What About Socialization?

Natural Learning by Kathleen McCurdy

Parents who take their children out of school or just never send them are likely to experience a barrage of questioning by friends and relatives: What makes you think you’re qualified to teach? You made it OK in school so why isn’t it good enough for your kids? Isn’t that a little bizarre, implying that it goes with long hair and sandals? How will you cover physics and chemistry!? But the question asked most frequently is: What about socialization? People seem to be expressing fear that the children will be totally isolated from all contact with other humans.

It seems that this socialization question is really two. First, people close to the family may be wondering how these children will ever learn to play with other children. They may fear that the child will miss out on the opportunity to learn recess games, and how to take turns, cooperate, converse with other children. Will older children have the opportunity for dating, sports, the prom—all the fun activities people remember about their schooldays?

To these questions one may quickly respond with confidence. The child will have many opportunities to meet and interact with others, both older and younger, in a natural, unstilted way, free from the awkwardness of always being measured for the “pecking order” of the schoolyard. As long as parents are themselves social beings with friends and activities such as church attendance, clubs and other social organizations, there will always be opportunities for children to be with other children and people of all ages.

“One of the most common fears victimizing parents is that if the young child does not have a variety of socializing experiences out of his home, he will not develop well socially,” comments homeschool researcher and advocate Raymond Moore in his book Better Late than Early. “What kind of socialization should they have? Do we want them simply to make many acquaintances? Or do we expect them to develop concern and consideration for others and respect for older people? What do we really mean by ‘getting along’? Are these values really best developed in a crowded situation, where a child has relatively little attention from an adult whom he can use as a pattern? Or will he find more identity of the right kind in a home where his parents can respond to him on a consistent, warm and constructive basis throughout the day?” [1]

Second, when authority figures such as teachers, ministers, government officials, and other authority figures ask about socialization, the question often means something quite different: How will this child learn to be subject to authority? How will the homeschooled child learn to conform to peer pressure? Will he or she be able to be adapted into our socialistic society?

And to this we often respond: Our children will be individualized rather than socialized. They will learn to think for themselves instead of submitting to peer pressure. They will honor properly constituted authority instead of becoming conformists. As David Elkind points out, “With respect to children, …the family is a school of human relations in which children learn how to live within a society.” [2]

Mary Gardner, a former Washington homeschool leader with many years of experience educating her two children wrote, “I am firmly convinced that my children are becoming much better prepared to be contributing members of our society by being schooled at home. Each child needs un-pressured time to develop a strong sense of self-worth. My husband and I both feel that our being strong, positive adult models for our children greatly aids in this building of self-esteem. Our children are not facing classrooms of thirty other children in which they must compete for a position of acceptance by their peers. They do not have to bend to negative forms of behavior in order to be liked by the other children. Neither do they have to compete for a few daily moments of the teacher’s attention….

“We certainly do not cloister our children in our home. We provide many experiences for them to get to know this world and its people better. They also have a great love for all ages of people. From tiny babies to elderly citizens, my children feel comfortable with all ages. This, in my opinion, is being truly socialized.” [3]

Again, Raymond Moore points out that children “experience the highest quality of play with warm responsible parents who also enjoy holding and reading to them, and who allow them time to work out their own fantasies and to rest. Such children feel needed, wanted, and depended upon. They sense that they are integral parts of the family corporation. This feeling of belongingness and of the privilege of helping, brings a sound sense of self-worth and altruism which are the crucial foundation stones of positive sociability.”[4]

Each year many little first-graders go trotting off to school expecting to be taught how to read. By the end of the first week most of them have learned one main lesson but it probably wasn’t how to read. The very first lesson children learn in school is that Mom and Dad are wrong. Teacher is the new authority in their life.

The child realizes that his parents have sent him away, and eventually he accepts the new order of things including their change in status. The parents’ influence and expertise is now questioned, while the teacher commands their respect and loyalty. Of course, next year there will be a new teacher, a new authority figure. By the fifth or sixth grade children have learned to submit to any and all authority figures—while beginning to master the ability of circumventing, manipulating and disrespecting all authority. The result is the chaos we see in our society today.

Children at home learn obedience to the properly constituted authority of their parents. As the child matures, the parents gradually relinquish their authority to the child. He continues to respect authority and now as an adult, he delegates his authority to civil servants such as the police, lawmakers and others, through the electoral process. But he is able to take it back through the appointed ways when that authority is abused.

However, now we see large segments of society who do not vote, who lack respect for authority figures, have little understanding of their responsibility to make government work, and who most of all have little or no respect for themselves. Is this the kind of socialization our homeschooled children are missing out? Or is it in fact the sad social legacy produced by the institutionalization of children.

In our modern way of life, children are deprived not only of parents but of people in general… It is primarily through observing, playing, and working with others older and younger than himself that a child discovers both what he can do and who he can become… Hence, to relegate children to a world of their own is to deprive them of their humanity. — Urie Bronfenbrenner

[1] Better Late Than Early, Reader’s Digest Press, 1975, p. 33
[2] The Hurried Child, Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1981, p. 120
[3] Family Learning Exchange, Family Learning Association, 1985
[4] Home Grown Kids, Word Books, 1981, p. 40