There are many reasons why families across The World choose to educate at home. When I started researching the idea for my own daughter I, like many ‘not in the know’, assumed that the community would largely be made up of religious fundamentalists, the pushy parents of ‘child genius’ clichés, and perhaps a smaller collection of musicians, performers, and athletes who had decided to focus on their main talent. I also assumed that almost none of them would be in Britain. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
After months of reading blogs and following forum threads, I discovered that although some families do choose to HE because of their religious affiliations, there are also those whose children have been let down by the system; those with Special Educational Needs that weren’t properly catered for. There are families for whom, the the very idea of not being responsible for their children 100% is incomprehensible, families who have removed their children from the system after bullying that was never properly addressed, families who have only been offered places at failing schools (or no school at all), and those who no longer believe in state-run schooling and what and how it teaches.
My family and I fall into the final category; those people for whom the state school system, what it teaches, how it teaches, and what it stands for, is no longer compatible with what they want for their children.
The childrens’ equality activist and central figure in the Canadian Homeschool Movement, Wendy Priesnitz said,
“One of my early memories of school is wondering when they were going to start teaching me the things I didn’t know, rather than what I already knew. Many years later, I began to understand how, insidiously, school had reinforced my inadequacies and had left me with what I now called ‘learned incompetency’ and a fear of not being able to do things ‘right’ the first time.”
This quote resonated with me because it mirrored exactly the apathy experienced by TK after six years of state schooling. She was constantly complaining about being ‘taught’ the things she knew and being prevented from expanding her knowledge in areas that interested her because the whole class had to move at the same pace.
On the flip side, her feelings of inadequacy regarding subjects that she found more challenging, prevented her from making concerted efforts to improve her knowledge because she had already decided she would fail. The little girl who I sent to school at four, able to read, write basic words, and do simple addition, was pulled apart. By six or seven, I had a child who rarely picked up a book, fought every moment of homework she was forced to endure, and related her day to me with a sarcastic tone that left no doubt as to the level of respect she had for the system of which she was a part. As her love of school died, so did my belief in it.
I had loved the ‘schooling’ part of school (it was the social side that had presented the challenge) and nothing excited me more than an English essay or History project that I could work on at home. The prospect of moving up to a Senior school with an, as yet unexplored, library filled me with so much joy that in my first few weeks I read a novel a day. I soon discovered that once I had finished all the books in the ‘lower school’ library, I was not allowed access to any material labelled 14+ but I shrugged it off as an inconvenience. Looking back, I remember saying to the librarian that I could quite easily get a permission letter from my parents to which she responded that it would make no difference. “If you do it, everyone would want to.” In hindsight, I should have seen that for the warning sign it was: Everyone would want to read more books? The horror! God forbid the student body should educate themselves independently.
Despite what I considered small infringements on my personal liberties and my right to educate myself as I (and my parents) saw fit, I sent TK off to school full of hope that she would love it as much as I had. At first all was fine: She made friends, loved her teachers and generally enjoyed herself. Within a two years, however, I realised that they had spent six terms undoing anything she had already learned and reprogramming her to be the student they wanted. Her handwriting was ‘wrong’, the way I had taught her maths was ‘incompatible’ with their teaching methodology, and despite them being unnecessary and confusing to a child who already had a grasp of basic mathematics and who was gifted in language and communication, number-lines and phonics were forced down our throats for what seemed like an age.
I had no choice but to ignore it. I was a single mum, working part-time for minimum wage, and living with my own mother, who worked full-time. If I left work, I would be left with nothing except basic benefits and pressure from the Job Centre to search for employment. I refused to go back on benefits as I had already had a horrible experience with them, involving paying back thousands of pounds that had, without my knowledge, been payed ‘incorrectly’ but that’s another story. On top of all this, I had become a mum very young and was paranoid that people were judging my ability to parent because of it. When TK started school I had a first class degree but I was still only 22. What did I know? I was just another teenage mother.
By the time TK was nine, our relationship was suffering. She resented the homework she was given, and resented even more being stuck between what I advised and what she remembered teachers telling her. She was stressed and terrified of making mistakes; terrified of making the adults around her unhappy. A turning point was when I found myself asking her about why she didn’t like the work they had been given in school that day.
“The questions were stupid”, she said. I asked what they had been. They were, indeed, lame and uninspiring. Then I responded and looking back, I can’t believe that the words even came out of my mouth.
“It doesn’t matter that the questions are stupid. If that’s what the teacher has asked you to do, then you have to answer them. No matter how stupid they are. The same goes for homework – Even if it is boring or pointless, you have to do it because that is what the teachers want you to do. That’s just school I’m afraid.”
What was I thinking?! I was telling my child that learning was about jumping through hoops and doing what you were told. I was helping them destroy her love of learning and all because I was programmed to believe that when it came to learning, you had to conform.
The turning point came when my mother was about to retire and we had both attended more than one meeting about TK’s lack of interest, her problems with being easily distracted, and her general anxiety. No one ever stopped to ask why she was showing no interest in the work given to her. The school wanted to know what at home was causing her to be so anxious. I had tried explaining that she was bored; that the work she was being asked to do was uninspiring, but the general consensus seemed to be that, that was the child’s problem, not the school’s. I was once told that “she wouldn’t be bored if she did the work.” I didn’t know how to respond.
After many months of agonising and planning, looking at finances and the law, my mother and I decided that we would go for it. When I originally broached the subject with TK her immediate answer was “sign me up! When can I start?”
but I knew such a big decision couldn’t be made overnight. I put her initial enthusiasm down to childish naivety but soon realised that she was genuinely on board. It was all she talked about up until the moment she left school for the last time, with a huge goodbye card and an even bigger smile on her face. I had never been so sure about something in my life.
And so, we did it. I handed in the deregistration letter and wrote a letter to my local learning authority outlining my reasons and educational philosophy. I told them that,
“My main concerns… are that the current state education system and curriculum is prescriptive, restrictive, out-dated and uninspiring. I also believe that modern schools in no way prepare young people for the practicalities of real, independent living in contemporary society.
My educational philosophy is that young people should be discovering how to learn independently and I believe that nurturing curiosity and experimentation through naturally evolving skills and interests, is the best way to achieve this.”
And that, as they say, is that. We haven’t begun properly yet but I have great positivity for the months and years to come. Since deciding to Home Ed, mine and TK’s relationship has already improved and I have my fingers crossed that things will only get better.
George Bernard Shaw once wrote that,
“My schooling not only failed to teach me what it professed to be teaching, but prevented me from being educated to an extent which infuriates me when I think of all I might have learned at home by myself.”
If, in 15 years, TK can say that this is a sentiment she can’t relate to, I feel I will have done my job.