by Mel cross posted from her blog When Cows and Kids Collide
Socialization issues come in two varieties.
The first socialization issue is how home schooled students who have been greatly restricted in choice of friends while having the amount of time around non-family peers slashed struggle to make friends when exposed to the larger community. This topic has been covered well by bloggers inside and outside of the homeschooling community.
The second issue is an outgrowth of the first; home-schooled students lose access to many, many professional contacts by being removed from a school system.
In my elementary school, I graduated with 34 students and I am in contact with about 20 of those classmates. My high school graduating class had 206 students and I am in contact with ~100 of those classmates. I have contacts in medicine, K-12 education, law, finance, marketing, sales, STEM research and applied arts. I have contacts in metal working, tool-and-die making, woodworking, logging, agriculture and home-based care.
Why does this matter?
In life, having contacts – or networking – greatly increases the likelihood of landing a coveted job or creating a business that lasts.
I taught for eight years in Michigan. When I was looking for my first teaching job, the market for teachers was super-saturated. For high school science jobs, districts would receive 50-100 applications. For elementary school jobs in a desirable (read: middle or upper class) district, schools received as many as 4,000 applications!
How did I land a job within a month of getting my teaching license? I worked my connections.
I landed my first job in part because a classmate’s uncle worked as a personnel director in a local district. Sarah introduced me to Paul at a local community gathering when we were in high school. Paul was an interesting guy who sold his district well so I kept in contact with him over the next few years. His district needed substitute teachers who could fill in at the last minute so he signed me up as a substitute teacher within his district as soon as I finished student teaching.
I used that time prudently; I subbed repeated in a early intervention pre-school classroom for kids with language delays and mild autistic spectrum disorders and had a blast.
This caught the attention of the principal at the school. Apparently, they’ve never had a sub request to be in that class before – and never had one return repeatedly. He found out from the para-pro I worked with that I was a secondary science certified teacher and recommended me to the alternative education high school principal when he had a long-term sub position open. I took that job and when it was made into a permanent position the next year I was hired as an internal applicant.
Yes, I had the skills needed for the job – but my job search was shortened to less than a month because of the people I knew.
This topic caught my attention when I was looking into the Maxwell Family who have a tidy income from books promoting homeschooling and educating sons to be single-income breadwinners for a family. They promote having sons leave high school early (age 15-16) and use that time on career training – but not any training that would expose them to bad influences like working in an industry or going to college. Needless to say, the Maxwell Family LOVES any certification that can be earned through self-study. Since four of their sons are income-earning age, I thought I’d see what everyone is doing.
Honestly, everyone is working in one family business or another. Most of the family works at Swift Otter building websites using Magneto – but I found that site by following an earlier, but still operational site called Communication Concepts, Inc. That’s where I noticed that one of the sons – John – has a company called Maxwell Irrigation. That intrigued me; my husband farms and I was curious how he got a foothold in irrigation work.
John’s business plan is odd. He offers to create irrigation design plans for fields. This is thoroughly strange because companies that build irrigation systems will create design plans as a matter of course when installing an irrigation system.
Why wouldn’t farmers want an independent contractor to make a design for them? After all, wouldn’t that be a good way to prevent being taken advantage of by Big Irrigation?
No. Farmers have a tried-and-true method of finding companies that work and shunning companies that do bad work. They do this by relying on contacts they’ve made in life – contacts that do not include John Maxwell if all of his education has been done through self-study.
Who would we rely on if we needed irrigation? Here are some options:
- Local companies run by families my husband met in K-12 education including after-school activities like 4-H and FFA
- Local and regional companies that employ people my husband met while he getting his college agriculture degree
- Local companies recommended by the Extension Bureau – which rely on contacts made at the land-grant college by students and faculty
- Family ties. Agriculture is one of a few career choices that marrying into the system is an accepted way of joining. (I see the flaws inherent in the system especially towards minorities – but the system exists and should be mentioned.) We are probably shirttail cousins of someone who does agricultural irrigation. At the very least, the introduction between my husband and the company representative will end with them realizing that our third cousin twice removed was at MSU in the Farmhouse Fraternity two years before the company representative. See, we’re like family!
The fix for this is quite simple; Kansas State University has a horticulture degree that would give John plenty of contact time with professors and students who are in the agricultural system. By choosing his electives sensibly, he would have an even stronger basis for being hired into an irrigation company as a designer. Best of all, someone would explain to him why his business plan won’t work.
Because – when push comes to shove – a farmer needs someone who can install an irrigation system. Those professionals will design an irrigation system for the field as the first step; they need a plan that their installers can use and that they know is adequate based on experience. A reputable company will not take a design created by a person they’ve never heard of – let alone worked with – and install a system based on that. Having Maxwell create a $2,700 plan for our 180 acre field would be $2,700 wasted.
I wish I had a magic answer to the problem of losing potential contacts for homeschooled kids – but there’s no quick answer if the purpose of homeschooling is to minimize contact with the outside world. For parents who are homeschooling for academic purposes, making sure their kids are active in their neighborhood, a few community activities like sports or scouting, and a church or civic organization that has multiple generations participating should do the trick of making contacts similar to classmates.
For kids for whom homeschooling is used as a form of isolation, I can’t see how to make up the difference in contacts – and that’s an issue that has ramifications for years.
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