Homeschooled Kids: But What About Socialization?

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Homeschooled Kids: But What About Socialization?

Laura Osborne


What about socialization? This is one of the most common questions confronting homeschooling. Socialization is the process whereby the young of a culture learn the rules, mores, traditions, and acceptable interactions of their particular society. Regardless of being at home or at school, a child will be socialized. The question then seems to be: what is the best agent of socialization? Realizing that when a child graduates, he is never again cloistered in an environment with same-age peers makes one question the authenticity of the school as a superior socializing agent. But detractors ask, does the homeschool student do as well in measures of interpersonal and communication skills as his traditionally schooled peers? Let's look at the research.

Research Positive for Homeschooling

The following is a compilation of research studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of homeschool as a socializing agent.

1) John Wesley Taylor (1987) Self Concept in Home Schooling Children. Andrews University. Dissertation Abstracts International, 47, 2809A [ERIC Digest 372460]

Using one of the best validated self-concept scales available, Taylor's random sampling of 45,000 home-schooled children found that half of these children scored at or above the 91st percentile - 47% higher than the average, conventionally schooled child. He concludes: "Since self concept is considered to be a basic dynamic of positive sociability, this answers to the often heard skepticism suggesting that home schoolers are inferior in socialization."

2) Julie Webb (1989) The Outcomes of Home-based Education: Employment and Other Issues. Educational Review; v41, n2, p121-33.

Abstract: Examines aspects of the adult lives of wholly or partly home educated people. Found that all who attempted higher education were successful, that there was no evidence of prejudice regarding employment, and that the socialization of home educated students was often better than that of their schooled peers.

3) Lee Stough (1992) Social and Emotional Status of Home Schooled Children and Conventionally Schooled Children in West Virginia. University of West Virginia. [ERIC Digest 3722460]

Stough, looking particularly at socialization, compared 30 home schooling families and 32 conventionally schooling families with children 7-14 years of age. According to the findings, children who were schooled at home “gained the necessary skills, knowledge, and attitudes needed to function in society. . .at a rate similar to that of conventionally schooled children. The researcher found no difference in the self concept of children in the two groups.

4) Larry Edward Shyers (1992) Comparison of Social Adjustment Between Home and Traditionally Schooled Students. University of Florida. Dissertations Abstracts International, vol 53 num 12.

Dr. Shyers compared 70 homeschooled children with 70 traditionally schooled children, both groups between ages 8 and 10. The research showed that homeschooled children were found to have “consistently fewer behavior problems”. The traditionally schooled children were more aggressive, loud, and competitive. The homeschooled children tended to talk quietly, play well in groups, and took initiative in inviting others to play. Shyers’ conclusion was that “the results seem to show that a child’s social development depends more on adult contact and less on contact with other children than previously thought.”

5) Thomas C. Smedley (1992) Socialization of Home Schooled Children--A Communication Approach. Radford University; Radford, Virginia.

Abstract: This thesis investigates the commonly held assumption that public school education “socializes” students. The subjects were 33 demographically matched school-aged children, 13 of whom attend public school, 20 of whom are educated primarily by their parents. The Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales were used to evaluate the communication skills, socialization, and daily living skills of the subjects. These scores, combined into the “adaptive behavior composite”, reflected the general maturity of each subjects. After these data were processed using the Statistical Program for the Social Sciences (SPSS), they indicated that the home educated children in this sample were significantly better socialized and more mature than those in public school. The immediate implication is that home school families are providing adequately for socialization needs. The broadest implication is that we may need to reexamine the assumed basis of the socialization process.

6) Judith A. Schickendanz (1995) Family Socialization and Academic Achievement. Journal of Education, vol 177, n1, p17-38.

Abstract: Argues that, while teacher and school efforts are important, the conditions outside of schools hold the key to increasing academic achievement substantially.

7) Jeffrey J. Arnett (1995) Broad and Narrow Socialization: The Family in the Context of a Cultural Theory. Journal of Marriage and the Family, v57, n3, p617-28.

Abstract: Describes theory of broad and narrow socialization with emphasis on placing family socialization in its cultural context. In cultures characterized by broad socialization, socialization is intended to promote independence, individualism, and self-expression. Cultures with narrow socialization encourage obedience and conformity.

[author’s note: can you identify which is homeschool and which is traditional school?]

Institutional Socialization

The theory that public school is the only acceptable agent of socialization is clearly refuted by the previous research. Nevertheless, because traditional schooling is the major agent of socialization for the majority, homeschoolers are being pressured to rethink their position. The careful examination of the institutional nature of schools will lead us to conclude that indeed, the school is a socializing agent. But is it really as beneficial as it’s proponents claim?

In the sociology monograph Situating Children’s Social Competence by Ian Hutchby and Jo Moran Ellis, they examine this very issue. They cite Mayall’s (1994) research observations which closely parallel others’ especially sociologist E. Goffman’s (1961) famous observations on "total institutions". Goffman defined total institutions “in terms of their wholesale control over the organization of the inmate’s existence”. Do the parallels work for traditional schooling? Think about it. If requiring permission to drink, stand up, talk, and use the bathroom isn’t “wholesale control”, then what is? Add uniforms, assigned seating for studies and lunch, and supervised recreation breaks in a common yard, and you’ve got all the characteristics of other institutions (i.e. prison, asylum, military, monastery). Mayall asserts that school “is a closed, complete system, where goals and practices cohere, and where the activities of teachers are limited to a focus on the teaching and training oft he children.” Huchby and Moran-Ellis point out that within an institution, the participants who follow the norms of the institution are considered well-integrated, while those unable to conform are considered troublemakers. As for the staff of the institution, their task is to mold “the inmates to some socially approved purpose...” Nevertheless, even compliant school children, like other institutionalized people, will develop an array of strategies which have been termed “institutional knowledge”. In other words, knowing how to get around some of the control structures. In the teacher’s presence they are compliant, but once she has departed, they “deploy their own procedures...”

Note that this is not a defensive cry from home educators. These studies are a part of the sociological literature published by professors who study these issues in depth. There is more evidence to examine. Again, it’s not produced by the homeschooling community, but by those who tend to be skeptical of the ability of homeschool to provide socialization.

In the professional journal for educators, Adolescence (Fall 1999), David Wren examines the school environment in his report School Culture: Exploring the Hidden Curriculum. He states: “Educators frequently overlook school culture. This article encourages teachers and administrators to gain a more complete picture of the school environment through an exploration. . .of the hidden, or implicit, curriculum. . .administrators need to become cognizant of the almost imperceptible yet powerful influence of institutional culture and climate.” He discusses the process of socialization, saying that “all students must internalize a specific program of social norms. . .” Author of Docility, or Giving the Teacher What She Wants (Journal of Social Issues, 11, 1955) J. Henry is quoted in summary: “Thus, teachers’ and administrators’ interactions with students help shape attitudes and ideals”. This is socialization.

Wren goes on to point out some research investigating positive effects of school socialization. These consist of studies of Quaker and Mennonite schools, which transmit not only academics, but faith and community involvement. Says Wren, “In terms of negative effects. . .the hidden curriculum can also promote student reluctance to challenge teachers on education issues.” This implicit agenda is also reported to cause problems for students who cannot conform to the rigid routines, as well as promoting gender disparities in the teachers’ time and attention.


So we now go back to the original question: What about socialization? Socialization occurs in every culture. The young learn how to behave within the constructs of that culture. The question really is, how? By immersion in a closed, institutional setting with a sub-culture of “institutional knowledge”? Or to be socialized within the same setting where one is expected to eventually function as an adult? Homeschoolers are in the real world on a daily basis. Interactions within the community while shopping, studying, volunteering, working, performing, etc. are legitimate agents of socialization. Yes, both traditionally schooled and homeschooled children receive “socialization”. Both forums are valid. The only difference, as born out by the research and evidence, seems to be the quality.