Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Socialization Question

OK, so I'm all excited.  On my post from a few days ago about being a h/schooled parent, Jackie left me a series of comments that I've decided to talk about here.  Her comments warrant their own blog post because the content of them is important.  I'm almost hesitant to add to her thoughts below...but you know me...I won't be able to resist adding my two cents.

First, let me copy over her comments here - all three parts of them:

Hi Ruth, 

I"m so happy you're back! I wrote such a long response, this box won't let me put it in. I'll paste it in installments! ha. This is part 1:

I’m super interested in those comments you get about h/schooled children possibly not being ‘socialized’. Particularly, I’d be interested in what kind of ‘socializing’ those folks think school is doing, precisely. Have you ever asked? While it has some probably wonderful outcomes, like mass literacy for everyone which contributes strongly to democracy, compulsory public education actually has a very, very short history, but in that short time it developed powerful cultural roots that are difficult to challenge or undo. Public schools were really formed for the children of the poor, who were pouring into cities looking for work in factories. Schools also started to resemble factories, and indeed, as soon as these children got into their teens or younger, guess where they went to work? Then during the efficiency movement in the USA, mostly driven by Ford Motors trying to increase their productivity and decrease their costs, this guy Frederick Taylor first helped Ford increase their productivity through standardization… well, guess who then went into the schools and studied them and then implemented the efficiency and standardization stuff in schools? Yup… Taylor. Worked for factories, would work for schools because the type of socialization going on in schools was preparing factory workers. Therefore, the cheapest way to educate the greatest number of children to be efficient and obedient factory workers is to standardize their education… prior to this there wasn’t even such a thing as GRADES… those are less than 100 yrs old anywhere including in universities. But leveling students and grading them and dividing them into ability levels etc… is exactly like a productive factory with maximum efficiency. Cars, children, chickens. No difference according to Taylor. Anything can be standardized and made more efficient. So, gone were the beautiful sandstone schools that looked like castles… hideous schools with all the same blah design, all children using the same textbooks (great for publishing companies and they make even more profit now), exams at the end to make sure the product is standardized and then you have perfectly created your workforce. Of course wealthy children weren’t expected to go to such schools or be “socialized” in such a way.


Despite many efforts at reform, this model of schools has really stuck in our cultural mind. So I think homeschooling somehow challenges this and therefore makes people uncomfortable. So I wonder when they say the children might not be socialized, if they are really terrified they might not be ready for WORK. You can hear this from the education ministries and in their curriculum language… when i first started teaching in the early 90s, the Alberta curriculum preamble said that the purpose of schools was to prepare young people to enact their role as citizens in a democratic society. But within the next 10 yrs with revisions, it said the purpose of schools was to prepare workers to compete in the global economy to enhance alberta’s economic advantage. This is how we want young people in society to be socialized? The new curriculum coming out in alberta is a lot better in this respect. It actually says that school is for creating “ethical citizens” (but also entrepreneurs!). Children are more than future workers, and I would argue that they are already ‘ethical citizens’ when they are 5 yrs old… there isn’t a magic age at when you become a citizen or ethical. In fact, young children are the most ethical and compassionate people I know….and schools might be educating some of them right out of this. They might be learning to be competitive and individualistic, as this is the model that schools are still fashioned after... each children is measured and compared and gets their own 'grades' and they are in a hierarchical system where some people are better than others, and some subjects are better than others etc. So despite all our efforts at reform (even the really wonderful ones) we are still stuck with this system and mindset that socializes young people in this way in schools. Until we can get rid of these culturally inherited structural elements of schools (like grades, both as in 'grading' for marks and having children divided into hierarchical grades by age) it's actually impossible to address things like bullying in schools, because the culture subtly enables it.


I think homeschooling plays a very important role in challenging these kinds of images of what schooling is for, and also in keeping a more open and broad understanding of and possibility for school and children circulating. I’d love it if you ask someone what they mean by socializing!! I doubt that they will say that children don’t get to learn to be friends, or how to get along with others, because of course it is obvious that homeschooled children get plenty of interaction with other children and adults and all kinds of people, maybe more than children in schools… I’m so curious to hear if their actual answer and fears, when it gets down deep, is actually about whether they worry that children won’t be ready to be ‘workers’ and that they won’t have a good ‘work ethic’. Because they haven’t been graded and standardized by a system, so how do you know where they belong? We all know where the cheap caged hens eggs are in the grocery store and where the expensive organic free range eggs are. They are easy to sort. Homeschooled children are unsortable and don’t fit in any category. This freaks people out. Your children are FREE RANGE CHICKENS and you are doing artisan schooling. Some people would argue that such things are priceless! 

Hear endeth my rant of the day. Thanks for getting me going!!!! I’m so happy to hear of Seth’s growing enjoyment of reading! 



First of all, by way of introducing my response, thank you so very much Jackie!  I'm so glad you're back here on my blog, too, and I was pumped to read your awesomely long, gloriously informative, and wonderously curious thoughts.  I loved every word...and laughed out loud at the end when you called my children free range chickens! How awesome is that.

So, allow me to further the conversation a little.

Yes, the interest in socialization.  I thought for sure I'd posted on this subject before, and perhaps I have, but I just did a quick search of my blog over the past couple of years and the only one I could find was this one, from June'15, where I was mostly just referencing another blog author's interesting post on the subject:  The Socialization Question.

I wasn't exaggerating in my post of a few days ago when I said that every h/schooler knows that the most popular question about h/schooling from non-h/schoolers has to do with whether or not we're worried about our children being adequately socialized.  We roll our eyes and laugh about it in good humour...really!  If only people knew that this issue is pretty much the last issue that most h/schoolers worry about...we worry about pretty much everything else, and often wonder if we're dong as much as we could/should, etc, but the question of socialization doesn't usually even make the top 100 list.

I am asked at least once every ten days if I'm worried that my h/schooled child won't be properly socialized.  I used to respond by asking strangers' thoughts on the issue (more in a moment), but in the past few months I admit having become a little tired of the repetitive questioning in this regard.  Usually I'm on the run to/from somewhere and I always have the kids with me, who are always just about to get into some kind of mischief...furthermore, after being asked hundreds of times (in addition to all of the questions about adoption), I admit that my sense of patience and/or graciousness has devolved a little of late.  So in the past few months my response to this age-old question of strangers (and friends and family) has been what I noted in my earlier blog post - that yes, I'm concerned about my child being well socialized...and therefore we are h/schooling.  It's a bit of a smarmy response on my part, admittedly, meant to shut down conversation - inevitably it generates a bit of a stunned silence on the part of the questioner...and that silence provides me with the opportunity to offer a quick smile and make a getaway. 

But until recently, when someone asked me about whether or not I was worried about my children being socialized, I would answer the question with a question:  "Well, it depends...what do you mean by socialization?"

Think about it for a moment. What does it mean to be well socialized?  How would you define socialization? And what makes the majority assume that the best (or only) way to go about achieving this is through the public education system?

I would suggest, upon reflection of years of this question of socialization, that every person who has asked me about it has been serious in the asking of the question.  Curious.  Concerned.  Even intense, in some cases.  Often with a hint of judgment in the voice tone of the question.  Usually with the unquestioned assumption that socialization happens best/exclusively within the context of the school system.

And socialization within the public school system is the norm.  It is the culturally accepted belief that children are better off within a public school system that, yes, offers some advantages that h/schoolers don't have, but which primarily espouses a uniformity of education and some kind of (intended? unintended?) indoctrination that intends to see children emerge from the system in similar, or standardized, fashion.

The brief history of our schooling system that you offered up, Jackie, is known to very few, I believe.  Even I was stunned, seven or eight years ago as we were about to launch our h/schooling journey, to learn how new, and relatively untested, our system of mass education is.  Less than a century old.  And yet it is as embedded into our social sense of expectation and consciousness so deeply that it is often very difficult to counter it.  Realizing this had a definite impact on our confidence in making the decision to h/school.

Having been asked, hundreds of times, if I'm worried about my children not being socialized, I would say that almost no one has responded to my question about the meaning of socialization by talking about preparation for the work force.

I can only think of two examples where people talked about schools as being places to cultivate workers.  The first time was someone who said that it was important for children to learn how to work in teams in order to be able to get along in the workplace; I was interested in hearing more so I asked how the school system, in her opinion, worked to cultivate teamwork.  She said two things: that recess breaks provide this opportunity for team building; and that various class projects involving teams of students would meet that goal.  Fair enough, I suppose, though I privately questioned the recess portion of her answer.  The second example that I can think of was a woman who responded by saying that socialization through school prepared children to stand around the photocopier or water cooler later in life and be able to hold a conversation with a co-worker.  I wanted to ask her (but didn't) if she's like to converse with my children for a few moments to reassure herself of their ability to hold a conversation.

In the vast majority of responses, the very things that you doubted people would say, Jackie, are the things I have heard, by far, the most often.  Shocking, in a way; but perhaps not if my theory is true that very few people actually understand how new our system of education is.  I also think that most non-h/schoolers do not appreciate that h/schooled kids often have more social interaction than other kids, and usually a very diverse life experience.

What has always surprised me is how utterly stumped some people are when it comes to the question of socialization.  There is always a moment (or twenty) of startled silence from the person who has approached me as s/he ponders my question.  Some (many?) have had absolutely no idea how to define socialization...as in, they are silent or offer a shoulder shrug; often these people move away from me without necessarily even engaging further in the discussion that they were the originator of.

From those many who have answered my question over the years, I've had fascinating responses.

By far, the vast majority of people respond by talking about how children need to learn how to be friends by going to school; that school teaches them how to get along with others; that they need to interact with other children their age; that they need to learn to accept the values and culture that our society espouses; etc etc etc..  As I mentioned already, it is very rare that I've heard people respond by talking about children preparing to be workers - I sometimes bring that up, but that's usually about it.  It almost always catches people by surprise to learn that h/schooled kids typically get a lot of opportunity to interact with people - children of their own age, to be sure, but also children of a wide variety of ages and, as importantly, with many adults of varying generations.  Interestingly, I have one kid whose best friend is two years younger than he is; I have another kid whose two best friends are two years younger and five years older than she is; and I have one kid whose two best friends are pretty much the same age as him (though, in the case of one, different 'school' years).

I recall sometime earlier this year asking a stranger what she meant by the word socialization. She hesitated for a long moment, and then said, very tentatively, something like, "I think it's the process of becoming like other people, like everyone else in society."  I responded by saying that under that definition, I wasn't sure that I bought into the idea of socialization through the school system; I said that I didn't necessarily want my children to become like other people, at least not merely for the sake of becoming like everyone else.  She was quiet for another moment and then said, "well, actually, I think I might agree with you."  She then wished me well in our h/schooling endeavours and went on her way.

One woman said that socialization was the opposite of what people do when they keep their children home for religious reasons and refuse to let them mingle with society.  I didn't even know how to respond well to that one.  Certainly we are a family of a committed faith; and certainly I hope that my children keep their faith for their entire lives.  But I see part of my job as exposing them to as much as possible, over time, and to as many ideas as possible, so that we can talk about these things and explore them...indeed, these are some of my favourite moments with my kids, and some of the times I feel I'm really and truly doing my best work as a mom and as a h/schooler.

Another woman, just this summer, said that she had survived the socialization system of the school system, including being bullied, and she thought that it was a pretty normal and important thing for children to have to go through.  It sounded like she was saying that if she could survive it, so should everyone else.  I clarified with her by asking if she thought socialization meant that children needed to survive bullying as she did.  She said that it didn't sound very good when I put it like that, but that yes, children need also to experience unpleasant people in their lives, even bullies, in order to grow up and know how to deal with people like that, and so bullying was an experience that was maturing for children.  Wow.

Someone else told me that she believed strongly that children needed to be with other children their own age in order to understand what it's like to mature - that seeing other children at the same age would help them understand.

Many have suggested that children need to be socialized in school so that they develop a common morality in society when they grow to be adults.  Common values.  I have frequently asked what made it so important that adults have the same values - don't we live in a society that apparently espouses various values, beliefs, opinions?  One person said that if we have the same values we will  have a peaceful world.  I commented further by asking her how we were doing so far - after all, her generation and mine have been largely publicly schooled, and thus well socialized from her perspective, and yet we are not living in a peaceful world whatsoever.  She said that she didn't know how to respond.

Years ago, after realizing how incredibly often h/schoolers are asked about socialization, I looked up the definition of the word and wrote down the answers I found (I no longer have the sources noted, with apologies).  This is what I learned and wrote down, whether in paraphrase or exact wordage I no longer remember:

Socialization is:
* the adoption of the behaviour and values of the surrounding culture.
* the act of adapting behaviour, over time, to the norms of a culture or society.
* a continuing process whereby one acquires a personal identity, and learns the norms, values, behaviours, and social skills appropriate to his/her social position.

My response, both then and now:  Really?  I'm supposed to want my children to acquire a personal identity appropriate to their social positions?  And, while I do hope that my children are law-abiding citizens when they are adults, do I really want them to adopt all of the behaviours, values, norms, and social skills of our culture?

I distinctly and definitively do not want my children to feel obligated, via some giant social system, to turn themselves into someone else - anyone else...merely because the 'system' expects it.  Doesn't that smack of brain washing to you...on a pretty grand scale, no less?  Particularly now that I see my oldest becoming a more mature thinker, the parts of him that I treasure the most are those things about him that are unique, that stand out from the crowd.  He is a little different from the average 11-year-old; sometimes a little strange, even, but mostly just unique because he is free to explore, and free to be comfortable with, who he is.  Oh, how I am envious of that and wish I had experience that in my own life...instead it's taken me most of my 49 years to get to the point of self acceptance that he seems to have at age eleven!  No, I don't want to risk my kids becoming cookie cutter adults.

I also think it far more important that my children learn to talk to and befriend all kinds and generations of people than mostly/exclusively their own peer group; surely it will be more valuable in a workplace someday to be able to talk with people of various generations than with only like-aged peers.  I have also noted, at times, that I am not in any way seeking to have my children's values come from their peers, which I see happening all too often in our peer-oriented schools; that's like the blind leading the blind!  Instead, I want my children's values and beliefs to be shaped and refined by the adults of significance in their lives - the ones who teach and coach and mentor them; the ones I get to have a say in choosing to be involved in my kids' lives; the ones who have already-established value systems, intact identities, and emotional maturity.  This does not mean that all of the adults in my kids' lives believe the same things as us - indeed, I see much value in surrounding the kids with kids and adults of varying beliefs/values/faiths/perspectives/ages, and I think we live that out in our day-to-day lives.

Perhaps my favourite response (or at least the funniest one to me), was one woman who braved to ask the old socialization question while we were standing in a grocery store line-up (so often the setting of these conversations).  When I asked her what she meant by socialization, she spluttered and hemmed and hawed, and then burst out with "the ability to stand in a line."  I stood there staring at her, and managed to ask if I was right in understanding that she believed that the reason kids went to school to be socialized was to learn how to stand in lines.  She nodded.  I looked back at my three children standing in line behind me, and merely gestured to them with a hand outstretched.  Even she saw the ridiculousness of her answer; she looked at my kids, looked at me, and said very quietly, "well, I guess you've got that one covered."

Really, I think many of the questions about socialization boil down to people not knowing how to categorize h/schooled kids.  They are a unique lot, it's true.  Not easily boxed (or caged, as you put it so well, Jackie)...and willing, in many cases, to challenge the notion that someone might try to box them in!

I will long remember, Jackie, your comparison of my kids to free range chickens and to our h/schooling efforts as artisan schooling!  Time will tell how well our current endeavours will work, but I'm sure hoping that they end up producing the expensive, organic, free range, pastured eggs...precious, unique, and non-cageable!



  1. Hi Ruth:
    I'm glad to see you're back to writing your blog! As a person without children of my own, you and your family have been an excellent education for me. Two thoughts:
    1) When my nieces were in elementary school, often my only exposure to their schooling was in attending Christmas and Spring concerts. During those years I often remarked that it seemed to me the main purpose of school was in learning how to line up and process onto the stage and then file off. By far more time was spent in this activity than in the actual music or drama in between!
    2) There is a segment of homeschoolers who do so out of a desire to insulate their children from "secular" society and all of its sinful ills. I feel very differently about your way of homeschooling than I do about the isolationist variety of homeschooling. I know people, some of them related to me, who homeschool precisely to LIMIT the ideas and worldviews their children are exposed to; and to 'brainwash' them into blind acceptance of, and obedience to, mommy and daddy's idea of how the world should be. This kind of education can be every bit as damaging as being socialized to be like everyone else in society the way we were in public school.

    Excellent teachers, whether in the home or at school, can impact children profoundly positively as they grow into their adult years. I am grateful for the teachers who provided that individualized encouragement and motivation for me. The school teachers I know best are deeply committed to their students' development as citizens, as well as their intellectual development, and that includes you!!!

    1. Hello dear friend...and thanks for being here with me!

      And thanks for the comments. Re: your first point, yes, I've heard (and thought) this many times - the amount of time kids have to spend queuing up, getting ready, etc etc. Admittedly when a kid doesn't have to do that (line up a lot), they tend to be a little impatient with waiting in lines (exhibit A: my kids!), but that doesn't mean they don't know how to do it. Besides, most h/schoolers are involved in plenty of extra curricular group activities, where they learn enough about standing in lines! :)
      Re: your second point, yes, these folks do still exist - I run into them once in a while. Frankly, most h/schoolers choose this path in part for the benefit of instilling certain values with their children, whether faith based or otherwise...but must still make decisions along the way as to how, and how much, to expose their kids to in this crazy world of ours. It might interest you to know that the fastest growing segment of the h/school population (in Canada and in the US) is secular h/schoolers.
      Finally, thank you for your kind words about/towards me...I'm tryin'!

      Love you and miss you, and hope to see you not too far in the distant future!


  2. Hi Ruth,

    I do have to laugh at the ignorance of the comments you get re socialization. My sister has homeschooled her 4 since her oldest was in grade 4. They are the most amazing kids! The oldest 2 are now in their 20’s - one of them is studying to be a pastor, and the other is through 3 years of Bible College and working on being a firefighter. She has 1 girl ready to graduate from grade 12, and one in grade 10. They're some of the most knowledge, thoughtful people I've ever met.

    It’s sort of funny - the meaning of ‘socialization’. My sister often says that ‘when everyone zigs, we zag’. I love it! Her kids are individuals who know who they are, and are really secure in that. They have a mom who has put her career on the backburner to prioritize her family, and she adores them.

    She often tells them that she won’t be buying them a condo or a car, but she’s given them the gift of a great first impression (braces) and no student debt, as she & her husband work hard to help them through college. They aren’t perfect kids or parents, but they work through the lumps & bumps of life together, and are secure in knowing that they have God, and the love of their family.

    Keep ‘zagging’!! ;)

    1. Hey Cindy, and thanks for the great comment and the personal anecdotes about your sister and her family - awesome!
      I also love the zig-zag comment - I'll use that one!
      And yeah, there's a lot of working through the bumps and lumps of life together (my kids ought to emerge into adulthood well equipped to handle conflict!), but that's a good portion of the learning experience.

      I truly can't imagine life any other way these days.

      And yes, we'll keep zagging it!

      Thanks Cindy...and blessings!