Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Myth of "Social Awkwardness" Among Homeschoolers & Unschoolers

This bothers me to no end: the argument that if not in school, kids will naturally be something schooled folk refer to as "socially awkward".  I believe that every single person I've ever talked to who's against homeschooling has at least one story about a misfit homeschooler they know/have met whom they're sure would have been quite "normal" had they been in school!

Now, I should first point out that it's ridiculous to judge an entire group of people and an entire range of educational philosophies on just one or two people you don't even know very well.  And that there is a vast amount of proof that homeschoolers and unschoolers turn out just fine, as evidenced by thousands of grown un and homeschoolers.  But right now, I want to specifically address the whole socially awkward thing.

A few things come to mind when I think of why these people could possibly be considered socially awkward (oh how I hate those two words when put together):
  1. Like any other skill set, social skills differ greatly from person to person, regardless of their schooling (or lack thereof).  For some people social interaction is extremely easy: they find knowing what to say and when to say it, how to behave around different people, to be second nature.  Others have to work hard at it: to make a conscious effort to learn what is socially normal and then work to be that if they want to.  How easily those skills come, despite what a ridiculously large amount of anti-homeschoolers have to say, does not make a person any better or worse a person for it.  It's simply yet another thing that varies vastly between individuals.  (As a side comment, I'd say I'm someplace between the really-easy-social-interaction and the really-difficult-social-interaction.  As are probably most people!)
  2.  Sometimes people who refuse to dress or act in a way that conforms with societal expectations are considered weird or outsiders (this definitely overlaps with number 1, as well).  I'm thinking of some nasty comments on a video interview of Emi along the lines that because she's wearing a cloak in the video, she must not know how to "be normal"/interact with "normal" people.  I mean, that toooootally makes sense! (/sarcasm) And of course, blaming this phenomena on the fact someone doesn't go to school is pretty silly, considering how many schooled people have unique styles (though I must admit that in the interesting clothing and hair category, I think unschoolers are leading. :-P)!
  3. There is a certain...type, I guess, of homeschooler I've come across, where the kids interact mostly or entirely with other homeschooled kids and often within certain belief systems.  This sometimes leads to teens and young adults who don't have the vocabulary of slang, or the (overtly expressed) knowledge of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll that most other young people seem to.  This is then, apparently, interpreted as social awkwardness.
For those who fall in the first group, those who have a harder time socially, I have seen absolutely no difference between homeschoolers, unschoolers, public schoolers, or private schoolers, EXCEPT that the unschoolers who do have to work harder with social stuff are generally far more confident, far more aware of their worth, whereas the schooled people are often made to think that they're losers, that they're uncool, so have serious feelings of worthlessness.  Really?  That's what school has to offer kids that you're so upset un/homeschoolers are missing out on: making anyone who doesn't fit a very narrow definition of normal feel like they're a failure??
    For those who fall into the second group, well, the same applies: if someone doesn't fall into that narrow "normal" category there must be something wrong with them. I find that view so sad and misguided, especially considering how the most respected and admired people in our society, not to mention all the revolutionaries and change-makers, don't exactly fit into the commonly held definition of normal!

    For the third group, I believe negative reactions towards them shows a lack of respect for different social/cultural groups.  Because that's basically all it is: the differences to be found in different social circles, groups, and cultures! 

    Of all the arguments against school free education, few are as aggravating to me as the whole socialization/weird homeschoolers one.  And few make as good a case *for* school free education, to me!  If schooled people have that hard a time accepting any differences, it begs the question of why people continue to value that brand of elitist "socialization"!  I'm quite happy to stick with the far better socialization I've received as an unschooler, thanks.

    A big thanks to Kelly for being my copy editor for this piece!  It's better because of her.  You can read her work at her blogs and, and find her on Twitter at @kellyhogaboom and @underbellie.


    1. I have 3 kids...all unschooled from the beginning. All 3 are different and unique. One is very social and outgoing. One is in the middle. One is not very social. All 3 kids grew up in the same house and have the same parents. Yet...they are all unique. They have all been ALLOWED to be who they are, to evolve naturally. Their paths are true. School played no part in any of their growth, yet one is very social. If my kids had gone to school, would the more social of the three had an easier time? Would the less social been tagged "odd" or maybe even "special ed"? Interesting...Hmmmmmm

      Gerushia's New World

    2. I like this Idzie! I'm especially glad that you addressed the fact that ease of socializing does not determine a person's worth. As someone who went to school for quite awhile and was always socially awkward, and made fun of for it, it really upsets me to hear people talk about social awkwardness as though it were some horrible curse.

      The thing is, *in school*, social awkwardness is a horrible curse. But out of school, kids are free to develop their social skills without being constantly forced to spend time with bullies. The only way my social skills got better was by getting OUT of school. The pressure was too high while I was there. It's hard to develop genuine social skills in an environment where you can't be yourself at all.

      1. I know this post is old, but I wanted to thank you for pointing this fact out, Bonnie! I was also very shy and socially awkward in school and I dreaded going every day for fear of bullies. I would try to be invisible and not be myself. I too improved my social skills OUTSIDE of school. I've known quite a few other people that have stated the same!

    3. @Kim: It's like my sister and I: both always unschooled, but she's an extrovert and I'm an introvert! I'm quite sure I would have had a horrible time in school, but I think my sister probably would have done fine, though I think she'd be a very different person because of it...

      @Bonnie: I really wanted to address that point, and am actually still not sure I stressed it enough. I *really* didn't want this to be a post about how unschoolers and homeschoolers are social whizzes and that it's *bad* to have a harder time with social stuff. I really hope that came across! With me, I've only managed to work past my used-to-be debilitating shyness in my late teens, and still go through life terrified that I'll freeze up, or that when I do talk I'll say the wrong thing.

      I also really relate to your comment about environment for developing social skills being important. Though I've never been to school, my three years in cadets was a horrible time for me. I felt really out of place and judged, so was really shy and not myself. But after I left, I started slowly but surely gaining confidence!

      Anyway, thanks for your comment! I always love hearing from you!

    4. I have three daughters- two go to school and have been going for two years now. The third is unschooled. I can tell you that despite the fact that the two go to school, they socialize far less than the one who is unschooled who has more friends and is a super 'people person.' She doesn't know what to do with herself if she isn't meeting up with, talking to planning to get together with friends. She loves to be out and about, on the go all the time. My schooled kids like their 'down time' and each have about one good friend that they made at school during their two years there!

    5. Idzie - your spoke well and deeply today.

      Eli (now 11) worries so much some days about 'fitting in' and being 'cool' - I just keep working on 1. validating his concerns and 2. telling him over and over that 'cool' totally depends on the group you're interacting with and the age group of said group and 3. he is awesome and kind and thinks deeper about things than many adults I've known and that yes, it's hard at times to be different but it is also so totally worth it to find your comfort zone in your own brand of different and life your life - if people don't like you - then move on!

      But it is SO.HARD to see him struggle so much with this knowing that he is such an old soul and so open to feeling the judgment of others and I just want to shield him from it all - ahhhh, I've ranted a bit - hope you don't mind - think I needed to clear my head of it again so I can move back into hope and openness.

      You rocked this one!

    6. @rfs: That's a great example of how the differences really lie with the individual, not with what type of schooling or education they have!

      @deb: Thank you very much.

      Not that it's like to help, but I totally empathize with Eli. I'm very sensitive to what other people think, and am really a natural "people pleaser". It's been a long process getting to where I am now, where I'm comfortable with and even take pride in being my own very different person. But there have definitely been times where I've felt like I didn't fit in (mostly in early to mid teen years), and felt really bad as a consequence of it. I can't imagine how hard it must be as a parent to see your son struggling and not be able to help more!

      I'd say I'm sure he'll find comfort and strength in being who he truly is later on in life, but from your comment you already know that! :)

      And no, I don't mind ranting at all. Thanks for your comment, and I'm really glad you liked this post!

    7. Well said indeed, my DD could hardly function socially in school not matter how hard she tried because people considered her 'weird' but her year at home has proved the opposite it true and she has never had so many good friends and been so content.
      thanks for sharing

    8. Idzie...

      Just like you and your sister, my kids are all unique. I have often wondered how they would differ had they gone to school. Fortunately, my curiosity never led me to actually enroll them!

      I shudder to think of a life chained to school rules and humiliation. When I think of our life and our choices, I feel air. Freedom. Choice. Art. Such a simple choice. Why is it so difficult for the "general public" to wrap their minds around the idea of unschooling? Just as curious...why was it so easy for us to wrap our arms around it? Just a thought.

      Gerushia's New World

    9. I am with you all the way on this, my 16yr daughter was in the school system to 3/4 way through year 9. Her mentally health got that bad that we nearly lost her and 1 of the biggest contributors to her doing this was the social problems at school, she wouldn't talk to anyone, she wore her hair over her face. i took her out of school, at first she lock herself away, then we got her into distance education and obviously a few other things to help her. now having her at home I control her enviroment and slowly I am handing this back to her bit by bit (as and when she can handle it),she had heaps of "friends" at school, but now she has a few good quality friends and she has learnt to choose these friends. she wears her hair up now away from her face and even has conversations with adults with NO fear and all this started to happen when she started home schooling. Bottom line home schooling saved my daughters life and has brought the best out in her.J

    10. What an awesome set of comments to read!

      I agree whole heartedly with most, and want to emphasize my belief in what Kim and Bonnie said, that school doeesn't allow us to be who we really are.

      We've been shamed and guilted and praised (punished by rewards as alfie kohn terms it) as school goers into thinking that we are abrnormal, weird, unworthy, wrong, bad, selfish, good, pretty, anything and everything and it's all based on this definition of 'normal' that our culture has created. It was created to keep the standards of society at what they are, which is consumer, capitalist, single-family unit isolated dominant. Most of us are under the impression that babies, children and teens need to be isolated from the real world, taught and tamed. We've been forced to think that competition is best so let's work against each other and not co-operate to get what we want, which is always more stuff, and things either out of our reach or that we don't currently have.

      Dh and I are 23, life learning with our daughter who is 11 months. It's great to hear about other kids and adults who unschooled as I strongly believe in it and am just starting now to write about and heal slowly from my schooling scars, having done the whole kindergarten through - 2 years university before deciding to swith career paths to acupuncture and getting a diploma at a private college in Ottawa. I am now basking in being a stay at home mom until I can work from home, schedule & deadline free for almost a year, I can't imagine ever pushing that life on my kids.

      peacefuly here,
      sentient sage

    11. Wow, awesome! My sister (sentient sage) told me about your blog, and I'm amazed that she's found someone with like interests so quickly! Way to go, I think Unschooling is seriously understood.

    12. Excellent. I initially read John Holt as a socially-awkward 12 year old who hated hated hated school. I didn't get to leave school, but my folks and I worked out a decent compromise. School is a poisonous place for young people whose social skills or personalities aren't a good fit. I believe that most of the 'but what about socialization' crowd are those who fit in more or less and who believe that 'belonging' and 'being normal' is somehow a moral imperative. Yikes!

    13. EXCEPT that the unschoolers who do have to work harder with social stuff are generally far more confident, far more aware of their worth, whereas the schooled people are often made to think that they're losers, that they're uncool, so have serious feelings of worthlessness.

      Yes! I am very socially awkward. I went to public school from Kindergarten through twelfth grade, and then a private college for two years. It made me less socially adept for sure!

      I have five children and two of them have personalities very similar to mine, and I am so glad that they did not go through the years of negative socialization that I did. They love themselves, and are so happy and confident! No, they don't necessarily have an easy time with social situations, but they don't hate themselves for it. They just accept that they are different.

      I love it!

    14. Here's the truth: schooling choice doesn't make or break children's social skills.

      Some homeschooled children are socially awkward, and some schooled children are socially awkward. Some homeschooled children are social superstars and some schooled children are social superstars.

      That said, I have seen kids who are homeschooled and somewhat socially awkward saved by the fact that they don't have to run the social gauntlet every day in order to be who they are. They can focus on their education, not whether they're going to be evaluated, bullied and teased based on how "cool" they are.

    15. School Free Educators are swimming against the tide, that is for sure. School is so ingrained into our culture. Lets face it. MOST adults were SCHOOLED. So, most people think that school is where we are to learn EVERYTHING. And if we are not a part of it, we are already weird. I love my kids, and I don't want to put them through the social aspects of school. It was so stressful for me to fit in, I didn't really care about anything else but the social ladder at school. I think it's why one of my favorite movies is 'The Breakfast Club."

      Have you read any good fictional books about kids who were homeschooled? Think about it. Most TV shows, cartoons, books are about life in school, how to get through school, how to act in social situations in school, how to deal with bullies in school. It's everywhere. Yes, we are swimming against the tide. Loved it and I'm sharing it.

    16. Thank you for posting this. It is the criticism I hear most often when I mention that I am not going to send my kids to school. Now when someone tells me about the one kid they know who is homeschooled and is "so weird" I always respond "Do you think school would make that kid less weird? Or do you think that kid would just get made fun of and feel horrible about himself?" It seems to shut down the conversation.

    17. Also, some kids are homeschooled *because* they're socially awkward. I've heard of several parents, mine included, who decided to homeschool to protect their children from bullying. I'm high functioning autistic, so I certainly am socially awkward - and I was socially awkward before I started being homeschooled, too.

    18. Also, some kids are homeschooled *because* they're socially awkward. I've heard of several parents, mine included, who decided to homeschool to protect their children from bullying. I'm high functioning autistic, so I certainly am socially awkward - and I was socially awkward before I started being homeschooled, too.