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Homeschool Socialization: Sophelia’s Testimony

March 19th, 2013 | Posted by Lana Hope in Homeschool

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Guest Post by Sophelia

One of the things that happens when you are homeschooled or unschooled is that you are placed in the position of advocate for your parents’ decisions about your education. You hear the homeschooling adults talking about how socialisation is a made-up problem, and you regurgitate the same lines when you are asked, because that is what children do. As my family was particularly high profile and unschooling was particularly unpleasant for me, I frequently found myself in the schizophrenic position of tearfully begging to be sent to school immediately after appearing on a television current affairs program as an example of a homeschooling success story. My ability to engage comfortably and articulately with adults was held up as proof of my well balanced socialisation, even as I went through an excruciatingly lonely and isolated childhood devoid of friends my own age. After leaving home I was driving with my mother one day when I noticed a girl who had been in the same circle of homeschooling families walking down the street with a large group of friends.

“Did Eliza end up getting sent to school?” I asked.

“Yes, in the end they did send her to school. How did you know?”

“She wouldn’t have a big group of friends like that otherwise” I replied. My mother looked at me in horror.

“Come ON, you know better than that!”

“Yes,” I said, “I know.”

I was the one who lived the reality behind the media spin. I was the one who experienced it firsthand. Neither of my parents had been homeschooled, yet they assumed that they knew what it was like. They had no idea. Their refusal even now to acknowledge my experiences is in some ways worse than the experiences themselves. I know that they did what they honestly believed to be the best for me, and that they were motivated by love for me. Even though I think they made the wrong choices, I can live with that. What I can’t forgive them for is continually denying the reality of my experience, and of minimising or dismissing the pain I experienced and continue to experience as a result of my lack of socialisation.

You don’t have to go far to find blogs by homeschool alumni detailing their struggles and regrets regarding socialisation. Many were homeschooled in a religious context, but that doesn’t mean that all of their experiences are a direct result of religion and that secular homeschoolers are immune. Homeschooling parents often comment on these blogs saying things like “your parents just didn’t do it properly” or something similar. The thing is, I guarantee you that all of the parents of these homeschool alumni genuinely believed that their children were being well socialised. Of course, some homeschooled children have a great experience and some schooled children have a bad one. However, it is frustrating for me when homeschoolers assume that all homeschooled children have a good experience and all schooled children have a negative one. Socialisation is incredibly important and needs to be addressed thoughtfully by all parents, homeschooling and schooling. As someone who struggles with the aftermath of poor socialisation it is upsetting to hear advice that is dismissive or seems to be saying “just don’t worry about it, it isn’t a big deal”. It is a really big deal. Again, let me say that my parents were convinced that I was well socialised.

Something like Girl Scouts would have made all the difference in my childhood. I spent a lot of time with other homeschooled kids, which really doesn’t help, and attended ballet and violin lessons and sang in a choir. Although these activities involved being in a room with other children my age, none of them involved working together in groups, unsupervised interactions or long-term relationships with a consistent group of the same kids. So while my parents would point to all my activities as evidence of my socialisation, in fact I was just lonely and awkward in a crowded room instead of an empty one. It’s about quality not quantity (which is one reason that going to school doesn’t necessarily mean a child is being well socialised). If I had a falling out with another homeschooled child, I just never spoke to them again. I never had the experience of fighting with someone and then making up. It is such fundamental life skill, but unless you are together with someone regularly irrespective of your desires, it’s difficult to learn.

Homeschoolers often point to a child’s comfort speaking to “people of all ages” as a sign of successful “real-world” socialisation. I can say from personal experience that a child who confidently and comfortably interacts with adults is not necessarily well socialised. My own experience suggests the opposite. I was intellectually and academically advanced years ahead of my emotional and social development. At eight years old I was more comfortable discussing the minutiae of the reformation with a professor I bumped into at the university library (where I spent a lot of time) than I was playing with the girl my own age next door. I was an adult mind in a child’s body, and I saw the same thing in many of the other homeschooled kids I spent time with. We could discuss philosophy with each other all day long, but we didn’t know how to talk to ‘normal’ children. It was more than not feeling comfortable; it was like we came from another country and although we had studied their language the reality was disconcertingly different from our textbooks. Naturally, schooled children spend a lot of time talking about school and would just nod and smile, having no idea what “BTN” or whatever even was.

An articulate, self-confident child who converses easily with adults is not necessarily well socialised! And the belief that they are will make it all the harder for that child to cope with the problems they face when they do eventually try to participate in a group their own age. When parents constantly dismiss concerns about socialisation, children internalise it as true. Then if they have trouble relating to peers or interacting socially, they may blame themselves: “I know was well socialised, so it must be something inherently wrong with me. I’m unlikeable, I say the wrong things, I’m clumsy…” I felt this way, and many of my homeschooled peers also went through periods of great depression when they began attending university and couldn’t cope socially.

All parents need to be conscious of their child’s socialisation and proactive in making sure they are getting what they need. Socialisation is not only a concern for homeschoolers! Personality makes a huge difference. The elder of my brothers was a dreamy, lost-in-thought and decidedly strange child. He would have been miserable being forced into large groups in a school setting and would certainly have been bullied and tormented. He needed space and quiet to develop before he was ready to be around a lot of people, and home education was exactly right for him. For my older sister and myself, it was isolating, depressing and we fantasised about going to school. I am not trying to say that homeschooling and good socialisation are mutually exclusive. Depending on the child, the family, and the attention paid to socialisation homeschooling may be the best possible option. However, it upsets me to hear parents today giving the same throw away lines my own parents used about socialisation being a non-issue for homeschoolers and that a child who is comfortable interacting with adults is a paragon of socialisation.

Sophelia was homeschooled in Australia in a prominent homeschool family. She blogs at Sophelia’s Adventures in Japan about teaching, adopting, dog-wrangling and being vegetarian in Japan, with a side of martial arts a pop-culture geekiness.

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  • http://dbaug2uga.wordpress.com opinemine

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. It has given me a lot to ponder because I used the ability to converse with diverse people as a litmus test of sorts and now I’m re-examining that assumption.

    • http://sopheliajapan.blogspot.jp/ Sophelia

      As litmus tests go, it certainly isn’t a bad one! It just isn’t the only factor to consider :)

  • http://leavingfundamentalism.wordpress.com jonnyscaramanga

    Thank you for this brilliant explanation. This has helped me to understand my own experiences better. I wasn’t home schooled – just educated in a very small and isolated fundamentalist school, with few opportunities for group work, and none for meeting children outside of my own tiny subculture.

    I too was confident talking to adults. And when I have criticised my schooling in the past, adults have said, “Well, I’ve spoken to children from schools like yours and they all seemed very confident and polite.”

    This makes so much sense.

    • http://gravatar.com/campbellville Sharon

      Sophelia: Thank you for sharing your perspective – as a homeschooling Mom this was such an important message to hear. I found your blog because I was looking for research in the field – we only really know our families experience. There were two points that really stood out for me.

      I agree that listening to your kids is so important – I went to school and it was a nightmare, I got excellent grades but was bullied throughout. I also had the same experience with my parents – anytime I tried to raise the subject of how painful school was I was told not be silly, that I was just fine…. I have checked in with my own girls – and when they wanted to connect with other kids we made sure that happened.

      You also mentioned that you felt it would be important to be “involved working together in groups, unsupervised interactions or long-term relationships with a consistent group of the same kids” and I have to agree with you there too. I think the secret to our success in homeschooling was that we participated in a co-op where a group of 10 to 20 families hired a teacher and a space and for one day a week my daughters went to “school” They made lifelong friends, had falling outs, learned to work in a group, learned to make new friends, were successful on their own.

      Every homeschooling journey is unique – but as parents of homeschoolers I think we must pay attention to the social opportunities our children have – and sharing the impact of not having long term relationships built without parental supervision is really helpful Assuming that just because we homeschool and our kids are comfortable with adults means they are socialized is a real blindspot.

      I just wanted to share that there is a middle ground – where homeschoolers can get the benefit of “school” without all of the pitfalls.

      • Lana Hope

        I hope Sophelia sees this. But I thought I’d just add that I wish I could give you a hug. You get it. I still plan to homeschool my kids. I just see where homeschooling went wrong. Sophelia handled this well.

    • http://sopheliajapan.blogspot.jp/ Sophelia

      I’m sorry I didn’t reply earlier, and thank you for your kind words. Yes, homeschooling is definitely not the only circumstance where these conditions occur.

  • Lana

    I know, right? Sophelia helped me understand myself, too. I’ll put up more thoughts tomorrow.

  • Pingback: Homeschooling and the Parent-Child Socialization Divide()

  • Heather Roach

    Yesyesyesyesyes. What I’ve tried to understand myself and explain to others for years.

  • Anne

    I remember feeling this way too. Our family lived down the street from a highschool at one point, and I remember watching out my bedroom window every afternoon as the school kids walked by and wishing I could have the giddy happiness they had. I’d cry at nights listening to the cheering and music at football games, and wished I could go to highschool, but I was always taught how negative it was so I finally gave up hoping

    • http://sopheliajapan.blogspot.jp/ Sophelia

      I’m so sorry to hear that Anne. I hope you’re in a better place now.

  • sgl

    not exactly the same, but some overlap in ideas from the following excellent essay:
    —–
    http://theamericanscholar.org/the-disadvantages-of-an-elite-education/

    The Disadvantages of an Elite Education, By William Deresiewicz

    It didn’t dawn on me that there might be a few holes in my education until I was about 35. I’d just bought a house, the pipes needed fixing, and the plumber was standing in my kitchen. There he was, a short, beefy guy with a goatee and a Red Sox cap and a thick Boston accent, and I suddenly learned that I didn’t have the slightest idea what to say to someone like him. So alien was his experience to me, so unguessable his values, so mysterious his very language, that I couldn’t succeed in engaging him in a few minutes of small talk before he got down to work. Fourteen years of higher education and a handful of Ivy League degrees, and there I was, stiff and stupid, struck dumb by my own dumbness. “Ivy retardation,” a friend of mine calls this. I could carry on conversations with people from other countries, in other languages, but I couldn’t talk to the man who was standing in my own house.

    [….]

    I have a friend who went to an Ivy League college after graduating from a typically mediocre public high school. One of the values of going to such a school, she once said, is that it teaches you to relate to stupid people. Some people are smart in the elite-college way, some are smart in other ways, and some aren’t smart at all. It should be embarrassing not to know how to talk to any of them, if only because talking to people is the only real way of knowing them. Elite institutions are supposed to provide a humanistic education, but the first principle of humanism is Terence’s: “nothing human is alien to me.” The first disadvantage of an elite education is how very much of the human it alienates you from.
    —–

    • Lana

      Interesting. I always liked how Francis Schaeffer was said to have conversed well with intellects, hip hops, and any other who came their way. That’s broken in me. I get to feeling uncomfortable and freeze.

    • http://sopheliajapan.blogspot.jp/ Sophelia

      Yes! Absolutely!

  • Maddie

    Are you sure that your feelings don’t stem more from being advanced for your age? My oldest, who has been publicly schooled, has similar feelings about not relating to kids her age because her own intellectual level is much higher. She feels like a round peg in a square hole. My son, who is homeschooled, doesn’t like big crowds of kids, so he does much better in the smaller personal groups that are available to him as a homeschooler. Doing sports, scouts, a homeschool co-op class or two and playing with neighborhood kids now and then is enough for him for the most part. Maybe that will change as he gets older. Each child needs to be fitted to what will work best for THEM. You would likely have felt out of place in public school as well given how much more intellectually advanced you are. It’s possible you would have made a couple more close friends. For that, your parents are to blame for not helping you find situations where you could make a lifelong or longterm friend like that.

    • http://sopheliajapan.blogspot.jp/ Sophelia

      If your son is “doing sports, scouts, a homeschool co-op class or two” then he is getting all of the kinds of experiences I lament missing out on! I’m certainly not saying that homeschooling is inherently harmful to social development. In my case my loneliness was a direct result of the isolation I experienced that schooling would have resolved, and given the number of children in my family and our financial situation other extra-curricular activities that could have had the same effect were out of the question. I attended public school for grades 11 and 12, and was quickly welcomed into a group of friends all of whom I am still close to today (and one of whom I am married to, actually). Funnily, a lot of those friends were outsiders in the earlier years of their schooling and we were all the “odd” kids… but we found each other and it was wonderful. Year 12 was probably the happiest time of my life, and the only time I spent with friends every day. I am still very awkward in non-academic social situations, but the fact that I can function at all (and I include the workplace in that) is largely due to the re-education I got from my friends in how to behave.

      • http://sopheliajapan.blogspot.jp/ Sophelia

        Although, thinking about it, I should qualify that I do understand what your daughter means and I was fortunate that I was able to enroll for grade 11 at the age of 13, and university at 15, so my circle included people who were closer to my age intellectually than physically.

  • https://www.facebook.com/heather.shoemaker.77 Heather Shoemaker

    I got worse socialization in public school than my daughter does now in home school. This is a fact. I was better at conversing with adults than those my own age always. I did get bullied for that. Hip hip hurrah. I think there are some assumptions here about public school that just aren’t true.
    My daughter is incredibly smart – that is part of why I’m homeschooling. She’s incredibly social with a group of friends larger than I ever had. Last semester, she took drama lessons and chess once a week, swim and gymnastics twice a week, 4H once a month, several home school programs once a month (zoo, two nature centers) We will probably do less next semester because even though she loves each activity individually, she wants more free time with her friends. She has public school and home school friends from her age to several years older… far more friends than I ever had. There’s not that much time, in my experience 20 years ago for social things in public school – and I understand that’s expanding. We are secular home schoolers and I’m not trying to keep her away from anything and she knows she always has a voice in whether to stay home or go to public school and she loves it. (My friend did the same and her daughter went for a month before she realized the idealized picture she had built up of school was not true and she came back home.)
    I’m an introvert and begged to be home schooled.
    My daughter is an extrovert who makes friends so easily it’s foreign to me. We can hardly go to the playground without her making a new friend and me getting a call later – “Your daughter gave my son/daughter her number at the playground. Can we set up a play date?”

    I think everyone needs to evaluate their assumptions. You need to evaluate what you think happens in school. Some may need to evaluate whether their home school makes any real effort.

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