|these are the people in your neighborhood|
So, I can't fault well-meaning people when they ask this question, no matter how many times I hear it. It's the natural, knee-jerk question from all of us who have grown-up conditioned to believe that "socialization" happens only in schools and therefore must be lacking in homeschools.
But what I, and most curious questioners, really meant was: "What is their social life like? Do they interact with others? Do they have friends?" Socialization and being social are two very different things: the former being a process of conformity to a set of cultural mores, the latter being an essential condition of the human spirit. Yet again, though, we often associate the two--socialization and being social--as only happening in schools.
Most of my current, dear friends are not people I met in school. They are people I met in my community, through neighborhood walks, through shared interests and experiences, through other friends. To think that friendships and the opportunity to be social are only cultivated through institutional schooling is clearly ridiculous. For most of us--I hope at least--our friends are a rich blend of ages and interests, philosophies and persuasions representative of the larger society.
My children, like most homeschooled children, grow within this same context of societal diversity, interacting daily with an array of children and adults in our community. They have close friends, many of whom they have met through our neighborhood, through homeschool park days and community activities, at the playground and around town. They also have constant exposure to and interaction with a much larger segment of our population than their same-age schooled peers who spend much of their days and weeks in age-segregated classrooms learning from the same handful of people. Through the everyday process of integrating children into our lives within our communities, children can meet, talk to, and build relationships with a wide assortment of individuals from whom they learn--be it the neighborhood florist, the librarian, the cafe clerk, the shopkeeper, the instructor, the musician, the scientist, the carpenter, the neighbor, and the friend.
When I naively asked the socialization question of my friend at the park a half-dozen years or so ago, she gently helped me to see that my question was not about socialization--a process of cultural conformity that, I think, can be damaging to many children in our current high-pressure, consumption-based, overly-commercialized, hyper-competitive society. Frankly, I am glad that my children don't care much about what they wear or how their hair looks or whether or not they have the latest fad gadget. "Socialization" is not what I strive for with my children. But being social? Being social is a natural component of being human. It's part of our mammalian instincts. Immersing ourselves and our children in our broader community allows for meaningful interactions with a diverse network of individuals and mentors, and allows for deep friendships to blossom when we are able to authentically choose and nurture these friendships in the context of our community.
After that day at the park, and in the subsequent years of my family's unschooling journey, I find that most people I encounter make the same mistake I did: confusing "socialization" with "being social." Usually, I find, it's a simple clarification, and often it ends with a remark like the one I heard recently: "Yea, I didn't really like all that school socialization anyway--cliques and bullying and such."