For to be free is not to merely cast off one's chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
- Nelson Mandela -

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Home Education - A Cover for Abuse - If Recommendation 7 Goes Through

I must be going stark raving mad. Or is there an other reason for my hallucinations? Or was it a nightmare? I must admit, I was working on my submission for the Select Committee when it happened. I had just read the initial press release again, the one where Baroness Morgan says that home education could be used as a cover for child abuse. And I was re-reading Recommendation number 7, where Mr Badman explains he feels the local authorities should have access to the home of home educators, as well as the right to speak with each child alone. No parents present.

I closed my eyes - just for a brief moment. My head was spinning and I saw and heard all these words, first separately, then blending together:
Child abuse - access to child - home education - stranger - child abuse - cover - safety - no parents...

And then, all the sudden, I had this image of myself, sitting behind a table, with home educating friends on either side of me. The sign in front of me said: Special Minister of Elective Home Education. On the other side of the table a room full of people with camera's, microphones and notebooks. I was obviously giving a press conference! A lady pointed a microphone at me and asked: "Minister, could you tell us what this review is for? Isn't this an infringement of the right of civil servants to do whatever they want?"

And I read out a prepared statement:

"There are concerns that some civil servants are not performing the tasks the tax payers pay them to do. And that in some extreme cases being a civil servant could be used as a cover for paedophilia or other forms of child abuse.

Quite a few people in government and civil services are undoubtedly doing a fantastic job and I want to ensure that they get the continued support of the people who voted for them and are paying them. But we can't afford to let any paedophile slip through the net - for the sake of our children's safety and our families' wellbeing.

Several thousands of paedophiles are registered, but a much larger number of them are invisible to the authorities. We have to balance the rights of privacy of civil servants' against the pre-eminent rights of children to a safe and loving life, preferably with their own families."

Again a lot of noise. The same words, not only buzzing around in my head, but also in that room full of reporters and journalists. It was just too much for me and I closed my eyes again.

Next thing I knew, I was sitting in my own safe and familiar living room, papers all around me, on the floor, on the settee next to me. In my hand a page of the Badman Report, the one with Recommendation 7. I looked around. No reporters. No camera's. I listened carefully, but I didn't hear those words anymore, only my daughter upstairs, singing and playing the guitar.

Strange games the supposedly logical mind combined with tiredness can play on people. Mixing up things that just don't go together, that don't add up. Well, they shouldn't. No, they can't. Can they? No, a Minister of Elective Home Education, that's just unthinkable.
That will never ever happen.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Why Do You Home Educate?

My usual answer to that question is:
"Because we like it, it suits us and we all thrive on it."

Then, in the open mouthed and raised eyebrows silence that follows, I ask people: "Why do you send your children to school?" The answer is rarely the same as mine. The few families I know who feel the same about school as we do about home education have usually carefully selected a school, and often the parents are very much involved with the school and their children's education.

Mostly, however, I get one of the following answers:

(a) Because they have to go to school
(b) Because I want to have a life (or job) of my own / I wouldn't want to have my children around all day
(c) It hasn't done me any harm (or even: I had a good time in school).
(d) Because I couldn't possibly teach them myself
(e) Because they need to be around other children / socialize, and learn how to deal with life
(f) Because how else could they get qualifications and a good job?

Of course everybody is - and should be - free to make their own choice. But most, if not all of the above reasons are often based on insufficient information and/or misconceptions.

a. Because they have to go to school

No, they don't.
Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 states:
"The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable ;

a) to his age, ability, and aptitude,


b) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise." (my emphasis)

So, parents have a duty to provide their children with a suitable education. If they choose to delegate that duty to a school, they are entitled to be informed about the standard and quality of education provided. That's - officially - the reason why the State inspects schools. If parents choose to educate their children otherwise, for instance from home, then the Local Authorities have a right to enquire whether the child is in receipt of the above specified education. If it appears to a local education authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education. (Section 437 Education Act 1996).

b. Because I want to have a life (or job) of my own / I wouldn't want to have my children around all day

On first appearances those are very good reasons to send your child(ren) to school.
If you (and your partner) think you'd be unhappy having your children around and (both of) you prefer to have a fulltime paid job, then maybe your children are better off in school. However, there may come a moment when you realize that for one reason or another it would be beneficial or desirable to be more involved in your children's lives. Then it's good to know that there are ways to have it all.
In our family we've managed to combine work and children in such a way that one of us has always been at home for (or away with) the children. A life of our own very much includes our children, while we also both have our time away from them. And - in spite of all that *grin* we are still quite happily married, having celebrated our 30th anniversary this year.

I suppose it might be a daunting thought to have to 'keep them amused' if your only experience of having them around involves children who are normally in school and after-school activities, where their time is usually managed for them. But the reality of home education is quite different. Life happens in a much more organic rhythm and is not divided up in equal blocks of always limited time. Because we follow the questions and the natural interest of our children they can be involved in what they're doing for hours, days or weeks. Of course we are there to accommodate or - if needed - to help, but not only is that a far more relaxed kind of interaction, it is quite a lot of fun, too.
Within this construction there is space for times when nothing happens - on the outside. I often compare that to the tides. When the tide is in there's lots of activities, questions, outings, big visible waves. And then comes the moment when they're saturated, filled to the brim. Then the tide is out, lots of relaxing, reading, contemplating, no visible waves.

c. It hasn't done me any harm (or even: I had a good time in school)

That could be a very good reason to have no objection to sending your children to school. And there is a good chance that your children have a good time, too. There are children who do very well in school and/or have no problems.
But the same goes here, there might come a time when you find out that school is doing your child harm and that they're not having a good time in school. And then it's good to know you have the choice, as mentioned under (a).

d. Because I couldn't possibly teach them myself

This myth has most certainly been around too long. First of all, children don't need teachers. They need to have the opportunity to learn. And especially nowadays, with technology at our fingertips, anybody can learn whatever they want. But even without a computer and the internet in your home, there are plenty opportunities to find answers to questions, to ask other people, to learn together. My personal experience is that teaching often gets in the way of learning, and this is supported by research - done mainly in the US, such as this Nheri Report - showing that home educated children of certified teachers do slightly 'worse' (a nasty word, I'm sorry) in standardised tests than those of parents who are not certified teachers.
As I've said above, I genuinely enjoy learning, discovering and exploring together with my children. And there are so many wonderful people out there, who are more than happy to share their knowledge and their passions with us.
Another myth is that children wouldn't learn unless they're being told to. Rubbish. There is no end to the natural curiosity and will to learn of a child, or of any human being, for that matter. And I'm sure everybody can easily think of examples, from baby's learning to crawl, walk, talk and sing to adults learning everything there is to know about their hobby's.

e. Because they need to be around other children / socialize, and learn how to deal with life

Of all the myths surrounding the benefits of school, this one is the biggest. And at the same time apparently the most difficult one to debunk. My general take on the matter is that the need for socialisation is so strong within children (human beings) that they manage to socialize, even in schools. Children will socialize. But all in their own way. Some have only one or two true friends, others couldn't live without being constantly in the company of at least a dozen others. Some get on really well with people of their own age, some thrive by associating with people older or younger - or both - than themselves. As with everything, it is very individual.
The point is that for many children the school way of socializing is a way they would never choose naturally. In fact, many students perceive school to be a kind of prison, as professor Peter Gray describes here.

My own children have all very different needs when it comes to socializing, and not being in school has not stopped them from becoming socially adept young people. They all have a social life that suits their needs, they have good and lasting friendships and friends with whom they can share good, hard, happy and sad times. Neither has not being in school stopped them from having friends who are or have been in school.

Nor is it true that not being in school hasn't prepared them for life. I even dare say that not being in school has given them more opportunities to experience life as it is really lived. And yes, they have been exposed to and learned to deal with bullying. They know what competition is. They know what sadness is. They know what happiness is. They know what hard work is. They know how to look after themselves. They know how to budget. They know how to cook and sew and clean a house.
But most of all, they know who they are, they know their own strengths and weaknesses, they know what they want in life and how they can get there.

So, why do you send your child(ren) to school?

I'm not saying people shouldn't send their children to school. I'm glad that we (still) have a relatively free choice. I only hope that after having read the above, people understand that if

- you want to provide your children with an education suitable to their age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs they may have,


- you want an education that you and your children like, that suits you and that allows all of you to thrive,

you do not HAVE to send your children to school
everybody CAN home educate, if they want.