A mother who teaches her child at home asked me recently about the question of socialisation. It is practically an article of faith among many home educators that the entire socialisation problem is a complete myth. Indeed, even asking about it can make one look like a newcomer to the whole business and probably one who has been got at by their local authority into the bargain! I mean, socialisation! Everybody knows that home educated children aren't stuck at home, but get out to meet loads of people. Well, yes......and no.
The person who asked me about this was well aware that her child would be able to socialise to the extent of meeting other children. What she was specifically concerned about was how her child would be able to build relationships with those children. This is a very good question indeed, and one which is not always addressed by home educators.
There is of course all the difference in the world between seeing the same people at work every day, perhaps going to lunch with them, walking to the tube, going for a drink after work and so on and the situation with those we see briefly for an hour a week; say at an evening class. In the one case, which is very similar to school, we get to know them pretty well. In the other, which is like the ballet class which a home educated child might attend, we barely have the chance to exchange a few words. A lot of the "socialisation" undertaken by home educated children falls into this latter category; an hour or so once a week for specific activities. There is seldom the sustained, day in day out, week after week type of contact with the same bunch of kids which gives rise naturally to friendships at school.
There are ways round this. When my own daughter was little, I would assiduously "court" the parents of children whom I though might make suitable friends for her. This is a damned tricky business for a man, since most of the other parents are mothers. On the one hand you run the risk of looking like a predatory paedophile cruising around looking for new victims, on the other you might present as a lone father yourself, hitting on single mothers! Since my own social skills are nor particularly well developed, this led to some awkward situations over the years. I had a fair number of successes though, children that my daughter could have for sleepovers and so on. I have to say that I had to put quite a bit of work into this, even just to acquire three or four regular friends for my daughter. I must also say that the associations which I was obliged to form with various mothers in order to facilitate this gave rise to a certain amount of pursing of lips, narrowing of eyes and sharp intakes of breath from my wife.
Interestingly, now that she is sixteen and more or less her own boss, Simone does not choose to see any of these friends whom I so carefully engineered for her. Some of them, she saw for over eight years, but the friendships, if that is what they were, died without my input. I was of course always careful to ask her, "Would you like to see Joanne?" or Mary or whoever, so this was all done with her approval. Never the less, I do not really know just how good an idea it is for a parent to be arranging a child's social life in this way. In retrospect, perhaps not a very good idea.
The good news is that now she is at college, she does not seem to have any difficulty socialising and making friends. Presumably the experience of being home educated did her no particular harm in that regard. (This does not of course mean that when she is thirty, she will not be weeping to her therapist about the lonely childhood which she was forced to endure in the company of her mad father.) I am curious to know what others have found about this, especially those whose children have now grown up. The person who asked me this question visits this Blog and I am sure that she would like to hear other people's views about this.