Rachel Gathercole’s The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling is a well-researched answer to the question so often asked of home educators, “What about socialization?” The author interviewed homeschooling parents and students from across the country and includes numerous anecdotes from them to further support the research and data she presents in the book.
Gathercole convincingly addresses the common socialization-related objections to home education, including concerns about insufficient peer contact, close family relationships, being cool, relationships with other adults, diversity, preparation for the real world, and even the suggestion that bullying and other forms of adversity are important social factors that homeschoolers miss out on by not being in school. But before delving into these and other issues, Gathercole addresses the lack of collective understanding that our culture perceives about what homeschooling is and what socialization is. She also emphasizes that although socialization might look different in a homeschooled child than it does in a schooled child, different does not mean worse. For many, school experiences and childhood are intrinsically linked, but for others, this is just not so and it doesn’t mean they’re missing out on something important.
Although what we [parents] all really want for our children is happy childhoods and the chance for them to grow up into happy, functional adults with the skills to have successful relationships, we tend to forget this and instead focus on comparing children’s social experiences to an unquestioned “norm”—the typical school experience—that may in fact have little to do with this goal. Any difference or “missing” element (for example, riding the bus) is automatically seen as a lack, even without examining whether that element is important or even helpful to the objective of positive social learning.
I appreciated Gathercole’s observations about whether homeschooling shelters kids and prevents them from interacting with different cultures, races, and socio-economic status:
Ultimately, though, in any educational situation, it is the attitudes and motivation of the parents that largely determine and inform a child’s exposure, education, and attitudes toward diversity. Just as school systems are adopting special curricula to teach tolerance, so can (and do) many homeschool families emphasize or encourage tolerance, understanding, and acceptance of differences.
I heard several glowing reviews about this book in my local homeschooling group and I also highly recommend it for homeschoolers, regardless of their reasons for choosing home education, and also for those who are considering homeschooling. The Well-Adjusted Child would be just as informative and useful for well-meaning friends and relatives who do not homeschool but have concerns about the social effects of homeschooling and are open to learning more about it. (Honestly, if you’re emphatically against homeschooling, nothing in the book is likely to sway your opinion, although you might have a few of your assumptions challenged.)