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On “Socialization”

On “Socialization”

Perhaps the greatest criticism I hear of home-schooling is concern over whether or not children will be properly “socialized.”

The theory is that children who are home-schooled have less exposure to a greater variety of children from different backgrounds. In public schooling, this exposure facilitates both familiarity and tolerance, and ultimately, the student is better able to cooperate and work with a broader range of people, thus increasing their odds of success in the marketplace, socially and financially.

The problem is that this theory simply doesn’t map on to empirical reality. According to one of the leading researchers on home schooling, Dr. Brian D. Ray, home-schooling may actually result in better outcomes in both of these areas:

  • The home-educated typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests. (The public school average is the 50th percentile; scores range from 1 to 99.) A 2015 study found Black homeschool students to be scoring 23 to 42 percentile points above Black public school students (Ray, 2015).

  • Homeschool students score above average on achievement tests regardless of their parents’ level of formal education or their family’s household income.

  • Whether homeschool parents were ever certified teachers is not related to their children’s academic achievement.

  • Degree of state control and regulation of homeschooling is not related to academic achievement.

  • Home-educated students typically score above average on the SAT and ACT tests that colleges consider for admissions.

  • Homeschool students are increasingly being actively recruited by colleges.

  • The home-educated are doing well, typically above average, on measures of social, emotional, and psychological development. Research measures include peer interaction, self-concept, leadership skills, family cohesion, participation in community service, and self-esteem.

  • Homeschool students are regularly engaged in social and educational activities outside their homes and with people other than their nuclear-family members. They are commonly involved in activities such as field trips, scouting, 4-H, political drives, church ministry, sports teams, and community volunteer work.

  • Adults who were home educated are more politically tolerant than the public schooled in the limited research done so far.

And yet… there is a grain of truth to this talk of “socialization.”

It is hard to pin down exactly what people mean by this, since “socialization” doesn’t seem to correlate with either financial success, emotional health, or social development.

Just from personal experience, homeschooled students do tend to be lower in agreeableness, which I would guess comes from their stronger sense of identity and confidence. Uncertainty in who you are and how qualified you are, we would expect, would make a student less confident and self-assured. Given the greater time (let alone investment) within the family in a home-schooled environment, it makes sense that home-schooled students would feel less threatened by the opinions of others, and more willing to speak openly and plainly. After all, they have a layer of social security at home.

This openness seems jarring and, ironically, “other” to the “socialized” students of public schools. No public school student can pin down exactly what it is that is “different” about home-schooled kids — sometimes they’ll say “naive,” or “talkative,” sometimes just “weird.” But all of their appraisals coalesce around the idea this alien self-assuredness, which they call “under-socialization.”

From the public school student’s perspective, this self-assuredness appears naive because it would not work for them. If they risked alienating their own friends and teachers by not playing the social game and being insufficiently deferential to all of the relevant parties, they would have no social life and no external validation of their own identity, due to their own family’s relative separation from the majority of their life. I do not mean that the parents of public-school students are bad parents or are uninvolved in their children’s lives, but that their presence has little effect on their children’s social standing, simply due to the fact that for their children, parents are not a part of the social hierarchy, but are outside of it. Their children spend the better part of their day with teachers and other children. Moreover, the specific teachers and children with whom they interact changes from year to year, even season to season. If the student is to have social affirmation for the majority of his or her life during their school years, it cannot come from their parents, and so they must keep their options open and be agile, socially adaptive.

The home-schooled student, by contrast, has no need to play this game. She might work diligently in class, only to be baffled why others think her strange for not following the leading cues of the popular class clown, who flaunts his disinterest in the subject matter… or the five or six queen bees and jocks, whose competitive spirit kindles resentment towards other students who outshine them. For other students, whose social lives are dominated by the adolescent politics of their age cohort, such factors simply cannot be ignored.

“Socialization,” it seems, does not mean one’s ability to interact with others, which does correlate with later success and happiness. Rather, it indicates an induced willingness to interact, even if one has little interest in doing so.

This, in fact, fits the dictionary definition (particularly “a” and “c”)):

athe process beginning during childhood by which individuals acquire the values, habits, and attitudes of a society
“But certainly dealing with shame and its boundaries is soon a constant factor in the socialization of the child, because standards and rules are everywhere…”
— Robert Karen
“The most important feature of culture is that it can be transmitted, and thus the young can acquire adaptive repertoires through the learning process or, in sociological terms, the socialization process.”
— David Mechanic

bsocial interaction with others
“She also made spelling an exercise in socialization, by putting together children who did not seem predisposed to like each other.”
— Tracy Kidder
“With its idiosyncratic rhythms, rules and relationships, the coffee bar, these new workers say, has replaced the local bar as a place of socialization.”
— Kirk Johnson

cexposure of a young domestic animal (such as a kitten or puppy) to a variety of people, animals, and situations to minimize fear and aggression and promote friendliness
“Some adult dogs, because of a lack of socialization combined with genetic tendencies, can never transfer certain individuals from the “unfamiliar” to the “familiar” category.”
— Dog Watch

Based on the way that public schools work, and the nature of complaints about “under-socialization,” we can deduce the more precise definition of “socialization” along the following lines:

Socialization is the behavioral inducement of compliance to authority by separating children from unapproved bases of identity.

As harsh as this may sound, it is necessarily precise, and I have included no unnecessary judgmental terms. The fact that home-schooled children both perform better and demonstrate better social and psychological health preclude “socialization”–as it is used in reference to home-schooled students–form referring simply to one’s ability to interact with others and get along in the world.

“Behavioral” means that the socialized student acts in the desired manner, without the student necessarily understanding why he or she is acting in this way (this is why they have a difficult time articulating what is “off” about home-schooled students). “Inducement” simply means influencing someone to act in a particular way; behavioral describes the manner of this inducement, which is accomplished through social reward and punishment among peers. “Compliance to authority” may sound ambiguous, but it is crucial to point out that the teachers are not the only authority in question. Indeed, they may not even be the most potent, next to one’s judging fellow pupils.

Now one might argue that parents represent an authority too, but they are a different category of authority altogether. Biologically, a parent has a vested interest in their child’s well being for its own sake. While students, teachers, and other agents of the public school system may make similar claims, they simply lack the biological incentives that compel this kind of interest. If they are not simply mouthing platitudes or outright lying, they usually only care about the students until it is inconvenient or no longer practical to do so. The parent-child relationship revolves around love and biological success, while the school-child relationship revolves, ultimately, around social and political power. That is, after all, how the school regenerates itself.

“Unapproved bases of identity” sounds like a strange phrase, but not all sources of identity are necessarily detrimental to the school’s power over the student. Political and ideological identities can be made to work in their favor — theoretically, maybe even in a mutually beneficial fashion. But in order to achieve the proper degree of obedience, the base for identity must be changed regularly, which means the most concrete and real possible foundation for a student’s identity — other people — must be rotated out and randomized every new school year.

Home-schooled students lack this subtle finesse in navigating the flowing social waterways of the public school system, and other students pick it up like a scent. They lack the cautious self-awareness, the ironic cover, the general “keep your head down and shut up” attitude that even the most boisterous public school students eventually adapt, at least in part. It has no long-term negative effects on their life — to the contrary, being “socialized” seems to be a net-negative, not least in terms of one’s own self-esteem… other people’s talk of you not being properly “socialized” notwithstanding, of course. But circularities of that kind aside, there is one more test I can put forward to demonstrate the argument.

The socialized person has an extremely difficult time dealing with arguments as they are, because the arguments are of less value to the socialized person than the social status that comes with supporting or opposing them. Thus, the author of the argument is usually of more relevance than the argument itself.

This is a point I have learned from experience, and while there may be exceptions (I am sure any reader of this blog is one such exception), the general pattern holds. And the fact that the following argument comes from Theodore Kaczynski will pose little to no problem to a home-schooled person, but will render it almost unreadable to the average “socialized” person.

24. Psychologists use the term “socialization” to designate the process by which children are trained to think and act as society demands. A person is said to be well socialized if he believes in and obeys the moral code of his society and fits in well as a functioning part of that society. It may seem senseless to say that many leftists are over-socialized, since the leftist is perceived as a rebel. Nevertheless, the position can be defended. Many leftists are not such rebels as they seem.

25. The moral code of our society is so demanding that no one can think, feel and act in a completely moral way. For example, we are not supposed to hate anyone, yet almost everyone hates somebody at some time or other, whether he admits it to himself or not. Some people are so highly socialized that the attempt to think, feel and act morally imposes a severe burden on them. In order to avoid feelings of guilt, they continually have to deceive themselves about their own motives and find moral explanations for feelings and actions that in reality have a nonmoral origin. We use the term “oversocialized” to describe such people. [2]

26. Oversocialization can lead to low self-esteem, a sense of powerlessness, defeatism, guilt, etc. One of the most important means by which our society socializes children is by making them feel ashamed of behavior or speech that is contrary to society’s expectations. If this is overdone, or if a particular child is especially susceptible to such feelings, he ends by feeling ashamed of HIMSELF. Moreover the thought and the behavior of the oversocialized person are more restricted by society’s expectations than are those of the lightly socialized person. The majority of people engage in a significant amount of naughty behavior. They lie, they commit petty thefts, they break traffic laws, they goof off at work, they hate someone, they say spiteful things or they use some underhanded trick to get ahead of the other guy. The oversocialized person cannot do these things, or if he does do them he generates in himself a sense of shame and self-hatred. The oversocialized person cannot even experience, without guilt, thoughts or feelings that are contrary to the accepted morality; he cannot think “unclean” thoughts. And socialization is not just a matter of morality; we are socialized to conform to many norms of behavior that do not fall under the heading of morality. Thus the oversocialized person is kept on a psychological leash and spends his life running on rails that society has laid down for him. In many oversocialized people this results in a sense of constraint and powerlessness that can be a severe hardship. We suggest that oversocialization is among the more serious cruelties that human being inflict on one another.

27. We argue that a very important and influential segment of the modern left is oversocialized and that their oversocialization is of great importance in determining the direction of modern leftism. Leftists of the oversocialized type tend to be intellectuals or members of the upper-middle class. Notice that university intellectuals [3] constitute the most highly socialized segment of our society and also the most leftwing segment.

For this reason, the “socialization” that is lost in the home-schooling process may be thought of as mutually-exclusive with a proper education, which is meant to be the leading of a student out of childhood and into proper adulthood. Understanding the social mores of one’s societies is certainly an important part of that, but that is quite different from the Pavlovian compliance to them created by the frictious social fabric of public schools.

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