Faulty socialization and homeschooling

“But what about socialization?”

That’s usually the first question I hear in response to the information that we’re homeschooling, as I know it is for lots of other homeschooling parents.

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There are lots of great posts about there on the subject of socialization, including passionate posts about what’s wrong with the school-based socialization in the first place, those sharing results of research on socialization of homeschoolers (both pro- and con-), reasons its hard to avoid socializing homeschooled kids, tips on how to find opportunities for socialization, and those embracing a lack of socialization as an advantage.

I’m not going to weigh in on any of these aspects of homeschooling. Frankly, the territory is well-covered.

Those who know us know that L is often out and among others – those younger than her, her age, and older than her. Those in multi-age groups. Those in formal lesson-based settings. Those in open-ended, creative settings. Weekly brunches. Daisy Girl Scouts. You get the idea. And anyone who is still concerned about our form homeschooling and socialization is likely not going to be convinced by anything I say here, anyway.

I want to explore a different perspective the problem of homeschooling and socialization.

The problem isn’t with L’s socialization. It’s with mine. It’s the extent to which my socialization gets in the way of homeschooling.

I attended traditional schools from primary school through earning a doctoral degree. I taught in middle schools. I teach teachers how to teach in schools. I am firmly socialized into the context of schools.

I am socialized into the idea that learning happens on a schedule, whether daily, weekly, thematically, or otherwise. The way I experienced school and enforced school on others, there were defined times for defined subjects. The time and schedule were the constant, with the learning as the variable. As a student in a class of 30, my individual needs and preferences weren’t the primary drivers of instructional planning (nor is it realistic for my child’s to be – particularly given how specific and different from the norms of school they are!).

I am socialized into the idea that a child’s grade matches their chronological age. I struggle with not knowing how to answer (or help L answer) when people ask what grade she’s in. Typically, we fumble around for a minute and then mumble something about her being 5 and homeschooled. People feel awkward enough at that point to let us off the hook, I think.

I am socialized into the idea that we must all achieve a set amount of learning in each subject in each year. I have no doubt that L will eventually even out in terms of her interests, and she learns quickly and easily enough that I don’t fear that she’ll reach college and be functionally illiterate in any subject. However, she’s simply not interested in social studies right now. My urge is to enforce pursuit of everything instead of trusting that my child has wide-ranging curiosity and that curiosity will lead her to in-depth understanding.

I am socialized into the idea that learning must produce something. Something that I can judge or grade or assess or whatever you want to call it. Today in co-op, there were a ton of great activities out for children to explore. Making an articulated hand from drinking straws. The book Stick Man complete with a huge pile of sticks and material and hot glue guns to make your own. 3-d construction with paper tubes. Painting sticks. Valentine’s mad-libs. Instead of trying any of them, L engaged in three hour-long open-ended play sessions. She spent significant time playing with Playmobil animals and creating an imagined reality. This time was partially alone and partially with other children. She created an open-ended set of creations with Duplos, an activity we have at home but she rarely gravitates toward. This was time mostly spent with other children. She pulled other children in a wagon and was pulled in turn by them. I heard lots of narration about the ocean and she sang songs constantly.

I laughed about it with some other moms, but I genuinely had to check my feelings that she should have been creating some products that we could then have as evidence of her learning. I know she learned a ton! I know that free play is essential for learning and there’s a strong link between free play, the development of social and emotional skills, and achievement. But I’ve been socialized to expect a product.

I am so lucky. As Karen Maezen Miller reminds us in my favorite parenting book (Mother Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood),

“Your child is a tireless teacher, constantly probing your self-imposed limits boundaries, your self-centeredness, your sheer stubbornness. It is a thankless job, and who would want it? But each day your child comes to work again, taking up the monumental task.”

Thank you, L, for reminding me every day that my own socialization is simply that: the model I’ve internalized for what education ought to look like. There’s nothing inherently right or true or good about it. It’s not more natural or more effective or better than all the alternatives. It’s simply what I know. What I’ve learned and now believe to be true.

I am socialized to believe that as the adult, I teach, and as the child, L learns. I am so lucky to get to re-learn this relationship.