Sometimes it seems as if home educators are anti-school – or even anti-teachers. I have, myself, experienced questions along those lines, on occasion. Some people seem to assume that having chosen to educate my children at home means that I dislike, or disagree with, the concept of schooling. It is interesting, though, that many of my friends who are themselves school teachers are enthusiastic about the idea of home learning! Perhaps they are particularly aware of the inherent problems in a class of thirty or more students, of differing age and ability, many of whom are often not remotely interested in learning.
Personally, I am always glad to read of positive school experiences. As one who had – on the whole – a good school experience, and with sons who also enjoyed their time at school before we moved abroad, it’s reassuring to read that many children still enjoy school. But it’s reassuring in another sense to learn that not all at school is rosy and wonderful. I truly had no idea, until starting home education myself, that so many children were so unhappy. Isolated incidents of bullying mentioned in the papers were so remote from my experience that I put them down to over-enthusiastic journalism and a few unhappy children.
The positive side of school
It’s also helpful to me to see what negative attitudes to life and learning I developed during my school years – particularly helpful because there wasn’t anything obvious that I disliked, which would inevitably have skewed my judgement. I try to be fair: I am myself partly because of my schooling, though more because of my family, and if I had my life over again I would almost certainly choose to go back to the same school.
Most of us went through twelve or more years of schooling with both positive and negative experiences. Let’s face up to them – thankful for the good parts, sad for the bad parts, and realise that there are no perfect childhoods, no ideal schools or homes.
Most parents do all they can for their children, most school teachers are dedicated and caring. But nobody is perfect. Problems will inevitably arise, and our responsibility is not to avoid all problems but to find creative and constructive ways of dealing with them.
It took me a while to move from thinking, ‘What are my children missing by not being in school?” through, ‘What are they gaining by not being in school?” to my current position, which is to think of school as just one option for part of education, along with things like music lessons, sports clubs and the like. Any of these may be appropriate for some children at some time, but not worth worrying about unless the children feel that they would benefit. No child can possibily take advantage of every activity available, so let’s pick and choose carefully depending on the child’s interests and abilities.
Teenagers, in or out of school
When I hear about school teenagers hanging out and chatting together and doing activities amicably, learning from each other, I’m glad about it. But at the same time I can remind myself that other schooled teenagers suffer from bullies and lose their self-respect and are over-stressed due to the pressure of schoolwork. When I hear about exciting school projects, and children enjoying co-operative classroom learning, I’m delighted to hear about it. But I can look too at the things my sons learned at home, and the enjoyment they had from working in their own ways, at their own speeds, on subjects they chose to learn. Different environments suit different people, and neither school nor home education is necessarily always right for everyone.
When my sons were younger, they would drag themselves to school, even with streaming colds, because they didn’t want to miss what was going on. I see in retrospect that not everything was perfect – there were times when they were bored, or frustrated, or stressed, but then that happens at home too. I barely missed a day of my own schooling, and still remember with affection some of the teachers – despite having forgotten the majority of what I was taught.
Peer pressure problems
Many home educators are saddened, not by school teaching, or even the school environment itself, but by increased government interference, rigidity, falling standards, and negative peer pressure. Yes, there are sometimes clashes with teachers, and there is frequent boredom in the classroom, but probably the most conflict happens with other children in schools.
Peer pressure to smoke, have sex, and take drugs is getting worse, not better. These things were sometimes the spurs that made us continue with home educating even on difficult days. My younger son was able to return to his primary school for a month, when we were in our home country, after 18 months of home education. He loved being there, but also saw for himself what changes for the worse had taken place. It finally convinced him that home education was a better way for him to learn. I’m glad he had a good school experience because it was then his choice to be home educated for his teenage years. He saw it as the better of two good things rather than the lesser of two evils.
Some schools are better than others
I still strongly believe that some schools are considerably better (and more conducive to learning) than others, and that some children get along much better in a school environment than others. The important thing is that we have a choice in education. We have no need to attack those who make a different decision – we are all different, and should live amicably alongside each other, no matter how our neighbours choose to fulfill their responsibility for their children’s education.
I admire and respect classroom teachers. Most of them admire and respect home educators. I have no need to attack those who make choices different from my own, because I am secure in my belief that our family chose – together – what was best for us all, in our particular circumstances.
So let’s stand together as parents, whether our children are in school or not: proclaiming freedom of choice in education, campaigning for better schools and better information, so that each family can choose how best to satisfy their children’s educational needs.