Socialization: A homeschooler’s perspective

I saw this great quote about homeschoolers the other day in Jim Mullen’s article at Hanford Sentinel.com.

“Those kids are nothing but problems…. They’re not socialized. We had one boy who wanted to go out for football because that’s something you really can’t do at home, and when he got to the locker room, the other kids found out he didn’t even know how to snap a towel or give a wedgie. That’s the problem with homeschooling.”

Hmmm. I never thought about the things that truly matter in adult life and make boys into men like towel-snapping and wedgies. For the record, my boys are accomplished at both. They’ve also found time to master important social skills like Indian burns and ice cubes down sister’s back.

That’s not exactly what I’d envisioned as the marker of success.  The original definition of socialize is ‘to render social, to make fit for living in society’.  I haven’t seen that my knowledge of these skills has made much difference in my social status.  The fact my kids even do these things at all embarrasses me.

Last week, the topic of Justin Bieber came up.  I have no clue what this kid does to create the kind of stir he has.  Boys seem to despise him en masse, girls catch their breath at the mere mention of his name and then apparently are rendered deaf.  I heard a mother utter death threats on anyone humming a song of his “because none of us will get it out of our heads before Friday.”  I’m afraid to click on his name on YouTube.  I have things to accomplish before Friday.  Other than appearing to be a younger, more synthetic version (if possible) of Shaun Cassidy, I think he just needs a haircut.

His photo on IMDb made me think of the kids who ask Mom to drop them off blocks before school, so their friends won’t have to see that they have parents. I never did this of course, but you remember the drill:  even in pouring rain, if the friends didn’t witness a mother, you can deny she exists.  Hmm.  If my son ever thinks the way to win girls is to look like this kid, dropping him off several blocks away from wherever we’re going might be a good idea.  It would allow me to deny my part in his upbringing.  Sorry, kid, you mess with my image.

Socialization is the biggest question I answer to those who have no stake in our future.  Am I not worried they’ll grow up to be social misfits?  If knowing and looking like the current teen heartthrob is integral to growing up properly, then that’s exactly what I hope.

In high school, I belonged to the Latin Club.   It branded me a nerd.  Even after touring Italy and Greece together, sitting through class after class with intelligent people, I was afraid of being identified with them.  And those same geeks are the successful business moguls I wish I were with today.    I had so much in common with them, but the popularity contest kept me away.   It was all about popularity and appearing cool.  I am shocked at the vast majority of high school graduates I’ve spoken to who readily admit their total lack of understanding of higher math, grammar, or even American history and consider themselves responsible adults.   What was school about, after all?   Paul Simon sang (about the generation before mine), “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”

Most of us are hypocrites.  We look back on the waste of time that was the majority of our education and simultaneously deride those who strive for a more productive use of their children’s time.  And homeschoolers, being human, are just as susceptible to peer pressure as anybody else, for the most part.  If we are the only ones present in the neighborhood all week, I feel left out of the world of important busy-ness.  But I lived on “Homeschool Hill” for a while, too, and I heard several parents there lamenting what failures they were because their only contribution to their students’ education was dropping them at the bus stop.  How much of what any of us do is still the result of peer pressure?  That’s pure foolishness, and has nothing to do with competent, adult citizenship.

I don’t want my children to be part of the crowd doing nothing but griping about the state of the world today.  I want them to make a difference in their world, to think for themselves and stand on their own beliefs.  I want them to believe in God and respect their father.  I want them to read original ideas and deduce their own conclusions.  My textbook and newspaper world prepared me much better to read a review than embark on an original work alone.  I am very aware of my vulnerability to being misled by this.  I also know that, in spite of being an honor student with a 4-year degree, I still have no ability to follow the train of thought in many of our country’s founding documents and make up my own mind about them.

So how well socialized am I, if I cannot join the adult conversation about the most important concepts regarding our native land?  It’s a sad commentary on our society that I am considered an intelligent, competent member of society because I try to research candidates before voting.  Someone actually was impressed that I had a standard for how I voted: could I pronounce the person’s name, and did I prefer a man or woman in this office?  I wasn’t flipping a coin the way they were.

Homeschooled kids know they don’t fit in.  I remember two boys who attended a swim party at our home once and never removed their fishing hats.   At any other swim party, they would have been laughed at as dorks.  But these boys were very fair, and had already learned to put their health before their vanity.  They were wise beyond their peers.  As I look at the college-age kids around me, I see Eagle Scouts, lobbyists, business owners, and museum curators.  They don’t fit in any standard mold.  Yet they are the children of my homeschooling friends.

There used to be a popular book about homeschooling called Hothouse Transplants.   I loved the impression.  Plants raised in a greenhouse aren’t raised in a natural environment.  But when they come out, they have a strength that far outperforms other plants.  I’m doing something different because I want to make a positive change in my world.  And really, wouldn’t that be the ideal definition of rendering a child fit for society?

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