Thursday, June 14, 2012

Adult Homeschoolers Speak Out: What about Socialization? The BIG question!


Ask any homeschooler (past or present) the # 1 question he or she receives about homeschooling and it will be this: 

What about Socialization? 

Source here
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!" :D 
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: 

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. 

Source Here
 Megan W. 27 from GAYes. 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 DESocially, I am comfortable talking to a wide variety of people, both age-wise and culturally.

Jonathan M. 30 from TXYES!! 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 VAAlthough 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 VAThat 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 blind sighted 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! 

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13 comments:

  1. As a home schooling mom who was not home schooled this blog is very helpful! Thanks!

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    1. So glad to hear! Please feel free to share this with other homeschooling parents if you feel that they would find it interesting or helpful! :) Thanks for reading.

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  2. I think Anthony said this in his answers, but I think he was definitely socially awkward when I first met him. That was his first year of college, and I feel like he's pretty much "outgrown" after being in the "real world" for almost 10 years now. :)

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    1. haha! Yes, he said, "My wife said that I was awkward but I don't think she knows what she's talking about." LOL! I had to go by the perceptions of the person writing (whether I or someone else had a different perception or not!) Glad he's "outgrown" it!

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  3. While it is trued that there are unspoken behavioral rules, they are different for every society. We are Europeans living in the U.S. and we homeschool our children. Chances are high that they will continue their education overseas so teaching them the how to act in certain situations here, might not come in handy when they are on the other continent. Believe me when I say that I have experienced it myself when I first came to the U.S.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your story! I do agree that social standards/rules change within society and social circles. For example, I am from the American mid-west (Kansas) and my husband is from the American south (Florida). I went to school and now live in the south (Virginia). There were definitely some new social rules, history, and expectations I had to learn. :)

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  4. Elizabeth JohnsonJune 19, 2012 at 3:32 AM

    My family asked us to take turns and wait for appropriate times to speak, in most conversations, not just in school. Not in an artifical way, just waiting to be acknowledged before butting into a conversation, raising the hand if you needed the "teacher's" attention and so forth. My dad's job as pastor exposed me to the ugly things life has in it (I got to see first hand what happened when you blindly follow peer pressure and how other people might have your worst interests in mind). I went to college with a very cautious view of people, especially men. Lots of my private school peers were less prepared socially, they were shocked that people would do certain things or believe differently than them. My parents also went out of their way to explain why our family believed what they did and talking about others worldviews and pointing them out in the media and other things as we came across them.

    I think my homeschool experience gave me the courage to ask questions in class that my classmates were afraid to ask(I usually raised my hand). I had taken a few college classes from a community college while in high school (including English 101 &102), so I was prepared for the college class format. I had written some papers in school, but as a stubborn young person I generally had some control over the subject of the papers. The one thing I needed in writing was learning the different formats (such as MLA, APA and so forth), but many of my public school peers knew even less about this than I did. I fought the narrow topics for papers sometimes, but that is a personality quirk of mine, rather than a result of my school choices.

    I feel I might have participated in the sheltering of my younger brothers, as I tried to keep the evils of the world from them, so they might have been a little more naive than I was. I feel thatI had a better grasp on the reasons for more of the unspoken social rules than my brothers did, so I follow them with more ease. I knowingly chose to follow them or not, but usually choose to follow them.

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  5. I was homeschooled until sixth grade, but since I entered public school at an age when everyone is a little awkward and trying to figure things out socially, I don't think I was socially disadvantaged at all. My take on it is that apples don't fall far from the tree. My parents are highly social, well-liked people with good social skills, so go figure, my brothers and I did not struggle relating to people. Many socially awkward children have weird, socially isolated parents, so it's not fair to blame it all on homeschooling. I homeschool my kids because we live overseas doing missions work. One thing I have noticed many missionary and homeschooling families are very hesitant to do is "expose" their kids to things that their peers are reading and watching. I totally agree that we need to monitor our kids media consumption and there is plenty of garbage out there, but completely sheltering your kids from all pop culture awareness is a serious social handicap. There are plenty of popular books or movies or whatever that will not scar your kids for life, especially if you discuss them, and it will give them points of commonality with their peers. If you only ever watch Little House on the Prairie re-runs and only read books published before 1960, then, yeah your kids will have trouble relating to their peers no matter how much time you spend putting them in "socializing" situations.

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  6. I couldn't tell you the number of times both in college and as an adult, who is almost 30, how many times I have received that dropped jaw look of shock when I told them I was homeschooled! Plus the jaw would get lower and lower as I explained that I have 5 siblings who were/are also homeschooled and we are all homeschool graduates, not just a year or two as a homeschooler. I started kindergarten in 1989 so I well remember how un-popular homeschooling was during that time. It was though Homeschooling automatically branded you with a stamp that said "shy, socially enept" or worse a "problem child" that may have been expelled from the public systems. But now 12 years after graduating, it is so much more common to homeschool! Socially, my parents were very involved in the needs of or social abilites, so much so that we were often asked if we went to a private schools, because of our abilites to converse and act with respect for ourselves and other. To which we always answered "Yes!" we were privatly educated!

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  7. OMG I'm so glad you have written about this. I would say definitely I was not well prepared socially for the world outside conservative homeschooling. If I had just gotten married and stayed home for the next 40 years, I would have likely never noticed. But I'm so out and about, that I notice. I think its also worth noting that I'm well socialized with those much older than me. Where my mis-socialization shows is with my peers -- my age group -- who were not homeschooled.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Lana!

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    2. I have enjoyed reading your blog too!

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  8. I was entirely homeschooled way back in the 1970s and '80s. Nothing to do with religion. It was a very negative experience. The subject almost never comes up, and I learned long ago to avoid volunteering the information.

    In my experience, people are incredibly condescending about this issue, and have various obnoxious assumptions which they will never let go of.

    People often notice that I seem "off" socially. A lot of it is simply that I'm not interested in hearing about their petty little personal stuff, like their family matters. And I don't like petty whining, "commiserating", gossiping, etc.

    I left my parents when I was eighteen, and was not socially prepared at all, which led to some very negative and dangerous interactions. It wasn't exactly about people not having my best interest in mind. Rather, it was about me expecting average people to possess higher intelligence, knowledge, skill, responsibility, and common sense than they actually do.

    My formal education started in middle age, and I am currently a university student focusing on hard science. I have been utterly appalled by some of the students I have encountered, including some in my own age range. They went to normal schools as children, and who think they know all about life in the "real world" as well. In a situation where I had mentioned having no prior formal education, it just increased people freaking out over my language skills and knowledge-base. I ended up being openly bullied over it, and I wondered if I had accidentally walked into a primary school.

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