By Dr. Brian Ray, Crosswalk.com
Scholars Still Want to Know: What about Socialization?
Veteran homeschoolers laugh or cry to hear the question again, and again. Novice homeschoolers might be terrified by it. What about socialization?
For 35 years, scholars have asked in many ways and on different occasions, "Will children, who do not grow up with about 28 same-age peers for 6 hours per day, 5 days per week, and nine months per year, turn out okay socially?" As adults, will they know how to chit-chat at a garden party? Will they be kind to their neighbors?
A review of peer-reviewed research (Ray, 2017) found that 87% of the studies showed clearly positive outcomes for the homeschooled compared to those in, or who had attended, conventional schools. Two of the studies reported that some of the findings were more positive for homeschool students but some were more positive for institutional school students. Many topics were addressed (e.g., problems acting out toward others, social skills, psychological/emotional depression, externalizing problems, internalizing problems, attachment security, and underage use of alcohol).
Scholars point out, however, that many of the studies to date have methodological limitations that make it hard to say, overall, whether the home educated are doing worse, the same, or better than the institutionally schooled. Recently, doctors Daniel Hamlin and Albert Cheng (2022) offered a methodologically improved study to the body of research.
Hamlin and Cheng’s "mixed-methods study examines the social and life trajectories of formerly homeschooled adults in two phases." The first was to interview 31 adults who were homeschooled as children to answer the research question, "How do adults who were homeschooled perceive the influence of homeschooling on their social and life outcomes?"
The second phase of the study addressed the question, "Do social and life outcomes (i.e., educational attainment, income, marital status, and subjective wellbeing) differ among formerly homeschooled adults based on the length of time that they were homeschooled?" For this, the scholars investigated survey data on the social and life outcomes of 140 formerly homeschooled adults.
To examine the assertion of some that homeschooling is an isolating practice with harmful consequences that extend into adulthood, the scholars differentiated homeschooled adults according to how long they had been homeschooled (i.e., long-term: 10 to 12 years, substantial: 3 to 9 years, and short-term: 1 to 2 years). This was done to test the idea that those who were homeschooled for a shorter period of time would experience fewer socially isolating ramifications of home-based education than those who were homeschooled longer.
Of the 31 adults interviewed, 28 "reported not feeling socially isolated while being homeschooled. Extracurricular activities were described as one of the main venues to socialize, build relationships with peers, and satisfy social needs." The interviewees identified a wide range of activities in which many children typically engage, such as "... boy or girl scouts, martial arts, recreational sports, symphony orchestra, community theater, and faith-based groups," and 77% of them had been in homeschool cooperatives. The participants explained that their families made concerted efforts to create social opportunities for them while growing up because their parents were cognizant of their social needs.
"Twenty-nine of the 31 adults who were homeschooled felt a sense of gratitude to their parents for having homeschooled them but emphasized that one of the key factors that made homeschooling work from a social standpoint was that their parents were intentional about facilitating social experiences for them." Numerous participants were satisfied with the friendships they had formed as children and described their relationships as "quality over quantity."
Hamlin and Cheng found that all of the formerly homeschooled adults moved on to mainstream institutions such as higher education and the workforce. Most of them found that they had a smooth transition from a social standpoint but, at the same time, noted that they eventually had to learn "mainstream social norms, and, in some instances, overcome social gaps between the interactions they were accustomed to as homeschooled children and social expectations in higher education or workforce settings."
Survey data showed that 45% had been homeschooled for 1 or 2 years, 44% for 3 to 9 years, and 11% for 10 to 12 years. The researchers used logistic and ordinary least squares regression analyses to compare three groups of homeschooled adults: short-term homeschooling, substantial homeschooling, and long-term homeschooling. They compared the three groups on the dependent variables of household income, attendance at a post-secondary institution, divorced/separated status, and subjective well-being.
Hamlin and Cheng summarized the quantitative findings as follows:
Overall, no statistical differences on the four social and life outcomes are observed between short-term homeschoolers (1 to 2 years) who spent nearly all of their K–12 education in brick-and-mortar schools and long-term (10 to 12 years) and substantial (3 to 9 years) homeschoolers who had less exposure to mainstream social opportunities available in brick-and-mortar schools. The results of these statistical analyses seem to fit with those of formerly homeschooled adults’ perceptions of their experiences in that they provide little evidence that homeschooling is generally harmful to one’s perceived social and life outcomes.
Despite the fact that both curious observers and philosophically negative critics of homeschooling continue to ask the question, "What about socialization?" this study adds to the general body of research that suggests that those who attended institutional schools are no better off socially and emotionally into adulthood than those who were homeschooled, whether short or long-term. Hamlin and Cheng concluded that the "formerly homeschooled adults were socially integrated and actively participating in mainstream social institutions in later life."
- Hamlin, Daniel, & Cheng, Albert. (2022): Homeschooling, perceived social isolation, and life trajectories: An analysis of formerly homeschooled adults. Journal of School Choice, https://doi.org/10.1080/15582159.2022.2028338.
- Ray, Brian D. (2017). A systematic review of the empirical research on selected aspects of homeschooling as a school choice. Journal of School Choice: International Research and Reform, 11(4), 604-621. Retrieved December 12, 2017 from https://doi.org/10.1080/15582159.2017.1395638.
Copyright 2022, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms. Read The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com, or download the free reader apps at www.TOSApps.com for mobile devices. Read the STORY of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine and how it came to be.
Dr. Brian Ray is president of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI.org). He has published numerous articles and books, been repeatedly interviewed by major media, served as an expert witness in court cases, and testified to legislatures regarding educational issues. Dr. Ray is a leading international expert in research on homeschooling. He holds a Ph.D. in science education from Oregon State University. Brian and Betsy have been married for 43 years and have eight children, all of whom were home educated, and they have 17 grandchildren. You can donate to the nonprofit NHERI (www.NHERI.org/donate) and sign up for free research updates.