In addition to morals and politics, most any homeschooling family will agree that a major drive to homeschooling is the desire to foster closer and healthier family and societal relationships.
Homeschooling families believe that the home and the family provide a better basis to grow community that the public school and the state. In 2003, the first survey of homeschooling families in Quebec identified as a dominant motivation “a desire to pursue a family educational project” and “a preoccupation with their children’s socioaffective development” (Basham 11).
The Oregon and Utah studies and other surveys like the 1996 and 1998 NHES, discussed in the previous section, as well as studies into the demographic characteristics of homeschooling families, support this finding of commonality. Observations of homeschooled students versus traditionally schooled students in social settings lend credence to the claim that homeschooling more successfully develops healthy socialization skills in children.
Beginning as in the last section with the U.S. Census and NHES data from Bauman, a logistic regression of homeschooled status on background and family characteristics found that the actual percentage of homeschoolers with a parent at home was 10.2 standard deviations above the average. Percentage-wise, among homeschooled students, 61.2% had a non-working parent in 1999; among public schooled students, this fraction falls to 26%.
These statistics underscore the emphasis that the homeschooling community places on family relationships. This is not to say that parents who opt to send their children to public or private schools do not foster similar bonds, but rather that homeschoolers have an advantage. Homeschooling allows for the fast development of strong, healthy bonds among family members, which connections have been associated in other studies with positive cognitive development, academic performance, and socialization in children.
A few noteworthy studies applying widely used and reliable measures like the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales have demonstrated the sociorelational benefits of homeschooling. On the Vineland Test, homeschooled students outperformed traditionally schooled students in “communication, daily living skills, socialization, and social maturity”, and had a mean overall score in the 84th percentile, while traditionally schooled students scored in the 23rd percentile (Medlin 113).
In his 299-page thesis, Dr. Larry Shyers used the Direct Observation Form of the Child Behavior Checklist to compare the play of 70 entirely-homeschooled students and 70 entirely-public schooled students between the ages of 8 and 10. This checklist lists 80+ behaviors whose occurrences observers rate on a scale from 0 to 3, with 0 meaning no occurrence and 3 meaning definite occurrence that is intense, high frequency, or longer that three minutes. Behaviors listed include “acts too young for age”, “gets in physical fights”, “teases”, and “complains.”
The results of these observations: Conventionally-schooled children, on average, scored eight times higher than homeschooled students.
Based on the observations by Medlin and Shyers that contrast the socialization skills of homeschooled students and traditionally schooled students, homeschooled students seem to exhibit greater social maturity, particularly in group play with peers.
Various characteristics of homeschooling may account for the differences in relationships and maturity between homeschooled students and traditionally schooled students, among them the absence of high-stakes testing and competition in a homeschooling environment and the influence of mature adults who generally demonstrate healthier social behaviors than peers.
Several studies have also assessed the self-concept of homeschooled students compared to traditionally schooled students, among them one of the largest: a 1986 study by Andrews University Doctor of Philosophy candidate John Wesley Taylor, who tested 224 homeschooled students using the Piers-Harris Children’s Self Concept Scale, a 60-item self-report questionnaire for children ages 7 to 18. Compared to published norms for public schooled students, homeschoolers scored significantly higher for various test subscales (Medlin 114).
Another study in 1997 conducted a matched comparison among exclusively homeschooled, private schooled, and public schooled students found that the homeschooled students score in 42 or 63 measures of college performance exceeded that of the private schooled and public schooled (Medlin 115). In fact, many of the indicators in which homeschooled students led the pack involved leadership ability, suggesting that the homeschooling experience provides more opportunities to build leadership skills.
Taking into account the present circumstances in the United States, these findings on the sociorelational benefits of homeschooling should not be ignored. In the last half-century, the landscape of American society and the make-up of the American family has changed, and these changes have deeply affected the social relationships and self-concepts of children.
A social shift beginning in the 1950s and 1960s with the civil rights movement brought many mothers into the workforce. In 2012, over half of two-parent households functioned with dual incomes (“The Rise” 1). A dual-income is not in and of itself negative, but it does alter the parent-child intimacy and dynamics. In addition to the growing population of dual-income households, divorce rates spiked in the decades after civil rights. In 1960, 9 marriages ended in divorce for every 1,000 existing marriages; in 1987, this figure jumped to 21 (Popenoe 531). In 1974, divorce replaced death as the number one marriage dissolver.
Marriage has lost its permanence, so more children live in broken homes. As the divorce rate has grown, society has come to more readily accept it as a normal circumstance. Hand-in-hand, the number of working single-parents rises. These changes together have weakened parental influence and authority so that “the peer group and the mass media” have greater importance in children’s upbringing (Popenoe 536).
Altogether, while Americans may still like the idea of having a family, they are deinvesting in the development of it (Popenoe 538). Instead, they leave that task to outside organizations like the public school.
When children do not have the sufficient support or involvement of their parent(s), they will inevitably turn to peers. Peer influence and pressure then manifests in deviant activities and behavior, such as those that Dr. Larry Shyers noted in public schooled students on the Direct Observation Form of the Child Behavior Checklist.
Professor Robert Laird of applied developmental psychology wrote about this relationship in 1996. He worked with a student cohort from the Child Development Project in Tennessee and Indiana that studied children’s social adaptation. The project began when the students were entering kindergarten; Laird and other graduate students conducted their interviews and questionnaires with the children when they were 12 or 13 years old. The methods measured the relationship between internalizing and externalizing behavior problems and friendship qualities, friendship group affiliation, best friend antisocial behavior, and friendship group antisocial behavior. Laird’s results discovered that the four relations variables measured significantly affected externalizing behaviors in adolescents (Laird 45, 70, 72).
Using a sample of tenth-graders whose data the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) collected, Alejandro Gaviria of the Interamerican Development Bank and Steven Raphael of the University of California, Berkeley, also found correlations between peer influence and engagement in drug use, alcohol drinking, cigarette smoking, and church going, and the likelihood of dropping out (Gaviria 263).
By raising and educating children at home, homeschooled parents better ensure that positive, mature role models influence the relational skills and behavior of their children, rather than potentially negative peer groups, such as those explored by Laird, Gaviria, and Raphael.