Record: Richard G. Medlin, “Homeschooling and the Question of Socialization Revisited,” in Peabody Journal of Education 88, no. 3 (2013): 284-297.
Medlin, a psychology professor at Stetson University, here continues a line of inquiry he began in one of the landmark articles of the original 2000 Peabody Journal homeschooling special issue. Since that article he has published several pieces in the journal Home School Researcher, all of which find very positive results for homeschoolers’ social and academic development. In this piece his goal is to review research on homeschooler socialization that has appeared since his 2000 article.
Medlin first looks at homeschooling parents’ thoughts about their children’s socialization. Parents generally thought socialization was important and that their children were being well socialized, not only in terms of religious values but also in learning to get along with others. Medlin notes that the studies he cites in this section are limited by small sample size and self-reporting.
The next section concerns children’s social skills as measured by the Social Skills Rating System test, which is another self-reporting mechanism. Across several studies homeschooling parents consistently rate their children higher than do parents of conventionally schooled children, though the children themselves don’t rate themselves much differently at all. In a couple of studies homeschooled children, especially girls, rated themselves below institutionally schooled children in terms of social skills despite the fact that these children’s parents rated them above the norm. Medlin notes that the lack of difference between boys and girls who homeschool is perhaps significant, given that conventionally-schooled girls typically score themselves much higher than do conventionally schooled boys.
The third section covers emotional, social, and life satisfaction as well as problem behaviors. In all of these categories homeschoolers come out looking very good. While some of these studies disingenuously compare homeschoolers to national norms, several of them used more compelling methodologies which allow for fair comparisons between homeschoolers and conventionally schooled kids. The most dramatic differences between the two groups were reported by teachers (for homeschoolers these are teachers at co-ops and other out-of-home environments), who rate the homeschooled kids much higher in positive qualities and much lower in problem areas. There is some suggestion from the research that homeschooled kids may have fewer friends, but that those they do have are extremely valuable to them.
Fourth comes moral and religious socialization. Here homeschoolers are not very different from their conventionally-schooled peers, though they do show fewer instances of antisocial or criminal behavior.
Finally comes adjustment for college and adulthood. Homeschoolers are doing fine here too, succeeding in college and life.
Medlin closes, after noting the limitations of most of this research, with an appeal for homeschooling researchers to get beyond the simple self-report and survey-type research that has heretofore dominated studies of socialization. He’d like to see more compelling strategies “such as longitudinal designs, naturalistic observation, and interactional analysis…” (p. 294)
There was much to like in Medlin’s survey. He succinctly and fairly summarized many studies that together lead to an unsurprising conclusion that homeschoolers are doing fine in terms of their socialization. I have two critiques I’d like to offer, however, one small and one a little larger.
The small one is that it would have been nice had Medlin been more explicit in stating which of the studies he was summarizing were using shoddy methodology. He occasionally points out a particularly good study, but many of the generalizations he makes are based on studies that have very little scientific value since they are based entirely on self-report data from non-random samples. Medlin’s discussions frequently mix these sorts of studies in with the better ones indiscriminately.
More significantly, Medlin leaves out a lot of important work that has been done in recent years. The article Rob Kunzman and I recently published in the journal Other Education provides a much more thorough look both at the childhood socialization question (pp. 19-23) and at the college/adulthood question (pp. 29-31). I ask readers to consult the article for actual citations, but let me here note four things Medlin’s survey does not cover, or at least not completely.
First, he doesn’t note the studies that have found a strikingly different definition of socialization for many homeschooling parents. Medlin makes homeschoolers sound like they have the same social goals as other parents, but according to some research this is not always the case.
Second, at least some of the more qualitative research on socialization for which Medlin calls at the end has in fact been done. In addition to Mitchell Stevens’ classic Kingdom of Children, both Rob Kunzman’s Write These Laws on Your Children and Jennifer Lois’ Home Is Where the School Is offer many insights into the daily lives of real homeschoolers that fit precisely with what Medlin wants of future socialization research.
Third, Medlin ignores the studies that have found in at least some homeschooling parents the very authoritarianism Medlin is at such pains to show is not present. Again, for details see our article.
Finally, Medlin’s discussion of college/adulthood likewise leaves many studies out. Some of them would only reinforce what he already says, but one of the most important studies ever of homeschooling (because of its large and randomized sample), the Cardus Education Survey, found that formerly homeschooled young adults got married younger, had fewer children, and divorced more frequently than adults who attended public or private schools. Homeschooled adults also reported lower SAT scores than the privately schooled subjects, attended less selective colleges for less time, and reported at higher rates feelings of helplessness about life and lack of goals and direction. Any survey of adults who were homeschooled must include this study in the mix.