Martha Bachert is sick of the question: How do your children meet anyone if they're home-schooled?
"We've all heard it a lot," she says. "We call it the 's-word': socialization. Our lives are so full of it (socializing) that we have to say no. We have too much of that."
Many home schooling families say a lack of socialization is the biggest myth they face when talking about their practice. There are plenty of options for their children to meet peers, they contend, and their children can avoid peer pressure by not being at a brick-and-mortar school.
But public school advocates and some psychologists say interactions that take place in schools - even the negative kind - can help children learn to negotiate a diverse and sometimes unfriendly world.
Charlotte Ostermann, a home-school mother who lives near McLouth, says her five children have missed out on plenty by not being in public schools.
"They missed being bullied," she says. "They missed being told they can't learn beyond what they're supposed to learn for a particular year. They missed out on being told they're stupid or, especially, gifted. They missed out on being in a box none of them would fit in."
But Adela Solis, president of the Lawrence Education Association, the local teacher union, says such concerns about public schools are "a little blown out of proportion."
"This is not a sheltered world," she says. "We want to produce children who are productive members of society. It's not necessarily fair at some point to think the world doesn't exist in the form it's in. It's a better service to prepare children to be better thinkers for themselves."
Learning from others
Bridget Biggs, an assistant professor in Kansas University's clinical child psychology program, says research confirms that children who are bullied, rejected and continuously victimized can develop a negative self-concept, anxiety and even depression. There's also evidence to suggest that peers can influence behaviors related to sexuality, drug and alcohol use, and delinquency.
However, being around a lot of people their own age benefits children immensely, Biggs says. They get support and validation for who they are. And as they grow into adolescence, they learn the intimacy of close friendships.
Biggs says cognitive development theorists such as the late Jean Piaget would argue that parent-child and teacher-child relationships don't provide the same benefits because the child is in a subordinate position. But peers are equals and challenge one another to think more critically. A classic example, Biggs says, is negotiating rules on the playground.
"If they're playing foursquare, is on the line in or is it out? Having to negotiate that takes some sophisticated thinking," she says. "And it takes a lot more sophistication to argue with another child than an adult who may say, 'I said this is the way the rule's going to be.' Or they might just turn to the adult and say, 'Can you settle this dispute for me?'"
She points out that these valuable interactions often happen in the school setting, but to her knowledge there have been no studies that compare the social lives of home school children to those of public or private school children. In the clinical setting, Biggs says she's seen wide variability in what other venues home school families seek out for socialization.
"Some parents didn't really think about it at all," she says. "Other parents were really well-hooked up into home schooling networks, and their kids had friends from the neighborhood, friends from the home school network and really ended up having a sense of belonging."
Home school gatherings
Two organizations - one catering to Christian home-schoolers, the other catering to secular home-schoolers - exist in Lawrence.
The Lawrence Area Homeschool Network has social gatherings for members every other Tuesday afternoon.
Teaching Effective Academics in Christian Homes offers a variety of social and academic programs for its members. One of those is the Encore music program, which includes bands, choirs and an orchestra.
Lana Groundwater's 11-year-old son, Trevor, plays percussion in the band. She likes the option for him to play music with others, but she's not concerned about him having enough friends.
"We've got a lot going on," Groundwater says. "It's important, but we're around a lot of people. There are so many things we do."
For 14-year-old Hannah Davidson, a clarinet player, Encore provides a chance to be around other home-schoolers. She also plays in an honor group in Kansas City, but those are mainly public school students.
"People that go to public school don't always relate to home-schoolers," Hannah says.
Socialization has been a major concern for Tracie and Sam Drake of Tonganoxie, who home-school their three boys, ages 11, 7 and 5.
"We'd really like them to be around more kids," Tracie Drake says.
She is constantly in the car, driving among several home school groups in which the boys are involved.
"Instead of bar-hopping," she says, "I home school hop."
In addition, the children participate in baseball, Boy Scouts and a science and math club in Kansas City, Mo.
The oldest son, James, says there would be advantages to being in school, such as seeing friends on a more regular basis.
"I'd be around more people," he says. "I have to wait around all winter for baseball season to start to see people."
But Drake says there also are social advantages to home schooling. For instance, she says, the boys haven't developed a macho attitude like other kids their age, and they don't have to worry about peer pressure.
"I don't wear name-brand shoes," James says. "And I don't care."
- Terry Rombeck can be reached at 832-7145; Mindie Paget can be reached at 832-7187.