We’re all familiar with the tired old myth of the “unsocialized” homeschoolers, spending their days locked inside, interacting only with their family members. I’ve certainly spent my fair share of time disputing these myths (earlier this year I even wrote a post addressing every possible misplaced socialization criticism I’ve ever heard). Yet while there are plenty of wrong ideas on home education and socialization, I find myself pondering how unschooling has impacted the friendships I make and the communities that I’m a part of now, as a 20-something adult.
Like many homeschooled families, when I was young my family participated in a range of activities, from homeschool coops to French classes, group hikes to choirs. What set us apart from many other home educating families in my area at the time was just how much input my sister and I had in the activities and outings we were involved in, and on whether we stuck with those activities. I knew that my mother would step in when asked (and occasionally when not asked!) to help solve a problem—such as when the musical director of a production I was involved in was trying to use me, a “good” kid, as a human buffer between the two most disruptive children in the group—and that if there wasn’t a good solution that I was free to quit. If I didn’t like a group of kids, or found that certain adults treated me and other children unfairly, I was never forced to spend time around those groups or individuals.
That doesn’t mean I never had to deal with bullies or other unpleasant people, or that I didn’t on occasion feel trapped by commitment into continuing to participate in something that made me unhappy. What it does mean, though, is that I was never subjected to the type of forced association faced by children in school, who often have little to no recourse when faced with regular harassment and even physical violence from other students, or teachers who treat their students badly. It seems to me that too often children learn early on that they just have to suck it up, no matter how toxic an environment is or how frightened they are about seeing people who have harmed them in some way. They learn that they can’t act on their own feelings or judgement about a person or situation in order to protect their emotional or even physical safety. My feelings were treated as important by my parents, and my judgement was trusted (with plenty of discussion and guidance from them). As a consequence, I feel like I never had to learn, as an adult, to trust myself and my instincts. I already knew how to do that.
In my teen years, and now as a young adult, I often marvel at those who are dating people they don’t like very much just because they don’t want to be single, or hanging out with groups of people who make them feel bad because they just don’t want to spend time alone. I’ve grown up in such a way that, barring the occasional bad decision, I generally surround myself only with people who I genuinely like, care about, and who make me feel good about myself. And when I’m not spending time with people, my introverted self is mostly okay with being alone or with family. It’s not that I don’t sometimes feel lonely, or experience the struggle of meeting new people at an age where it’s no longer easy to find “peer groups,” or that I don’t sometimes find it hard to join new groups because of plain old shyness. But I do feel that I’m good about setting strong boundaries with less pleasant people, being choosy about the communities I become a part of, and surrounding myself with people who make me happy.
It’s always hard to know how much to attribute to unschooling, since by the very nature of such a personalized education, my life and my experience is pretty unique to me, my family, and my geographic location. Perhaps no matter what education I’d experienced, I’d have reached the same conclusions that I have now. I think that being able to grow as I did with so much freedom in my interactions, so much trust in my choices, and so strong a message of how well I (and others) deserved to be treated, definitely had a positive impact on how I build (or find) my social life now.
I guess what I’m saying is that, contrary to what many people seem to believe, I think unschooling actually helped me to develop healthy social skills. I genuinely enjoy meeting new people, but I’m very grateful for also having good boundaries, strong feelings about mutual respect, and the strength to walk away from individuals or groups that are causing harm in my life.
That’s the type of socialization I want, and the type of socialization I hope many other life learners can develop through our marvelously self directed, trust-filled, and respectful upbringings!