Same Question, Different Words

To illustrate what I’m talking about, let’s phrase both the question and our typical answer in slightly different terms. Let’s strip away all the social tact and diplomacy we tend to use and get down to the essentials of what is being asked.

Instead of simply asking the very familiar question, “What about socialization?” imagine your critic phrased the question this way: “It’s important for children to have prolonged periods of peer-based, age-segregated socialization, but since you homeschool your children, they don’t receive as much of that socialization as they need.”

Too often, we answer with the equivalent of something like this: “You don’t need to worry about that because my kids do get plenty of peer-based, age-segregated socialization, because they’re involved in activities A, B, C, D, and E.”

The question is rarely phrased so bluntly, and so we miss, overlook, or ignore the underlying assumptions. But when we fail to challenge those assumptions and simply give the list of activities, we do in fact grant the truth of the assumptions. And in turn, we may be unconciously conforming our lives to those assumptions without even realizing it.

What are the Assumptions?

Perhaps at this point it would be useful to take a look at exactly what assumptions are behind the simple question, “What about socialization?”

The first assumption is clear by the fact that the question is being asked in the first place. The questioner is assuming that institutional schools provide good socialization while homeschooling fails to do so. If they didn’t believe this, they wouldn’t ask the question.

This leads us to the second assumption, namely, that the style of socialization found in institutional schools is positive. Again, if this weren’t believed to be essentially true, there wouldn’t be a need to question.

Third, since school-style socialization consists primarily of large doses of age-segregated activity, this is the type of socialization our critics are assuming to be beneficial.

Fourth, we see the assumption that proper socialization cannot take place without these large doses of age-segregated activities. By implication, other forms of socialization are deemed unsuitable to produce well-socialized children.

Have our critics thought all of this through? Maybe, maybe not. It ultimately doesn’t matter. They may not have thought through their worldview in all its detail, but these assumptions are still fundamental to the question, whether they could verbalize them all or not. These are the assumptions that create the motivating worldview for the question.

Without seeking to beleaguer the point, I would observe again that these are the assumptions, the worldview, we give agreement to when we answer the question with nothing more than a list of activities our kids are involved in.

But do we really agree with these underlying beliefs? If you’re homeschooling, you probably don’t. Yet too often we behave as if we do. If we’re pursuing activities simply to answer the critics, or to calm our own society-created fears about socialization, then we may be living in a way that is inconsistent with what we really believe.

We need to develop our own systematic worldview and live it out regardless of what our critics might think. Our priorities should be different from the world around us, and we shouldn’t be afraid to act on them.

Challenging the Assumptions

Rather than merely answering the socialization question exactly as it’s asked, we can challenge the underlying assumptions—both to our critics and in our own thinking. How?

First, a good question to ask is, “What exactly is socialization?” When we refer to socialization, what do we really mean by that term? Further, what is the purpose of socialization? Is it an end in itself, or is it a means to an end?