The Washington Times
June 1, 2004

Washington Times Op-ed — Socialization in High School Oversold

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

Every parent wants his or her child to grow up to be a mature, responsible adult. It's a natural desire, since well-behaved children reflect favorably on their parents. Also, young adults with good character tend to become good citizens who benefit society.

But what's the best method to achieve this result? Parents' choices include sending their children to an institutional school or home-schooling. Home schools long have been criticized as not providing an adequate social environment for children to mature into good citizens. As we shall discover, this isn't true.

Of course, no one can guarantee a child will turn out well, but it's possible to avoid pitfalls. Almost everyone agrees that particularly difficult years for children and parents are the teenage years. Why do so many teenagers behave badly? This is the subject of a new study by Murray Milner, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Virginia.

Mr. Milner concludes that because teenagers are sent to school by their parents and have little control over what happens in school, the students are rendered powerless. This encourages them to promote the only power they do have -- the power to decide who's cool and who's not. In other words, teenagers can control the status levels of their peers.

What makes the question of status problematic is that everyone can't be at the top at the same time. The amount of available status is fixed, so if someone moves up, someone else must move down. Many former high school students can attest to the vagaries of this system. Common sense dictates that if numerous students are focused on their status, with many enduring endless putdowns, it will negatively affect their academic and social development.

Critics of home-schooling often claim that this form of high school socialization is necessary so students can face the real world. But does the real world look like high school?

It's difficult to imagine a more artificial environment for socialization than the public high school. Children are segregated by age and move from grade to grade within a narrow band of their immediate peers. This is a completely foreign environment to the one high school graduates will face. The high school experience does not easily translate to the real world. Home-school critics falsely believe that in order to be properly socialized, a child needs to spend long hours with children in his or her peer group.

In contrast, the home-school environment is not a constant battle for status. Status in a home school also is fixed, but it is fixed within the family. The child is always the child, and the parent is always the parent. Home-school parents should take care, however, to avoid playing favorites with their children.

Home-schooling is a much healthier environment because home-school teens do not have to be exposed to the high school system. The constant presence of peer pressure simply doesn't exist in the overwhelming majority of home schools. It's unnecessary. The home-school teenager is able to focus on gaining an excellent education and interacting with more adults than children.

But what of the critics' claim that home-schoolers have difficulty socializing? According to a recent study by the National Home Education Research Institute, home-school graduates are happier and more involved in their communities than the average public-school student. Home-schooling helps children avoid the social problems of high school.

Therefore, home-schooled children are more likely to grow up to be the mature, responsible citizens our society desperately needs.