Thoughts on the Socialization Thing (also Bullying)

Dear Reader,

Socialization is a big issue for us homeschoolers. Mainly because others seem to focus on it so much as the main obstacle in homeschooling. There are many different ideas of what socialization is and why it is important. I would like to focus on one particular definition: socialization is learning how to deal with people who are different from you in some way.

And this is a good kind of socialization. It is something I want my kids to learn. But I still question whether the schools teach this in the best way. The advantage I can see in schools is that they automatically get your kids in contact with a lot of other people. Depending on where you live and what the public schools are like, these people may or may not be very different from your family. The flip-side, as homeschoolers are quick to point out, is that most of the exposure in public school is to those one’s own age. Homeschooled kids, by contrast, may be out and about during the day and meet people of different ages. This does take some effort. It does not come automatically. Some families are more social and do more outside activities than others. There are lots of other factors which affect how much one can or wants to do.

But let’s say that our typical homeschool family is willing to get out at least sometimes and interact with other people. I am willing to concede that the public school student probably interacts with more people in a given day, but both are interacting.  But there is still the issue of how they are interacting and what results these interactions produce.

But does more necessarily equal better? Suppose we as homeschoolers don’t get out of the house much. My kids (hypothetically) never meet someone of another race, or someone with an obvious disability, or some other notable difference. When they finally do meet such a person, how will they react and interact? There may be a natural human tendency to focus on the difference. Perhaps they will say inappropriate things or stare. After the initial shock (for lack of a better word), will they be accepting and treat the person as a person or will they avoid or exclude them?

Before I answer that question, let me ask this. What is my kids go to the local school and meet others with obvious differences at an early age? Perhaps they will quickly adjust to the reality that we are different and will evidence no surprise. But will they treat that person any better?

In either case, I think how they ultimately treat another depends on what is in their hearts and on what they have learned of people in general. In all situations we can respond with love and compassion or we cannot.  I don’t want to demonize traditional schools, but my experience was that the school environment tends to divide. It quickly sorts itself in cliques, groups of friends who know who is in and who is out. I think there is something (sinful) deep within the human heart that makes us want to be included and accepted. This is not in itself bad. But the sinful part is that we tend to do this by forming groups. And for  a group to have meaning, there must also be those who are outside the group.

We play a board game in our house in which players place farmers to supply cities and get points. But if two players supply the same space they both get the points. If it happens in a game that all the players share a city, my husband and I will stop adding to it because we know that if we all get the points, no one gets the points. If everyone gets 20 points, no one ends up any farther ahead (the kids haven’t learned this yet and will still build on something we all share). This is all fine in the context of the game. But I think our tendency is to do the same in real life. If we are all included, then no one is any more special than anyone else. And we all want to feel special and that we are part of the in-crowd. So we create and out crowd by ostracizing others.

So if I send my child to school, they may learn that others exist who are different from themselves. They may also learn that different means bad. Learning that people are different is not in itself the goal. It is how we react when someone is different that matters.

So how do I (whether my kids are homeschooled or in traditional school) raise children who do not succumb to this natural tendency to ostracize others?

I don’t have all the answers but I think the key ones are pretty basic. I must teach them by example. This may sound easy but if we as parents have deeply ingrained habits in this area it may require some serious self-examination and effort to get beyond our own natural tendencies. And when we see our children picking up bad habits and beginning to form cliques, we must encourage them not to do so. I think this is easier to do if one homeschools because we spend so much more time with our kids and are more aware of their friends and interactions throughout the day. But I do not think it is impossible for those with kids in traditional schools. It just requires more vigilance and probing. Lastly, we must teach our children to be loving. And the only way to truly love others is to have the God of love in us. We must teach them of their own sinfulness and need so they will not be proud or boast in themselves. We must teach them of Christ’s sacrifice on their behalf so that they will know also that they are accepted apart from the perceptions of other people. We must teach them that all people, no matter how different they appear to us, are made in the image of God.


One response to this post.

  1. Good thoughts, Nebby!
    Example is definately for challenge for us as parents. We all fall into that wanting to be in the in crowd mentality.
    I have found just being part of an extended family (eg grandparents and little ones alike), and a church family, are very helpful in the learning of proper social relationships without the problems of one age group only.
    It is true though, that we have to make efforts in the area of different skin colours and disabilities as sometimes they may not have experienced this when taught at home.
    We have been blessed with a number of opportunities to interact with children and adults with disabilities and I think my boys have really benefitted from seeing some of their HS friends dealing with family members with obvious disabilities in a very loving way.


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