SOCIALIZATION PRACTICES OF CHRISTIAN HOME SCHOOL EDUCATORS IN THE STATE OF VIRGINIA
Since the State of Virginia began to keep records in 1984, the number of children involved in home schooling grew from 504 (1984-85) to 2,934 (1989-90), an increase of 482% (Virginia Department of Education, 1984-1989). There have been studies that have provided a demographic profile of the home school family (Gustavsen, 1980), studies of academic achievement (Mayberry, 1988; Wartes, 1987), and studies that compare the self-concept and socialization skills of home schooled students to those of traditionally schooled students (Taylor, 1986a, 1986b; Delahooke, 1986; Wartes, 1987). Selected studies have found that home schooled students score above the national average on tests measuring self-concept and certain aspects of personality using the Piers-Harris Self-Concept Scale and the Roberts Apperception Test for Children (Delahooke, 1986; Taylor, 1986a, 1986b). There has not been, however, a study to actually document what home educators are doing to provide for the development of socialization skills for their children.
The focus of this study was to identify and describe methods and practices which home school educators are using to meet the socialization needs of their children.1 In one research study (Taylor, 1986a, 1986b) home school students were found to have high self-concept scores, with scores in the “well-adjusted” range of Piers-Harris Personality Test. This evidence supports the claim that parents are providing the necessary ingredients to foster socialization growth in some areas. There have been no studies, however, to document what is actually being done by parents, and no other study has focused on other areas of social growth. The following question was formulated for this study: What practices are home school educators using to meet the socialization needs of their middle school aged students?
Knowing what practices and methods home school educators employ will help place other research on socialization (Delahooke, 1986; Montgomery, 1989; Taylor, 1986a, 1986b) in perspective. This study will provide educators and curriculum writers with information on areas of concern to home school educators, as well as highlight areas that may need attention.
This study provides home school educators with information on how some home school parents provide instruction in the various areas of socialization. It will alert home school educators to possible weaknesses in the instruction for fostering socialization. Parents within the home school community could use this information to evaluate their own methods and to improve the quality of their instruction.
This study was done using qualitative research methods. The data were gathered from ten rural families that were home schooling middle school aged students. These families were obtained by referral from home school families and self disclosure. Because of the researcher’s own involvement in the home school movement (see “Self as Instrument”), the informants showed a willingness to be interviewed.
Data were gathered from the participants through open-ended questions and discussion in interviews. Detailed informational sketches in the form of case studies on each of the ten families were included so that the reader could judge applicability in each situation. A final discussion and conclusions from the findings was included in the study to enable the reader to compare and contrast the approaches of the families to socialization.
It was determined from a review of the existing literature on home school socialization that only the area of personal identity among home schoolers had been studied. There had been, up to this time, no research that focused on other areas of concern within the wider scope of the construct called socialization. Further, there had been no study done in the state of Virginia that addressed socialization. In order to provide a framework for responses, it was decided to use those socialization areas recommended by the Virginia State Department of Instruction for implementation in middle schools. These areas are based on the needs of all preadolescent “middle school” aged children as determined by child psychologists and specialists in human growth and development. These seven areas of focus served as points of reference for interview topics of discussion and became the interview guide. The seven areas of socialization addressed in each interview are (a) Personal Identity (self esteem, solving the “Who am I?” dilemma), (b) Personal Destiny (goals, achievement, career), (c) Values, Moral Development (accepting the rules and mores of society, self discipline, and learning problem solving strategies), (d) Autonomy (learning independence), (e) Relationships (peer attachment and adult friendships), (f) Sexuality (awareness of sex roles and physical changes), and (g) Social Skills (social rules, developing adult roles, acceptance of other’s differences).
The guided interview format allowed the researcher to understand and capture the perspective of home school educators, while providing a framework within which the participants could respond in a way that accurately and thoroughly portrayed their point of view about the program (Patton, 1987).
While the general areas of socialization addressed by the Virginia Department of Education for middle schools were used as a framework, the discussions allowed for emergent issues to be covered. When discussions did not address one of the seven areas considered by the state to encompass the goals of socialization for the middle school, questions directly relating to those areas were asked. These seven areas or categories within the construct of socialization served as referents for an analysis of the findings.
Reliability (consistency and auditability) was addressed by keeping thorough notes, audio tapes of the interview and records of each step in the study.
After the interviews were completed with the ten families, the researcher used the seven areas of socialization as a framework for analysis. Each family was one unit of analysis, presented in a short narrative style case study.
Using the seven areas of socialization as units of analysis, a content analysis was done on the ten case studies. This analysis elaborated on the patterns of similarity and differences noted from the data.
Description of Sample
Because of the inaccessibility of names for those who are home schooling in the state, the sample was developed by referral, starting with a known home schooling family.
The sample included ten families in rural counties of Virginia that were home schooling a middle school aged child. All the home schooling parents were in their original marriage. One striking commonality was the strong influence of the father in the families. While the father did not often participate in the actual teaching, he exerted much influence on the teaching situation, and had strong positive feelings on the subject of home schooling. The mothers in the study were all primarily responsible for the actual teaching. The mothers as a group seemed to be emotionally strong, capable women, and appeared to be very independent in thought.
All the families were Protestant and very involved in their faiths. All the families were Caucasian and middle-to-upper-middle class. All families exhibited strong Judeo-Christian work ethics and values. These families were representative of the largest segment, as found in demographic profiles, of contemporary home schooling families.
Three other areas of similarity that the researcher found interesting and surprising were unrelated to any studies known to the researcher. Six of the families interviewed lived very near extended family. One other family indicated very strong ties with extended family and had actually considered relocation to be close to family members. Another similarity involved the preparation for home schooling. In several of the families, at least one parent had taught in a traditional school situation (six mothers and two fathers). The third similarity was that of reading material used by the ten families.
Self as Instrument
Perhaps the most obvious characteristic of any person as an instrument is the physical. The researcher is a woman and that has influenced the way in which she looks at the world as well as the things she chooses to observe. The researcher considers any information that she brings to this study that is related to gender to be a strength. The researcher believes that she is, perhaps, more intuitive and less a threat to informants because she is a woman. The political orientation (conservative) and religious beliefs (Christian) of the researcher also affect the way she views the world around her and influence her interpretations of data. There researcher’s work experience as a teacher at the middle school level in the public schools of Virginia and as a private school teacher provides some insight and first-hand experience in those areas of socialization that are addressed in this study. Perhaps the most significant experience brought to this study is the researcher’s experience as a home school educator for the past seven years. The researcher has home schooled two children, the eldest since fifth grade (now a junior in high school), and a four year old who is just beginning formal instruction (but has been home schooled, nevertheless, since birth).
For the families involved in the study, the fact that the researcher was a home school parent seemed to make talking “safer.” Once the informants learned of her involvement in home schooling they seemed more open and relaxed. As the study emerged it became obvious to the researcher that those families in the study shared values that were, in many cases, the same as her own. The researcher was not coopted within the study, but was surprised to find that she shared many commonalities with the home school families.
At the time of this study, the researcher was a fourth year doctoral student at the University of Virginia majoring in curriculum and instruction, with collateral areas in gifted education and school administration. Her responsibilities included those of teacher, supervisor for her home school students, and the other related behaviors of a wife and mother. In preparation for this study the researcher had studied both quantitative and qualitative methodology, and had done a case study using the interview and observation format.
Conclusions Drawn from Content Analysis
of Interview Transcripts
The area of personal identity was one to which all the families had given much consideration. All ten informants make their church attendance and religious beliefs a major part of their instruction in the area of personal identity. While nine of the ten families cited teaching their children about a Biblical perspective of who they are, even the tenth informant gave examples of the importance of religious convictions in other areas such as standing by a position against selling raffle tickets and placing church attendance before other activities. Seven of the informants related to the researcher that their desire to teach their own values and beliefs to their children and their desire that their children be in an environment where they could “be” themselves had been the deciding factor in their home schooling. The parents in this study expressed their belief that the “traditional” school placed their children in a situation where they were forced to either conform to the group or live in opposition to the group. They expressed the desire to provide a setting where their children can develop without undue challenge.
These parents are making specific efforts to develop their children’s unique abilities by providing opportunities that enhance the strengths they see in the children. The informants gave examples of areas where their children are excelling. The parents provide extra tutoring or lessons in the skill area. This skill or talent, the parents infer, has given the child confidence and an ability to do something of which he can feel proud.
All informants gave examples of work and jobs that their children do to earn money. These families place high value on a strong work ethic and encourage their children to become involved in working toward a goal of some type. This ability, it would seem, might build confidence in the students in their ability to be productive.
The informants expressed that they are treating the children as adults by allowing and expecting the children to do things for themselves. These parents stated that they have given their children responsibilities that are important; other people are dependent on these children to fulfill these jobs. By assigning this responsibility the parents are placing their confidence and trust in the students. By acknowledging the child as a person of dependability, the child, it would seem, views himself as someone of worth.
Half of the informants cited that they have provided time alone with their children as a means of teaching personal identity. These families have demonstrated their concern and attention to these children by being willing to invest large amounts of time and energy in educating them at home.
Three of the informants specifically mentioned that they believe having their children removed from peer pressure in school was allowing the children the opportunity to think for themselves. The parents believe that since the children are not in a classroom with agemates for hours each day, the home school children might be more used to thinking things out for themselves.
Parents reported that their children have more time to pursue individual interests and projects during hours which are devoted to class time for a traditionally schooled student. This was evidenced by the number of activities in which the home schooled children are able to participate. Several informants cited instances of providing the child with time alone as well as a willingness to cooperate financially and to support emotionally a project that the child wants to try.
The investigator observed the efforts of home school educators in what was interpreted as their willingness to depend upon and trust their children. It may be that the confidence of the parents in their children has contributed to the students’ self-confidence. These parents seem to believe that their children are more aware of who they are and are more secure about their place in their world than traditionally-educated students.
All informants spoke of their students in a respectful way that seems to indicate the children are liked by the parents and that time spent with these children is enjoyable. The
investigator feels that if this is also perceived by the child it would tend to increase self-esteem.
The practice of home school educators that seems most important is that of allowing the student to actually be in work situations. All informants gave examples of their children earning money for themselves. This early admission into the real world may be of importance not only in the teaching of personal destiny but in the area of personal identity. Being recognized as a contributing member of society would seem to enhance the self-esteem of a child. These families indicated their belief that having the student in real-life situations was a practice which they consider to be teaching personal destiny.
A majority of the informants either stated or indicated by relating an example that they have high expectations for their students. The majority of the families indicated that they allow the student to be self directed in their schoolwork and in setting up weekly goals. By allowing the student to participate in the actual planning and decisions about when and the amount of work needed to be done daily in order to finish by the deadline, the parents believe they are teaching real-life work skills and responsibility.
These parents exhibited specific efforts, to expose their children to various careers as well as a willingness to discover and explore their children’s interests.
Values and Moral Development
Half of the families in the study mentioned some aspect of values and moral development as their reason for home schooling.
While all the informants attend different churches and live in different areas, there is a remarkable similarity in the ways the informants believer they are approaching education in the area of values and moral development.
Nine of the informants cited religious beliefs and their faith as instrumental in teaching values and moral development. All of the families attend church on a weekly basis. Nine indicated that the example of family values as contrasted to those of society is a practice they use. Not only are the parents encouraging the child’s regular involvement in church, but the parents are involved themselves. Nine of the informants indicated that they regularly talk about what they believe or make their expectations clear to the student.
Another area that was common to the majority of informants was that of encouraging volunteer service and helping other people. While these students are still quite young and must rely on others for transportation, there seems to be (according to parental statements) a large amount of volunteerism. It would seem that example and modeling on the part of the parents has been an educational practice in this area, although none of the informants cited this as a practice. The investigator believed that the parental volunteerism may contribute to a more positive self-image by allowing the students to realize that they are needed by others and can make a difference in their world.
All the informant families exhibited a strong work ethic. All of the families gave examples of the provision they have made for the student to learn to work often within the real world. Again, modeling is being done by the parents as evidenced by the students’ being allowed to accompany and even participate in the parents’ work situations. These children are being given responsibility on a daily basis.
A small number of the informants (four) cited using actual curriculum materials in this area. However, the parents as a group seem to feel that teaching in this particular area is not as important as modeling the life that they espouse before the child and expecting the child to live it. The commitment to Christian values seems to provide a motivation for the parents to home school. By keeping their children in situations where family values are reinforced, the parents are protecting what they believe to be most important for the child.
These students are learning their values, morals, and related skills such as self discipline and problem solving through real-life experience rather than exclusively through textbooks. The students have been deliberately placed in situations where they can function as valued members of society. It appears that the parents consider the students worthy and able to carry out the responsibilities they have been given. The parents both expect and trust them to act responsibly. Five of the informants referred to their training the child to be a leader or to stand alone; these parents are allowing specific, responsible freedom while always watching to reinforce and give needed immediate feedback.
The practice that seems to stand out in the area of teaching independence is that of giving a specified amount of responsibility to the home schooled child. All of the families have placed their children in situations, either with their own business or employed in some way, where they are on their own. five of the informants specifically mentioned that the child had a savings account. This earning ability seems to give the students a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of independence.
Within the home these students have a variety of responsibilities, ranging from meal preparation and child care to doing the laundry. By teaching the child to perform these adult functions, the parents are giving their children an opportunity to become independent.
Most of the informants (seven) mentioned that the students are self directed in their schoolwork, placing the responsibility for work completion in their hands. This practice allows the child to determine how much schoolwork to do each day in order to finish by the deadline. By allowing the students more freedom in scheduling their time, parents believe they are teaching self-discipline, independence, and self determination.
The investigator noted seven instances of the informants using praise and encouragement to strengthen independent behavior in this area, thereby building feelings of confidence and independence in the student. The parents seemed pleased with the behaviors or decisions made by the child.
Several of the informants cited instances in which they have allowed and encouraged their children to make their own decisions in personal matters. This practice might foster a sense of independence and self-control by letting the child know that he is trusted to make a decision.
While expecting to find ordinary involvement, the investigator was not prepared for the level of commitment exhibited by the parents in getting the child to various activities.
The most interaction is related to church activity, and it seems that the families are encouraging most interaction with others who share their own values and beliefs. It seems that this is an extension of their commitment to their Christian values; by being separate, they are trying to protect a lifestyle they believe is best and they hope their children will accept and defend it when challenged.
While there is not a great number of home schoolers it seems that the informants have made the most of their opportunities for interaction and are not avoiding peer interaction when it is available. Activities that the students are involved in with their peers at church included choir practice, youth group meetings, regular services, drama groups, volunteer services, and Sunday school classes.
Eight informants stated that their children can visit their friends weekly or invite their friends to their home. Home school group activities, sports activities, 4-H, and Scouts also provide the children in these families with interactions. Indeed, several informants indicated that there are so many activities and opportunities for peer interaction that the children have to pick and choose so they will not be overextended.
The informants indicated that they encourage their children to interact with all ages and not just to have friendships with their age mates. This practice seems to develop out of their lifestyle rather than from trying to “find” other age friends for the children. Because the children are involved in many real-life situations, they seem to have greater than average contact with people of all ages. The investigator noted what seemed, to the parents, to be rapport by the children with many older people in many different capacities (as music teachers, friend at the nursing home, and people at church). A majority of the informants stated that their children have a very close adult friendship outside of the family. It was noted by the investigator that the majority of interaction with other adults is within a group of church friends or other adults with whom the parents seem to share values and trust.
An interesting note is that six parents live very close to their own parents or siblings (i.e., grandparents, aunts and uncles to the students). Because family ties are close and the child is able to be with other family members regularly, the home schooled student seems to have the advantage of strong adult role models and continuity of family. This sense of extended family would be an asset to any child by providing a sense of personal identity, stability, and other adult friendships and role models.
While this category focused upon adults outside of the immediate family, it was noted that in all cases parents spoke as if they enjoy the students and have a close relationship (friendship) with them. Both parents provide strong role models for the children.
Discussion of the teaching methods used in sexuality exhibited the least diversity of all areas covered in the interview. Eight of the families stated that sexuality is covered by their curriculum. The majority of informants mentioned that they openly discuss the subject of sexuality with their students. This subject is taught in much the same way as it would be in a traditional school situation by using more traditional materials, books, tapes, etc. The informants’ approaches seem to come more from the perspective of the parents’ standards and beliefs than from an exclusively academic/facts approach. Several informants stated that they try to encourage acceptance of their own standards, such as abstinence from sex before marriage, and to stress positive family life.
The subject of sexuality received the least number of comments from the parents. This may have been because the methods used are traditional and the parents feel there was little to add. Materials used to teach sexuality tended to be supplied by authors that support the parent’s Christian values.
The category of social skills, specifically manners, was the only category that brought any comment from the informants indicating their impression of needing to strengthen this area of instruction. The majority of parents felt that the students are learning social rules (manners) through their many life experiences. It appeared that these students are involved in more social activities, whether by design or by being with the parent in various situations, than the average middle school aged child.
Three informants stated that one method they use to teach social skills is to make parental expectations very clear. Since these parents are with their children more hours than if they were traditionally-schooled, parental modeling, reinforcement and feedback on students’ behavior is more immediate.
To develop adult roles, these parents have given specific amounts of responsibility to the children. The informants gave every indication that the responsibility is being handled well by the children. The parents are expecting adult-like behavior in their children and are pleased with the children’s level of cooperation.
It appears from the comments made by informants that the category discussed as acceptance of others’ differences is one in which the informants have made specific effort. Eight families stated that they talk as a family about the uniqueness and specialness of every human. Seven families cited people with whom they are regularly associated and involved who either come from another culture or have lived in other cultures. All informants gave some example of either encouraging acceptance or an activity in which their children are able to be around those from other cultures. The investigator noted instances from six informants of opportunities for the students to be around handicapped and aged individuals. These parents seem to be extending their teaching of personal identity to include the message, “Everyone is special in God’s sight and we can accept this person as God made him.” Again, while allowing varied experiences, these parents are closely monitoring their students’ activities.
The investigator found that the home school educators in this study reported to have created small communities for learning within the family, church, and home school groups. These home school families, as a group, share a sense of community with each other. Their lifestyles and values seem reminiscent of the pastCCwith less or no television, many church-centered activities, and being very family oriented. The families are strong, close, and built upon and committed to their Christian principles. The informants (parents) in this study indicated numerous ways in which they have established stable, close, respectful relationships with their students and have provided controlled access to others as well.
The home school educators in this study reported a willingness to give responsibility to the middle school aged child. These parents encourage volunteer activity and state their desire that the student be given the opportunity to be an actual participant in the world, not just an observer until they reach some magical age. These parents are convinced that their children can and will function in a responsible way if they are trained and allowed to demonstrate their maturity.
Cooperative learning has been demonstrated, not in the traditional sense of the term, but in a real sense. The home school educators expressed their willingness for their students to learn in a real world scenario, cooperating with the people the children come in contact with and learning to function as responsible citizens. Flexibility of instructional time has allowed theses students the freedom to pursue unusual interests and activities that they would not, ordinarily, have had the time to explore.
The home school educators in this study are greatly concerned about the education of their young adolescents. They have taken on the job of educator, acting on their belief that they can do a better job than anyone else. Parental modeling seems to be a key practice in all areas of socialization.
While the methods used by home schoolers are sometimes unusual and nontraditional, these educators are addressing the socialization needs of their students in every area addressed. Montgomery (1989) indicated that home school educators viewed their children as above average and therefore expected above average achievement socially and academically. The investigator was informed of the same expectation on the part of the parents interviewed. Without exception they spoke with respect for their students and gave every indication that they believe in their children and expect the best from them.
Delahooke, M.M. (1986). Home educated children’s social/emotional adjustment and academic achievement: a comparative study. (Doctoral dissertation, California School of Professional Psychology, Los Angeles, 1986). Dissertation Abstracts International, 47:475A.
Gustavsen, G. A. (1980). Selected characteristics of home schools and parents who operate them. (Doctoral Dissertation, Andrews University). Dissertation Abstracts International, 42, 4381A, 4382A.
Johnson, K. C. (1991). Socialization practices of Christian home school educators in the State of Virginia. Doctoral dissertation, University of Virginia, Charlottesville.
Mayberry, M. (1988a, November). Characteristics and attitudes of families who home school. Education and Urban Society, 21, (1), 32-41.
Mayberry, M. (1988b). Doing it their way: a study of Oregon’;s home schoolers. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Oregon, 1988). Dissertation Abstracts International, 49, 12A, p. 3875.
Montgomery, L. (1989). The effect of home schooling on the leadership skills of home schooled students. Home School Researcher, 5(1), 1-10.
Patton, M. Q. (1987). How to use qualitative methods in evaluation. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.
Taylor, J. W., 5th. (1986b). Self-concept in home-school children. Home School Researcher, 2(2).
Taylor, J. W., 5th. (1986a). Self-concept in home-schooling children. (Doctoral dissertation, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, 1986) Dissertation Abstracts International, 47, 08A, p. 2809.
Virginia Department of Education. (1984-85, 1985-86, 1986-87, 1987-88, 1988-89). Report on home instruction. Richmond VA: Author.
Virginia Department of Education. (1987). Draft guidelines for middle schools in Virginia. Richmond VA: Author.
Virginia Department of Education. (1989). Restructuring education in the middle school grades. Richmond VA: Author.
Wartes, J. (1987). Report from the 1986 home school testing & other descriptive information about Washington’s home schoolers. Washington Home School Research Project, 16109 NE 169 Pl., Woodinville, WA 98072.
1 A more complete version of this qualitative study is available in the form of Johnson (1991).
Editor’s Note: Dr. Kathie Johnson is available for speaking engagements.
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