socialization: becoming Living Stones

I just read a post by an Orthodox Christian mother who is planning to homeschool her daughter, in which she responds to those who contend that homeschooling children leads to inadequate socialization by challenging the very necessity of socialization. She links the concept with socialism.

It is completely understandable that parents wish to guard their children from the false values of the general culture. I think she has a point when she seeks to guard her child against social darwinism, at least in terms of that ideology’s devotion to utilitarian ends, in which a person’s usefulness is the ultimate criterion of his value. This especially affects persons with disability. Love most certainly lays aside utility as the ultimate measure. Here is her post:

In our group home system a concept called “normalization” has been promoted. Now while we don’t want the people in our group homes to be seen as oddballs in society, a more important consideration for an Orthodox Christian is to ask, “What is normal?”

The society at large is shaped by all sorts of pernicious influences, as evidenced by so much of what appears on our TV’s, both in the shows and the advertisements. And for many, these things are “normal.” But for us, our models are the Lord Jesus Christ, the Theotokos, and the saints of the Church, including the martyrs, the desert fathers, and the “fools for Christ;” they are the ones who are normal, in the Divine perspective- the one that counts– regardless of what our society thinks.

It is “normalization” which needs to be more clearly defined. “Socialization” is learning to love one another in community, and is related to our Trinitarian identity in Christ, in which we find the very heart of what it means to be a person, made in the image and likeness of God.

(All of which is properly understood as the process of salvation in its most ultimate sense, Theosis, which is a process that includes our personal journeys from egotism to unselfish love through our Heavenly Father’s loving discipline and our incorporation into the Body of Christ, which is also the Temple of the Holy Spirit. We press forward toward becoming partakers in God’s Divine Energies and come to shine with His uncreated Light as we travel this long, narrow, and hard way which leads to Life eternal.

Socialization, taken in an Orthodox Christian sense, can be understood to correspond to the corporate aspects of this divine process, which perhaps may be summed up best by these words of St. Anthony the Great:

Our life and death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.

… though perhaps there may be a better word than socialization for all of this. )

On the Orthodox Homeschooling website “St. Photini School” Carol and Fr. Timothy Blumentritt write

One of the thorniest aspects of homeschooling is the issue of socialization. Surprisingly, this is almost invariably the first question that a skeptic raises. . . .

After some pointed criticism of the social environment in institutional schools, they write, in regard to homeschooling,

On the other hand, the age-integrated socialization that is fundamental to homeschooling trains children to relate to and communicate well with people of all ages through a broad range of meaningful interaction with parents and grandparents, older and younger siblings, the church community (especially the elderly), and the general public that is encountered in the day-to-day life of a household.

Furthermore, homeschooling is particularly ideal for Orthodox families because it allows for full participation in the liturgical cycles of the Church a pattern that has been nearly entirely lost in popular culture without having to battle the schedules and priorities of a school district. In this way, the life of the Church can truly function as the nucleus of family life rather than being something extra to be squeezed in if school and extra-curricular activities allow the time for it.

You may read the entire piece (O.N.E. Opinion: Homeschooling Considered) here:

This is not meant on my part as a promotion of homeschooling over public education; I am not qualified to get into that fray; I simply wanted to show that “socialization” is a legitimate concern for parents, including parents who choose to homeschool their children.

One patristic analogy directly addressing socialization comes from the Shepherd of Hermas:

Union can become possible only through the mutual brotherly love of all the separate brethren. This . . . is expressed very vividly in the well known vision of the Church as of a tower that is being built . . . out of separate stones-the faithful. These . . . are “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5). In the process of building they fit one into the other, because they are smooth and are well adapted to one another; they join so closely to one another, that their edges are no longer visible, and the tower appears to be built of one stone. This is a symbol of unity and wholeness. But notice, only smooth square stones could be used for this building. There were other stones, bright stones, but round ones, and they were of no use for the building; they did not fit one into the other, were not suitable for the building and they had to be placed near the walls. (Hermas, Vis. 3:2:6,8). In ancient symbolism “roundness” was a sign of isolation, of self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction. . . . And it is just this spirit of self-satisfaction which hinders our entering the Church. The stone must first be made smooth, so that it can fit into the Church wall. We must “reject ourselves” to be able to enter the catholicity of the Church.

from Joseph Paterson’s blog Mind in the Heart:

And finally, former St. Vladimir’s Seminary professor (and former director of the Antiochian Dept. of Christian Education) John L. Boojamra of blessed memory, in his book Foundations for Christian Education, defines socialization in this way:

Socialization [. . .] is the interaction of the individual person with a community and its symbols, which describe and often define that community. Socialization, which connotes a sharing of meaning and the symbols which express that meaning, permits the development of a sense of belonging, self-identity, and [. . .] (projected stability).”2 The symbols Boojrama refers to are the many tangible sacramentals and sacraments of Orthodox Church life, experienced in parish worship and activities and at home, which have been received in each generation of the Church from the holy Apostles and Fathers through Holy Tradition. These holy symbols (from Gk. symbolon) partake in the living reality of their Referent, revealing Him; they are more than signs.

(from “St. John Chrysostom and the Socialization of Persons with Developmental Disability: Patristic Inspiration for Contemporary Application“) by William J. Gall, (see RESOURCES for Thesis)

Also from the thesis and a previous post, here is more of John Boojamra’s explanation of what socialization looks like in practice:

John BoojamraIn Foundations for Christian Education John Boojamra goes on to lay out the key means by which persons are socialized. (We all have strengths and weakness, abilities and disabilities, as it were. Its just that some people’s strengths and other’s weaknesses are more noticeable.) Consider these statements:

The family and the Church, in that order, are the matrix of socialization. (P. 10)

Orthodox Christian socialization is, in general terms, the process of human growth toward the uniting of oneself and others to Christ and His Church.

Those who have not, (or perhaps never will) reach the stage of abstract reasoning learn by experience, by watching- it is therefore imperative to include them in Church events. (pp 42-43)

Prayer by rote is one of the steps to sharing in the adult world. (P. 50)

Self-worth develops through accomplishment, acceptance, and a sense of belonging to both family and Church . . . the Church’s symbols and their constancy are assimilated; later, concepts [may] grow. The growth beyond egocentrism is facilitated by the shared experience of [these] symbolic structures, [whose] Divine depth invite eternal growth and discovery of the image of God inherent in every person.

The sensual- art, music, vestments, color, and tastes, experienced in the Liturgy- is the way (p. 53) Christ became flesh; touch is essential. Liturgy, fasting, prayer, and service, at Church and at home, socialize a person into [active citizenship] in the Kingdom. (p. 55)

Two key ingredients for socialization in the family: 1. the father’s commitment to the Faith and to love; 2. a loving relationship between the husband and wife (p. 80).

The Church and the lateral relationships it provides undergirds its families. (PP. 91-93)

Parish-based family-centered catechesis, balancing cognitive and affective elements, and addressing family efforts to worship, play, learn, and serve together, are a priority for the liturgy after the Liturgy if the parish is to be healthy, cohesive, and growing. (pp. 95-97)

The Church could be a clearinghouse for family support specialists; workshops by such specialists would be helpful. (P. 170)

Here is John Boojamra’s book Foundations for Christian Education on the web, courtesy of Google:


4 Responses to “socialization: becoming Living Stones”

  1. 1 Jen March 6, 2008 at 11:31 AM

    Thank you for loving and caring so deeply for the disabled and for dedicating a site to meeting the need of this community. Thank you for calling attention to people and needs that are often forgotten or ignored, even in the Church. Thank you also for your love for the Fathers of the Church and for bringing their light to bear on the needs of our present community.

    I think that, mostly, you and I do not disagree. We agree that all persons in our communities, including those with disabilities, are to be fully loved and taken up into the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church. I think we probably also agree about how this is to be accomplished (centered in the family and parish communities, facilitated by multi-sensory participation, etc.).

    However, you think that “socialization” is the term that best denotes this process of loving integration in the Church; I disagree.

    You stipulate a definition of socialization as “learning to love one another in community, and is related to our Trinitarian identity in Christ, in which we find the very heart of what it means to be a person, made in the image and likeness of God.” I think this is your private definition that does not map onto the etymology of the word or onto how the term is currently used by most people.

    It is fine for you to stipulate your own definition of a term for your purposes; I shall simply beg to differ.

    However, I think we can find other words to express our views, and that we can then mutually agree about our conclusions. As I expressed at the beginning, I would clearly agree with you that we should love one another and pursue our identity in Christ. I would probably use words like theosis, sanctification, holiness, love, and the liturgical/sacramental life of the Church, as opposed to “socialization,” to denote this concept.

    I have not read Boojamra’s book, so my ability to comment on his views is very limited. Given the passages you’ve quoted in your post, my response to him would probably be similar to my response to you. Although, the definition you quote Boojamra as giving (“the interaction of the individual person with a community and its symbols which describe and often define that community” etc.) seems more in line with the word’s etymology and usage, again, I would not use that term or description to talk about the mystery of the Body of Christ and our participation in it.

    Thanks again for your thoughts and for your concern for all God’s children.



  2. 2 coldfire March 7, 2008 at 3:21 AM

    Thank you so much for this post. I am planning on becoming a teacher in an American high school, and this is so important for many to understand. We have to be willing to think about the best ways to do school. I agree that the liturgy among families as a lifestyle has been lost because of public education.


  3. 3 armsopenwide March 8, 2008 at 2:25 PM

    I have added to the post some qualifications to my description of Socialization, which exceeds John Boojamra’s definition, as Jen (the Orthodox Christian mother first referred to in this post) has correctly pointed out. My characterization of socialization is more properly ascribed to the process of Theosis, in its corporate aspects.
    The addition will be in smaller print


  1. 1 holiness, socialization, and life together in God « Arms Open Wide Trackback on March 28, 2009 at 10:41 AM

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