Back in the dark days of starting out home educating my children the main reaction I got was “Are you a teacher?” and “You wont be able to teach them science,” and of course the good old canard “They wont be socialised.”
I think things have changed over the last 6 years or so. When I meet parents now and admit that I am home educating I often get a really wistful expression of “Oh yes, I wish I could do that.” I realise of course that some people wouldn’t dream of taking on their own children’s education in any way at all; notwithstanding the duty they have to ensure their children actually receive a suitable education. But I am sure many of those mothers who say “I wish I could do that,” really do wish it. They have looked into it and thought about it, but for whatever reason - and it’s usually she has to work- they decide they can’t do it.
But among those wistful mums, I bet the fact they have now met a mother who is doing what they would like to do, might just add a little fuel to the fire of that deep longing and just maybe one or two will make the leap and begin to home educate. Something as countercultural as home education takes a great deal of courage and I think it can only happen when you meet and get to know at least one person who is already doing it.
I am not sure what on earth I would have done if I hadn’t been blessed enough to have met and talked with a couple of home educating families before I pulled my son out of school. My initial experience in the whole thing was a bit of a baptism of fire in some ways, but I met other families and more children and gradually it all came together.
There are still changes and shifting tides in how we do things but I am glad I had that chance to talk of home educators who were willing to answer my questions on what to do and how to do it back in those early days. A lot of the really good advice came from internet friends many of whom had been in the homeschooling lark over in America or Canada for many years.
The internet has meant that many home educators scattered around the country and around the world can talk and share ideas and support one another.
Last year the British media had lots of articles and news items about home education. There were newspapers, radio interviews and comment boxes full of information. It didn’t matter how silly, inaccurate or negative the news piece might be, the way the internet works now, home educators could put their side of it and answer (over and over) those questions, which were more often statements about how we couldn’t be doing it right; not socialising our children+and even abusing our children.
Those answers were often apparently ignored by those who were bitterly opposed to us, but other people read them and I think more and more people are getting to know they do have a choice and that school isn’t the only option for their children.
There is a growing awareness among people who can think for themselves that the mainstream media isn’t reliable. I laughed out loud when I read Jeremy Paxman’s concern that the upcoming BBC strikes to co-inside with the Conservative Party Conference might compromise the BBC balance and make it seem there’s a bias! Perhaps he is unaware there are whole blogs and blog entries all over the place dedicated to correcting the misinformation put out by the BBC. If they go on strike will anyone notice?
The lack of balance in reporting on home education and the deliberate attempt to portray it as something rather odd, posh people do looks to have backfired as more and more people are looking at their children’s education and realising it isn ‘t right.
The mother who so wistfully said “I wish I could do that” so recently had bought study books for her daughter to do after school. You see after spending 6 hours a day in school she still wasn’t learning enough.
Of course the other great obstacle to many mothers taking on home education is the money. While poorer families can make it work and do, it takes a lot of sacrifices and giving up on much that today’s culture seems to think you “need”. I think it’s the same for those who want to have their children privately educated. They might have more money up front, but I have met a couple of dads who work a lot of extra hours and have given up quite a high standard of living to find the thousands of pounds each year to put two children through private school.
In some ways I think we are back to the Neanderthal parent thing. At what point do adult “wants” give way to what children need? And how, in a culture that says we need all sorts of stuff and more stuff that frankly we don’t need at all, do we discern what is the right thing to do?
Many home educating mothers and a few fathers I bet, are tired of answering the same old questions, of fielding the disapproval and banal remarks. But I think we have to face through all that, because among the defensive ones who really don’t like the fact we have done it, is surely a sense that they should too. If we are gentle and polite in answering questions then maybe we can look back later and see we gave the “permission” that parent needed to break out of the tick box and embark on home education.