Educators and school psychologists such as Kellermann (Rose Kellermann, personal communication, August 12, 1993) wonder if home schooled children are too isolated to be socialized in a manner which will enable them to function in society. Are home schooling parents dooming their children to be in a caste of “well educated nerds”? This study investigated the following questions: (1) What do home schooling parents do to provide socialization experiences for their children? (2) How do home schooled 11-to 14-year-olds compare to the norms on self-esteem as measured by the Self-Esteem Index? (3) What are some views on socialization held by home schooling parents?
Home schooling is is a small but growing counter culture in the educational world. Parents who home school their children do so out of a desire for the best possible educational circumstances for their offspring, for religious beliefs, or as a reaction to certain aspects of modern American society (Mayberry, 1989). Home schooling parents take the opinion that their children’s educational, social, and spiritual development is the parents’ own right and responsibility, and they choose not to delegate to any other (Tipton, 1990, Rakestraw, 1990, Ray, 1988). They choose to teach at home because of perceived advantages in modeling their chosen behaviors and values (Tipton, 1990, Johnson, 1991). They want to do what they feel is in the best interest of their children and dare to defy social norms to accomplish that goal (Divoky, 1983).
Home schoolers have specific ideas about the socialization and development of self-esteem in their children. They have clear ideas about how they want their children to be treated and how their children should relate to others (Ray, 1988). They place importance on control, protection, self-actualization, and closeness (Mayberry & Knowles, 1989).
While the public, some educators, and some courts may regard socialization as a random mixing of people “without serious thought about the quality of the mixture” (Moore, 1984), home schoolers ask, “Is normal conventional school socialization necessarily good?” (Kitchen, 1991). These home schooling parents tend to feel that good socialization follows the textbook definition which asserts that socialization is “the process by which persons acquire the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that make them more or less able members of society” (Kelly, 1991). They feel that they can best do this job themselves (Mayberry, 1989, Divoky, 1983). They believe that success is as much moral and social as it is academic (Tipton, 1990), and that “positive self-esteem” is one great benefit of home schooling (Hedin, 1991).
Lines (1987) states that if group activity is the basis for social development, home schools can provide it — “There is evidence that most home-schooled children engage in frequent group and community activities.” Montgomery (1989) found that home schooled adolescents are not isolated from social interaction with their peer group nor denied participation in a variety of at-home and out-of-home organized group activities. Group activities included church youth programs, 4-H clubs, scouts, and sports organizations. Johnson (1991) found that home schoolers had created small communities within the family, church, and home school groups. The currently popular home school support groups provide group classes, field trips, conventions, and other activities (Knowles,1988).
Socialization and Self-Esteem
Socialization not only brings about an understanding of others, but also of oneself. Kelly (1991) believes that socialization is a key to the development of self-concept, which he defines as “a system of subjective beliefs about personal experience and is often equated with self-image, self-worth, and self-esteem.”
Study on home schoolers’ socialization and self-esteem was initiated less than a decade ago. The benchmark study was by Taylor (1986). Using self-concept as measured on the Piers-Harris Self-Concept Scale, he found that the self-concept of home schooled children was significantly higher than that of the norms on the global scale. The median for the home schooled sample was the 91st percentile.
Also using the PHSCS to study self-esteem in home schoolers were Hedin (1991) and Shyers (1992). Hedin compared home schooled children and conventionally schooled children (all from Texas Baptist churches) and found no significant differences in self-esteem. Shyers comparing home schooled and conventionally schooled children in Florida found the home schooled children to have above average scores on the PHSCS.
Delahooke (1987), using the Roberts Apperception Test for Children, found home schoolers to be well adjusted and less peer dependent than conventionally schooled children. Using the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales as an instrument, Smedley (1992) found home schooled children more mature and better socialized than other school children.
Knowles (as cited by Ray, 1992) conducted a study of adults who had been home schooled for at least six years before age 17. He found that these adults were involved in entrepreneurial and professional careers. They said they were glad to have been home schooled and had no grossly negative perception of living in a pluralistic society. Their home school socialization did not hinder them from being functional members of society.
Kitchen (1991) studied pre- and early- adolescents using the Self-Esteem Index to compare those exclusively home schooled to those who exclusively attended conventional schools. As measured by the SEI, home schooled children scored higher than conventionally schooled children on the global scale and the subscales for personal security, academic competence and familial acceptance. They scored slightly lower on the peer popularity subscale.
Pre- and Early Adolescents and Self-esteem
Kitchen’s (1991) study was unique in that it examined pre- and early-adolescent children, ages 11 to 14. Children at this age are in an important period in the development of self-esteem. They are beginning to be able to understand themselves and to be aware of areas in which they succeed and in which they fail. Berger (1988) points out that a feeling of competency, a comfortable peer group, a supportive family and a positive macrosystem of family and school all work together to make it easier for the pre- or early adolescent to develop self-esteem.
Many studies that have examined self-esteem and socialization in home schooled children have been based on self-report or interviews. Despite the wealth of data self-reports can give, self-reports alone can leave an incomplete picture because of lack of direct contact between parent and researcher to discuss items (Wartes, 1988). Wright (1988) suggests a combination of methods and applauds the work of Mayberry (1989), who combined questionnaire and interview.
This study used a combination of questionnaire, self-report, and interview to describe home schooling socialization philosophy and practices, and looked at how home schooled pre- and early- adolescents fared in self-esteem. The questionnaire collected data on types and frequencies of outside-the-family socialization opportunities for home schoolers. The 11- to 14-year-olds were administered the Self-Esteem Index to compare their self-esteem scores with the norms. Interviews were conducted with five families to give them, in-depth, the opportunity to share their personal philosophies toward home schooling and socialization and self-esteem.
The subjects were 259 home schooling families. This was an availability sample from the Delaware Valley region incorporating Delaware, southeastern Pennsylvania, and northeastern Maryland. This sample was drawn from a 300-family home school support group mailing list, 10 volunteer families from a regional home school convention, and three underground home schooling families. (Underground families are not registered with the state to home school.) The subjects were of various ethnic backgrounds including two African-American families and one Asian-descent family. Only four families of the sample did not consider themselves to be practicing Christians (Christian being defined as either Protestant or Catholic). Of the families of the 59 volunteering 11- to 14-year olds, all considered themselves practicing Christians. Seven of these children belonged to Catholic families. The remaining 52 belonged to Protestant families. Based on the fact that the support group whose mailing list was used had 300 families, one of which was of Asian descent and ten of which were African-American, the researcher felt that the sample, to the best extent possible is representative of the home schooling populations in the Delaware Valley.
The researcher developed a questionnaire called the Socialization Opportunities Questionnaire (SOQ) to ascertain the parental attitudes toward and frequencies of outside-the-family socialization opportunities for their children. “Socialization opportunities” in this instance were opportunities for home schooled children to interact with others. This questionnaire was delivered by mail in a home school support group newsletter and by hand to home schooling parents to help assure a more representative sample. Outside-the-family interaction was chosen as a focus because that particular issue is the primary cause for concern to non-home schooling individuals.
The Self-Esteem Index is an 80-item self-report instrument designed to elicit children’s perceptions of their personal traits and characteristics. It yields four subscales: (1) Familial Acceptance (which measures the child’s self-esteem at home and within the family context), (2) Academic Competence (which measures the child’s self-esteem in reference to their feelings about academic competence, intelligence, and other scholarly pursuits), (3) Peer Popularity Scale (addresses the quality, importance and nature of relationships and interactions with individuals outside the family unit), and (4) Personal Security Scale (which contains statements to assess the child’s feelings about physical appearance and personal attributes such as distinctive traits of body, character, conduct, temperament and emotions). Overall self-esteem is measured by the Self-Esteem Quotient (SEQ).
Validity data show a positive relationship with such measures of self-esteem as the Piers-Harris Self-Concept Scale for Children, Revised; Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventories, school form; and the Index of Personality Characteristics. Reliability data show that alpha coefficients are mostly in the .80 to .90 range.
The final instrument used was an interview with the parents in five volunteering home schooling families to allow them to express their philosophies about the socialization of their children. These interviews were conducted by the researcher and recorded on audiotape.
The SOQ was mailed along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope in one support group’s newsletter (300 were mailed to this group). Others were given out at a home school convention and to three underground families. Follow up was done by remailing the questionnaire to the large support group in the next newsletter asking each family to reply if they had not.
On the questionnaire, each family was asked if they were willing to have their 11- to 14-year-olds participate in the SEI. Each child who participated would receive a certificate of participation that would look nice in his or her schoolwork portfolio. The SEI was administered in groups where possible and in the child’s home when necessary. The administration of the SEI was done by the researcher and three trained administrators.
Finally, five families were interviewed personally by the researcher to allow time and freedom to explain their views on the topic. These families were volunteers from the respondents to the SOQ. The interviews consisted of two questions: (1) “How do you as homeschooling parents define socialization?” and (2) “How do you carry out the process of socialization?” The researcher then recorded the answers to those questions on tape.
Analysis of Data and Results
Analysis of data included descriptive statistics done with the aid of SPSS/PC (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) computer software.
What do Home Schooling Parents do to Provide Socialization Experiences for Their Children?
Approximately 475 SOQs were distributed with a return rate of 54.5% (259 returned).
The minimum number of socialization opportunities provided for children was reported by 16 families who had their children participating in two to four different activities per month. This represented 6% of the questionnaires (see Table 1).
Other frequent activities reported by parents included home school band, marching bands, Civil Air Patrol Cadets, playing with friends and neighbors, church musicals, helping parents as substitute house parents, hospitality (to foreign students, extended family and others), overseas trips, lessons (art, music, dance, horse riding), playgroups, children’s and church choirs, pro-life assemblies, babysitting co-ops, tutoring, Boys and Girls Clubs, Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed (AWANA) clubs, Pioneers, Royal Rangers, helping with Mother’s part-time job at pre-school, small group field trips, helping grandparents, performing, helping in family businesses, lemonade stands, selling fruit and vegetables, helping at Dad’s office, umpiring little league games, stable work, and working for credit at comic book stores.
Every family answered “no” to the following items: (1) “We feel that socialization is best done only within the family, so our children do not interact with other people at all.” (2) “We agree with critics who say that home schooled children cannot possibly be properly socialized.”
Every family responded with “yes” to the following item: “We feel that socialization is best done within the family and enriched with various other activities.”
How Home Schooled 11- to 14 -year-olds Compare to the Norms on Self-Esteem as Measured by the Self-Esteem Index?
Delaware Valley home schooled 11- to 14- year-olds scored above average (50th percentile) with a mean Self-Esteem Quotient of 73.05. Their scores on the four subscales of the SEI, Family Acceptance, Perception of Academic Competence, Perception of Peer Popularity, and Perception of Personal Security, had means of 70.3, 70.0, 64.2, and 67.9, respectively.
The results were also evaluated in the form of z-scores. In this form the Total Scale mean was .61. The Familial Acceptance, Academic Competence, Peer Popularity, and Personal Security scales had mean z-scores of .52, .52, .36, and .44 respectively (all above the mean of 0.00 of the norm group) (Table 1).
Activity #Wkly %Wkly #Monthly %Monthly
Church 239 92.28 13 5.02
Church Youth 127 49.03 27 10.42
League Sports 105 40.54 33 12.74
Konos & Co-ops 74 28.57 46 17.76
Group Classes 127 49.03 57 22.01
Field Trips 30 11.58 204 78.76
Competitions 6 2.32 90 34.75
MEK & clubs 35 13.51 48 18.53
Other 33 19.76 69 41.30
Community Service 15 5.79 77 29.73
Ministries 43 16.60 77 29.73
Apprenticeship 16 6.18 24 9.23
Scouts 47 18.15 10 3.86
Library Programs 41 15.83 102 39.38
Nursing Home Visit 5 1.93 77 29.73
Babysitting 36 14.00 68 26.25
Help Neighbors 16 9.58 69 26.64
Work for Pay 57 22.01 64 24.01
Other 34 13.13 18 6.95
Table 1. Weekly and monthly activities of home school families. (N=259)
What are Some Views on Socialization Held by Home Schooling Parents?
On the back of the SOQ was space for the home schooling parents to explain their views on socialization. Seventy-three questionnaires were returned with this portion completed. In addition, five interviews were conducted in person to allow an in-depth explanation of home schooling parents’ views on socialization and self-esteem.
These parents viewed socialization as the preparation of the child for adulthood and home schooling as an agent of “real world socialization.” They felt that their children are able to learn social skills and norms in the secure setting of the home and then practice them in a variety of age groups. From this foundation, home schoolers are able to function in the greater society.
Sixty of the 73 (82%) replies and all five interviews specifically listed the family as the basic agent of socialization of their children. In addition, 29 parents completing the questionnaires (40%) and all the interviewees added that their faith was a major agent and rationale for socialization. They pictured socialization as a vertical column of relationships and responsibilities beginning with children according to birth order and progressing upward through mother, father, and, finally, God. They compared this to horizontal socialization which they defined as age segregation. They felt this stifles positive growth.
These parents also related self-esteem to their faith. They felt that positive self-esteem was the result of the child’s finding God’s will for himself or herself and fulfilling it. They viewed the family’s relationships and responsibilities as part of the self-esteem development process in that each family member had the responsibility to pray for and help each other member find God’s will and fulfill it.
These home schooling parents tend to believe that socialization is best achieved in an age-integrated setting under the auspices of the family and taught within the context of their faith. Skills achieved at home are put into practice in the greater world. The success which follows builds self-esteem and prepares the child for adulthood. The key words were relationships and responsibilities in the process of socialization and self-esteem building.
Discussion of Results
Although home schooling parents may disagree that socialization is achieved by opportunities to interface with people outside the family, home schoolers in the Delaware Valley are receiving many opportunities for just that. The results from the SOQ show that these home schoolers are not isolated but active, contributing members of society, even in childhood. Ninety-eight percent are involved in weekly church meetings and other activities which require interfacing with various ages and settings.
If socialization can be measured by good self-esteem, home schoolers in the Delaware Valley are doing well. Scores in all five scales of the SEI are above the norms. As rated by the SEI, these home schoolers have above-average self-esteem.
Interestingly, 22% answered question #51 — “When I grow up, I will be an important person” — in the negative. These children were invariably from religious homes where humility is seen as a virtue. Several of these children tried to engage the tester in debate over whether saying oneself was important was boasting (which is decidedly frowned upon). This is one question where validity may be a problem.
It is noteworthy that the mean SEQ score on the SEI, while above the norms, was lower than that of earlier studies such as those by Taylor (1986) with the PHSCS and Kitchen (1991) with the SEI. This may be due to several differences in the studies. In this study, the instrument was administered by trained testers in all but two cases rather than being administered by the child’s parent, as was often the case in previous studies. Most of the tests were given in group situations rather than alone at home. Also, there may be a possibility that the scores may be affected by urban versus rural settings. This study was unique in that it was conducted in the east-coast megalopolis (although several of the test takers were from small towns, all live within 20 to 30 minutes from a major metropolitan area). Does home location have a bearing on self-esteem? That would present an interesting investigation.
The results should be generalizable to at least home schoolers in the mid-Atlantic states, possibly nationally. Care was made to represent the many segments of home schooling including underground, Protestants, Catholics, nonreligious, various socioeconomic circumstances, urban, and suburban families. A limitation in generalizability in socialization opportunities for home schooled children would be in describing a rural farming community. Lower population size would cause limits in types of activities available when compared to the east coast’s highly populated area.
Home schooling parents have a unique view of self-esteem and socialization. Rooted in the family and often in their faith, these parents seek to provide safe, secure, positive environments for their children to grow and learn. Children are encouraged to apply learned skills in the larger world as preparation for adulthood. This is their socialization.
This study raises the question of the definitions of socialization and self-esteem. Considering the consistently higher scores in the areas of self-esteem, perhaps some consideration of home schooling’s definitions of socialization and self-esteem should be given by educators and program developers. Perhaps others could benefit from the success of the home schoolers.
Several studies could be suggested comparing the definitions among public, private, and home schoolers. Studies detailing the constructs of socialization and self-esteem in those varying arenas could be done. These then could be compared in a more detailed manner.
Acknowledgments: I would like to express my deepest thanks to Dr. Henry Virkler of Liberty University and Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute and Western Baptist College for their guidance and advice. They made this project possible. Thanks also to Dr. Babatunde Ogunnaike of the University of Delaware for his help with the statistics. Lastly, my gratitude goes to the families of Tri-State Home School Network for their cooperation.
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