Socialization isn’t a freaking joke

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Michael Scott.

Editorial note: The following is reprinted with permission from Samantha Field’s blog. It was originally published on February 11, 2016.

If you’ve been around homeschooling culture for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with how they tend to make fun of “socialization.” When I was growing up as a homeschooled kid, I had “20 Snappy Comebacks” prepared in case I overheard someone asking “b-but but what about socialization?!” I’d been taught– and was firmly convinced– that when people asked about socialization it sprang from a place of ignorance about homeschooling. When you homeschool, I believed, you’re not just limited to interact with people from your grade level, but with children and adults of all ages. Through church (and, theoretically, co-ops, although I only attended one in 2nd grade), we got all the social interaction we could possibly want.

It’s ironic to me now that while I thought that other people were ignorant if they asked me about socialization (which, honest moment, they never did, probably because of how incredibly isolated I was), the fact of the matter is that most homeschoolers who dismiss socialization as a legitimate question are also being ignorant.

Socialization isn’t just “learning to talk to people like a regular human.” It’s not “having friends.” It’s not “engage in social activities.” Socialization is “the process whereby an individual learns to adjust to a group (or society) and behave in a manner approved by the group (or society).” I’ve talked about my own experience with socialization before, and one thing I can confidently say is that if we’re talking about fundamentalism, then I am socialized extremely well. I know how to walk the walk and talk the talk. I know what the acceptable behaviors and language are. I was taught to be extremely well-suited to that environment.

However, now that I’m not in fundamentalism anymore, I am not well socialized. I struggle understanding what the group parameters are, and one of the biggest struggles I face is that I have no metric whatsoever for analyzing my behavior. Was I polite? No idea. Did I hurt someones’ feelings? Not a clue. Did I do or say something weird or awkward? Can’t say. I’m slowly learning how to operate in casual social settings, but there is always a sliver of me that’s panicking the entire time that I’m going to blow it and expose myself as the weird homeschool kid.

But there’s another aspect to this “socialization” question that I’ve yet to see addressed.

Above I noted that I am extremely well socialized to operate in fundamentalist spaces, so I am intimately familiar with what’s required to achieve that and it bothers me.

Every once in a while, I’ll bump into someone commenting on how “well-behaved your children are!” Sometimes it’s people talking about how polite and happy and well-mannered all the Duggar children appear to be. A few years ago I overheard it at a not-fundamentalist church, and it was directed at a mom in a denim jumper with six kids and– no joke– No Greater Joy sticking out of her diaper bag for some reason. “Well-mannered children” is part and parcel of fundamentalist socialization, and there’s a fairly uniform code for what that means:

  • instant obedience
  • obedience with a “good attitude”
  • joyfulness
  • respectful of elders
  • lack of rebellion (individuation)
  • are faithful, diligent members of the religion

The main problem I have with the above is all those people complimenting fundamentalist parents on “well-mannered” children have no freaking idea what it takes to achieve children who behave like that. Children are supposed to be imaginative and express their identity and be unruly and rambunctious and explore and be curious and filled with wonder and sometimes be grumpy and unhappy and annoying.

The methods used to create children who are always smiling, who always obey instantly, who never go through individuation, who never talk back– they should horrify us because they are nightmarish. In order to achieve this, you have to beat infants. You have to strike your children multiple times a day with a switch or a board or a belt. Age-appropriate exploration must be prevented at all costs– either through things like blanket training or slapping a baby every time they reach for a necklace or your hair. You must subject your infant or toddler to brutal physical punishment every single time they show a disavowed form of curiosity about their environment.

For older children and teenagers, you have to completely disallow any form of individuality. They must agree with everything you teach them. Doubts and questions are forbidden. If they attempt to express their own identity, they must be bullied by other members of the fundamentalist community to immediately stamp it out.

Being socialized as a fundamentalist child means being horribly abused. It means being denied any natural part of growing up. So, yes, fundamentalist homeschool families are socializing their children– socialization, really, is inevitable– it’s just what they’re socializing them to. Fundamentalist homeschoolers are largely incapable of socializing their children to be capable, competent, contributing members of society because socializing them in fundamentalism precludes that.

Remember that next time you hear someone comment how cute and quaint and charming the Duggar family is.


  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    The methods used to create children who are always smiling, who always obey instantly, who never go through individuation, who never talk back– they should horrify us because they are nightmarish.

    Methods of brainwashing worthy of the fictional 1984 or RL North Korea (who invented the term).
    Or beating a 10-kilogram Dachshund with your belt until he becomes Docile and Obedient.

    “Build me an Army worthy of Mordor…”

    “Well-mannered children” is part and parcel of fundamentalist socialization, and there’s a fairly uniform code for what that means:
    ◾instant obedience
    ◾obedience with a “good attitude”
    ◾respectful of elders
    ◾lack of rebellion (individuation)
    ◾are faithful, diligent members of the religion

    Lists like this always remind me of a scene in the WW2 movie Is Paris Burning?:

    Night outside Paris, lit by the headlights of German soft-skin military vehicles. The camera cuts to closeups of young German after young German — blond, blue-eyed Nordic faces radiating joyfulness and “good attitude”, the double Sieg-runes on the right collars of their uniforms and the Hakenkreuzen badges on their Stalhelms catching the light. Then the vermin to be Cleansed are herded to the edge of the freshly-dug mass graves, the Order is given, and the young SS troopers instantly and joyfully and faithfully first-time Obey.

  • I thoroughly enjoyed this article. I would like to add to the definition of ‘socialization’ by inserting culturally responsive, or respectful of diversity, when it pertains to behavior and interacting with other groups outside of our own familiar environments. Within each culture/group/social setting, the accepted or ‘approved’ rules of conduct, communication, beliefs, and values can differ greatly. Therefore, one must not infer ‘approval’ into the general construct of socialization. Social skills involve more appropriateness with respect to diversity, while we maintain our individuality or sense of self. As we respect others’ values, we must respect our own, as well.
    Socialization is not so much that ‘when in Rome…’, but possessing mindful awareness of the impact that our interactions, behaviors, and communication will have with respect to the culture/person/setting. It just involves ‘appropriateness’, more than approval.
    This is my idea about socialization: mindfully, respectfully, and situation specific conscious cultural[and self] awareness.

    • This is such a great point JaDonnia! In fundamentalist socialization there is a huge emphasis on embracing the familiar and rejecting the unfamiliar–or at least being very suspicious of it. Thus you find all manner of non-European traditions condemned on the grounds that they engage in demonic activity, that tribal music calls up demons, that they practice witchcraft, etc. etc. Once that is established its a hop and a jump to discrediting or dismissing any cultural variation as suspect. And so xenophobia becomes an expression of faith.

  • I read her blog because it challenges me, but I am honestly at a total loss on the “joyfulness” and “respectful of elders” parts. Can someone *politely* explain her intent with these?

    • Samantha has pretty specific meanings when using words like that. Her “Learning the Words” project is helpful in unpacking some of those meanings: While “joy” isn’t on that list, unfortunately, there is a post on “dishonor”: Maybe those will help?

    • Hey Melissa,

      There’s a lot tied up concepts like “respect” and “joy” in fundamentalist circles, but I’ll try to be brief on what “joy” is meant in that culture (that dishonor post handled what is considered “being disrespectful”).

      Having “joy” was distinguished from “happiness.” According to them, being “happy” is a temporary, circumstance-based emotion– like having a birthday party would make you “happy.” Joy, on the other hand, was presented as something you choose– and being a Christian meant *always* choosing to be “joyful.” I frequently heard verses like “rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice” as a support for this concept.

      Choosing to be “joyful” meant that you chose to never experience a “negative” emotion (I no longer believe in the “positive” or “negative” emotion dichotomy– emotions themselves are neutral). Negative emotions were: anger, frustration, disappointment, bitterness, sadness, worry, etc. Being a child who is *never* allowed to be sad and must always choose to look like they’re “happy” all of the time– smiling, attentive, polite, all the other hallmarks of a “good mood” is emotionally stunting and in some circumstances emotionally destructive.

      Of course *actually* being “happy” or “joyful” all of the time is impossible. What happens is that fundamentalist children never learn to process their emotions, including anger, fear, or sadness. We were taught to stuff those emotions into tightly constrained boxes instead of allowing them to have a natural course. It’s dangerous and damaging.

      • Oh, wow, I so did not expect a reply from you personally! I feel oddly nervous all of a sudden.

        So, I’m kinda-sorta in the circles you speak of… Little difficult to explain. I find your blog immensely fascinating to read, for various reasons. You are like SO polar-opposite me as a woman, it just captures my attention for some reason!

        But, anyways… You’re meaning emotional repression, correct? And misguided respect towards elders and parents?

  • I’m in complete agreement with the statement, “Children are supposed to be imaginative and express their identity and be unruly and rambunctious and explore and be curious and filled with wonder and sometimes be grumpy and unhappy and annoying.” I swear some folks in public would have loved to physically restrain my boys because they believed that kids should be seen and not heard. The Fundies simply took this adage to the extreme. And sadly, you’re right, most folks LOVE how these brainwashed kids behave. At my age, I know I will never be a charismatic speaker but I do hope I stop freaking out and putting my foot in my mouth. Remember, you don’t carry the weight of being a Representative of Homeschoolers. I never understood that one either. So stop beating yourself over that and persevere.

  • Regarding emotional repression… What IS misguided respect toward elders and parents, as YOU put it here ? There obviously is no disparaging intended toward the CONCEPTS of respect for the above. It’s like saying tongue in cheek- if you respect elders or parents in ways other that Fundie ways, it’s misguided . What’s MISGUIDED here, is children socialized through abuse and brutality to DISPLAY respect, regardless whether or not they feel like that.

  • Some of the comments on this post were found to be in violation of the comment policy and have been deleted.

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