John Dewey, the “father of modern public education,” stressed socialization as the primary goal of the educational process. In his Moral Principles in Education Dewey (1975) said:
A study is to be considered as a means of bringing the child to realize the social scene of action (p. 31). … Information is genuine or educative only in so far as it presents definite images and conceptions of materials placed in a context of social life (p. 32). . . . History is vital or dead to the child according as it is, or is not, presented from the sociological standpoint (p. 36). … What the normal child continuously needs is not so much isolated moral lessons . . . as the formation of habits of social imagination and conception (p. 40). Apart from participation in social life, the school has no moral end nor aim. (emphasis added) (p. 11).
Educators have a responsibility to the community, Dewey held, to foster the social awareness of the students. The ultimate concern or goal of the education process, in Dewey’s view, was the group itself:
Ultimate moral motives and forces are nothing more or less than social intelligence — the power of observing and comprehending social situations, — and social power — trained capacities of control — at work in the service of social interest and aims (Dewey, 1975, p. 43).
Summarized as a research hypothesis, Dewey’s conviction would read: the primary purpose of public education is fostering greater social competence in children.
If Dewey was right, then home schooling is an issue of growing concern. Based on Ray’s 1990 study, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) reports that more than 630,000 American children are currently being taught at home, primarily by their parents (HSLDA, 1990, p. 5). They are not attending public or private schools. These numbers have been increasing steadily over the last ten years.
Will these children learn to function in society if they are deprived of society’s instrument, the school, of social integration?
No researcher up to this point has investigated the home school socialization issue from a communication perspective. Most of the surveys to date measure family motivation and academic achievement. These studies are useful, but fail to address the primary unanswered objection to home schooling, “socialization.” The one exception discovered during the literature search was a doctoral dissertation by Taylor (cited in Ray, 1988) who used the “Piers-Harris Self-Concept Scale.” Taylor assumed that this construct “is closely linked with values, social competence, and self-evaluation” (Ray, 1988, p. 24). Taylor noted the high scores of the home educated children and concluded, “Insofar as self-concept is a reflector of socialization … the findings of this study would suggest that few home schooling children are socially deprived” (Ray, p. 25).
Since his approach focused on subjective internal states rather than observed interactions, though, Taylor may have been reaching rather far.
This paper puts the “Dewey hypothesis” to the test by directly measuring the social maturity of home schooled students, then comparing those scores to a demographically matched sample of public school students.
The insights and tools of communication study enable us to operationalize and test the variable “socialization.” This paper borrows from the concepts of the “interactional” school of thought, which holds that communication is the means by which people create social reality. Socialization and communication are seen as inseparable components of life experience. A well-socialized child, from this perspective, can ably navigate the social and communications environment.
To test against the null hypothesis (public education socializes children), it was necessary to operationalize the concept “socialize.” The measurement chosen was the “Adaptive Behavior Composite” acquired using the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (VABS) as a survey instrument.
The assembled data were collated and processed using the Statistical Program for the Social Sciences (SPSS). Histograms of the data were graphed, and t-tests run to verify the differences between the aggregate scores of the public school educated children and those who were home schooled.
The populations studied for this thesis consisted of 33 children of white, middle class, Protestant families. These included 16 females and 17 males. Subjects were evaluated by their parents. Most of these parents were recruited by the researcher while attending child-centered recreational activities. Two families were enlisted through a mutual friend.
The larger sample (20 cases) came from families belonging to the Greater Roanoke Home Educator’s Association (GRHEA), which sponsors regular social events for members.
For a control group, this study tested children who attend the same kind of Protestant churches as the home school students, but go to public school. Most of these parents were enlisted through an AWANA children’s program at a local Baptist church.
This study surveyed twelve Baptist children, nine who attend the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church (C.M.A.)., nine children from charismatic churches, and three in mainline churches (Disciples of Christ and Presbyterian Church in America).
Since ecclesiastical traditions tend to be socially and economically homogenous, control and test groups were nearly identical in everything except the key variable. They were all white, middle class, from two-parent families, and of the Protestant persuasion. Differences in social maturity are more easily assigned to the education option chosen.
Each survey form was given out with a separate demographic cover sheet, and identified only by an arbitrary number. To encourage participation, a tear-off coupon offered a small incentive (personalized stationary) to participants. Each form required approximately 20 minutes to fill out.
The Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales has been in use since 1935, and is frequently used in studies of juvenile and special-education populations. Originally created as the Vineland Social Maturity Scale by Edgar A. Doll, the current version was copyrighted in 1984 by Sara S. Sparrow, David A. Balla, and Domenic V. Cicchetti.
The VABS is a robust and well-tested diagnostic tool. In hundreds of studies over the decades, it has established its reliability and validity for measuring the communication domain, the daily living skills domain, and the socialization domain of test subjects.
Each of the components measured is divided into three sub-components. In the Communication Domain, scores are secured for Receptive, Expressive, and Written communication. The Daily Living Skills domain is comprised of Personal, Domestic, and Community skills. The Socialization Domain measures performance in the subcategories of Interpersonal Relationships, Play & Leisure Time, and Coping Skills.
The subdomain scores are summed, and compared to age-normed charts to arrive at the standard score. The standard scores for the Communication Domain, the Daily Living Skills Domain, and the Socialization Domain are then summed, and compared to a standardized chart to arrive at the Adaptive Behavior Composite. This last score quantifies the observable maturity of the subject, and is the unit of measurement used in this study.
When the VABS is used as a diagnostic tool to assess the competence and/or “mental age” of a subject, a rigid procedure must be followed. The interviewer asks a parent or responsible adult about the child, and fills in the information sheet without showing it to the parent/guardian.
However, the parents in this test group are suspicious of intrusive questioning. It was therefore necessary to allow the parents to fill out the forms themselves, and assure them of anonymity. They were told that the goal of the project was “to measure the socialization and communication skills of Christian children.”
Since the two populations being studied were informed, not “blind,” it could be argued that the data thus derived is tainted by the “Lake Woebegone” effect.1 In response it must be pointed out that both groups are likely to be equally biased, since love of children is a key component of the fundamentalist ethos. Honesty is another highly regarded virtue among all of these parents.
In most cases, the data were acquired at child-centered activities where parents who cared enough to bring their children had the time to fill out the form. These included recreational gatherings of GRHEA, and AWANA youth group meetings at a Baptist church.
In brief, although the non-clinical setting of this test’s administration ruled out its application as a diagnostic tool for individual children, the instrument itself is hardy and robust enough to give valid information about the two aggregate populations studied.
Thirty three forms were adequately completed by parents under field conditions. Twenty of the cases were home school students, and thirteen students in public school. Sixteen were female, seventeen male. The public school students had adaptive behavior composite (ABC) scores of 83, 85, 86, 86, 87, 89, 89, 92, 94, 99, 105, 106, 108. (100 is by definition the national mean). The home school students had ABC scores of 98, 101, 104, 104, 107, 108, 110, 110, 111, 112, 115, 115, 122, 122, 122, 123, 123, 131, 132, 141.
A histogram of all the ABC scores is displayed in Figure 1. When the test and control groups are identified with different lines, two relatively normal bell curves appear. In the case of the home schooled students, nearly all the children are above average.
1Figure 1. Superimposed bar graphs.
2Figure 2. ABC scores of public school students.
When the numbers are broken down by gender, the bell curve disappears. Figure 4 and Figure 5 are histograms for all the males tested, and then the females. This suggests that socialization depends far more on the mode of education than it does on the gender of the subjects.
3Figure 3. ABC scores of home school students.
4Figure 4. ABC scores of male students.
To verify the perception suggested by these graphs, the same information was processed through the SPSS program to test for independent means. The output confirmed the hypothesis to the .0005 level of significance for three of the variables. The 2-tailed probability that the pooled variances and the separate variances were the product of random distribution is .000. There is a 99.95% probability that, despite their demographic homogeneity, home educated children and public school children are two distinct populations.
Another analysis keyed on gender as the distinguishing independent variable. When the populations are segregated by gender, the two tail probability that means of the two groups were not independent ranged from .473 to .899. This indicates that the differences are not attributable to the gender of the subjects.
Table 1 compares the means for the home school and the public school samples in all four areas.
The mean Adaptive Behavior Composite score of 115.55 for the home schooled children is in the 84th percentile; compared to the nationwide norm, they score in the top 16%. The control group score placed them in the 23rd percentile, among the top 77% of the nation. In terms of the socialization subcategory score, the home school students rank in the top 27%. The public school students ranked with the top 75%.
Discussion of Results
The findings of this study indicate that children kept home are more mature and better socialized than those who are sent to school. The GRHEA population matches the demographics of the national survey (Ray, 1990) fairly closely in terms of observed racial, professional, and religious characteristics. The public school students surveyed attend well-funded and well-staffed middle class schools. The public school students even share the religious values of the home school children. Yet, the socialization difference is there.
What, then, is the best mechanism for socializing children? Was John Dewey right? Is public school a miniature true community? Or, an artificial one? If good socialization is synonymous with communication excellence, is the classroom an enriched, or impoverished communication environment?
The classroom is mostly one-way communication, along stereotyped and rote channels. Information flows at the pace dictated by the teacher. Given the size of classes, few meaningful interchanges are possible on a given day between teacher and individual student.
This contrasts to the home education communication environment. Ten children is small for a class, but large for a family. Each child at home has immediate access to the attention of a significant adult. Home educators stress the initiative and responsibility of the individual student, and build community through voluntary
Area –> Communication Daily living Socialization Maturity
Home Educated 113.45 112.10 109.50 115.55
Public Schooled 98.08 90.77 95.08 93.00
1Table 1. Comparison of ABC mean scores between home educated and public schooled.
5Figure 5. ABC scores for female students.
cooperation rooted in a common faith, a common perception of duties.
Public education, a product of the industrial age, operates in the “factory” mode of production. Elkind (1981, p. 47-49) describes “batches” of uniform product running on the conveyor belt in lockstep motion towards thestandardized diploma. Illich (1970, p. 66) and Toffler (1980, p. 29) also use the factory metaphor.
The industrial approach to education may place a specified quantity of data before each student. Given the bureaucratic nature of the public school communication environment, however, it cannot logically be claimed to “socialize” the students.
An unnatural aspect of the public school environment is the age segregation. Learning to get along with peers does not necessarily prepare the student for interactions with older and younger people in real life.
In the home school family, on the other hand, people of various ages and generations mix easily together in a variety that more accurately mirrors the outside society. There is an emphasis on service and responsibility that turns differences into opportunities for compassion. Younger siblings are best friends, not embarrassments. When 100+ home school kids roller skate together, it is often reported that the crowd is noteworthy for its orderliness and pleasantness.
Ray (1990) reported that home educating families are often large ) the nationwide average is 3.21 children per family. Most frequently home educators are one career families of the 1950s “Leave it to Beaver” television series variety. According to Ray’s work, the mothers do 88.32% of the teaching, while the men earn 96.37% of the family income. This parental availability means that, during the course of an average day, home school adults and children likely have hundreds of interactions.
Is the trend toward home schooling a hopeful sign for the future? People in the movement think that it is. The vertical dimension of religious faith adds to their lives an adventurous sense of destiny, purpose, and accountability. The stress on self-disciplined, self-directed learning may create a generation that can adapt quickly to new challenges, new opportunities.
Many home schooled children are already computer literate. An anonymous educational computer salesman posted a few comments about the implications of computer literacy to a computer bulletin board:
… any person or persons who claims that this [self-directed, non-classroom education] will impair the social development of kids since they won’t be around others their own age to socialize with and in doing so conveniently forgets what happens to kids who try to socialize in a classroom. Mention something about the extra free time these kids would have to socialize with since they would learn so much faster than their grammar school counterparts. . . . Mention that in today’s world there are far too many people who depended on school to do the socializing for them and can’t go out and do it themselves.
In this study and others, home schools turn out students who are statistically ahead of public school students in academic achievement and in social skills.
Suggestions for Further Study
Several of the variables collected in the course of developing this paper could profitably be followed up by other researchers. For example: does the amount of time spent in outside activities have any bearing on the socialization process? In this small study, the public school students spent an average of 3.3 hours per week in extracurricular group activities. The average home school student spent 4.2 hours per week in such activities. Comparing the two interval-level variables of Adaptive Behavior Composite and social time could yield valuable data. A far larger sample would need to be examined by that researcher.
An intriguing detail of this study was the fact that Christian children in public schools scored far below the national norm on the VABS. What (if anything) does this mean? A scholar with connections to public education and to a fundamentalist church could pursue this quirk.
There are other ways to apply the VABS scales to the student population. An energetic scholar might profitably compare all four quadrants ) secular and Christian, home and public school students.
Communication scholars will find the social networks built by home educators to be a source of fruitful insight. What rituals will this community evolve to commemorate landmarks in life? Will there be some equivalent of the senior prom? What new vocabulary will this community contribute to the larger society?
How will the common social reality be affected by the unique perspective of the home school families? That big question remains to be answered.
1. Named for humorist Garrison Keillor’s mythical hometown, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all of the children are above average.”
Acknowledgment: I would like to thank Radford University Assistant Professor William Kennan, Ph.D. for setting up this statistical program for me.
Editor’s note: An MS-DOS diskette containing the entire original thesis upon which this article is based can be purchased from the author for $7.50.
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