Homeschooling rose to 1 in 10 American kids in 2021 due to lockdowns, and the number has remained high even as lockdowns abated. Most families who began homeschooling due to lockdowns say they don’t plan to go back.
Despite the steady increase in homeschooling since its revival in the 1980s, families who choose this way of raising their children often face fearful responses from family and friends. Chief among the concerns is what people often call “socialization.”
Sometimes, they mean, “Will your kids have any friends?” Other times, they mean, “Will your kids understand social cues and how to get along with normies?”
Yes, you can find homeschooling kids who dress oddly and don’t know how to carry on a basic conversation. But you can find people like that anywhere. As anyone who attended a public school can confirm, people who can’t make eye contact and are otherwise antisocial persist in that environment, too.
From high interaction with homeschooled families and graduates in multiple environments, professional and personal, I’ve definitely noticed differences. On balance, these differences tend to favor homeschoolers. Here are just seven I’ve observed that are also often obtainable in small schools.
1. Independent Thinking
It’s common for the “good” kids in public school to work hard to learn what the teacher wants and give it to her. They have a tendency to become compliers. “Just tell me what you want, and I’ll do it.”
Now, homeschooled kids often also want to please Mom and Dad, but the ability to negotiate with a parent in ways one can’t with a teacher often encourages mental independence. They have freedom to read widely and extra free time in which to develop and personalize their sense of self. They also tend to get more long conversations with their parents because of homeschooling’s extremely small class sizes.
All these cultivate independent habits of thought. They teach people to develop their interests and personalities, and to follow arguments all the way to their conclusions. These things also teach students to spend time comparing and contrasting ideas for real, in a way that shapes one’s soul for life, not as a human version of ChatGPT.
Homeschoolers are also used to being unusual. They’re used to being asked questions like, “Do you have any friends?” and given the cold shoulder by public-school kids at events like sports and family gatherings.
Sometimes this turns a homeschooled kid desperate and makes him more peer-dependent, especially if he’s a sociable child and doesn’t spend enough time with friends. So he’s desperate for friends and therefore works overly hard to conform to negative peer pressure. I’ve seen this also with conservative kids. They accept peers’ or culture’s shaming and rejection of their social differences and therefore can more easily turn into antagonists against their own group.
Thus we have entities like Homeschoolers Anonymous, which argues that because some homeschooling families are abusive, homeschooling rather than the family is the problem. (You don’t hear that same argument about public schooling, which has a far higher rate of child abuse than homeschooling does. But I digress.)
If parents observe and address these social dynamics, mostly by helping their children find friends who build them up instead of savage their family’s choices, homeschoolers do tend to emerge into adulthood as independent thinkers. They tend to be quite comfortable with nonconformity, bringing new perspectives into their communities. This strengthens our society, especially now, as political correctness is metastasizing into a totalitarian social credit system.
2. More Practice with Multi-Age Relationships
Since they are so strongly family-oriented, homeschoolers break out of our society’s artificial, factory-school model of corralling people with those who happen to be born in the same calendar year. Homeschooled kids are far more comfortable making friends with anyone, not just those their exact same age.
They drop by for tea at the old lady’s down the block (true story). Bigger kids play comfortably with babies and toddlers. They know how because they have little siblings and cousins they are around more often because they’re not in school all day. This makes many homeschoolers even more socially capable than peers who falsely believe that one can only be friends with a person who looks and acts just like them. It expands their horizons and their relationship skills.
Freedom from same-age exclusivity has academic benefits as well as social benefits. Everyone understands that no person is exactly mentally on track with every other person his age. An 8-year-old may be strong in math but weak in spelling, compared to those of his age. Homeschooling allows the flexibility to meet children academically outside of the “average” peer.
Being too far ahead of one’s class makes bright kids bored, and being too far behind his class makes struggling students despair. Teaching right at a person’s actual level instead of his artificially imposed level is the most effective instruction possible.
3. More Prosocial Habits and Expectations
For decades, parents have moved to the suburbs to raise their kids because they didn’t want their children in environments shaped by poverty. As Thomas Sowell and others have chronicled, America’s urban and rural poor share many antisocial behaviors that keep them down and drag others with them. These include higher rates of violence and nonmarital sex and other coarse and life-damaging behavior such as openly disrespecting authority.
Homeschooling takes the protection of moving to the suburbs a step further. That’s an increasingly prudent step as our entire culture seems hell-bent on downward mobility.
Simply the widespread adoption of smartphones for children immediately degrades entire social ecosystems such as schools, because children are too immature to handle attention-destroying notifications and open internet access. Ten-year-old girls don’t need to see pornographic drawings and get propositioned to join a threesome because their badly parented peers watch YouTube videos of lesbian sex (true stories — from the suburbs).
In an environment like this, sometimes the only possible way to ensure your child actually has a childhood is to homeschool. It would be better if our society decided to protect children from living in social cesspools like this, but most of our parents and institutions have so far refused. That leaves it up to sane parents and churches. Homeschooling is one way to allow children an innocent childhood so they encounter this world’s violence and sex when they are ready.
4. Better Ability to Choose Friends
It’s always been prudent to select one’s companions carefully. Friends strongly affect who you are. Families who pay $50,000 a year for so-called “elite” private schools and then send their children to morally bankrupt Ivies know this. Their values are degraded, but the underlying impetus is correct: One’s companions can determine the course of one’s entire life. This is true for adults and even more so for children.
The thing about public school is that anyone can and does go there. We don’t live in the 1950s, when one could more reliably count on both the average parent and most institutions to be sane and responsible.
Today’s average parent is checked out and lets his kids be mentored by creepy strangers on the internet and other kids who are mentored by creepy strangers on the internet. Today’s average institution is run by apathetic box-checkers whose lack of moral fiber tends to let antisocial people and woke inmates turn everything into an asylum.
This means parents today can’t count on most other people to encourage their families toward the good. Sending children to public school (and allowing them unsupervised internet access) not only prevents parents from carefully selecting their children’s major influences but also ensures their impressionable children will repeatedly encounter sick perversions they are too immature to handle.
Homeschooling (and private schooling) families have far greater control over their companions than do those who allow our degraded public square to mess with their kids’ minds, and therefore can more intentionally manage this key determinant of a family’s character.
5. Better Family Relationships
A complaint I often hear about homeschooling that unintentionally reveals its speaker’s lack of character is: “I just couldn’t be with my kids all day long!” Parents shouldn’t avoid helping their kids mature by farming out their parenting to others. Others don’t do as good a job of it as parents will. It’s also an abdication of their responsibility that has bad consequences for them, their children, their community, and all of society.
Yes, children are annoying. Every person is annoying sometimes. Mature adults realize we’re also annoying sometimes and that a currently annoying person will usually get over it. This isn’t a children problem, it’s a people problem.
Yes, children can be more directly annoying than adults because they are more actively driven by their passions. That’s one top characteristic of immaturity. Yet kids’ natural immaturity isn’t worse because it’s more obvious than most adults’.
When an adult seeks arousal, he might use internet porn, blast loud music in public spaces, or zone out on a video game. A child seeking arousal might wander around whistling or run in circles around the kitchen. He might bang the same song on the piano 20 times a day or tease his sister 30 times just to get a reaction (guess how I came up with these examples).
But Jordan Peterson is right that kids are mostly as annoying as their parents allow them to be. Some parents allow their children to maintain habits of complaining, whining, arguing with parents when they say no, teasing siblings, or fighting. Other parents build and enforce appropriate behavior boundaries in their family life.
By putting family members in more constant direct contact with each other, homeschooling gives parents increased opportunities for character building and habit formation. If parents do this work, it definitely pays off. It also tends to pay off both short- and long-term.
Children who are required by active parents to daily practice self-discipline tend to become better adults — better fellow citizens, better parents, better neighbors, mothers, and fathers. Unlike unparented children, they are also mostly a pleasure to be around — just like adults.
6. More Creative Hobbies and Entrepreneurial Instincts
Because they don’t have to waste so much time being controlled as part of a herd in large classes and schools, homeschoolers tend to have a lot more free time that they don’t spend watching TV. This makes homeschoolers extremely creative and active people, on average, which lends itself to entrepreneurial instincts.
With all the free time they gain from not having to move at a pace constrained by 22 other people, homeschoolers tend to develop strong hobbies and skills. The average homeschooler is involved in more than five community activities such as piano lessons, scouts, and karate, and is more likely to volunteer than public-schooled kids, according to studies.
Cultivating personal interests is not only good in itself, but it also leads to other goods, such as a penchant for social and economic entrepreneurship. Homeschooled students are used to being self-directed and managing their own time and interests. That makes them more likely to develop their own creative pursuits and I think explains why there are so many homeschooling families running high-traffic channels on YouTube.
7. A More Individual Personality
Some combination of the high personalization and high control of one’s time in homeschooling, as well as the lack of personality flattening that comes from harsh peer pressure, seems to make homeschoolers often very much more developed individuals. This reality is a bit ineffable, partly because it’s so varied in its expression.
While most people seem to come out of public schools slotted into some mass marketing consumer profile — punk, valedictorian, LGBT, SJW, jock, geek, nerd, or some other role defined and assigned by corporate conglomerates — homeschoolers tend not to fit into these kinds of boxes very easily.
Partly I think it’s because they have less awareness that these boxes even exist, because of their lower exposure to mass media through both screens and peers. Partly I think it arises out of their years of freedom to deeply explore nooks and crannies of human existence that aren’t part of mass culture, like Victorian clothing, historical re-enactment replicas, or Scottish literature.
Sometimes this reality manifests in slight oddities, like wearing nonstandard clothing, taking longer pauses in a conversation (or being more likely to monologue at people), knowing swing and folk dance steps, and not getting pop culture references. But I prefer these kinds of oddities to encountering a bearded man in a dress or to hearing some crappy song blare out of someone’s speakers that sounds essentially like every other crappy song that has blared out of speakers since the 1960s.
This also makes homeschoolers really interesting people to talk to. They have actual interests in their lives and unusual ways of seeing the world because more of their ideas haven’t come to them via the dreary mass marketing that in our society badly substitutes for legitimate culture. So no, often homeschoolers don’t act like zombies who download their brains from the corporate cloud, but that’s a good thing.