Certainly homeschoolers are not isolated. They do not spend all day indoors, sitting at a desk, nose in a book. They reach out to the world and take part in it. Play groups are formed. Study sessions are organized. Field trips with other families are embarked upon.
There is more. Homeschoolers also have the same opportunities their schooled friends have. There are the friends next door or down the street. There are activities after-school — sports, scouts, the arts — which are open to all children. And there are classes in school which homeschoolers can and do attend. The places and times for getting together with peers is at least as great and varied for homeschoolers as it is for their schooled counterparts. The problem that those opposed to homeschooling see is more than whether homeschoolers have time with peers. It goes deeper. It is based upon their definition of socialization.
So what is this socialization that so many adults worry about? I suspect that most of the public defines it as, “being with others your own age.” Given this definition, schools are seen as readily providing socialization. It then becomes an integral part of education, as important as academics. It is seen as both right and best for the student to be with others his or her age for a good part of the day. “Really,” these adults will ask, “how else would the child be socialized, if not through the schools?”
Unfortunately, the belief that schools should socialize students does not rest on firm foundation. It is a relatively new concept. For most of mankind’s history and in indigenous cultures today, children learn by being around adults. The whole community educates the child by directly teaching, by letting the child observe, and by encouraging the child to practice on his or her own. Here the child is immersed in a world of people of all ages. Play is spent with those approximately the child’s age. Education is not so limiting.
Apprenticeship is an offshoot of the community’s education efforts. Here a formal pairing of a youth with a skilled tradesman or practitioner allows for more intensive education. Likewise tutoring is a one-on-one endeavor, although sometimes a few more students are taught. The tutor can be an outsider or the parent.
In a few areas of our country one-room schoolhouses still exist. Here children of all ages are educated together. While one teacher is in charge, invariably the older students assist in teaching the younger ones. All four forms of education – learning by hanging around adults, apprenticing, tutoring, and attending one-room schoolhouses – were the foundation of education when Europeans came to America. These forms continued well into this century.
It was only in the mid-1800’s that schools began to segregate children by age. This, then became the norm as more schools were built. The timing of this new form should come as no surprise. As industrialization became more pervasive in the American culture, its cry for efficiency and assembly-line output filtered into non-business areas as well. Putting one teacher in charge of many same-age children was viewed as efficient. All students would then be certain, it was thought, of learning the same subject matter at the same time. The factory mode entered the classroom.