Socialization: A Great Reason Not to Go to School

Copyright © 2013 Karl M. Bunday, all rights reserved.

Many people who consider the issue of parents teaching their children at home ask, But what about socialization? I've observed hundreds of home-schooled children of various ages in various places in two countries, so I'm confident that home-schooling children doesn't harm them socially. But university researchers continue to explore the issue of homeschooling socialization, and here I'll report on a Ph.D. thesis devoted solely to that subject, and on some related research.

Larry Edward Shyers obtained a Ph.D. degree at the University of Florida in part by conducting research reported in his thesis, Comparison of Social Adjustment Between Home and Traditionally Schooled Students. The whole 299-page thesis is available from University Microfilms International. (The order number is DA9304052, from UMI, 1 (800) 521-3042.) An abstract of the thesis appears in Dissertation Abstracts International at page 4215A of volume 53, number 12 of the humanities/social sciences series.

Many newspaper readers may remember a 1992 Associated Press article about Dr. Shyer's research, widely reprinted in newspapers across the United States. Dr. Shyers measured the self-esteem of the homeschooled group of 70 children in his study and compared it with that of the traditionally schooled group, also 70 children between the ages of eight and ten. On the Piers-Harris Children's Self-Concept Scale, a widely used measure of self-esteem, no difference was found between the two groups. (That finding by the way, stands as a failure to replicate the earlier thesis research of John Wesley Taylor in 1986, in which a small sample of home-schooled children scored significantly higher than classroom-schooled children on the Piers-Harris scale. Taylor's thesis, Self-Concept in Home-Schooling Children, is also available from UMI, order number DA8624219.) Thus it goes beyond the available evidence to say that homeschooled children have higher self-esteem than other children. In fact, more studies (and especially more studies with large sample sizes, and more recent studies) have confirmed Shyers's result than have confirmed Taylor's. There appears to be no significant difference in self-esteem between the overall population of homeschooled children and the overall population of children attending classroom school. (My thanks to a reader of this page who suggested a more nuanced way to express this point than how I originally wrote it.)

Anyway, self-esteem is a concept that was born in the school system, and it is best for parents not to overemphasize the self-esteem of their children. Professor Martin E.P. Seligman, in his helpful book The Optimistic Child, discusses how self-esteem has been more and more emphasized in schools during precisely the same years that the youth suicide rate has increased in the United States. Seligman suggests optimism, a concept he defines in The Optimistic Child, is a better thing for parents to develop than self-esteem. I have read, and am still trying to confirm in other sources, that Seligman is himself a homeschooling parent. Whether or not he is a homeschooler, I know that he is a highly respected psychologist, as I have read many books and articles that cite his research, and have confirmed that Professor Seligman was recently the president of the American Psychological Association. A different perspective on self-esteem is offered by Jay E. Adams, the author of many of my favorite books. Adams, in his refreshingly accurate review of Biblical concepts, The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, Self-Image, points out that persons who honestly follow Biblical teachings don't seek to build self-esteem, but to build love for others that denies self and loves God first.

And Shyers, from the secular perspective of his research, looked at how homeschooled children treat other children. Shyers found no significant difference between his two groups in scores on the Children's Assertive Behavior Scale. But direct observation by trained observers, using a blind procedure, found that home-schooled children had significantly fewer problem behaviors, as measured by the Child Observation Checklist's Direct Observation Form, than traditionally schooled children when playing in mixed groups of children from both kinds of schooling backgrounds. This observational study was reported in some detail in the 1992 Associated Press article. Shyers concluded that the hypothesis that contact with adults, rather than contact with other children, is most important in developing social skills in children is supported by these data.

The same year that Shyers completed his doctoral degree thesis research on homeschooling socialization, Thomas Smedley completed master's degree research at Radford University in Virginia, with a similar experimental design. Smedley compared twenty home-schooled children to thirteen public school children, matching the children as best he could by relevant demographic characteristics. His study used the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, which evaluate communication skills, socialization, and daily living skills. Smedley found that the home-schooled children were more mature according to the scoring rubrics of the Vineland scales, scoring in the 84th percentile, while the public school children scored in the 27th percentile. Thus the Shyers finding supports a nearly simultaneous finding by a different researcher, who used a different social science evaluation procedure on a different sample population. Such a replicated finding is unusual in social science.

By the way, Shyers's thesis has a thorough bibliography and is a very good review of the prior literature. Readers interested in finding out more about homeschool socialization would do well to consult Shyers's sources.

Please let me know about other homeschooling research you are aware of. One Web site that has included handy summaries of major studies of homeschooling, with citations to the theses and articles in which the study results were published, is the Holt Associates [link to a different Web site] Web site, which had a linked page about homeschooling research the last time I checked. (Please let me know [mailto link] if that has changed.) A Web site with ordering information for published summaries of many homeschooling research studies is that of the National Home Education Research Institute [link to a different Web site].

[Last revision 9 March 2013]

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This School Is Dead: Research on Homeschooling Socialization page is copyright © 2013 Karl M. Bunday, all rights reserved.

A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another: and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by a natural tendency to one over the body.
John Stuart Mill On Liberty (1859)
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