Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Homeschooled Children are More Socially Adept

Homeschooled Children are More Socially Adept

By Charlotte Colautti, Guest Writer

"Many people assume that traditional schooling offers an essential socialization experience that home schooling cannot" (1) yet there is strong evidence to show that parents are increasingly pulling their children out of school to home teach them. According to Bauman (2) from the United States Census Bureau, as many as 2 million children are home schooled with the number growing annually. "Public opinion polls show that confidence in the education system is at a thirty year low. tangible proof of thos is the growing number of children, withdrawn by their parents, from government schools." (3) Mary Kay Clark discusses the negative socail reasons why parents choose to teach their children at home, including"verbal and physical abuse from classmates, children practicing witchcraft, a boy who was nearly hanged, teen-aged pregnancies, and peer pressure to use drugs and live immoral lives. The stories are endless," she said. (4) "Home schooling, initially off the radar screen, has become a completely mainstream alternative to institutional schooling. Socialization outcomes for the average home schooled child are superior to those experienced by the average public school student." (3)

Some critics have challenged home schooling parents, saying that their children are isolated from the world and lack social skills. On the contrary, there is compelling and mounting evidence which proves that home schooled students are more socially adept than public students. There are three principal arguments explored to support this thesis. Students taught at home are very involved in extra-curricular activities and community outreach. Home schooled children are more able to interact with people of all ages and with diverse backgrounds. The third consideration deals with the importance of self-esteem and how that affects social competence.

Are home schooled students isolated or do they participate in extra-curricular activities? Basham (3) cites reports showing that ninety percent of home schooled students participate in two or more activities outside the home on a weekly basis, and in fact, the average home schooled student is involved in 5.2 social activities outside the home. Medlin (5) found that children are taking part in the activities of their community on a daily basis. Jane Boswell's (6)experience with home schooled families revealed that children taught at home regularly participated in community outreach and volunteer work. Home schooled associations play a vital role in providing social opportunities for students and families to interact with each other on a personal basis or during field trips and study groups. (3)

In Home Schooling: The Right Choice, (7) Klicka states "home schoolers overcome the potential for "isolation" in youth groups, community activities, arts, sports, music, academic contests, and regular field trips" (7). In fact, one researcher, Dr. Kathie Carwile said, "the investigator was not prepared for the level of commitment exhibited by the parents in getting their child to various activities. It appeared that these students are involved in more social activities, whether by design or being with the parent in various situations, than the average school-aged child." (cited in 7)

A mentor for home teaching parents offers suggestions for community outreach, including visits with young children or elderly in day cares, helping with mentally challenged persons, or reading to the blind. "Socialization does not need to be in the institution called school." (4) She explains why parents should monitor social events. "When parents take children to clubs, sports activities, ballet or drama, etc., they should keep a watchful eye for lack of discipline, cursing, drinking, drugs, aggressiveness, and so on. This is parent-controlled social activity, protecting the child from (potentially) dangerous situations."

Medlin in the Peabody Journal of Education, (5) shows strong proof that home schooled students are very much involved in social activities outside the family. He states, "home schooled children are taking part in the daily routines of their communities. They are certainly not isolated. Home schooled parents can take much of the credit for this. With their child's long-term social development in mind, they actively encourage their children to take advantage of social activities outside the family."

In Dancing with Monica: personal perceptions of a home-school mom, Michelle Sheean shows us a personal look at her home schooling experience with her daughter, which began when Monica was in grade five. She realized her introverted daughter's need to be socialized, and she needed to find the balance between too little and too much social life. Monica studied art and learned Suzuki violin. She also learned how to mountain climb. A home school support group provided them with opportunities to participate in various activities and field trips. Like Monica's experience, frequent and varied social outings appear to be very typical of home schooled children.

The second consideration to explore is the home schooled child's ability to interact with people of all ages and diverse backgrounds and characteristics. Medlin (5) states that home schooled students are definitely not isolated and, in fact, feel close to a wide variety of people. In his book, Home Schooling: The Right Choice, Christopher Klicka concludes that home schooled children relate regularly with adults, siblings, and friends of various ages and participate in activities such as music and sports with peer groups. Medlin (5) wanted to measure the diversity of contacts that home schooled children had. He found that home schooled children associated, on a regular basis, with men, women and children outside their own family. The results indicated that they visited with people from socio-economic, religious or ethnic backgrounds which differed from their own.

Sheean (8) discusses her daughter's relationship with people from all age groups and from various backgrounds. A mother with a two-year-old child taught Monica art. She also learned spinning and knitting so that she could make wool-angora socks for her grandparents. Monica visited with Benedictine monks, learned Celtic music and yoga, studied Spanish and had close friends that were Mormon, Navaho, Catholic and Protestant. Sheean clearly shows the diversity of relationships that are common to home educated students compared with children taught for long hours in a classroom with peers.

Gatto (9) makes a strong commentary on children in the traditional classroom and their lack of varied social experience. He states that "it is absurd and anti-life to be compelled to sit in confinement with people exactly the same age and social class. This effectively cuts children off from the immense diversity of life and the synergy of variety."

The third aspect of socialization to consider is comparing the self-confidence of home schooled and public schooled students. In his report, Home Schooling From the Extreme to the Mainstream, (3) research by Dr. Raymond Moore showed that "home schooled students have a significantly higher self-esteem than those in public schools." In another study Moore found that home schooled children are happier, better adjusted, more thoughtful, competent, and sociable children.

Negative social interactions affect self-esteem. Klicka (7) says, " the greatest benefit from home schooling is that the child can be protected from the negative socialization of the public schools associated with peer pressure such as rebellious attitudes, immaturity, drugs and violent behavior. Gatto (9) gives us a candid look into the public school system : "The children I teach are indifferent to the adult world and have almost no curiosity...They are often cruel to each other, lack compassion, laugh at weakness, and have contempt for weakness, and have contempt for people who need help." " Public school children had significantly more problem behaviors than did the home schooled children." (3) Everett Reimer (10) believed that children who never went to school probably suffer the least psychologically and that " Schools pervade the lives and personalities of their students in powerful and insidious ways, and have become the dominant institution in the lives of modern men and women in their formative years."

Dr. Larry Shyers observed one- hundred and forty children, seventy form home schooled families and seventy form public schooled families. He used a checklist of nearly one hundred problem behaviors such as cries, isolates him/herself, shyness, argues, showing off, brags, etc. The negative behavior was monitored and noted. The results were significant. The score for contemptible behavior in children attending traditional school was eight times higher that the negative behavior found in the home schooled group. Her described the public schooled student as "aggressive, loud and competitive." (as cited in 5) In contrast, the pupils taught at home acted in a friendly, positive manner. Dr. Brian Ray reviewed the results of four other studies and found "the data from their research suggests that home schoolers are not emotionally maladjusted." (as cited in 7)
Harris (1) offers and interesting discussion in which she states that parents do not have an important influence on their child's personality. She considers the socialization of peers to be foremost in their development. This could very well be true of children taught in traditional schools, but Shyers (as cited in 7) has a different viewpoint concerning the impact of parents in their children's lives. He found that home schooled children have fewer behavioral problems because they tend to imitate their parents rather than their peers. "The result seems to be that a child's social development depends more on adult contact and less on contact with other children as was previously thought."
There have been numerous tests taken to chart the level of self-esteem in school children. After comparing 30 families from each type of school, with children ranging in age from seven to fourteen years, Stough (as cited in 11) found that "those schooled at home gained the necessary knowledge, and attitude needed to function in society...and that there may be sufficient evidence to indicate that home schooled children have a higher self-concept than conventionally schooled children." "Using one of the best validated self-concept scales available, Taylor's random sampling of 45,000 home schooled children found that one-half scored at or above the 91st percentile...which was ...47% higher than average conventional schooled children. Since self-concept is considered to be a basic dynamic of positive sociability, this answers the often heard skepticism suggesting that home schoolers are inferior in socialization." (also cited in 11)

Family dynamics is a key factor in influencing a child's self-esteem. Home schooled children "learn and grow in a nurturing environment of secure family relationships where they develop a confidence and resiliency that helps them to succeed as adults. Because they are not peer grouped in school, home schooled children learn to get along with a variety
of people, making them socially mature and able to adjust to new and challenging situations." (as cited in 5)

Researchers investigating the subject of socialization of home schooled students provide striking evidence that they are at least comparable, and most likely much more socially competent than traditional schooled children who sit for hours in a classroom of peers. The reasons for their social competence are multi-faceted, but have been narrowed to three key points in this paper. Extra-curricular activities are varied and frequent. Children taught at home interact on a daily basis with people of all ages, ranging from babies to elderly with a focus on community outreach. The third point centers on on the child's self-esteem which, for classroom-taught students can vary depending on the stigma attached to the child from his/her peer group. Home educated students are tutored individually or in small groups with siblings o friends, by parents who care deeply for them. They want their children to have a more diverse and fulfilling social life than the public school system has to offer.

(1) Judith Rich Harris, Where is the Child's Environment? Psychological Review 102
(2) Kurt L. Bauman, article: U. S. Census Bureau
(3) Patrick Basham, article: Cato Institute
(4) Mary Kay Clark, Catholic Home Schooling: A Handbook for Parents
(5) Richard G. Medlin, Home Schooling and the Question of Socialization, Peabody Journal of Education
(6) Jane Boswell, article: Homeschooling - A Social Experiment?
(7) Chris Klicka, Home Schooling: The Right Choice
(8) Michelle Sheean, Dancing with Monica: personal perceptions of a home-school mom
(9) John Taylor Gatto, A Different Kind of Teacher: Solving the Crisis of American Schooling
(10) Everett Reimer, School Is Dead
(11) Nola Kortner Aiex, article at ERIC
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