If you're a home educator or are thinking about home education, prepare yourself. You will likely be flooded with questions and skepticism about this concept of socialization.
It is, in my opinion, one of the most misunderstood aspects of home education. It is also one of the foundational reasons why so many people CHOOSE to educate at home. So, the basis on which we build our home is often the basis for much skepticism and critique.
There are many questions that spiral around this one concept- I've narrowed it down to the top four and will try hard to accurately and humbly respond to them in this post.
Maybe (I'm praying) these responses can help home educators by reminding them of some foundational truths that will help them stand firm in their choices. Maybe (praying harder) these responses can also shed light for the nay-sayers and help all of us understand more openly this misunderstood concept of 'socialization'.
Here are two common questions and two common criticisms and some possible responses to them:
Question- "If you homeschool,
how are you going to socialize your children?"
In a nutshell, the answer to this question is simple:
Actually, I don't want to socialize my children.
The truth is, there is a lot of confusion as to what 'socialization' really means.
Let's take a look:
1. a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position.
v. so·cial·ized, so·cial·iz·ing, so·cial·iz·es
1. To place under government or group ownership or control.
2. To make fit for companionship with others; make sociable.
3. To convert or adapt to the needs of society.
To socialize a child is to put them in a place or social setting which will either force or entice them to conform to societal norms. They will also learn their proper 'place' in society, as depicted to them by their peers and the school system.
Now, I don't know about you, but isn't this what we're trying to avoid? Especially within Christian homes? Parents - we don't WANT our children to be socialized to today's norms! We want our children to be set apart; individuals, thinkers, free-spirited, grounded in their faith and standing on their own two feet. Ready to be a non-conformists, ready to live life as a powerful movers and shakers for God.
When I hear from parents who have chosen to pull their children from school, one of the main reasons is the negative social impact school was having on their kids. Whether it was as bad as a bullying issue or just the influence of negative attitudes, materialism, media exposure from other children, you name it. When our children are 'socialized' by their peer group, the parents are left out of the picture without much say in the way of what our children are taking in for many hours every day.
Rather than having their hearts and minds formed in the home where Christ is center - their hearts and minds are left as open playgrounds for whatever influences come by the way of the peer. And research has shown that the disconnected peer's biggest influence is the Media. It doesn't take long to figure out why so many of our schooled children are floundering.
What does the bible say about socialization?
"Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."
"Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect." (NIV)
Question- "Aren't you afraid
your children won't be socialized?"
As I mentioned above, most people don't understand what the word 'socialized' actually means. So, painting this question with grace, I'd like to offer something-
I think what people are really asking is if we're afraid our children won't have social skills.
The answer? No, I'm not even slightly afraid.
I find it mind boggling how many people will shake their head and blindly point fingers at home educators for 'stunting' our child's social advancement.
How is it that as a society we feel 'school' is a healthy breeding ground for a myriad of beneficial social skills? Ask any teacher who has spent long periods of time in the current classroom and I'm sure they'd tell a different story. Children cannot possibly learn the best of social interactions from other children. It is the blind leading the blind.
I do not want a classroom of 27 five year olds training my precious five year old how to behave. That would be disastrous. And it is. Even worse, I certainly do not want a building full of a thousand 14-17 year olds demonstrating 'acceptable behavior' for my children. We have an absolutely chaotic processes of 'training' our children how to be adequately 'social' in our society.
The masses are suggesting that by putting my child in school, he will be properly trained in social graces and communication skills. He will also gain a solid foundation for relating to other people and learn vital positive, mature social skills that will follow him for life.
SERIOUSLY? Parents, do we truly believe that a school setting is going to do this for the child? Think about the interactions you had as a child in school. There was nothing mature or graceful about the social setting. It was generally ruthless, cut-throat, and pitted child against child in a crazy game of survival of the fittest. Teachers can do their utmost to inspire politeness, compassion and other positive personality traits - but I'm sure most would agree it is an uphill battle. The sheer fact that kids are packed together with swarms of other kids is a recipe for disaster. It isn't a natural way to grow and learn.
If we want our children to grow to be adults with a deep-rooted desire and ability to love and relate to others, we need to start in the family unit and STAY in the family unit for as long as possible.
As a disciple of Christ, I believe I'm called to raise my children to love and follow Jesus. This means, raising them to love God and love people. Fundamental in this process is growth in their love of others - learning how to reach out, encourage, and communicate in a loving and genuine manner. Isn't this the foundation of a healthy 'social life'? That our kids grow to love Jesus and want to be more like Him in their daily interactions? More filled with love and compassion, more able to humbly serve others? I want more than anything for our family to walk with Christ and be lovers of people, life-givers. I desperately want to be the kind of person other people WANT to be around, because love and grace and a gentle spirit are what pours out of me. And I want the same for our children. We're on the journey together.
How can the school possibly offer this kind of upbringing? When peers play a major role in 'raising up' the child, how on earth could these deep rooted values be set in place?
Surround the child in a family-centered, loving, grace-based atmosphere and the child will likely grow to family-centered, loving, and full of grace.
"It's unhealthy for kids to be with adults all the time - they need to be with their peers. They need their friends."
It has only been in very recent history that children have been placed with their direct age-related peer groups for long periods of daily time. This was basically unheard of for most of history and is still largely unheard of in many cultures where family is the primary place of growth.
We don't need to look too closely at the current state of schools and kid and teen culture to see where peer reliance has brought us. How many more articles will I have to read about preteens and teens committing suicide because their peers called them worthless and tortured them emotionally and physically? A generally mean-spirited attitude of criticism - the cyber bullying and physical bullying in our schools are all breeding hopelessness in the hearts of our kids.
As parents, we are not called to throw our children into peer-centered groups in order to 'socialize' them to the norms of our current society. Our role is to bring up children on a daily basis in love- centered homes that train them up in the 'way they should go'. How can we 'train them up' if we aren't with them?
In essence, when we send our children to school every day, all day, we hand over this process to the system and their peers. The child is now looking to her friends and her social network for cues about what is important, how to act, how to treat others, and what to believe. The friends become, in essence, a replacement for the family while the child is away. It is a coping mechanism.
So many parents tell me how they cannot even speak to their preteen. I've been told point blank, "You wait. When your kids gets to be a certain age, he'll have no use for you." I completely disagree. The concept that preteens and teens will eventually unavoidably hate their parents is a lie. Our relationship with our children is in our own hands.
The schooled child often grows to treat the parent as an outsider because they have formed bonds with peers in place of that vital parent-child bond. I highly recommend reading, Hold on to Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld. This books goes into great detail about how children form attachments and how they are literally physiologically incapable of forming close attachments to both parents and peers. Eventually, one will rule out the other.
I want to mention - there are many families that have this amazing ability to do both. They send their child to school AND maintain a very close parent-child relationship. It is beautiful, but not the norm. Parents who maintain a very close friendship with their schooled children work extremely hard at it. Most have also have always placed family above the institution of school.
Children do not need more time with friends, they need more time with their family. It's not better for children to spend MORE time with their peers. It is important that children spend LESS time with their peers. In a healthy, vibrant family, the siblings are friends to each other. I'm not suggesting children not have friends. Of course, friends are a wonderful, valuable part of childhood. What I am suggesting is that friends should play a much smaller role in the life of the child with family taking the much larger role. In our family, other children are warmly welcomed into the home and friendships are kindled - but this is on a minimal basis.
"Homeschoolers aren't preparing their kids for reality.
School would prepare them for real life."
The idea that school teaches children how to live in the 'real world' is absolutely insane.
When children go to school, they go to a fake society in a large metal box. They are separated completely from the 'real' world and have to conform to the societal and social norms of said school. They then spend all day being told what to do, when to do it, how to do it, where to do it and how long to do it for. They have to ask permission to simply go to the bathroom and have to respond to a bell every time it rings. There is very little to no freedom. They also spend all day, every day with 25 or more people exactly their own age.
School is nothing like real life. The thought that school prepares children for reality is founded on nonsense.
You know what prepares kids for real life? Living real life. Period. Spending time playing. Learning how to engage with books. Understanding what freedom and true discipline mean. Learning how to self-teach. Learning what their true passions and giftings are. Learning how to serve God and family. Learning how to do chores and be responsible, and visit neighbors, and shop on a budget. Growing as a person in character and habit in the confines of a supportive family unit. Learning new skills and meeting new and interesting people of all ages. Communicating with and learning from a variety of people and resources.
Being part of the real life community culture. Living every day, outside, free to wander, free to grow, free to be part of the world around them outside of confined walls. Free to meet God in peace and quiet. Free to rest.
In the 'real world', children can be free to learn that education is a state of mind - not something shoved on us by a 'teacher'. That education, true education is something they as a person own and wear all by themselves. That their life, their walk with God, their learning, and yes, their ability to relate to people, to 'socialize', is all part of this natural process call life learning. And life learning is done when we live life. Real life. Authentic life.
See, for me, the truth about Socialization is this - we educate at home because we are deeply aware of the realities surrounding this issue. Not because we are ignorant, not because we aren't concerned about our child's well-being, but because we are so vibrantly aware, so incredibly invested in what is absolutely best for our child's soul.
We educate at home because we believe nothing is more important than the daily love and support of a close-knit family. A family who loves God and each other.
If you believe this too - stand firm.
Friends - the world would love to tell you that it will do a better job of raising your children. It won't. The world is full of lies. The school system cannot and will not teach your child the kind of social lessons necessary to truly thrive emotionally and spiritually.
The world would love to tell you that if you choose to walk a different road, your children will suffer for it. I'm here to whisper truth - the path may be narrow, but it leads to life.
Trust your heart.
Trust the word of God.
Trust your children.
Everything else will fall into place.