Monday, 17 May 2010

Home-schooling - will your children be socially inept?

Back here I argued that home-schooling has the significant advantage, in normal circumstances, in terms of the quality of education.

Today I'd like to advance on that by arguing that, all things being equal, it should lead to more sociable and adaptable children also.

When I say that, I'm aware that upon hearing the idea of home-schooling, many people immediately fear that their children will be in some danger of being anti-social freaks who cannot relate to anyone else except for their parents and perhaps other home-schoolers. The idea seems to be that everyone else is at school, that school has its culture, and that if your kids grow up in a different culture they won't know how to relate to their peers.

Now, the "all things being equal" phrase here is important. Of course, some parents may choose home-schooling because they fear and loathe the outside world and want to avoid it wherever possible. They are recluses, and force their children to do the same. OK. We're not talking about that kind of situation. Of course, personality matters too. Some people are naturally by their innate personalities better socially than others. This also proves nothing. Comparing how well I run the 100m after a year's solid training (by the way, I'm short) against how a lanky Jamaican does after a fortnight will not demonstrate who had the better training method.

Having got that out of the way, I next want to agree with the embedded assumption: that schools have their own culture. That's a large dose of the reason why I and many other parents decided to be home-schoolers. We couldn't afford the fees for a school that aimed to foster our children in a learning environment we would sufficiently approve of. In other words, a school with an explicitly evangelical Christian ethos, which we believe is required by Deuteronomy 6:4-6. Deuteronomy 6:4-6 does not require that 100% of a child's time needs to be spent in an environment with explicitly Christian assumptions (and I never met a home-schooler who thought anything in that ball-park); but the bulk of the day Monday to Friday for most of the year is way, way the wrong side of the line in my judgment: not even close. Declining to choose a 9-to-5 learning environment for our children that is overwhelmingly non-Christian is not the same as fear and loathing of the outside world.

Now, you may well differ from me on that. That last point is not the main part of my argument, so pardon me thrusting that in your face if you didn't agree with it. My real point is a simple one. Home-schoolers, if their parents are taking an all-around view of education (i.e., it's more than just the book-work at the desk), will get out and about quite a lot. They will see and meet many people.

Because all activities are not laid on a plate at school, they are likely to go to a club or two. They might go to music lessons with a private teacher. They might meet up with a local home-schoolers group together with their parents for share activities. They're likely to accompany mum as she does the ordinary routine - to the shops, the vet, the bank, etcetera. They write letters to pen-pals. They video chat with a buddy they met at a home-school convention over Skype.

The point is this: in whatever activities they do do, little Johnny or Joanna are meeting people. At school you meet people; home-schoolers also meet people. The key difference is this: at school, you overwhelming interact with only one kind of person: those like yourself, born within the same school year, in the same class, doing the same thing together day after day. Home-schoolers are likely to meet a significantly more diverse range of people - and especially a much higher number of those more mature than them.

Is it not obvious which of these two is more likely to be better socially adapted? Which is more like "real life" - spending the great majority of time only with your exact peers, or spending it with a much wider range? How many people find it a shock when they leave school and actually join the real-world - where everyday life means interacting with people of all kinds, not just those who are the same age as you and have followed the same basic path for the last decade?

"Your children will be socially ill-adapted" is in my opinion a myth - just as much as the idea that everybody who goes to school is socially well-adapted is (was it like that at your school?). In our experience, real home-schoolers who avoid the obvious pitfalls are much more likely to receive remarks on how confident and conversational their children are.

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