When discussing homeschooling, a question that almost always arises is: “But what about socialization?” The assumption that homeschooling does not provide adequate socialization stems from the belief that homeschoolers live in a bubble, and that “real” socialization can only occur in a public school setting.
As aforementioned studies have asserted, homeschooled students socialize just as well and sometimes even better than traditionally schooled students. Therefore, the debate over the socialization skills of homeschoolers then turns to the question of isolation and insulation.
In his critical analysis “Away with All Teachers: the cultural politics of homeschooling”, Apple likens the home school institution to a gated community that separates students from the “city”, i.e. danger and heterogeneity (66). Homeschooling parents, he claims, create a cocoon for their children wherein they have little to no interaction with divergent views and majority to full engagement with a “safe”, homogenous view.
Mayberry and Knowles identified the “desire to protect or isolate their children from unwanted ideologies or influences” as a common theme among homeschooling families, and therein lies Apple’s concern about socialization (Mayberry 221). Does isolating students from opposing ideologies or influences do them good or harm?
In his literature review on the competing interests in the field of education, Moran cites the statements of Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania; William Galston, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institutions’s Governance Studies Program; and Stephen Macedo, Laurence S. Rockefeller Professor of Poltics at Princeton University, to discuss reasons that the state’s interest in a child’s education should be recognized.
Gutmann acknowledges the right of parents to impart their values on their children, but also contends that parents do not have the right to absolute totality of their children’s education. Homeschooling that insulates children from conflicting lives or thinking does not well prepare them for adult life, when they will inevitably encounter such. Through public education, the state equips future citizens, i.e. students, with the “ ‘the intellectual skills necessary to evaluate ways of life different from that of their parents’ ” (qtd. in Moran 1083).
Galston echoes similar sentiments about the role of public education in preparing students for independent lives. He does not suggest that parents “ ‘yield all moral authority to the state’ ”, but rather that the isolation of this responsibility to parents alone stifles the student’s ability to develop civic principles or to engage in a liberal society (qtd. in Moran 1084).
Going a step further than Gutmann and Galston, Macedo offers a concrete example of the effects that “insulated” education may have on students. He references Mozert v. Hawkins County (1987), a case between Christian parents and the local school board of Hawkins County, Tennessee.
In Mozert, mother of four Vicki Frost objected to the reading program that the Hawkins County schools adopted, which used the Holt, Rinehart and Winston basic reading series, abbreviated as the Holt series, for grades 1-8. Discovering several themes in her sixth grade daughter’s assigned reading that conflicted with her born-again Christianity, Frost and other parents made an agreement with the Church Hill Middle School to offer an alternative reading program.
In November of 1983, the Hawkins County schools voted to rid of the alternative reading program, which pushed the parents to file a lawsuit a month later. The parents complained that forced reading of the objectionable Holt readers constituted a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. In court, Mrs. Frost testified,
“that it would be acceptable for the schools to teach her children about other philosophies and religions, but if the practices of other religions were described in detail, or if the philosophy was ‘profound’ in that it expressed a world view that deeply undermined her religious beliefs, then her children ‘would have to be instructed to [the] error [of the other philosophy]’ ” (United States).
Macedo interprets the plaintiffs’ appeals as an attempt to cocoon their children and shield them from differing beliefs, viewpoints, et cetera. In essence, Mrs. Frost requests that the public school promote Biblical views as correct and all others as incorrect.
Personal religious beliefs aside, Mrs. Frost’s suggestion has numerous fallacies, among them the contest of the Free Exercise Clause again. Furthermore, exposing children to only one perceived “right” perspective, as opponents claim that homeschooling does, hampers students’ democratic discourse, in which citizens discuss diverse opinions in an atmosphere of reasonable disagreement.
Apple’s and other opponents’ concerns about personalization threatening democratic discourse, unintended isolation from peers, and insulation from alternative life choices and diversity certainly have merit, given that control and protection rank as two of the four most important issues for homeschooling parents (Mayberry 213). Certainly, for some homeschoolers this may be the case. For the most part, however, parents who have made the sacrifices to home-educate their children do not intend to make them social misfits.
While a homeschooled environment may provide a more sheltered education experience, it does not necessarily create an anti-social one. In fact, the 2003 survey by Canadian Centre of Home Education found that Canadian homeschooled students regularly participated in eight outside social activities, including programs with public school students (Van Pelt 90). An American study emerged with the slightly lower but still significant average of 5.2 outside activities (Romanowski 80).
As far as integration into the community goes, homeschooled students, in addition to spending a considerable part of the day with their parents, are also exposed to a wide variety of people of many different ages, which better prepares them for real life.
Furthermore, in a survey of 230 American homeschoolers, Dr. Brian D. Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) concluded that 69% had continued in some form of post-secondary education while 31% directly entered the workforce, which percentages compare with traditional students (Medlin 115).
The research discussed in the previous sections on the socialization skills of homeschooled students as measured by such assessments as the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales and Adaptive Behavior Inventory for Children further support to assertion that homeschoolers socialize as well as, and maybe even better, than traditionally schooled students.