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The Socialization Question in Homeschooling

The following is my take on the run-away most overrated or underrated (depending on your own take) question on homeschooling. I wrote it nine (!) years ago when we were homeschooling all four children, and posted it in my now-deleted blog. I have revised certain parts, but on the whole, my stand remains.  And it is this: socialization is a non-issue. The article frequently draws context from the Philippine culture and my own experience.  

Socialization, defined. I define socialization as the process of dealing with and trying to get along with other people. The composition of "other people" includes not just one's peers. It includes older and younger people. It also includes people who are not necessarily in the same undertaking, e.g., being a student, that one is in.

Image courtesy of Vlado
Family dynamics. Socialization, not surprisingly like charity, begins at home. Homeschoolers socialize with their siblings; some siblings may be close to their age, while some may be older or younger by quite a number of years. My eldest and youngest kids were born ten years apart. The two middle children have an age difference of less than two years. Necessarily, homeschoolers also socialize with grownups because at least one grownup is in personal contact with them the whole time. In the Philippine culture, "grownups" refer to parents, and depending on circumstances, extended family and household help. Everyone living under one roof comprise the family. In my own family now, we do not employ household help, but in my my family of birth, we called our nanny "Inay", the Tagalog word for mother, and the other helpers, "Ate" or "Manang", which mean "elder sister". We call our biological mom, "Ma". This is not uncommon in Filipino families. Properly lived out, the arrangement reinforces - rather than dilute - the children's affection or respect for their parents.

Because homeschooled children have their siblings and at least one parent for company most of the time, the quality of family socialization is potentially better. They eat most or all meals together - leisurely, for schedules are not rigid, and there is time for old-fashioned conversation. They do house chores together and fight over them, negotiate, and may or may not arrive at a consensus. They study together, hush up those who read aloud too often, and reprimand those who use up too much paper and lose pencils all the time. They cheer on the little one who is just beginning to read, and dissuade a discouraged sibling from giving up a sport.

The content of socialization is not limited to academics, teachers and classmates, sports, and other usual concerns of the young. Children listen to their parents talk about rising prices, current events, and issues in the workplace. Gradually, they earn the privilege of joining in "usapang matanda" or grownup talk because they know enough and/or they are confident enough. (I feel some sense of victory when they manifest both.) Of course, children attending regular schools experience this, too, in their respective families. However, because they may be exposed to contradictions outside the home at an age when they are not yet discerning, confusion is likely to set in.

Image courtesy of sattva
Even counting the people they meet in homeschooling groups and sports and music classes outside the home, homeschooled children do socialize with fewer people. However, I have yet to hear of a "socialization quota" or of a "critical mass" required to raise a well-adjusted child. What I know is that respectfulness, supportiveness, and kindness are traits that are appreciated anywhere one goes.

Awareness of community. Awareness of community is easily inculcated in homeschooled children. In our neighborhood, garbage is collected on Monday and Thursday mornings when just about those left in the neighborhood  are stay-at-home moms, household help, children who are too young to go to school, and my kids (who occasionally get asked if they go to school at all). My children witness firsthand how difficult and risky the job of a garbage collector can be. They know that those who do not cooperate with the waste segregation policy make the situation worse.  They become conscious of the garbage that we generate, and dutifully sort them. When the "diario-bote" (literally, "newspaper-bottle", but refers to recyclable junk) guy was not seen for some time, they worried that he might be sick or might have died, being advanced in years.

Image courtesy of Vlado
Which brings me to the goal of socialization, for surely, socialization should not be without an end. Any form of socialization should aim to undertake an activity that is beneficial for all members of society, such as education, employment. and governance. How do you train a child to play a meaningful part in the dynamics of these activities when he is all grown up? I am not a psychologist, and as a parent, I trust my instinct. So if there is only one thing that I can teach my children about getting along with other people, it is this -- you have to be able to put yourself in their shoes. In their situation. In their person. It is called empathy.

Peer influence. Now, when one one talks about socialization in the context of schooling, one also has to cover peer influence. So let's do that. (Finally.)

One of the selling points of homeschooling to Husband and me is that it gives us a good degree of control over the peer influence that our children receive. C-o-n-t-r-o-l? Yes, because our children are minors and we are responsible parents. Why do we worry about peer influence? Because it come from people, who like our children, are still in their formative years. They are in a self-centered and unstable phase in their lives. They need a definite road map and a reliable compass.

For example, when my children have questions about life, I want to be the first person that they will go to. It gives me the creeps to consider that they might learn these things - unsolicited - from a grossly misinformed yet over-confident youth. Guess who has to do the undoing.

Image courtesy of Vlado
Of course, peer influence could also be positive. My high school barkada (group of friends, clique, maybe?) was a diligent lot. We took studying seriously, and we all did rather well academically. My college buddy was the serious type, but we spent many happy Thursday afternoons throwing all cares aside in the name of duckpin bowling. I've kept most of these friendships through the years, and I am both proud and thankful.

Will our children be deprived of similar friendships because they are homeschooled? No. No. No. One day, when they are ready and self-assured, they will go to college or find a job. Then out of prudence rather than luck or whim, they will find friends that they can further mature and trek life with. In the meantime, there are Tatay (Father), Nanay (Mother), siblings, cousins, grandparents, uncles, aunts, coaches, tutors, helpers, some of the neighbors' kids, and other kids that they can meet in homeschooling groups and sports and music classes. We make rather good company.  


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