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The socialization question, homeschooled and gifted children March 9, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, papers, research, teaching.
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A very long time ago, I was asked to teach a workshop for the Homeschool Association of California annual conference.  It had to do with computers, though I don’t remember what.  What I do remember, however, was expecting that I’d be dealing with a bunch of antisocial technophobes.

I couldn’t have been more off the mark than I was.  I only had a handful of kids, but they were definitely not technophobes.  Admittedly this is probably a self-selecting group because, after all, no one was forcing them to go to the workshop.  But what surprised me even more was that they were very sociable.  Unlike other high school kids I’d worked with, they didn’t seem intimidated by me or afraid to ask questions.  I remember coming out of that workshop and feeling like I’d been slapped upside the head.

The thing I realized from that is my assumption that children schooled at home were anti-social was due strictly to my lack of imagination.  I had assumed that if you didn’t spend all day in a room with other kids that you wouldn’t learn to interact at all.  It’s not that I’d ever met many homeschoolers.  In fact, it was probably my lack of exposure to the culture that made me construct my own version of how they must behave.

Interestingly enough, I find that it’s the one thing that most non-homeschoolers key on: in order to be ‘properly’ socialized, you have to go to school.  After spending time around homeschoolers, and recounting my own school experience, I have always been extremely skeptical of that argument.  It didn’t help when my older son spent a year going to middle school full time only to come out of it incredibly angry because of the horrid bullying, by students and teachers alike, that he’d encountered.

It’s interesting to me that this question also brought up in response to doing anything different for gifted children in normal schools.  That is, there is the argument that grouping children by ability or accelerating their academic curriculum means that kids won’t learn to appreciate diversity and get along with other people.  Most people assume that putting gifted kids in different groups or classrooms is bad for everyone.

I hate assumptions, though.  I have, over time, come across studies here and there saying that, in general, these assumptions were wrong.  I can only think of one study that said ability grouping had negative consequences, and one study on homeschooling that showed a neutral outcome on homeschooling.  The topic came up in a discussion with someone, and I thought it was high time for me to make sure I wasn’t blowing smoke.

Unfortunately, the research on both groups is relatively sparse.  I suppose it’s not a compelling interest for the majority of the population, so not a lot of resources are put toward it.  I am kind of a fan of summary papers, mostly because they save a lot of time by summarizing the results from several different studies while noting the drawbacks of each.  In that vein, I managed to come across one for each group, although both are rather ‘old’ by my standards.  The paper on gifted socialization was from 1993, while the one on homeschooling was from 2000.  (Social science progresses far too slowly for my tastes.)

For the gifted group, Karen Rogers wrote a synopsis of a paper which talks about several different forms of grouping and acceleration.  The paper looks at 13 different studies on gifted accelerations methods.  She found that academically, almost all methods had positive effects.  If you look the psychological and social effects, the were probably neutral.  Some forms of acceleration resulted in positive outcomes, some in negative.  Her conclusion was:

What seems evident about the spotty research on socialization and psychological effects when grouping by ability is that no pattern of improvement or decline can be established. It is likely that there are many personal, environmental, family, and other extraneous variables that affect self-esteem and socialization more directly than the practice of grouping itself.

The studies that discussed homeschooling were covered in a paper by Medlin.  Surprisingly, there were a lot more studies covered in this paper than on gifted education.  Medlin broke down the studies into three groups, each addressing a different question.  First, do homeschool children participate in the daily activities in the communities?  The results indicated that they encountered just as many people as public schooled children, often of a more diverse background, and were more active in extra-curriculars than their public school counterparts.  The second question was whether homeschooled children acquired the rules of behavior and systems of beliefs and attitudes they needed.  (I keep feeling like there’s a comma missing in that…)  While detractors may be pretty upset at this, the conclusion was that, in most cases, homeschool children actually fared better in these studies.  Admittedly, though, the studies were hardly taking large numbers of students into consideration.  There was speculation on this set of results:

Smedley speculated that the family “more accurately mirrors the outside society” than does the traditional school environment, with its “unnatural” age segregation.

This particular view stands out because it’s a view I see reflected a lot in analysis of gifted education, too: age grouping is unnatural and ability grouping is more likely to occur in real life.

Finally, Medlin asks whether homeschooled students end up doing okay as adults.  There are very few studies in this section, but the conclusion from those studies was that they not only do fine, but tend to take on a lot of leadership roles.  (I do know there was a study commissioned by the HSLDA a few years ago that came to similar conclusions, but I find a bit of conflict of interest in that one given who paid for it.)

If there’s anything people should be taking out of these studies, it’s that our adherence to age-based grouping of random kids really doesn’t provide the beneficial socialization we think it does and may, in fact, have some pretty negative impacts.  In fact, I recently came across and article called, “Why you truly never leave high school,” that talks about those negative effects and how they may actually be carried with us into our adult lives.   (Yes, I do realize some of the conclusions make the title a stretch, but it’s food for thought.) Given the presence of issues like bullying that have gotten more air play over the past few years, I’m very surprised people haven’t realized that it could, in fact, be detrimental.

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Comments»

1. link lava | Grumpy rumblings of the (formerly!) untenured - March 16, 2013

[…] Cherish the scientist discusses homeschooling and gifted children. […]

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2. Ann Zeise - March 17, 2013

There are a good number of roadblocks to doing research on homeschoolers. First is just defining your subject. In the two largest states, California and Texas, there are no legal definitions for homeschooling. Families are typically their own private school in those states, as well as in a couple of others. Would those in a public school program just being done at home give a realistic picture? Homeschool families vary so much from one another that trying to find a typical set is pretty hard.

Through experience with researchers, homeschoolers have never come up on top, so they warn their friends not to participate. In other words, the research seldom serves anyone but the researcher for getting a college grade, or being published in some obscure journal no one else ever reads. Researchers also always have one or two people they always can get a quote from to say that homeschooling is bad.

And it isn’t like homeschool families have a lot of free time for extensive interviews. They really are busy with their children, and want to protect them from being misquoted or having what they say taken out of context. Any family that has been interviewed will usually tell about how a photograph was needed, would they please go study at the dining room table. This has become a running joke among us.

More about homeschool research here:
http://homeschooling.gomilpitas.com/weblinks/research.htm#.UUZ7s449KKU

More about the “S” Word: Socialization:
http://homeschooling.gomilpitas.com/articles/042998.htm#.UUZ8y449KKU

If you are being interviewed about homeschooling, Mary Griffith offers some tips on preparing. This is an article that is part of her free eBook, “The Homeschooling Image: Public Relations Basics:”
http://homeschooling.gomilpitas.com/articles/040708.htm#.UUZ9R449KKU

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mareserinitatis - March 17, 2013

I have to admit I’m not sure what you took away from my post. The research I found was a summary paper. It took several different studies (probably about 3 dozen) and summarized them in order to answer the three questions that were being asked in the paper. I probably wasn’t clear about the nature of summary papers as, being an researcher myself, I take that sort of information for granted.

The studies (pretty much all of them) generally showed that homeschooled children were often far better socialized than publicly-schooled children. I admit that it would be better if there were more studies as many of those summarized were small-scale (between 30 and 100 children, usually), but the studies done so far have all been in favor of homeschoolers, not critical of them. I’m not sure where you got the idea that researchers were anti-homeschooling. I think you might be thinking of journalists, not researchers. Researchers aren’t going to be looking for quotes from people but for statistical, verifiable data.

You may want to spend some time reading Milton Gaither’s blog (http://gaither.wordpress.com/). It goes over a lot of the research that is out there on homeschooling and, as I said, much of it is favorable.

Also, after looking at your ‘research’ page, you may benefit from spending some time on Google Scholar. There’s considerably more research and less opinion there.

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3. W. A. Fulkerson - April 4, 2013

Interesting article. Growing up, I spent my elementary years in a private school, my middle school years I was home-schooled, and I then attended a public high school before going on to study at USC. Having sort of run the gauntlet as far as education options go, I can say with conviction that some of the best education I received was during the two years I was home-schooled. I wouldn’t have wanted to be home-schooled during high school mostly for social reasons: sports teams, dances, more people to interact with, etc. A lot of the social aspects of schooling probably depend on the individual, I imagine. As an extrovert, two years was enough for me, but for others who have a few close friends, I’d guess they are able to socialize just as well being home schooled, perhaps even better, than if they were in a traditional school setting.

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4. Ms. Cherish Goes to the Atheist Meeting | FCIWYPSC - September 17, 2014

[…] educational environment.  As it turns out, I’d spent some time researching the topic and wrote a post on it.  Obviously this person wasn’t going to take me at my word, so I got his email and later […]

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