After so many years of homeschooling and with its relative popularity, I didn’t think I would need to address this question. Evidently, our special situation “boatschooling” the children, or the fact that we now have high-school-age kids, arouses curiosity (and sometimes criticism) in people who have misconceptions about our life.
Some might think that being on a boat means that we are raising our children in an isolated, remote environment, with limited outside interaction, but they would be mistaken. At our current rate of offshore travel, we spend mere days each year out of sight of land, enjoying that peaceful state of solitude one only finds when crossing an ocean or a desert, far from human habitation, under a sky lit only with heavenly bodies. The rest of the time, we are living in a marina, cruising along the coast, or island hopping, where we run into lots and lots of interesting people, many of them with children of various ages. We are not trapped at home, but out and about in stores, museums, parks, and libraries.
Perhaps a clarification of terms is necessary. If what they mean by “socialization” is the process by which children learn to be sociable, carry on a conversation, make eye contact, resolve conflict, and enjoy the company of other humans, then we have no problem. Our kids have opportunities to mix and mingle with people of all ages and from all walks of life. Some of our kids are outgoing, and others shy, but all of them are expected to be polite, cordial, and respectful. And when we are out on our own, traveling with just the seven of us, they are forced to deal with people in close proximity, to get along with people that are sometimes difficult, and to form strong and lasting family bonds. What more could we want for their social lives?
If by “socialization” they mean the process by which children are placed in a homogeneous group like you find only in schools, prisons, and the military, and induced to suppress their individuality and reduce their performance to the lowest common denominator, becoming “normal” like their peers, then perhaps we should examine this paradigm, and maybe even question it. What has become the accepted norm in the average public school is not acceptable to us. Here are some uncomfortable truths about these norms: it is accepted practice to drug small, wiggly boys so that they can focus on academic tasks instead of sending them outside (where there is arguably lots to learn), to have armed police officers and “lockdowns” in schools where there is a perceived threat so that even parents are denied access to their children, to test children as young as six and to teach nothing but the test, and to have “zero tolerance policies” that flout common sense and yet fail to prevent bullying.
If kids are average, they’ll probably learn what is necessary to pass the tests and have a “normal” life, but if they are special or gifted, God help them! They will never receive the individualized attention they need to either catch up or to excel, and will receive plenty of social pressure to hide their exceptional traits (or be the victim of bullying). To become socialized is to learn to hide who you really are and imitate the others. And what are the others like? Look around: kids of all ages are staring at screens instead of socializing with people in their physical vicinity, politeness and common courtesy are things of the past, and good character has been replaced by the pecking order of popularity. Who would want this kind of “normal?”
There is one remaining question. How will our children integrate into society as adults? They may be non-conformists like their parents, people who don’t just follow without question the mandates of others, people who are unhappy “plugged in” to a system, square pegs that can’t be put in round holes. Our children may turn out to be quirky, odd, different, or exceptional; they might not be like everyone else, and that’s a risk we’re willing to take. Of course, the opposite may be true as well; since they’re being raised by non-conformists, the only way to rebel will be to become normal—to go into debt, live in a neighborhood of cookie-cutter houses, and drop their kids off at school on their way to an office where they work in a cubicle! I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.