23 Apr 2014

There is one question that every homeschool parent dreads. I bet you know the one I mean: “What about socialization?” Homeschool graduates like me dread a related comment: “You were homeschooled? But you’re so normal!” Cue the eye rolls. Yes, we know; it is a modern miracle.

No matter how many studies point to the success of homeschool graduates in college, in the workplace and in civic life, the socialization question persists. It is easy to become frustrated by the impression that homeschooling culture operates on such a different level that cross-cultural communication with outsiders is simply impossible. I used to agree.

However, having successfully navigated college, graduate school and several years of working life, I have dulled with distance the anxiety that such comments used to induce. As a result, I have started to consider why this question recurs and how better to engage the question-askers in meaningful conversation.

I spent several months last year editing a book project with Leigh Bortins of Classical Conversations. The Question: Teaching Your Child the Essentials of Classical Education explains a series of question types that ancient philosophers used to structure good discussions and inquiries about every subject, from science and math to literature and history. The question-asker seeks to fulfill these five tasks:

  1. define terms
  2. compare to other examples
  3. find the relationship between ideas
  4. consider circumstances
  5. evaluate the testimony on both sides

(I use the mnemonic device “Don’t Call Reeds Cat-Tails” to help me remember the questions.)

Trust me, after doing line edits on the same book for six months, the key words are burned into my memory for a long time to come! When I received the dreaded socialization question a few weeks ago from a friend, I was able to call on what I had learned and use the five question types in my response. As a result, instead of hotly defending my current level of socialization and normality, I began by asking questions.

The first question I asked my friend was what he meant by the word socialization. That phrase is used often in connection with homeschooling, but individuals rarely stop to define it and make sure that both parties are using the same definition. In this case, my friend and I talked about his social experience during high school: clubs, organizations, prom, sports, classroom interactions and adult mentors. Then I talked about my social experience, and he listened as I described the types of activities, friendships and mentoring that were available to me as a homeschooler.

This line of conversation led naturally into other questions, as we began to compare his social experience as a student to mine. We discovered that he had spent more time with a variety of people his own age—some friends, some merely acquaintances. I had spent time with a smaller group of people my own age but more time with people outside my age bracket.

We moved on to talk about the relationship between socialization and outcomes deemed positive: acceptance to and success in college, a profitable and rewarding career and a community of family and friends. Do these positive results come from spending time in school choirs and on swim teams? Could they come from other experiences as well? We joked about the outcomes that people fear, such as a vague weirdness and the inability to talk to strangers. We agreed that other factors, such as personality and home environment, were likely to outweigh school when it comes to an individual’s comfort level in social situations. Every type of school has its introverts, extroverts, geeks, athletes, mad scientists, future librarians and dreamy artists.

I also asked my friend what he knew about the circumstances surrounding homeschooling today. He was unfamiliar with homeschool sports teams, so I told him about playing on a soccer team with Forsyth Home Educators. In turn, we talked about the challenges of standardized testing and national standards he had seen in public education. We talked about North Carolina’s education budget and the salaries of teachers. I learned from him as well.

Finally, as the conversation wound down, I asked my friend why he had expected homeschoolers not to be socialized. Had he met a stereotypical homeschooler? (Did he know any good jokes about the subject?) In another situation, I might have shared additional testimony about homeschooling. Last year, I conducted a survey of Classical Conversations alumni. More than four hundred responded, and the results told a compelling story. Over ninety percent of the alumni had participated in church or community service work. Over half had served as political volunteers or missionaries while in high school. Over half had participated in extracurricular activities such as sports or performing arts. Of those who chose to go on to college, sixty-six percent had been accepted by every school to which they had applied.

Today, homeschoolers have access to a plethora of information suggesting that homeschooling can produce positive outcomes for its graduates, but we do not always work this evidence into our conversations because we are not asking enough questions, or the right ones. Unless we ask about the origin of the socialization question and the fears underlying it, we may never have a chance to share our own evidence in response.

Whether we like it or not, the socialization question is still out there. The good news is that today’s homeschoolers have a choice. We can stammer a defense and hurry away, promising never to frequent that restaurant, family reunion, or book club again; we can run over the offender’s toes with a grocery cart, if one is handy (not recommended); or we can treat the question as an opportunity for conversation, using good questions to promote an honest dialogue, open ears and mutual respect.

Sample Definition Questions

  • What do you mean by “socialization”?
  • What did socialization look like for you in school?
  • Can there be too much socialization?
  • What kind of socialization is positive?
  • What kind is negative?

Sample Comparison Questions

  • How is homeschooling similar to public schooling? How are they different?
  • What opportunities do homeschoolers have today that they did not have ten years ago?
  • What kind of socialization does homeschooling provide?
  • What kind of socialization do public schools provide?
  • What kind of socialization do conventional private schools provide?

Sample Relationship Questions

  • What are the consequences of good socialization, in your opinion?
  • What are the consequences of poor socialization?
  • What factors contribute to a good outcome in education? Is socialization the only one?

Sample Circumstance Questions

  • What is possible for homeschoolers today?
  • What are the circumstances surrounding homeschooling today?
  • What are the circumstances surrounding public schools today? Private schools?

Sample Testimony Questions

  • What do statistics say about the outcomes for homeschoolers?
  • What do homeschool graduates say about their experiences?
  • How do homeschool graduates fare in college?
  • What skills do employers say they seek in job candidates?
  • Can homeschooling produce those the desired skills?
  • Do homeschoolers usually homeschool their own children?