The Washington Times
May 1, 2005

Washington Times Op-ed – Creating a New "Conventional Wisdom"

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

Conventional wisdom can be fickle. Something is "conventional wisdom" until it is shown to be inaccurate and a new conventional wisdom takes its place. The world is full of examples of assumptions people have made that have turned out to be wrong. Perhaps the most famous is that the Earth is flat.

Outdated conventional wisdom also affects the home-school community. Despite decades of proven success and rapidly expanding numbers, many people maintain an outdated view of home-schooling. In other words, they still hold the conventional view that home-school families isolate themselves and do not wish to interact with society. People who hold this view also tend to make the seemingly logical leap that home-schoolers must be poorly socialized.

To address home-school socialization, there must be a starting point: determining the characteristics and behaviors a socialized person would exhibit. Many researchers have viewed socialization through the lens of a person's self-concept; the higher a person's self-concept, the better. When measuring for self-concept, the available research has shown that home-schoolers are comparable to their public school counterparts. However, just because someone has a positive feeling about himself or herself does not mean other people will view that person as being well-socialized.

Another way to measure socialization is to see whether home-schoolers are interacting with the community at large. The National Home Education Research Institute published a study in 2004 titled "Homeschooling Grows Up," which surveyed more than 7,000 home-school students to determine how active they were in society. The study showed that home-schoolers were finding employment in all areas. Home-schoolers also were found to be active in their communities and to be participating in the political process at greater rates than their public school counterparts.

Perhaps the best way to evaluate socialization, however, is to focus on social skills. The accusation that home-schoolers lack "social skills" is perhaps the sharpest attack from home-school critics. Examples of social skills would be behaviors such as sharing, helping, giving compliments and having good manners. If someone does well in these areas, most people would agree that he or she is well-socialized because interactions between people are the real test of effective socialization.

Little research has been completed in this area, but two researchers have produced a comparative study on it. David J. Francis, school psychologist with the Saranac Lake Central School District in New York, and Timothy Z. Keith, professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas, presented their socialization study in the 2004 edition of the Homeschool Researcher.

The study compared 34 home-schooled children to 34 public school students. The researchers adopted all the normal procedures to ensure that a minimal amount of bias affected the results. For example, home-school parents were not allowed to select which of their children would be part of the study. In addition, the children all came from the western part of New York state and were matched for demographics and family background to limit the determining factor in the socialization results to home-schooling.

Parents were considered to be the best observers of the behaviors of their children. Therefore, the study relied on the parents' observations. The method used was the Social Skills Rating System (SSRS). Parents of both home-schooled and public school children provided information on the socialization of their children in the areas of self-control, assertiveness, responsibility and cooperation. The SSRS also records problem behaviors such as externalizing, including aggressive acts and poor impulse control; internalizing, which can result in sadness and anxiety; and hyperactivity.

The results showed that home-schoolers were no different from their counterparts in cooperation, assertiveness and responsibility. Both groups scored higher than the national average. Home-schoolers, however, scored above their peers in the area of self-control.

It also should be noted that the authors are not home-schoolers. Mr. Francis is a public school teacher, and Mr. Keith is a public university professor. Neither is a home-school advocate or a fundamentalist Christian, which is a common characteristic in home-schoolers. The fact that the study was conducted by truly independent researchers gives it extra weight because it is impossible to make the accusation that the researchers were biased.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, a lingering question remains in many people's minds on home-school socialization. The "conventional wisdom" remains largely intact.

However, in time, the conventional wisdom will be overturned as more and more people come into contact with the burgeoning numbers of home-school graduates. It will be impossible to ignore a new generation of graduates who will be interacting with society with such ease that it may become possible to recognize a home-school graduate because he or she is so well-socialized.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at 540/338-5600; or send e-mail to media@hslda.org.

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