Everybody knows the meme: “Homeschoolers aren’t socialized.”
Queue knowing glances, side-eyes, and judgmental giggles.
Education within the home is sometimes seen as withdrawal from society, a paranoid attempt to meticulously control kids and what they learn. Parents are accused of sheltering kids to keep them ignorant. Homeschoolers themselves get labeled as “weird” or “antisocial.”
As history shows us, going against the grain of spoon-fed societal tradition is often met with rage. Such was the case when Rosa Parks stayed in her seat. Such was the case when Harvey Milk, an LGBTQ rights activist and member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was assassinated for fighting equal recognition in social spaces.
“Going against the grain” aside, a large reason parents keep their kids in the system is socialization. Homeschooling doesn’t offer the constant socialization that public schools do, and our natural inclination is to conclude that this is a bad thing.
But is public school socialization actually helping kids – or is it hurting them?
Emotional damage, cyberbullying, and other harsh realities of public school socialization
Picture a typical day in the life of a public school kid.
The traditional images surface: squeaky tile floors, fluorescent lights, a bustling cafeteria, gym class, chatting with friends in the hallway. But then more images begin to emerge: eating lunch alone in a bathroom stall, being snickered at from behind lockers, the rite of passage of learning to “defend” yourself, whether mentally or physically, against bullies.
While hanging with friends in the hallway seems like a bright side of public school socialization, the harsh truth is that bullying is just as prevalent. It’s a built-in aspect of the traditional schooling experience. And considering the steadily declining mental health of high school students, it’s worth paying more attention to.
- Hallway or stairwell (43.4%)
- Classroom (42.1%)
- Cafeteria (26.8%)
- Outside on school grounds (21.9%)
- Online or text (15.3%)
- Bathroom or locker room (12.1%)
- Somewhere else in the school building (2.1%)
Bullying during the school days is bad enough, but with access to the Internet, the effects of cyberbullying are dangerous and far-reaching. Kids who aren’t brash enough to bully others in the hallway now have the ability to be cruel behind the safety of a screen, experiencing little to no consequence.
Point is, massive amounts of forced socialization do not indicate positive results. When twenty-five hormonal teens spend eight hours together in a classroom, bullying will happen. But, because it has become so deeply embedded within our culture, we assume these public school abuses are the norm. In a strange way, it’s almost as if we bond over these traumas.
Public school emotional damage is a Blockbuster hit
So many iconic movies are about the horrors of the public school social landscape.
The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Mean Girls, Easy A, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, The Edge of Seventeen. There are shows like Euphoria, Freaks and Geeks, and 13 Reasons Why.
We’ve commodified our collective middle school and high school misery. There’s an element of nostalgia for what was bad; almost as if we look back with a sense of pride and think, Sure, I was unbelievably miserable, but I had two best friends who got me through it, and dang, look how far we’ve come!
Growing up will always be difficult. Maturing will always come with challenges. But is all the trauma bonding that necessary? Intuitively, we know the answer. We know the system fosters unhealthy socialization in forced, constrained environments that don’t set kids up for success. But, we know no other way. Is there another way?
Of course there is – and it’s been unfairly villainized for years.
Homeschoolers don’t just experience socialization – they experience healthy socialization
When comparing the social skills of homeschoolers and public schoolers, the differences are striking.
Dr. Larry Shyers conducted a famous study by placing 70 homeschoolers and 70 public schoolers from age 8-10 together in a playroom. The kids were divided into teams and videotaped as they worked to solve puzzles for a prize. Two adults, unaware of which kids were homeschooled, silently observed their interactions, giving each kid a rating based on their “problem behaviors”: such as arguments, brags, boasts, not paying attention, isolating themselves from the group, or displaying significant shyness.
Shyers concluded that the traditionally educated kids were more “aggressive, loud, and competitive.” Their average amount of problem behaviors was 8 times higher than that of the homeschoolers.
In contrast, the homeschoolers were friendly, positive, and patient. They invited kids from outside their group to come play with them. When they lost a game, they would regularly smile and say it was “okay.” At the end of the experiment, several of the children initiated exchanging contact information to stay in touch.
“The results of this study, therefore, draw into question the conclusions made by many educators and courts that traditionally educated children are more socially well-adjusted than those who are home schooled.”
Another study by Thomas Smedley found that homeschooled kids scored in the 84th percentile of social skills, communication, and maturity – while traditionally educated kids scored only in the 23rd percentile.
“In the public school system, children are socialized horizontally, and temporarily, into conformity with their immediate peers. Home educators seek to socialize their children vertically, toward responsibility, with an eye on eternity.”
Data shows us that the perpetual socialization of public schools does not equate to socially adjusted kids.
The question is: what does?
It takes a village
The saying may feel cliche at first, but it’s true. Being “raised by the village” is how we were designed to be raised.
Grouping kids with only other kids their age is not a natural way to categorize socialization. It encourages immaturity, bullying, and “sheep” mentality. It feeds into the unhealthy, slightly traumatizing cliques of “jocks,” “geeks,” “stoners,” and “theater” kids. It creates friction not only amongst kids themselves, but with authority.
In his studies, Dr. Shyers discovered that, while kids in the public school system tend to model their behavior after their peers, homeschooled kids behave better because they imitate the adult figures in their lives, such as parents and mentors.
“The results seem to show that a child’s social development depends more on adult contact and less on contact with other children as previously thought.”
While public schools confine kids to a contrived environment of testing, standardization, and forced socialization with peers only of the same age, homeschoolers are living in the real world. Their environments foster curiosity and unique passions, rewarding and supportive relationships, and healthy personal development.
Exposing kids to all different kinds of socialization, including diverse activities and diverse age groups, is what allows kids to develop dynamic and healthy social skills. This breadth of experience is what allows kids to be socialized “vertically,” with “an eye on eternity.” Yanking them from the village and forcing them into a fluorescent-lit authority complex is not a proven path to healthy socialization. It might just be the opposite.