The educational views of families who’ve been home educating for a long time really challenge our traditional assumptions about education.
One parent has been doing so for twenty five years and I had the opportunity to ask her about it. This is what she told me:
“My view of education was always that it started at birth and continued throughout life, even for myself, so I didn’t really ever consider school as a necessary part of it. I felt school bred a kind of unhealthy dog-eat-dog attitude and I was not comfortable with putting my kids into a hierarchical system where there was such lack of choice or opportunity to question. It simply trains passivity into you which is not really helpful for leading an independent life.
“People always ask me about ‘socialisation’ as if school had the monopoly on teaching our children social skills, but if there was one reason not to send children to school it would be because of that. How could they be socialised? Kids don’t raise kids – adults do. Their school peer group knows nothing, social-wise. It gives children the completely wrong demonstration of socialising; they need adults for that. I also believe that school (along with the media and government policies) is producing an increasingly infantile population of people unable to take responsibility for their own behaviour and this is a result of our children having seriously decreased adult time. So the trend of irresponsibility is perpetuated. Children need lots of individual adult time to develop into adults.
“I also feel that the idea of processing kids as a whole mass, without individual attention, is really tragic. We have confident ones, shy ones, intellectual ones and artistic ones, some will thrive in school some will not, but the chance of thriving is far too random as you disappear into a huge mass. I want to bring out the best in my kids as individuals. To bring out the best in kids, as the system professes to do, you cannot lump them into groups of thirty or more and expect that to happen. It’s a complete conflict of principles. Actions don’t back up what the politicians profess to want to do.
“And I can’t comprehend how they can uphold school as normal. I see it as totally abnormal; you are never like to meet those circumstances again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for encouraging children to tackle all sorts of things even some they might not like. Although some people interpret autonomous learning as the kids never doing things they don’t like. That’s simply not the case. But some things they will never like and I cannot see the point of enforcing them. I’ll never exceed at netball for example and certainly don’t feel inclined to do it. On the other hand, just because you’re good academically doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what you have to spend your life doing. I was good academically and they forced me to press on because it made the school look good, it wasn’t what I wanted. Far better I focus on things I can and want to achieve. Even the idea of ‘gifted and talented’ is inhibiting. You always hear about children being commended for being ‘gifted’ at maths or an academic subject. When do you hear of the same kind of encouragement given to gifted artists? It’s so discriminative.
“The autonomous, self-initiated way in which we learn is what produces very self-motivated kids. And the idea that school primes you to be motivated later in life has no basis. School is just endured by most kids and mostly switches them off to learning later in life. Kids learn best when they are actively involved in the process, in the decision making, in the choices, and engage because they’re interested.
“It’s been suggested that my kids will have ‘holes’ in their knowledge, but I do not accept that children who’ve been in school won’t have! Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and your weak areas are never going to be strong – that’s human nature. ‘Holes’ are filled as you go along; if you’re motivated. The longer we home educated the more I relaxed about this as I began to see, through their interests, what an amazing amount they cover. Probably far more than is covered in school! I try to make all their activities have a point to them so they don’t do pointless exercises like writing all the time. But they still end up able to write.
“If children have any kind of curiosity, as they all do, they’ll learn. You can even start an OU degree with nothing more than an enquiring mind, so why would you need to go through all that at school? Probably for testing purposes, but testing isn’t for the kids’ sake!
“As for qualification I believe they can keep their options open by waiting to see who they are and then taking it forward in a variety of ways. Collecting GCSEs isn’t the only option. My older children have gone forward without GCSEs, they’ve gained qualification via work, through access courses and FE college. School is not geared towards real education, it’s simply priming for test passing which isn’t true learning. And the idea that an A* makes me good at maths is a wrong assumption. The link between ability and grade isn’t as strong as we’re led to believe.
“My children’s learning comes from the things that inspire them. This provokes question, conversation, finding out, making or writing or playing with ideas as a result. Whatever they’re interested in is always utilised in some way. Every activity they’re engaged in they learn from and it’s almost entirely about enjoying themselves whilst they learn. People have a bizarre attitude that if there’s too much enjoyment there cannot be learning going on, but far from it. If they’re enjoying it they want to go on learning; they want to achieve because it is enjoyable – they stop achieving when it isn’t. They sort problems out because they want to and this raises their standards and sets new challenges.
“My objective for them is not based round qualification, it is based in wanting them to have content and happy lives that fulfil them, to be free-thinkers so they are able to access information and make their own decisions rather than go with the flow often for no other reason than everyone else is doing it!
“There are so many social problems at the moment it’s scary. I believe that school is in no way helping with that and schooling won’t solve them because it’s becoming so disconnected from reality. You only have to look at the cry of employers to know that schools aren’t providing employable youngsters. My children have all been innovated in some direction or other. I haven’t had had to channel or coerce. They’re just inspired to put the work in themselves”.