By Beatrice Ekoko Part 4: Can Kids Get Proper Socialization at Home?
Can kids get proper socialization at home?
October 2, 2006Any person who considers home education for their children will have to face the worried question: "What about their socialization?"
By this they likely mean: "Will my child end up a weirdo? Will they have friends? Will children be unprepared for the real world if they don’t go to school?"
Socialization, technically speaking, is the ability to adapt to the needs of any given group, to learn the cultural norms expected of such a person in the community in which he or she lives.
Gary Knowles of Ontario Institute of Studies in Education (OISE) explains, "One may be socialized into the ways of being associated with a fundamentalist Christian group, a teenage gang, Girl Guides, or into the local community."
A child will be socialized to the group she spends the most time with.
The question rests on balance: do you want your child socialized to the larger society or primarily to their peer group?
Because the majority of children go to school, home-educated children don’t have as many peers to associate with during the day; some children might feel lonely or as they get older they might wish to spend more time with their peers. But this doesn’t indicate insufficient socialization or poor social development. Not having a satisfactory social life can happen whether you go to school or not.
To get around issues of isolation, home-educated children rely on extra-curricular activities in addition to volunteering in the community, which academic research by Wilfrid Laurier University researcher Bruce Arai shows they do more of than children who attend school.
While kids who go to large schools are predominantly socialized by their peers, many home-education children have broader experiences in society with more opportunities to be socialized by both younger and older people, says Knowles.
For Knowles, "socialization is a moot question" for home educators. His research on home-education families found no reason to suggest that a family that is outgoing, whose kids are involved in all sorts of community groups, are disadvantaged whatsoever.
Knowles’s study of home-educated adults found that they’ve grown up to be largely autonomous, independent, and have learned to make way themselves. "I think that’s one of the major advantages of home education that kids don’t have their self esteem attacked by other kids so much in the home context: they become a lot more secure in who they are."
Knowles admits concern for families who are "cloistered" or "sheltered," or when parents are over?controlling of their children and the materials and literature their children have access to.
But as Arai points out, "If you’re determined to not expose your child to the diversity of any particular country, religion, or political persuasion, then you can do that. Unfortunately you can do that pretty effectively whether you send your child to school or not. It really doesn’t have anything to do with home-schooling."
"There are lots of racists and bigots around and they are not all home educated; a lot of them went to school," says Arai.
Right fit for someHome-educated brother and sister Sean and Devon Atherton of Hamilton have tried school and had very different experiences.
While Sean, 15, adapted to the scene during his semester long stint, and felt he "really fit in well," and plans to continue school, Devon, 14, did not.
She found a culture alien to her sense of self. In contrast to the girls at the school, she says, "I didn’t want to wear their clothes nor did I go along with their makeup stuff. I didn’t want to be the same as them. I felt pretty lonely there."
Atherton decided to return to her home education.
"The way I see it now, for some people, school is the right thing. For others it’s not. Right now, I don’t think I’m one of the people that it’s for," she muses.
Devon’s experience does not mean that she is poorly socialized: her self-confidence instead reveals a healthy social development.
It’s a characteristic in keeping with a small but significant study of home-educated girls by Susannah Sheffer. Her book A Sense of Self was a response to media reports in the 1990s highlighting the negative socialization of adolescent girls in school.
While girls in school where reported to be "losing their voices" and doubting the validity of their goals, "even their own perceptions," Sheffer’s study revealed that home-educated girls ages 11 to 16, were having a very different, more positive experience.
"They expressed comfort with disagreement. They didn’t think you have to be the same in order to have a close relationship."
Perhaps what people are mean when they use the term "socialization" revolves around the idea of citizenship and what they think makes a good citizen. The difficulty is that the definition of a good citizen is unclear as it is constantly evolving.
Schools grapple with what they consider citizenship education. Yet if you look at the history of citizenship education, "it’s not by real design and purpose. It comes out of classes in history and geography: not necessarily the best basis for citizenship education," according to Arai.
"Teachers are puzzling out what a civic conscience means," reports Christine Brabant, researcher in the department of Education at Sherbrooke University in Quebec.
Both she and Arai see home education as producing different but equally valid understandings of citizenship that emphasize the importance of family and participation in community.
For Brabant, parenting is the first and greatest citizen act, and doing it well is already a great commitment to society.
"I think any committed mother is one of the most important citizens."