I have had some interesting conversations recently about the whole process of learning and facilitating our children’s learning. One of the most fascinating aspects of this is how many mums will profess marked differences in learning style and approach with siblings. Just like our family, they do not seem to have two children with the same approach to learning.
One thing we all seem to have experienced is that a child will learn about one thing very quickly and in great depth, coming across as a child prodigy on that one area, but will struggle to the point of “learning difficulty” in some other aspect.
As we home educate, we are not that bothered by these differences. There are plenty of resources available, especially from America, to adjust, tweak or completely overhaul an approach if need be. We are, thankfully, not tied down by the narrowness of the National Curriculum, and as, so far, none of us have 30 children of the same age locked in a room with us, we can be flexible in our approach.
I have just invested in the elementary Life of Fred books for Ronan. He is working through Apples at the moment and really loves it. Yes, my son who hates maths and insists he can’t do it, is happily and independently working through a maths book. Those of you who know the book may be saying, “Dear me, it’s a bit easy for an 8 yr old isn’t it?” And I would say, “Yes, it is, but right now I just want him to like maths enough and to see he can do it- and Fred is healing those anti-math wounds.”
As it happens we are taking part in someone’s research at the moment, and so outcomes, the root purpose of the research has been a discussion we’ve been having a lot. It’s back to that question of why we are home educating and what we want from education. I think the reason outcomes can be so difficult to measure, and why consequently, very few people have tried to measure them, is we all have different outcomes in mind, from family to family and from child to child.
The hoped for outcome of education for my family, and for quite a few other families we know and love, is to ensure our children are fit for life and eternal life and can treat others well, while being able to earn a living.
We want our children well educated so that they can be armed against the sea of troubles, and can work logically and reasonably through some of the illogical and unreasonable things life will throw at them.
This is very difficult to measure. It seems this intangability of outcomes is why so few researchers have approached the question.
From American states where all children are legally obliged to take state SATS we know that overall homeschooled children score better than public or private schooled children.
Other research shows that educational outcomes for home schooled children are far above those of their schooled peers and yet homeschool communities are a very mixed bag of people from all social and financial backgrounds.
I suspect that in the UK many home educators have a far tighter budget to work with than most of their two income neighbours, and yet from what I have seen, our children are doing better both educationally and socially, just as the American research shows.
One of the major criticisms about research from the UK is that most of it comes from a home educators viewpoint. It has been suggested that this is largely to do with the history of HE in this country, which has been one of having to fight the authorities tooth and nail to retain our basic human rights to the education and care of our own children, and their right to be so educated. This behaviour from those in authority has left a deep wound in HE communities making it difficult for “outsiders” who want to do research to get a foothold.
In some ways I wonder what we need the research for. Some outcomes are easy enough to measure. How many home educated children are in YOIs at the moment? How many home educated adults are in prison or have a record and/or probation officer? How many home educated children require mental health services and why?
Now, bearing in mind that if the figures on this were poor Badman and Balls would have had a massive weapon to hammer us with, and they didn’t, I suspect that the figures show that home educated children do not end up in these systems. Even CAMHS hardly sees HE children it would seem – and in my experience when they do it’s to do with what happened while the child was in school. Something the authorities presumably want kept quiet.
Bearing in mind that just about every single home educating family I know – bar a few – have at least one child with some “special need” ranging from dyslexia and illness to severe autism or other disability, you would surely expect to see some challenging outcomes for the community, and yet even with these difficult starting points the evidence that home education fails is very very thin on the ground.
I am not saying that home education works 100% of the time. I am well aware of families and children where the situation has been so badly set up that no one could reasonably say the children are receiving a “suitable” education. Nevertheless, the way the LAs have behaved means that families in this very difficult hole have no one to get them out of it. Of course this is compounded by the fact that so very many of us pulled our children out of school because there they were not receiving anything like a “suitable” education, nor even a safe one.
Perhaps it is simply human nature that no system is completely marvellous. But while so many schools are strangling children’s learning ability and even will to learn with National Curriculum, well, even some slack HEers are offering a better education than that.