10.22.2012

Homeschooling Misconceptions


I had a conversation with a friend yesterday, about the effects of homeschooling on children. I know she brought the subject up with good intentions in mind, and while none of it changed my mind about homeschooling (nothing can), a few of the assumptions and other things said, had me feeling offended and angry for a time afterward.

Among the things said, were (paraphrasing):
  • He (Mason) is going to be weird.
  • He won't be socialized.
  • That I must hate teachers because I won't send my son to public school.
  • I shouldn't send him to public high school after homeschooling, because he'll be socially awkward . Instead, I should send him to a private school if I decide to send him anywhere.
  • It's bad for him because he won't be learning what other kids his age are learning, and I'm teaching him things above his grade level, so he'll be too smart.
  • He won't get normal rites of passage, like prom.
  • Homeschooling will take up too many years of my life, and I will cease to have my own identity (passions, free-time, etc.).
  • That I'll have too much bonding time with Mason/we'll bond too much.

Now, please understand that these things were said in the nicest way possible, with only the best intentions in mind. In truth, when paraphrased and bunched together like this, it sounds much more harsh than it really was. Rest assured that my friend is still my friend, and I hold nothing against her.

I knew that once our family went down the homeschooling road, our every choice and action would be under constant criticism. I knew that we would be viewed as weird by some people, crazy by others, and plain stupid by a few others. I also knew that it would open the door for people with good intentions to decide that they know--better than me--what my son really needs in life.

I can see the logic behind it all, and I understand where it comes from. There aren't a lot of official statistics behind homeschooling success rates, and it's easy to look at the few (because let's face it--there are definitely some weird homeschoolers out there), and mistake them for the many. Heck, I was even sold for most of my life, on backwards misconceptions that I accepted to be fact: that homeschoolers are weird, they have no social skills, and they're all religious extremists. Not so!

During our conversation, I got the sense that the biggest worry of hers is the one argument people bring up that really gets to me the most. It's the biggest misconception of all: that public school = the only type of acceptable socialization.


Socialization: It's not what you think it is. 

Let's look at the fundamentals of socialization for a moment. I came across this Anthropology course about the process of socialization, done by the Behavioral Sciences Department at Palomar College in California. It says:
Socialization
During socialization, we learn the language of the culture we are born into as well as the roles we are to play in life . . . We also learn and usually adopt our culture's norms  through the socialization process.  Norms are the conceptions of appropriate and expected behavior that are held by most members of the society . . . Socialization is important in the process of personality formation.  While much of human personality is the result of our genes, the socialization process can mold it in particular directions by encouraging specific beliefs and attitudes as well as selectively providing experiences.

Source: The Process of Socialization, Behavioral Sciences Department; Palomar College (emphasis added)
Keeping that in mind, I want to share a response another homeschooling mother gave about the concern of her homeschooled children not being socialized. Her response was: "Go to your local middle school, junior high, or high school, walk down the hallways, and tell me which behavior you see that you think our son should emulate."

Very well said. I remember elementary, junior high, and high school, like they were yesterday (the latter really wasn't that long ago), and I know that those are not the environments I want my son adopting his cultural norms and expected behavior from. I'm not sure any socialization I, myself, had in junior high and high school even applied in life after both were through.

So the question now, is: where else does socialization come from? Let's go back to that Anthropology course:
How Are Children Socialized?
. . . There are two broad types of teaching methods--formal and informal. Formal education is what primarily happens in a classroom. It usually is structured, controlled, and directed primarily by adult teachers who are professional "knowers." In contrast, informal education can occur anywhere. It involves imitation of what others do and say as well as experimentation and repetitive practice of basic skills. This is what happens when children role-play adult interactions in their games.

Source: The Process of Socialization, Behavioral Sciences Department; Palomar College (emphasis added)
In homeschooling, I am simply combining these two teaching methods--taking the best from both, and making them work for Mason. Time in the classroom at home, and time out socializing in the real world, learning how the real world operates. This includes time spent in church, church activities, community activities, library activities, sports (he wants to start baseball next season, which makes me immensely happy), extended family activities, homeschooling group activities, museums, historical sites, art classes, music classes, etc.. There are so many other ways for healthy socialization to take place, that it seems hilarious that this is even an issue people bring up.

As for the other things mentioned, well...I don't see many downsides to them.
  • Yes, he may be learning things that public school children don't learn until later grades, but he's also struggling in some areas, and is learning at the "normal" rate for his age group in those. The main point is that he's learning at his own pace in each area--not any faster or slower than he's ready for. 
  • Yes, there is definitely a lot of bonding going on in our home, but when has that ever been a bad thing? At a time when families are becoming more and more distant, and communication is quickly becoming more digital, I can see nothing more precious than time spent together. 
  • Yes, he may miss out on some things people deem rites of passage. But not all of them. It's a little-known fact that there are homeschool associations who host "school" dances and other activities, including field trips and out-of-state group trips. Mason can take part in those when he's older (and we just went on our first group field trip this past weekend, to tour the train shop and ride the train with 250 other homeschoolers). Another little-known fact is that homeschooled students are allowed by law to participate in any extra-curricular activities, including sports, as long as they meet the same qualifications that are required of public school students. If he wants to participate when he's older, it will happen.
  • No, I don't hate teachers (my own mother is a teacher!), but I do really enjoy being his instructor, and the one who figures out how his mind works, so I can tailor my lessons to him; I enjoy being there to see his face light up when he's finally mastered a new concept, or discovered something new about the world; and I love to see the wheels in his mind turn as he thinks of answers to problems. All things I would not witness on such a level, if I sent him to public school.
  • And lastly: yes, homeschooling will take up years of my life. 12 more years, to be exact. And they will be the most time-consuming, occasionally frustrating, but ultimately rewarding, years of our lives.

As I understand it, the opinions my friend has on the subject come from first-hand experiences with homeschooled friends she had who were very socially awkward. I can see where her worry comes from, but we're not all like that! And I am definitely not homeschooling my son with the intention of turning him into a sheltered social outcast.

Anyway, I just had to voice my thoughts on the subject, since I do my best arguing after it's already too late to make an argument. :) I'm just saying that it's easy to look at our school system, and believe that's where our children's only chance at being well-rounded human beings lies. And for many people, it is. I don't dispute that public schools are awesome, and much-needed. In fact, our very own school district happens to be fantastic (I grew up in it myself), and I know that it's only gotten better since I went to school. I have nothing against families who choose to send their children to public school, and I think it's a great option to go with if it's right for your family.

Just don't forget that it's not the only option out there. And just like homeschool isn't the right fit for all families, public school isn't the right fit for all families, either.

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