by age rather than ability or interest and because most children go to school, it now seems to normal that they would only have friends their own age because this is generally all we ever see anymore. However, historically, that was not the case. Children used to grow up around people of all ages and learned how to respect and get along with those older and younger than themselves. Even in schools, children of all ages were lumped together in a single classroom with a single teacher. But now, children are age-segregated and this is somehow considered useful socialisation, despite the fact that nowhere else in a person’s life will they ever be surrounded by people of only their own age. In the adult world, you must work with, get along with, and spend time socially with people of all age groups. It would be considered quite strange for, say, a 40 year old to spend time only with other 40 year olds and have no other meaningful relationships with people of other ages outside of family connections
Home-schooling offers greater opportunities for children to forge relationships with people of a variety of ages and, I would argue, puts them socially ahead of their mainstream schooled peers when it comes to entering the adult world. The idea that home-schooled children never see any other children is ludicrous. There are numerous opportunities, depending to some degree on where one lives, for children to be involved in activities with other children, such as sports clubs, Scouting, choirs, or other similar activities, as well as opportunities to be involved with the wider community in a meaningful way through local organisations or volunteering. The added benefit is that social activities can be more individually tailored to the interests and abilities of one’s child than if they were forced to participate in one-size-fits-all activities at school, whether they liked them or not.
Now, some might argue that schools are an essential part of the wider community and therefore, it is important for a child to attend school in order that he or she can become a part of the community. The problem with this is that schools provide a community in the same way that prisons provide a community. Oh, sure, there will be some genuine relationships forged there, but school relationships are no more a voluntary association than prison relationships are. Voluntary associations are extremely important and children will struggle to learn the value of them when they never get a choice in who they see every day. If a homeschooled child no longer wants to be on the local soccer team because another child is bullying him, he doesn’t have to go. A child being bullied in school will be forced to see the bully every day (and it’s worth noting that forcing a child to interact with a bully only teaches them to normalise abusive relationships; rarely does it teach “resilience”). If a homeschooled child makes a friend that they really enjoy spending time with, they will have to make the effort to see that friend on a regular basis and invest time in maintaining the friendship. A child with a friend at school never has to learn the value of investing in a friendship because they are guaranteed to see their friend almost every day.
In addition to lacking any truly voluntary associations, the quality of time schools provide for students to socialise with each other is poor. Recess time is increasingly limited. In many schools, lunch is short and sometimes limited to no talking. During P.E. classes, the kids must listen quietly to the rules and then simply play as they are instructed to play with the teammates they are assigned to. The same goes for tasks in class- students are generally punished if they try to socialise with each other instead of doing their assigned work. How much positive and worthwhile socialising is really happening in such an environment?
I liken socialising at school for children to socialising at work for adults. If you’re a working adult, how much time do you have during the workday to form genuine friendships with your colleagues? You may spend eight, nine, or ten hours a day, five days a week, with the same people, working alongside them, sharing ideas, even getting lunch together, but how many of those people end up being genuine friends? At the end of the workday, how much do you feel like your social and emotional needs have been met by your interactions at work? Compare the quality of those interactions to the interactions you voluntarily choose in your free time and on the whole, you will probably notice a stark difference.
Ultimately, homeschooled children have just as many or more opportunities for positive socialisation. If socialisation is taken simply to mean being prepared for life in society, then homeschoolers, by and large, spend more time in actual society, learning how to navigate it and how to make sense of it. The socialisation that children learn in schools is essentially just a survival strategy designed for getting through the school years, which sets them up to be passive, compliant, co-dependent conformists, and has very little to do with how the real world and real people operate. I think most parents would much prefer their children receive socialisation that teaches them self-confidence, negotiation, respect for themselves and others, problem-solving, and other useful real-life skills, which is typically what home-school socialisation aims for.