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July / August 2005

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Creating a new "conventional wisdom"

J. Michael Smith, President of Home School Legal Defense Association
Conventional wisdom can be fickle. Something is considered "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 was that the earth is flat.

Outdated conventional wisdom also affects the homeschool community. Despite decades of proven success and rapidly expanding numbers of homeschooled students, many people in the general public cling to the outdated view that homeschooling children are isolated from society and must therefore be poorly socialized.

To evaluate homeschool socialization, there must be a starting point: what characteristics and behaviors does a socialized person 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 homeschoolers 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 how homeschoolers interact with the community at large. In 2004, the National Home Education Research Institute published a study entitled "Homeschooling Grows Up" that surveyed more than 7,000 homeschool students to determine how active they were in society. The study showed that homeschoolers were finding employment in all fields. Homeschoolers were also found to be active in their communities and to participate in the political process at higher rates than their public school counterparts.

Perhaps the best way to evaluate socialization, however, is to focus on social skills. After all, 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. 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 homeschooled children to 34 public school students. The researchers used appropriate procedures to ensure that a minimal amount of bias affected the results. For example, the 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.

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 provided information on the socialization of their homeschooled or public schooled 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 homeschoolers were no different from their counterparts in cooperation, assertiveness, and responsibility. Both groups scored higher than the national average. Homeschoolers, however, scored above their peers in the area of self-control.

Despite this research, those who do not personally know home-schooled students find themselves still pondering the lingering question of socialization. In time, however, I am confident that this "conventional wisdom" will be overturned as more and more people come into contact with the growing numbers of homeschool graduates.

About this article

The above editorial is based on Mike Smith's article by the same title, published in the Washington Times on May 1, 2005.