Kearneysville, WV. Recently my wife and I stepped into a new wine shop in a town near where we live. The shop was very small and we were the only patrons. The young lady minding the store was friendly and talkative. We chatted about various wines and about the fact that in our state people tend to favor beverages with names like Bud and Coors over Merlot and Chardonnay. As the conversation drifted away from wine, the young lady, Kate was her name, told us that her fiancé owned the shop but he was occupied that day with his primary job. Her summers were free because she taught at a local elementary school. My wife then mentioned that we homeschool our three boys.

I’m always interested to watch the reaction of people when they learn this fact. Quite often the response is enthusiastic. Once my neighbor sadly shook his head and told me that my wife and I were lucky that we were educated enough to teach our kids at home and keep them out of the local schools. Kate, for her part, smiled and nodded and then she asked the question that I sometimes think has been put to rest but for some reason lingers on as one of the central criticisms of homeschooling: “What about their socialization?”

Kate’s sincere question got me to thinking. What is this thing we call “socialization” and why is there a perception that this is best achieved in the classroom and thwarted by homeschooling? I suppose that socialization means that a child is comfortable with other people and is able to get along with them in a way that portends successful adjustment to the world of adults.

My thoughts turned to my own public school education. I remember a boy named John. In high school he was skinny and gawky and wore a crew cut in a time when long hair was the style. Invariably he was attired in a ratty blue ski jacket and he didn’t take it off inside the building. He didn’t talk much and his nose was constantly running. So was he. He was picked on a lot. He would pull his jacket up around his head and run down the hall somehow avoiding lockers and other students. I think he was trying to avoid getting punched or teased, and perhaps he was simply trying to avoid people in general, for kindness from his peers was not something he knew much about.

My wife also attended public school in a city where students were bussed across town in order to achieve some kind of racial equality. My wife tells of voluntary racial segregation that included hallways where only black students ventured and of another hallway where young ladies were frequently groped.

Of course, anecdotes do not prove that a healthy socialization is not possible in a public school, and there are many success stories that establish the possibility. But the horror stories do seem to blunt the blanket criticisms of homeschooling. The real question that should be asked is not whether a child will be socialized but how the child will be socialized.

It is, to be sure, efficient to divide children into age cohorts and to educate them as a group. Doing otherwise is virtually unimaginable and would require a return to something like the one room school house where children of various ages were educated together. When education is conducted on a large scale such an arrangement would be simply untenable. Yet, it seems almost unavoidable that educating children according to age cohort invariably socializes them to think of themselves as part of a certain group designated by age. That is, at best, a limited preparation for an adult world where one ought to be capable of dealing with people of a variety of ages.

Centuries ago Plato argued that children are essentially mimetic creatures. They will imitate what they see, and what they imitate they will become. If we are not scrupulously attentive, when we educate children in groups of peers, the models they are confronted with are primarily other children. And all too often these cohort groups organize themselves in a hierarchy in which the strong—the physically strong or those with an acerbic wit and often both—are at the top and the weak are marginalized and often tormented. These peer packs create a context where socialization occurs, but at best the results are a mixed bag.

Educating children at home does not guarantee well-adjusted children who become happy and successful adults. But it does offer at the very least more time in which parents can model what a competent adult is. Furthermore, where there is more than one child at home, children naturally learn to interact with people not of their own age cohort.

Two of my most satisfying experiences as a parent have occurred when my oldest son, Seth, has proven himself to be, well, I guess the word is “well-socialized.” One was the first time he sat on the couch flanked by his two younger brothers while he read aloud to them. The second occurred recently when Seth attended a summer sports camp. Also in attendance were some kids who were big and loud and disrespectful of the camp counselors. There was, as there always is, a small boy who was not very athletic, and he was, of course, the object of the bullies. Through the mother of another child, word came to my wife and I that Seth stood up to the bullies. He told them to stop picking on the small boy and then he made an effort to befriend him.

Incidentally, the reason my wife and I were free to linger in a small wine shop on a Saturday afternoon was that our boys were at a birthday party where a rather lively group of children were playing whiffle ball, having a water balloon fight, and swimming in a backyard pool. Most of the children were homeschooled. When we arrived to pick up the boys, all the children were having a great time. I didn’t notice any child who seemed socially ill-at-ease or who wandered by himself playing solitary games with an invisible playmate. And one young man even shook my hand.

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture


  1. Mr. Mitchell – I know you’re making an anecdotal argument here, so let me add my own. I attended a college that has lots of students who were homeschooled through high school (I wasn’t). It was a simple fact that they stood out – one could spot them a mile away. I won’t disagree that they were “socialized” after a fashion – it’s not like they were all sitting alone in the dining hall or anything, but they often struggled to seem at ease with their non-homeschooled peers. In fact, they tended to get along most easily with other homeschoolers. Whether or not homeschoolers themselves were conscious of this appearance, the rest of us undoubtedly were.

    If you want to argue that children at school are socialized in negative ways, I’m certainly open to that argument. But homeschooling in Christian America seems, from my perspective, to socialize kids in a culture somewhat its own. Socialization isn’t just about getting along with people in general, but people of a particular culture, and this outsider’s perspective, homeschoolers aren’t socialized very well the larger culture.

  2. As my “social” childhood was a disaster (due to my well-established personality flaws and the disorientation of my peers) I find myself reacting to the mere mention of “socialization” with a sort of gullet stop. I’m revolted by the idea that we are interested in our children assimilating youth anti-culture is shocking and scandalously bizarre.

    My own sister married a Navy man and traveled constantly. It was an ever present matter of controversy that she desired to end the sojourn and put down roots. Now that he’s retired and finally they have begun the process (which might not happen properly in their lifetime’s, but might begin). There is some rumor about his company moving jobs out of state. Her only concern after years of heart ache and the still nascent triumph of hearth and home is that her children have friends at school.

    Not a word about neighbors, or those at church; nor a concern for the greater-to-impossible distance this might put between them and extended family, nor even that the state they might be moving to is so different from them culturally that it will be as if they moved to a foreign country (as the state is Texas, I’m sure they’d consider that a complement).

    Nope. Some transient pop-fellows who do more to distort the self-image and degrade the influence of higher concerns than anything else… “play-mates” at best are all that ties my sister’s family to their once-was-final resting place.

    I cried inside when I heard this. This was not the grace given us by our parents. Something has been stripped from her that perhaps doesn’t grow back.

  3. That’s the point. The larger culture is daft. Why would you teach your children to speak lunatic, just to get along better at the asylum?

    • I am all for characterizations of lots of the larger culture as “daft”, but believe it or not, the college I attended was full of well-adjusted people with reasonably healthy views about the world. Homeschooled kids weren’t just socialized in non-daft views, but in a culture defined by (among other things to be sure) insularity.

      • Re the “Christian America” point, it’s worth noting that the early church didn’t seem to have had any model akin to that which contemporary Christian religionists call “homeschooling.” It seems that the premise was full participation with pagan society, up to and including educational participation. From W.A. Strong’s “Children in the Early Church”:

        “The early Christians lived in a society whose values were inimical to them in many respects. The pagan society around them was underpinned by a religion which they considered false, if not demonic; it was characterized by moral values they could not share; and it was entered into by an education steeped in paganism. So we might expect the early Christians to try to protect their young by providing some alternative form of education which would keep them free from the temptations and snares of the pagan world in which they lived. They had, after all, the example of the Jewish synagogue schools. But, rather surprisingly, the Christians did not take that course for several centuries. There was no fiercer critic of paganism than Tertullian (c. 160-c.225), but even he accepted the necessity for young people to share in the education on offer at pagan schools. His chosen image to describe the Christian pupil’s situation as he read the pagan authors whose work formed the ancient syllabus, was that of someone offered poison to drink, but refusing to take it (On Idolatry 10).

        “The young Origen (born c.185 AD)…is said to have received extra instruction in the Scriptures from his father, Leonides, each day before he set out for his secular schooling (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.2.7f.)…Here was a devout Christian father, later to be martyred for the gospel, who was nonetheless willing for his son to attend school, and follow the normal curriculum of the pagan classics. Origen himself became an enthusiast for secular education as a preparation for Biblical study, and in later life urged it on those who came to him for instruction (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.18.4: NE 192).

        “We hear of no Christian schooling outside the home in the early centuries. A century after Clement had written to Corinthian fathers and husbands to ‘instruct the young in the fear of God,’ the same pattern of family responsibility can be seen in Origen’s Alexandria. Christian parents were still content for their children to share a common education with their pagan neighbors, and the church was slow to copy the synagogue in providing an alternative pattern of schooling. Even when John Chrysostom (c.347-407) wrote the first Christian treatise on the education of children (On the Vainglory of the World and on the Education of Children), he addressed himself to parents, and said nothing about sending children to specifically Christian schools. The first Christian schools seem to have been those founded by the monasteries from the fourth century onwards (Marrou 1965 472-84).

        “It is worth asking why Christians did not take the opportunity to create their own schools. If we take the comparison with the Jewish community, one reason must have been that there was no need for Christian children to learn a sacred language; their Jewish contemporaries had to learn Hebrew. Those who spoke Greek could read the New Testament in its original language, and the Old testament in Greek translation. And the New Testament Scriptures were rapidly translated into the various languages of the Mediterranean. Further, Christians did not see themselves as culturally distinct from their neighbours. An anonymous writer of the late second century expressed eloquently how Christians were in the world, but not of it:

        For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind by country, or by speech, or by dress. For they do not dwell in cities of their own, or use a different language, or practise a peculiar speech…But while they dwell in Greek or barbarian cities according as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the land in clothing and food, and other matters of daily life, yet the condition of citizenship which they exhibit is wonderful, and admittedly strange…Every foreign land is to them a fatherland, and every fatherland a foreign land. (Epistle to Diognetus 6.1-5: NE 55).

        “To set up their own separate educational provision would have been to withdraw from the common life they shared with their pagan neighbours. And, while they recognized the dangers and allure of paganism, the early Christians saw no need to do that. They let their children ‘share in the instruction which is in Christ’ (1 Clement), and they allowed them access to education for the wider pagan society. They were not trying to create a Christian ghetto, but to be salt and light in their world. Their attitude to their children’s education was an expression of this open yet critical attitude.”

        So the larger culture may be daft in plenty of places, but if we take our cues from the early Christians, it is arguable that if there was such a high premium placed on participating with pagans then maybe there is something to said for rubbing shoulders with even daftness (a lesser sin)? And besides, if we really believe the home is where people are actually made then maybe we can worry a little less about wider participation being preparatory lessons in lunacy? That is, presuming our homes aren’t lunatic. But I’ve never understood the idea that to make my children well I also have to educate them.

        • Dear Mr. Zrim, what does your research tell you about the kind of “secular school” Origen attended? Would it not it have looked a lot more like a 19th century one-room school than a 21st-century multi-thousand-student institution?

          • Mr. Nelson, to the extent that every generation thinks its is the culmination of all things culturally (and educationally) rotten and previous generation all things wholesome, I could well imagine a 19th century citizen asking the same question about the 16th century. But I am skeptical of the romantic view of history, which isn’t to say I’m not critical of present day culture, so your point is taken. Even so, my point remains: the early church seemed to have s stouter notion of what it meant to participate in wider culture, while the advent of some educational delivery systems can seem to suggest wimpier notions of how faith is preserved.

        • The pagan schools praised and used by early Christians offered the best education available in that time and were employed for that reason. Often (not always), homeschooling fills that space now, so if we take our cues from the early Christians…

          The evidence indicates early Christians didn’t place a “high premium” on participation in pagan institutions and thereby seek to fulfill an aspiration to be “in but not of the world” (a phrase not actually in Scripture which is often misused to support conformity). You won’t find that mindset in the actual writings of early Christians, though many contemporary writers anachronistically impute to them a mindset characteristic of certain post-Christendom Christians. For pagan Romans and their early Christian contemporaries, the cult was at the center of culture, and so Christians did see themselves as culturally distinct. It is only after the modern separation of cult and culture, “religion” and “polity,” that the idea that Christians could see themselves as cultural indistinct could be entertained.

          It is true that Christians did not alternatively place a high premium on avoiding their pagan neighbors and that there was significant overlap in daily life, but this is more an accident of circumstance and resource/institutional scarcity rather than a “strategy” derived from a religious impulse. In fact, early on Christians developed their own system of ecclesiastical courts, a tradition which would continue and develop into something in many respects superior to Roman law courts, even being used by local and regional Roman authorities in the 4th century; if Christians really placed such a “high premium” on participation in pagan society, then why would they create alternative legal institutions?

          The truth is that early Christians did so because they cared more about having the best in legal institutions, just as they wanted the best in education. They wanted the best culture in accordance with their own cult rather than either participation in pagan society or avoidance of it.

          Now, I happen to think proper “socialization” is an intrinsic aspect of education and so is a legitimate question for “contemporary Christian religionists.” (whatever that means). If I might add my own anecdote from college, I didn’t notice much difference between the home-schooled and non-homeschooled in terms of their capacity to get along with peers. I do think it’s implausible to believe that with the grown of home-school cooperatives, home-schooled children aren’t going to be “well socialized” in the future.

      • I have noticed that the homeschooled children that now attend public high school with my children mimic the behavior of their parents, which is often one of insularity as you mention, as well as disdain. They do seem to have more trouble adjusting to change. Homeschool parents should understand that sending your child to school does not lessen the influence the parent has, so they shouldn’t be so fearful of sending their children out in the world. A good parent teaches their child about respect for others and that is not unique to the homeschool crowd. Christ did not hole himself up in a cave, he mingled with the masses, to the disdain of the pharisees. Anyone seeing a pattern here?

  4. I wonder if the homeschooling environment does hamper their ability to feel at ease with larger groups. So much of society is now placing a great emphasis on collaborative skills that this, not one-on-one socialization, could be where many homeschooled kids fall slightly short. Like it or not, our children will join the unwashed masses in the asylum at some point in their life, so maybe the sooner we acclimate them to the lunacy, the better they’ll thrive in the chaos.

    However, to catch the other side of the collaboration argument, I firmly believe that the sole reason most Gen Yers insist upon teamwork and collaboration is that they can’t (or won’t) stomach being personally accountable for anything. It’s far easier for a group of people to take the hit than for one person to shoulder the blame for failure. Bailouts, anyone?

    • I think you are still viewing homeschooling through a lens whereby there is minimal social interactions – it is the same ‘socialization’ question discussed above. Homeschooling takes on many forms that are group based. The first group is the family of course…..working with siblings and parents in a structure that requires negotiation with peers and working under authority. It is naturally collaborative. The, education with groups takes many forms within our abode… is Orchestra, Awana, online courses, robotics leagues, homeschooling gym class, baseball, basketball, co-ops, gardening, wood-working and the neighborhood street hockey match – it is all collaboration and socialization.Your point about lack of accountability that can come with an over-emphasis on a collaborative approach is a good one…I had not given much thought too.

  5. Socialization is defined by the OED as “The process of forming associations with others; specifically the process by which a person learns to function within a particular society or group by internalizing its values and norms.”

    The “values and norms” of those who raise the question may possibly be different than those of home-schooling parents, who are in fact attempting to raise their children in accordance with certain values and norms.

    Another definition of socialization refers mostly to corporations: “The action or process of making socialistic, or establishing according to the principles of socialism; specifically the action or process of bringing an industry, company, etc., under state ownership or public control.”

    This appears to be one of the primary goals of the public educational system: to bring children, insofar as is possible, under the control and influence of the state.

  6. While socialization is important you are so right that it does not necessarily have to come from a public school. I went to a large public school with a diverse background of children, but there were many stories like yours that were not all positive. Kids can be harsh with each other and socialization can be controlled so it is a positive experiece for all.

  7. Two different thoughts.

    First, there is the question of whether keeping kids from deliberately forming anti-culture social connections with peers is a virtue, which it is clearly not. The counter claim that Christians have always been salt is fine as it goes, but that’s not what’s happening here. My experience is that Christians are not salting public schooling or their peers, but being corrupted by them. If you believe that your children can and do, then your judgment should rule. There are many Christians better than I and I am willing to accept that my deficiencies are the cause of such a disparaging outcome in my experience.

    Second, is more insidious. If we place our children in school because we are concerned for their lives here on this earth in opposition to the life hereafter, then we are truly abusive parents. It may be possible for those concerned with the practical matters of this life might achieve much without a tarnish against the next as this life has a great deal to do with the next but I have always advocated that modern folks carefully watch their hearts because it is so easy to venerate the hearts conformed to this world.

    I scold no one here, neither do I speak from self-righteousness (for I have none) but I do ever mutter caution under my breath. We are playing with dragons and we should never believe we have tamed them, as soon as we drop our guard we will be devoured.

    I am no homeschooling advocate, but I am an advocate for careful and deep consideration of what public schooling and age-isolated peer groups does to the hearts of our children.

    Zrim mentioned Origen. I’ve been thinking about him often these days. I am a “fan” if you will. However, even though I think the Origenists unfairly tarnished their namesake, I think there is no little wisdom in that the Church never canonized him and tossed the folly of his followers aside.

  8. Dear Mr. Mitchell, why are one-room schools on a vast scale unimaginable and untenable? I, for one, am far from conceding that point. One-room schools educated the “greatest generation” of Americans. They educated my own parents (and we are the same age, you and I). If a good progressive can argue for a return to rail-based public transport, why not one-room schools? Could it be because the primary reason for abandoning them was to enhance career opportunities for unionized professional educators? Bully for them, I suppose, but the burden of proof is on these new-fangled colossal factory schools to demonstrate superiority to those that had successfully educated many generations of Americans before. And, as a footnote, isn’t the charter school movement an attempt to return to smaller more managable community-based education of the kind once taken for granted by we citizens?

    • Dear Peter Nelson,
      You are exactly right that one of the issues is one of scale. School consolidation has, apparently reduced some inefficiencies, but it has destroyed communities and changed the nature of many schools. I think the one-room schools would be a great improvement over much of what we have now. Although, what about football? Might the way we think about school and athletics need to change dramatically? I suspect so.

      Mind you, the main thrust of my essay was to defend the possibility of socialization occurring in the context of a home school. I was not necessarily suggesting that all other forms are wrong or ineffective.

  9. A simple maxim expresses the rationale for homeschooling our children: one assumes the state of the company one keeps.

    As a parent, I am responsible for instilling values and virtues in my child and for guiding her to a correct and healthful worldview. Why should I abrogate this responsibility to someone else? If socialization is so important, why should I leave it to strangers – education majors and children?

    This also seems to go back to a recent post by Ashley Trim, wherein she raised The Great Question: what is the purpose of education? A related but different question might be asked here as well: what is the purpose of schooling? Whatever they may be, are these purposes best accomplished in a public school or a private home? Are they best accomplished by strangers or are they best accomplished by parents?

  10. Speaking of socialization, I wonder what percentage of investment bankers employed from 2000-2008 were home-schooled compared to the percentage of students overall who are home-schooled. Perhaps it would be more helpful to see what percentage of home-schooled students graduating from Ivy League colleges went to work for Goldman Sachs in 2010 compared to the percentage of non-home-schooled students graduating from the same colleges. Are these valid indicators of socialization?

  11. Advocates of public schooling rarely ever argue for the superiority of the education offered. Instead, “social skills” (whatever that means) and other tertiary things are emphasized in its place. Somehow, having our kids “fitting in”/”not sticking out” from the herd became more important than their ability to think properly.
    But then again, government schools producing independent, critical thinking individuals doesn’t bode well for the empire.

  12. Maybe it is a simple as if the parents are well socialized, so are the children. Parents maintain the ability to influence their children about right and wrong regardless of the educational setting. Homeschooling gives the parent better control over content and the student more individualized attention than a group setting offers but it definitely has it’s downsides as well and I have seen some significant behavioral deficiencies in the home schooled kids that now attend public high school with my children. I am always amused at the perceived superiority of homeschool parents and the way their children mimic that attitude. A parent can send their child to a public or private school without abdicating their parental role. Teaching children how to live in the world without being of the world can be accomplished in more than one way, and many would argue that isolation doesn’t further that goal. As I recall, the Pharisees complained about Christ being in the world and socializing with those the Pharisees considered undesirable.

    • I think you’ve hit on something here Kelly. My wife, who was home schooled, has made the generalized observation that there are “two kinds” of homeschooling families, those that want to offer their children a good education and instill their values on the one hand, and those who pursue it as an extension of their own anti-social program on the other (the overly enmeshed family that home schools because they don’t want their children going off on their own, even to college, as I’ve seen in a few cases). The difference is clear when you encounter them. This doesn’t make homeschooling any worse (or better) than anything else people do– as is usually the case, it’s as good or bad as the people engaged in it.

      That being said, in many cases public schooling is worse than the people engaged in it, because of the bureaucracy and political maneuvering that hamstrings good teachers and administrators.

  13. Because sending one’s children away to be educated is the norm, I understand why we expect homeschoolers to justify their anomalous decision. But because, to my mind at least, homeschooling makes so much sense, I much prefer the question: “why don’t you teach your own kids?”

    Imbedded in this question is another: “do you think a recent college graduate is more qualified to teach your child than you are?”

    I can easily see many – specifically those lacking college degrees but believing powerfully in the myth of credentialed superiority – answering “yes,” to this question. The mystique of a Master’s is mighty indeed, especially for those uninitiated in the esoterica of academia. And for those who are barely literate – such as the parents of many of my own students (yes, I am a public school teacher!) – I would likely argue that yes, better for their children to learn from those who know. But for professionals, themselves members of the credentialed class? Are we so ready to concede that a freshly minted education major is more qualified to teach our child than we? If not, why allow it?

    I reckon that our most charitable excuse is fiscal: we work and therefore have not the time to care for and teach a child. I also reckon that I am uncharitable, and here is the proof: I find this excuse insufficient. It suggests a want of resourcefulness and proper prioritization. If we haven’t the time to care for and teach a child why did we have a child in the first place? So we can send her to someone else for the better part of the day for thirteen years? So someone else can dictate what and how she should learn?

    At the very heart of it, I find something disturbing about relinquishing our children to the state for their education. Disturbing…but sometimes necessary….or at least preferable to a more contemptible ignorance. Hence the source of my sordid salt. I would, however, prefer to see home or community schooling as normative and state schooling as an institution of last resort.

  14. If the actual choice was between homeschooling or sending our children to mingle among barbarians with expectation of our daughters groped as they walked down the halls, then obviously we would without question choose homeschooling.

    But that is not the choice. Just as it isn’t a choice for us to send our children to the local government schools.

    Fortunately, there are alternatives that parents can in good conscience send their children to : independent Catholic schools, Catholic diocesan schools, and government charter schools.

    And our oldest children did, and have done, them all including homeschooling off and on through the years.

    Our local FSSP parish has just signed on with one of the local diocesan grade schools, and I’m glad for that because homeschooling is a burden. A burden increased by the current culture where each family is an isolated island unto itself and expected to be self sufficient.

    As for socialization, I have seen it done every way possible, and children seem to be resilient enough to survive them all without too much damage.

    As for ostracization, it also happens among the homeschoolers. Not among the children, but by the parents who made it a point not to include certain families. An occurrence I have also seen at our FSSP parish where certain families were not informed of the social events directed for the children.

  15. We homeschool and have for 16 years and our oldest is a sophmore in college, has a rock band, had dreads at one point, and all our kids have lots of friends. My husband is a pricnipal of a public charter school that blends home schooling and building based classes that families can sign up for similar to signing up for lessons or college classes. There are math tutors and writing tutors who can help if a parent is stuck on teaching calculus or some other subject they don’t feel confident about. We just place our 16 year dyslexic son in a class at the local high school for dyslexics. He can go to just that class and then leave and do the rest of his work at home or at my husbands office. Given all this, our years of experience, the fact that my husband was a certified teacher and now a ceritified principal, I was just accosted by a math teacher who is serving as the DRE of our church regarding the socialization questions! I was truly stunned! Like you state in your article, “I thought this was a dead questions” but furthermore, this woman knows us so well and there is NO question that our family and our kids are well socialized. But the belief, within adherents of the public school system, that the ONLY proper way to socialize young human beings is in age graded classroom is so strong that it reared it’s head in this conversation.

    Homeschooling is so mainstream now but has become a threat to public money flow. That I think is the bottom line…

  16. Some of my best memories of being around children as an adult are the times I spent with a large family that homeschooled. Those kids were still 100% kid, but what a joy there were to be around! They were just real good kids–respectful, well-spoken, articulate, while still trying to get you to smell the new Power Bait they just got.

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