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Canada: Can kids get proper socialisation at home?


Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko: Minding your own - Home based education
Can kids get proper socialisation at home?
October 2, 2006

Any person who considers home education for their children will have to face the worried question: "What about their socialisation?"

By this they likely mean: "Will my child end up a weirdo? Will they have friends? Will children be unprepared for the real world if they don’t go to school?"

Socialisation, technically speaking, is the ability to adapt to the needs of any given group, to learn the cultural norms expected of such a person in the community in which he or she lives.

Gary Knowles of Ontario Institute of Studies in Education (OISE) explains, "One may be socialised into the ways of being associated with a fundamentalist Christian group, a teenage gang, Girl Guides, or into the local community." A child will be socialised to the group she spends the most time with. The question rests on balance: do you want your child socialised to the larger society or primarily to their peer group?

Because the majority of children go to school, home-educated children don’t have as many peers to associate with during the day; some children might feel lonely or as they get older they might wish to spend more time with their peers. But this doesn’t indicate insufficient socialisation or poor social development. Not having a satisfactory social life can happen whether you go to school or not.

To get around issues of isolation, home-educated children rely on extra-curricular activities in addition to volunteering in the community, which academic research by Wilfrid Laurier University researcher Bruce Arai shows they do more of than children who attend school.

While kids who go to large schools are predominantly socialised by their peers, many home-education children have broader experiences in society with more opportunities to be socialised by both younger and older people, says Knowles.

For Knowles, "socialisation is a moot question" for home educators. His research on home-education families found no reason to suggest that a family that is outgoing, whose kids are involved in all sorts of community groups, are disadvantaged whatsoever.

Knowles’s study of home-educated adults found that they’ve grown up to be largely autonomous, independent, and have learned to make way themselves. "I think that’s one of the major advantages of home education that kids don’t have their self esteem attacked by other kids so much in the home context: they become a lot more secure in who they are."

Knowles admits concern for families who are "cloistered" or "sheltered," or when parents are over-controlling of their children and the materials and literature their children have access to.

But as Arai points out, "If you’re determined to not expose your child to the diversity of any particular country, religion, or political persuasion, then you can do that. Unfortunately you can do that pretty effectively whether you send your child to school or not. It really doesn’t have anything to do with home-schooling."

"There are lots of racists and bigots around and they are not all home educated; a lot of them went to school," says Arai.

Right fit for some

Home-educated brother and sister Sean and Devon Atherton of Hamilton have tried school and had very different experiences.

While Sean, 15, adapted to the scene during his semester long stint, and felt he "really fit in well," and plans to continue school, Devon, 14, did not. She found a culture alien to her sense of self. In contrast to the girls at the school, she says, "I didn’t want to wear their clothes nor did I go along with their makeup stuff. I didn’t want to be the same as them. I felt pretty lonely there."

Atherton decided to return to her home education.

"The way I see it now, for some people, school is the right thing. For others it’s not. Right now, I don’t think I’m one of the people that it’s for," she muses.

Devon’s experience does not mean that she is poorly socialised: her self-confidence instead reveals a healthy social development. It’s a characteristic in keeping with a small but significant study of home-educated girls by Susannah Sheffer. Her book A Sense of Self was a response to media reports in the 1990s highlighting the negative socialization of adolescent girls in school.

While girls in school where reported to be "losing their voices" and doubting the validity of their goals, "even their own perceptions," Sheffer’s study revealed that home-educated girls ages 11 to 16, were having a very different, more positive experience.

"They expressed comfort with disagreement. They didn’t think you have to be the same in order to have a close relationship."

Perhaps what people are mean when they use the term "socialisation" revolves around the idea of citizenship and what they think makes a good citizen. The difficulty is that the definition of a good citizen is unclear as it is constantly evolving.

Schools grapple with what they consider citizenship education. Yet if you look at the history of citizenship education, "it’s not by real design and purpose. It comes out of classes in history and geography: not necessarily the best basis for citizenship education," according to Arai.

"Teachers are puzzling out what a civic conscience means," reports Christine Brabant, researcher in the department of Education at Sherbrooke University in Quebec.

Both she and Arai see home education as producing different but equally valid understandings of citizenship that emphasize the importance of family and participation in community.

For Brabant, parenting is the first and greatest citizen act, and doing it well is already a great commitment to society.

"I think any committed mother is one of the most important citizens."

I have really enjoyed this series of articles about home schooling. My husband and I home schooled for the past six years, and this is the first year that our three children have entered public school. They are thriving in school and have had no social or academic difficulties fitting into their classes. We had planned to home school long term but our increasing work level and conflicting schedules required a change and we now plan to take it year by year. We all cherish our home school years and do not regret it one bit.

However, I was dismayed by some of the feedback submitted citing concerns about socialisation and longterm academic success. First of all, why do we assume that socialisation at school is always positive or "normal?" No where else do we stick citizens in age segregated divisions -- not at university, not at work, not in families, and not in the community.

Therefore, I fail to see how schools prepare children socially in a superior fashion to being in a home with a loving family and being active in the community. Additionally, there have been research studies about academic and social outcomes of home schooled children showing that they excel. Moreover, universities, such as Harvard, are clamoring to get home school graduates into their universities. Are all home schooled children geniuses? Clearly, no; but either are all children in public school.

In my experience, a lot of the "concerns" about home schooling stem from defensiveness. This is sad because what works for one family doesn't necessarily work for another. We all need to be empowered to meet the needs of our children in a way that works for them. For some, public school works just great; for others a private school is a better option and others home schooling is best choice. It does not have to be a competition.

The impact of home schooling is huge in North America; so much so that the province of BC has been working hard to incorporate home schoolers back into the official system and there are now 10's of thousands of students enrolled in distance learning programs all over the province. It is one of the fastest growing segments of the K-12 educational system.
—Sarah Sullivan | Courtenay, B.C.

As a child who was home schooled alongside my siblings, I am tired of the age old argument re: how will they function socially? Believe it or not, our greatest models, overtly or otherwise are our parents.

My parents, two of the most intelligent people I know, also happened to love local outings, travelling, interacting with the world and other people, having folks over for a meal, talking about politics, religion, and fostering a wonderful sense of humour in the whole mix.

All four of us children are university educated, have functioned wonderfully socially, and have within us, almost an inherent curiosity about the world. Some of my col-workers and peers, who have been daycared and then gone straight into the school system, lack if not the curiosity about the world around them, the confidence to fit into any social setting.

I don't blame the school system for that, but more likely, it was the role model of their parents throughout their life, in all the in-between moments of friends and schooling, that determined these traits ... along with a healthy dose of nature.
—Kerry Flemington
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