Consider yourself warned; this is going to get semantic.
Last week, on three consecutive days when in conversation about homeschooling I was asked “But what about socialization?” in those exact words.
There must be something in the air.
Then a few days ago, Sandra Dodd, in her blog Just Add Light & Stir, wrote a post called “Socializing”, in which she said, “When I was in elementary school, the lowest marks I got were C’s (average) in conduct, or deportment. I talked too much. Way more than once I was shushed in class with the admonition, “You’re not here to socialize.”
And once I read that, I remembered my own school teachers saying the same thing to classmates. “You’re not here to socialize.”
Do teachers still say this? And if they do, and if students are not in fact at school to socialize, then why do people believe school is where you learn to be socialized?
Let’s look at some definitions, just to be clear on what we’re all talking about.
The word socialize has two primary definitions, according to Merriam-Webster online. The first is:
1. “To mix or interact socially [= in companionship] with others”
2. “To make someone behave in a way that is acceptable to their society [=community].
I would suggest that teachers are using the first definition when they admonish kids in class, and the concerned citizens to whom I speak regarding homeschooling are thinking of the second.
In other words, people suspect that all homeschoolers are in danger of becoming the Unabomber.
But let’s look at definition #2 for a minute. I would argue that this form of socialization has more to do with conformity than the ability to function in the world of people and communities. To “make someone behave” a certain way implies coercion, and nowhere is coercion more evident in our society than in compulsory schooling. In the society of school, the only acceptable behavior is conformity without question.
Everybody else is getting C’s in conduct. (Or labeled as a troublemaker, or diagnosed with ADHD and put on Ritalin, or viewed as learning disabled and sentenced to remedial classes, etc.)
School, then, is not the place to enjoy the company of your friends, but is rather the place to display how well you can conform.
I would agree then, that homeschoolers are not well socialized in the acceptable school definition of the word.
The definition of socialization (As in, “what about it?”), though, is different and much more interesting. From Merriam-Webster again:
“Socialization is the lifelong process of inheriting and disseminating norms, customs and ideologies, providing an individual with the skills and habits necessary for participating within his or her own society.”
A lifelong process? As in it keeps happening even after leaving school? Go figure! But then, if that is true and socialization happens after people leave school, wouldn’t it stand to reason that you don’t really need school for it at all? School, after all, is a society in and unto itself. Maybe you need particular social skills (or type of socialization) to be able to make it through school relatively unscathed, but those skills generally do not apply out in the “real world”. The world in which most homeschooled kids spend the majority of their time.
I would argue that homeschoolers (and especially unschoolers) hold the advantage when it comes to the remainder of the definition as well. Since they spend their time in the world and not in school, they are more efficient at picking up on societal norms, customs and ideologies and probably develop the skills they need to participate in their society at a younger age than do kids whose only concern until the age of 17 or 18 is the society of school. However, since conformity is NOT part of being socialized as an unschooler, it is far more likely that such a child will question certain established norms and have no fear about speaking out for change when they see injustice; they are more likely to be accepting of those that school might label as inferior and less likely to judge based on socioeconomic status.
So what about socialization?
All of the above.