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The Social Impact of Educational Choices

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I recently had a reader comment on one of my socialization posts about his experience being homeschooled. He said that he feels that being homeschooled has negatively affected him, socially, as an adult. He mentioned that his education as a homeschooler was second to none, but he definitely feels that his time being homeschooled affected him negatively, though his sister, who was also homeschooled, is a social butterfly with no negative effects at all.

He acknowledged that many people would say that he would have been an introvert anyway. However, he feels his social awkwardness as an adult is a direct result of being out of the social network of public school from grades four through eight and being picked on as a shy, skinny kid upon his return to public high school. I warned him that he might see me posting more in depth on my thoughts about his comment. If you have any comments specifically on his experience, be sure to keep them kind because he was totally respectful about homeschooling and about my views on socialization.

Personally, I can’t help but feel that some people are just naturally more introverted or extroverted and that how or where they are educated has little to do with their overall psychological make up. However, what takes place wherever you are educated can severely impact your basic nature. I’ll never forget the year I was in sixth grade and the popular boys in my class decided that the two biggest “nerds” should be forced to fight each other to determine who was the bigger nerd.

When the fight was over, the winner found himself moved up a few notches on the social ladder and his attitude changed accordingly (can you say “arrogant”?), while the loser was simply humiliated and mercilessly picked on by the boys. I knew the loser and he was really a kindhearted, but quiet guy. He went on to a career in the military and, to this day, I think that his need to prove something to others impacted that decision.

Then, there was the guy in high school about whom was started a vicious, nasty rumor. It doesn’t matter if it was true or not; the teen-aged judge and jury had spoken. The fallout was so bad for him that his parents moved him to another school. I bet both of these boys would credit their school experiences for shaping the adults they became.

My school experience was middle of the road. I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t picked on either. I was probably a nerd — I liked to read, I got good grades, I wasn’t into sports and I didn’t have a boyfriend until my junior year — but I wasn’t a nerd of the picked-upon variety. Still I found myself wishing, at least once a year, that I could go live with my dad so that I could attend a different school and have a fresh start, another shot at a better level on the social ladder.

These days, I’m quiet around people I don’t know well, have little in common with (I’m not a good small talker at all) or am intimidated by. Around friends or in situations in which I am comfortable I talk easy and don’t mind leading a conversation.

I might say that I would be a more confident, outgoing adult if I had been homeschooled. Or, if I had been allowed to attend a different school. Or, if we hadn’t moved when I was in third grade, causing me to lose any social status I may have had at my old school. And, no, I’m not just saying all that. Any one of those changes in experience would likely have changed the adult I am today.

Of my three kids, two are definitely of the social butterfly, never-meet-a-stranger variety. One, Josh, is introverted, but is starting to open up among friends and in comfortable situations. It’s a toss up as to whether attending public school would make him more introverted or less so. I can easily see it going in either direction.

However, I really think one’s overall social experiences, positive or negative, impact the kind of adult he or she becomes, regardless of the educational setting in which they take place. Despite what many people think, most homeschool families are not isolated. And the experience is so much different for homeschooled kids today than it was for homeschooled kids a generation ago. There are so many opportunities for homeschooled kids today — sports teams, social groups, proms. Nearly any opportunity available for kids in public school is available for homeschooled kids.

Unfortunately, the experience for public school kids is so much different today than it was for their parents a generation ago. The things that you hear about going on in public middle and high schools is mind-boggling. Obviously parents need to weigh the pros and cons of homeschooling vs. public or private school for their kids. I know that homeschooling is a decision that no parent makes lightly. None of us, whether we send our kids to public or private school or we homeschool, makes a decision about our kids’ educations with the intention of negatively impacting their psyche into adulthood.

The parents of the “bigger nerd” I mentioned earlier or the kid about whom the rumor was started probably wish they could have given their sons a much different educational and social experience. Those kids might have preferred the opportunity to grow, flourish and explore their interests in a setting free from ridicule and humiliation. I’m guessing neither of them was too impressed with their “real world” experiences. Most parents never set out to make choices that result in their children being harmed, physically or emotionally.

For our family, the possibility of our kids growing up to be a little shy is far better than having their personalities shaped by a public school experience (though for those who will cry “sheltered” or “over-protected,” this is nowhere near the top of our list of reasons to homeschool). For us, the pros of homeschooling definitely outweigh the cons and our kids love it. They don’t feel that they’re missing anything.

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20 Comments

  1. Very nice post. I am one of those who was introverted in school and had very few friends. Now look at me, I talk to anyone. 🙂

  2. Thanks for talking about this. Personally, I think this young man would have had trouble of this kind regardless of how he was schooled, perhaps even more if he was in public school longer. Kids always find ways to be cruel. If they picked on him for being home schooled before he came to school, that’s probably just incidental. They would have found other things. I was in public school my whole life. I was not popular in my early years of school and I have a hunch it is because my parents dressed me in thrift store clothes, which shouldn’t matter, but it does in that type of place. But, I made the cheer leading squad my eight grade year and I was immediately popular, even though my clothes didn’t change one bit. I realized this popularity was superficial right away, when people who called me “fat” and would make crowds “oink” when I walked by the year before were nice to me all of a sudden just to score social points. Public school, as it exists, can never give anyone useful “practice” with social skills. It’s just important that kids, home schooled or not, have genuine friends. One or two of those can make up for the masses of peers who either pick on you cause you go to school with them or who don’t even know you exist cause you don’t. I remember begging my parents to send me to a local private school when I was struggling socially in the earlier grades. For a while, I blamed them for not being willing to pay the $100 a month tuition. But, I figure I would have had issues there, too. Maybe they would have been different issues, but I am pretty sure there would have been issues none the less. 🙂

  3. It is not an easy decision for us and there is no clear cut answer. We are torn between private and public. Hugs, Jen

  4. I completely agree with what you say. I was privately educated in a boarding school and now home educate my children. I had a fantastic time at school and loved every minute. My sister, unfortunately, would say they were the worst years of her life. I home educate my children because I want them to learn to think for themselves and to become happy adults. In making that decision for them, I am moulding their lives. I pray that it is for the best, but only time will tell.

    “I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost The Road Less Travelled

  5. My 26 year old daughter tells me that she feels out of place in coversations and situations because of going to a very strict private school. She hates that Im homeschooling her younger brother and sister.

    This same girl, however, has only 6college credits to her name but in spite of that she is now Sales Director over two major hotels in this area. She is salaried at way above the norm. I really dont see how her education hurt her.

    I went to a 2 room school house for the first 8 years and never wen to high school. At 26 I went to community college and got my associates degree. Yes, I feel the smallness of my exposure to the rest of the world even in things this day, but I’ve never regreted my education.

    One has to say though that it does make a difference whether the child is homeschooled/private or public school. I dont think that can be denied. The question is, “Is that a bad thing”? I dont think so.

  6. Very good post. I’m sorry to hear the young man has had a difficult time. I would have to agree thought that whether you’re public/private or homeschooled there will always be issues, only different ones.

    My first reaction was to think that it was more likely the public school that damaged his perception of his social skills.

    At home, I’d imagine, he was accepted as he was, naturally introverted. In public school such qualities can be regarded as weak or inferior. And I’d imagine that it was in such a setting that he was “taught” by the other students that he was not adequate. Thus forming a negative opinion of himself.

    In most groups, adults recognize and understand that we’re all different and try to let it be as it is. A luxury usually not afforded in public school.

    Of course this is just my impression from reading your post, I could be way off base. I’m curious though…did he say why he went to public school at that time?

  7. Here here.. very well written.. my husband and I have decided to homeschool our children (at least while they are young) Like most others…we keep getting asked about socialization.. I agree with you wholeheartedly!

  8. Wow..you just described ME to a ‘T’…and I wasn’t homeschooled, I went though the public school system. That’s what you get for being a geek, I guess, but know what? We are who we are and if people can’t respect you for that, it’s their problem, not yours!

    I’ve found that I’ve never been the social butterfly…still don’t know why (sniffing under arms), but c’est la vie. I focus on the things important to me and ignore the rest. Please don’t blame this on homeschooling, the social pecking-order exists wherever we go in life.

  9. You sound a lot like me! I was homeschooled from 4th to 9th grade. I was very quiet in high school and now when I see people I knew back then, they can’t believe that I actually talk. What?! I guess I didn’t have much to say back then!! I am quiet around people I’m not comfortable with or know well, but I don’t think that homeschool has negatively affected me. I think I can see the pros and cons of both because I’ve experienced homeschool and public school. All that being said I hate the “social hierarchy” and cliques in schools. It might be the “real world”, but I don’t see how it’s beneficial. I think, at times, cruelty and discrimination are almost celebrated. At least among the students.

  10. Great post! I’ve been reading your blog for a while and this is my first comment. I think this all comes down to the fact that we always want to find a cause for everything. We want to be able to say, x happened and that’s why I am the way I am. Sometimes, there is no cause. Sometimes there is no magic formula to ensure that we will grow up feeling accepted or successful in academics or relationships. As parents we have to make the best decisions we can for our children. As adults, if we identify something in our lives we’re not happy with or that we feel is lacking, we have to either work on it or accept that it is just part of who we are or both. Sometimes things are just what they are and school environment, family environment, all of the best intentions and efforts in the world don’t matter. There is no magic bullet. I guess that was my reaction to his comments, is that there is nothing really unique about his experience from many people I know who were educated in all different settings, mostly variations on traditional schooling. Just like some people are naturally introverted or extroverted, I think some people feel naturally accepted, they assume they will be accepted, and others feel naturally alienated, and assume alienation. I definitely fall into the latter group. It’s just how I’m put together and I have to work with it. I’m choosing homeschool for many reasons, but I’m not fooling myself that it will lead to glowing success in all areas of my children’s lives all of the time. We are all human, and are subject to all common human experiences, no matter what we choose.

  11. You all have some wonderful insight. I’m finding it very interesting to see how different people view their educational experience and how it has affected them. There’s no escaping the fact that your life experiences, whatever they are, affect the person you become – for good or for bad.

    It reminds me of what Joseph told his brothers in the Book of Genesis, “What you intended for evil, God intended for good.” Joseph definitely had a very different life after he was sold into slavery in Egypt than he would have had as a shepherd in his father’s home. But, that turned out not to be a bad thing. The key, I guess, is letting God orchestrate our lives, no matter what direction they may take.

    And, for the record, the man who made the comments is a little older than me, so not such a “young” man. As I mentioned to him, I imagine that his homeschool experience was much different than my kids’ will be simply because homeschooling is so much more prevalent today.

    He did not say why he was homeschooled or why he returned to public school. He just expressed his thoughts about his experience and got me thinking about my own educational experience and how it affected me.

  12. I was public schooled. Did it prepare me for anything socially? I don’t think so. While I feel awkwardly capable of relating to others on a grand scale…the truth is, I prefer not to be in the middle of the action. I am an introvert by nature, and I am content with that most of the time. There was freedom on the day that I realized that I am exactly who God created me to be, despite the environment or the circumstances.

  13. What an insightful post! My experiences were similar. I remember a number of kids (2 in particular) that were picked on mercilessly. I know it affected them. It did me.

    And my behavior in college and as a young adult was negatively effected by the peer pressure and criticism I received in public school.

    I also think I received a poor education. I was “successful” by modern standards. But I retained little or nothing. And I went to school in NYS, supposedly some of the best nationally at the time!

  14. Thank you for this. Our daughter is naturally introverted. She has always been homeschooled, and we feel that she would have been “shy” in school, too. People are who they are. At home, we encourage her to develop the rudiments of “small talk,” since that helps all of us navigate the world outside, and we do not shelter her. I agree with you that overall experience — and genetics — not school choice, determine one’s social nature.

  15. Very well said. I read somewhere that high school is enjoyed 90% of the time by 10% of the students, adn 10% of the time by 90% of the students (though that could probably be applied to ALL grade levels!) Though junior high was much worse for my than high school, I consistently found the teachers to be as bad or worse than the students when it came to treatment and behavior.

    And you’re right, there are *so* many more opportunities available now for homeschoolers – especially those who live in metropolitan areas. Fortunately, my social butterfly 13 y/o (who’s been homeschooled for 7 years) has NO desire to go to public school! He has enough friends in public school to know what the social scene is there and wants no part of it.

  16. Great, thoughtful post. I am a product of public schools through college. My 10 year old always-homeschooled daughter is much more poised and comfortable in social situations than I was at her age – or, maybe, even more than I am now.

  17. Man oh man, I'm yet another who sees myself in him. I was public schooled all the way, but was/still am shy. I'd take a book over a boring conversation about the Backstreet Boys any day.

    My parents were military, but our last move was when I was in 4th grade. I spend the rest of elementary school being harassed for "picking my nose", something I didn't even do! I had one "friend", but looking back, she only saw me as a way to get stuff (I bought her tons of CDs), and I was desperate for a friend.

    During my 6th and 7th grade years, I spoke to basically no one. Towards the end I did make a couple friends, but they did not have the same classes anyway (so we just hang out outside of school). During the school day I would read, listen to the teachers, and speak to no one. If I ignored everyone, they stopped teasing me. They treated me like I didn't exist, and I returned the favor. Books are the only thing that got me through that period.

    I cannot express what a difference marching/concert band made to my educational experience. I cannot even imagine how awful it must be for people like me to go through high school without an automatic group of friends. The upperclassman band geeks wouldn't let anyone pick on us freshman, and it helped that my trumpet section leader's twin was a big name on the football team. Plus, who picks on tuba players? They are like built-in bully butt-kickers. 😉

    Band gave me a place to belong, and even though I didn't get along with everyone, the amount of time spent together meant that we had to at least be civil with everyone. We hope to homeschool our someday kids, and with any luck they will be able to participate in group activities like band without the downsides of a student body that thrives on cruelty.

  18. You are confusing introversion with shyness.  They are not the same.  Introverts simply process information and react to it differently than extroverts.  The way we behave in social situations is different.  But that is not the same as social awkwardness or even shyness.  Introverts can be just as social as extroverts.  Also introversion/extroversion are permanent elements of one's personality; this is immutable and will not be changed by your education experience.  Homeschoolers are often socially awkward because they have not had important social interaction at critical points in their pshycho-social developmet.

  19. That is a common misperception about homeschoolers that is usually not grounded in reality. My homeschooled children, and most of the others I meet, are not any more socially awkward than the next kid, other than those homeschooled kids who are naturally introverted and would be no matter what their educational path. The whole socially awkward homeschoolers thing is, generally speaking, just an excuse thrown out by people who don't understand homeschooling because it's so different from their own experience. There are, of course, exceptions. There are homeschooled kids who are socially awkward because they haven't had those social experiences, but that's more the exception than the rule for today's homeschooling families who are not forced into seclusion by compulsory attendance laws.

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