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Homeschooling and Socialization

When we tell people that we're homeschooling our children, one of the most common questions we get in response is "So what do you do for socialization?" Truth be told, people don't use those exact words but I know what they're thinking. 

It's because that's exactly how I regarded home schooling before we jumped in last year. It cannot possibly be adequate socialization. I imagined a group of children dressed in Amish clothes cloistered in a stuffy kitchen with a woman holding a blackboard and chalk. I believed home schooling is socially stifling and turns kids into book smart misfits. 

More = Better: When we talk about socialization, it often feels like we're talking about sunshine, water, and exercise. The more you get the better.  It follows then that the more people you're around, the better the socialization. But this is silly. It's not the quantity of people you spend time with, it's the quality of the interaction and kind of people you're around. There's double talk with parents in this regard. What we say is not what we do.

Parents say they want more: We want our kids to be around lots of people.We want broad socialization opportunities for our children.  We want them to make many friends. We want them to play with others. And most of all, we want our kids to have more diversity in their relationships. Diversity means different races of people. Diversity means being exposed to kids from varied socioeconomic backgrounds. Diversity means learning about other cultures and viewpoints. 

Parents actually want less: Based on what we actually do, we want narrow socialization opportunities for our children. Based on school choice and where we buy homes, what we really want is diversity as long as the following criteria are met: high API scores, low crime rate, involved and college-educated parents, families who speak English as a first language, appreciating real estate value, etc. Based on what we do, we actually want less socialization, or at least the kind that meets our criteria. 

Our family was involved with a parent participation public school for five years. It narrowed our social circle. After all, parent involvement is highly correlated with an intact family, a stay-home parent, affluence, and largely white/educated/Christian family values. Thus there was a much lower proportion of immigrant and low-income families in our school relative to the other public schools in our district.

I had a moment of refreshing candor from a white father who teaches in a public school. He would never want his kids to attend the school he teaches at and he doesn't like the fact that so many of the kids in his local neighborhood school (in a nice area with high API scores!) don't speak English as their first language. He wants less socialization not more and he's not going to disguise his narrow mindset as an open and accepting one.

I don't think home schooling is a magic bullet. There are considerable disadvantages.  It's lonely at times. Each day is exhausting and stressful. Your kids are missing out on a tremendous societal rite of passage. It exposes all kinds of personal issues. Your kids may not like it (one of ours hated this past year). It's a definite "off-the-grid" type of option. 

Despite all that, the nature of childhood education is brainwashing. You can either do it yourself or let someone else do it. Either way, socialization will happen. My point is let's not pretend that we want broader socialization for our kids when what we truly want is narrow. 


  1. fred: can't say i disagree with you too much. it does bother me when liberal parents lament that their high performing school (public or private) isn't diverse enough.

    two comments: while parental involvement does seem to correlate with intact family, affluence, college education, english as a primary language, etc, i've never seen anything that suggested it was correlated to christian values. so i'm not sure what you meant by that. in my limited experience, recent immigrants (especially from latin america and africa) as a group are way more devout/spiritual/religious christians than college educated white people. college education and class and ethnic privelege tends to buffer us from suffering. we look for worldly solutions as opposed to asking god to support us through inevitable tough times.

    secondly, it's interesting that your blog is titled wwjd, and there's no speculation of how jesus would perceive this situation. jesus didn't live in a time of widespread state-run public education, so this analysis would have to be based on principle rather than historical/mythical documentation, but i would have to say that jesus didn't seem like the kind of dude who bought into self segregation. he was always with sinners, and the more socially outcast they were, the more tender he was toward them. i can't help thinking that he would have immersed himself in poor communities were he with us today. how he would have thought about public education, i can't say.

    love that you're writing. keep it up.

    1. ener, 1) we had a great experience at our parent participation school and I was surprised to see how many evangelical Christian families were part of the program, which I believe was proportionally over-represented for the bay area. Certainly college education doesn't mean religious but somehow that school drew a significant number of religious college educated white people, of which there are not that many around here. 2) actually, i think Jesus' method of meeting with his disciples was a kind of home schooling. It was completely counter-cultural. I agree with you that Jesus was not into self-segregation during his three years of public ministry as a grown man. And yet there is indication that he was "home schooled" as child - that his parents were both his primary caregivers and educators.

    2. we can chat about this tonight. my wife and i helped start a bilingual immersion charter school in oakland, and none of the parents on founding board were churchgoers. of the wider group of founding family members we worked with, it's tough to say how many evangelicals there were in that founding group of parents as it didn't come up in conversation. but there was this fantastic pastor for an amazing local church called regeneration, and he is really great.

      on your second point, would it be fair to say that most people growing up in biblical times were home schooled if they weren't educated in their place of worship?


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