November 17, 2018
One of the major reasons people give for not being comfortable with homeschooling is that the kids won’t get a chance to be around all those other kids at school and get “socialized.” When we first decided to homeschool the kids, we agreed that this was the biggest drawback. Now we’re not so sure.
There are stories in the news every day about how awful some poor child at some random school was treated. Of course, the news isn’t interested in stories about when kids are treated the way they should be treated, but this should still inform how we think about this issue.
At home, the kids will always be treated the way they should be treated. If treat each other poorly, they will swiftly be corrected, so as they get a little older, they will always act respectfully.
Recently, we saw a story on Facebook about a man whose son liked to paint his nails. He made all the usual disclaimers about his son is actually quite a boy’s boy who loves trucks and dirt and rough and tumble play, but he also likes to paint his nails. Really though, it shouldn’t matter what he’s like. What matters is that he likes to paint his nails. And he’s 5.
He painted his nails and went to school. You know where this is going. He got made fun of enough that he never wanted to paint his nails again. Where did 5 year olds learn to make fun of a boy for painting his nails? It would never occur to my children, who are all 5 and younger, to make fun of a child for painting his nails. Actually it would never occur to them to make fun of anyone for anything because it just isn’t a thing that happens in our house. Sure, we joke with each other, but an important part of joking is making sure that everyone is having a good time.
So either these 5 year olds just spontaneously started making fun of him after a big enough group of them gathered in one place (which would be a major argument against socialization) or more likely, one of the 5 year olds had siblings or parents that they learned this shitty behavior from. I went to public school from first grade through high school graduation. I know how common this is, which is exactly why we’re not super worried about our kids not being “socialized” by the other kids at school.
There are a lot of kids at public school who are mean, and I don’t want to blame this on the kids. Humans are social creatures, and the kids don’t know any better, and there aren’t enough teachers, there are a million reasons this happens. But the whole point is that school is kind of a nightmare social environment. It’s a place where there’s a bunch of kids basically competing for social status in all sorts of status games that don’t mean anything in the real world and they’re allowed ample time without enough adult supervision. When you suggest that kids shouldn’t be exposed to behavior like this, some people say that navigating those bad parts of school is like navigating a workplace, that you won’t be able to hide from mean people in the real world. Our answer to that is, you absolutely can hide from mean people in the real world. I think it’s a social best practice to never spend any time around anyone who acts like a jackass, and if you can’t avoid them, there’s nothing wrong with getting in a fight with them, which is also something you can’t do in school. To reiterate, we don’t think anyone should ever have to put up with that behavior from anyone, and we shouldn’t normalize it by saying that it’s just how kids act.
The flip-side of this is that I think we’ve all known awkward homeschooled kids, and no matter how unfair it is, we subconsciously stored it away in our brains that homeschooling creates children who are socially awkward. Those judgments that I passed on awkward homeschooled kids were the judgments of an insecure child. When I think back on how those kids really acted, all I can think is that they probably actually acted like little adults, because that’s who they spent their time around. They weren’t loud enough or wild enough for my childish tastes. They didn’t understand pop culture references. They had boring clothes on.
At the time, all of those things seemed socially fatal. Now they seem ridiculous, and I’m ashamed that I ever could have judged another human being for such superficial things. If my memory serves correctly, every homeschooled child I knew as a child and an adult grew into a perfectly socially normal adult, insofar as anyone is socially normal.
I think homeschooled kids will turn out roughly like the people they spend the most time with. If their parents are socially well-adjusted, the kids will be too.
In any case, with social media and the internet in general, this is kind of becoming a moot point. Our kids are learning plenty of social interaction from youtube videos and the playground (not all of it great), and as they get older and we find more homeschool groups and organized sports to participate in, the kids will probably get all of the social interaction they could ever need.
We're sharing what we've learned in the course of doing some unconventional things in the hope that we can help others do better and get more out of life.