Home education has been in the media a lot recently. There have been reports about how it is on the increase with more and more parents choosing to take their children out of school, or making the decision not to send them at all. Reasons vary, there are many different reasons. The most common seem to be a disbelief or a lack of trust in the education system, feelings of being failed or of having needs not met and bullying. I think it is great that as parents we have the legal right to make the decision to put the individual needs and interests of their children first. It is a shame reading suggestions that the government appear to be trying to withdraw our right to home educate due to fears of extreamism.
The response amongst the home ed community to these “concerns” of the government has been amazing. A social media campaign using the hashtag #freedomtolearn has spread, with parents of all beliefs and backgrounds rising up to share the many activities and experiences that their children take part in, no extremism, just a general, genuine love of learning.
The thoughts that the government have the power to “ban” home education is alarming, but top of many concerns regarding the legalities are what of the children who have been failed by the system? Those with disabilities, illness and special needs? Those who are now home educated because they tried school and were failed, some at a very extreme level? With the proposed findings regarding the number of home educating families across the country, how does the government propose that schools, already failing to meet the needs of so many students currently, be able to accommodate an influx of students at varying different levels and ages some with very complex needs?
What of the children without those special needs? Surely an education is not just a legal requirement but also a legal right? So a child who is unhappy, uncomfortable, who feels threatened and unsafe is not going to be able to gain as good a quality of education as a child who is calm and relaxed absorbing information inside their comfort zone? A child whose natural body clock is slightly more nocturnal may not achieve as high a mark being made to sit in a classroom at 9am until 3pm when their minds really spark at 4pm! I am an adult, yet I find myself to be much more productive through the evening, I always have done. Why do we expect children to fit the mould that society has labelled “normal” when in reality so many of us as adults are acceptant if not actually rather proud not to fit that norm?
I hear the usual comments regarding concerns of “socialisation” and how a parent is “not a teacher”. I get asked “how do you teach them?” and “how do you know what to teach them?” Both are common questions, all home educators get asked those ones I’m sure, and they have been answered in a million different ways many many times. The bottom line is, that our children DO socialise! Not just with people their own ages but with people of all ages. They get to choose their friendships based on common interests and mutual respect. Many home educated children are fantastic at holding conversation with adults, and at the same time fully equipped to be able to amuse and keep safe younger children. There isn’t the bullying in our community circles, and if there are any problems or disagreements that cant be worked out then the children are not forced to spend 6 hours a day 5 days a week in their company! Which brings me back round to the concept of socialisation at school, I know that in my adult life I have never been in an environment where the only people I can mix with are my own age. Work colleagues, friends etc all vary greatly age wise. I know that as an adult if someone upsets me, hurts me or makes me angry I am able to express that. In my workplace I was able to remove myself from an upsetting situation for several minutes to regain my composure. At school I have witnessed children earn the label “disruptive” for daring to express negative emotions.
Recently I was asked a new question, one that I have not come across before, or answered before. I was asked “At what point will you start teaching N?” N is approaching 20 months, he, like all children, has been learning since the day he was born. He learnt to crawl, to walk, to feed himself. He is learning to talk, to recognise animals and what noises they make. He is learning to recognise colours. So have I not been teaching him already? Do we not as parents teach our children from day one?
Children are born with a natural spark of curiosity and a desire to learn. Babies are programmed to learn. They are learning from the moment they are born and no body questions us as parents. “How can you possibly teach that baby to crawl when you walk everywhere?” Is not a sentence ever uttered. Yet at some point, usually around 4/5ish our society decides that children have learnt all they can from their parents and they need formal structured education. (I like to think that at my age there is still a lot my teenagers can learn from, and with me!) In school, they have a set time table and curriculum of subjects. A child may be loving learning about the Romans, be utterly engrossed and have so many unanswered questions when the teacher announces “that’s it for today, pack away” and their work is done, not finished, they are not satisfied, but done. The following day they are told “no we aren’t doing Romans today we are finished with the Romans”…. as a parent gradually over time you see that natural spark of curiosity fade. Except you don’t always notice, or you think it’s normal, it’s growing up right? Nothing to do with being told “sit down, write this, copy that, no talking” constantly. With home education, children have the time and the space to thoroughly explore in detail those subjects that interest them. It may take a day until they are satisfied, or they may still be looking at stuff at 9 oclock at night for a month until they are done, the key point is that they are engrossed, enthusiastic and learning. Likewise if they try something that doesn’t interest them or that doesn’t light that spark there is nothing to force them to continue, but nothing to stop them revisiting it at a later date. Interests change.
We accept that as adults some things don’t interest us in the slightest, we accept that as adults we may try something and not enjoy it as much as we thought we would. We accept that as adults we may accidently stumble upon something that lights a spark in our soul and makes us desperate to know more, become better. Why is all this ok for us but not ok for our children? Is the purpose of education not to prepare them for independent life in an adult world?
And on that note, those parents who judge the decisions I have made with my family, who question me then discount my answers, those who say “my kids hate school, but I’m just not clever enough to teach them”… I bet you went to school? yet you are entrusting your children into the same educational system that has failed you to the extent that you doubt your ability to teach your own children. There’s something to think about?
I know that just like school doesn’t fit everyone, neither does home education. I know that many children love school and thrive in that setting. I also know other families have there own reasons for using mainstream school. Families are all different, there is no one size fits all package for education or family life as a whole. The key thing is our RIGHT to choose what is best for us and our children, and to be able to do that without facing judgements and persecution.