Sunday, January 29, 2006

Discovering Home Education

With regards to trying to understand how people react when you talk about home education, Leo asked in comments below: "Did you always believe in HE? Perhaps going back in time on your thinking could help you understand other people reaction's now".

That could be a very helpful question, though I think that my answer helps to explain my mystification with the sort of ambivalence one does experience. I personally vividly remember the first time I heard about Home Education, much as people remember where they first heard that about the WTC, or Reagan being shot. I had been worrying about submitting my child to the horrors of the British educational system since prior to his conception. He was 18 months old and I was desperately worried that I still hadn't solved this problem when a woman I barely knew (who subsequently, not altogether surprisingly became a good friend) told me that she had been reading about HE in the Natural Parent magazine. We were sitting rather shyly and a bit primly in her beautifully coiffured back garden but at that moment, I had to severely restrain myself from knocking the tea table out the way and hugging her effusively. The relief and the sense of the rightness of the idea were immense.

Perhaps this is why I find it hard to understand how people cannot immediately see that it could be the right way to go, (should one's child happen to choose it)...but perhaps the difficulty with realising the dream is what is informing the complex reactions one sees...I don't know.

Incidentally, Dh isn't a great deal of help in terms of trying to understand negative reactions. Whilst he was initially firmly of the opinion that Ds would go to school by the time he was seven, he immediately saw that HE was right for the first few years. Ds is now past Dh's required school entry age, so it was with some interest that HE friend and I eaves-dropped upon his recent conversation with someone unacquainted with HE. He sounded like a true believer, a proper advocate, with a full understanding of the idea of autonomous education and all this for children of all ages. Friend grinned about this from ear to ear!

I would love to hear more about your doubts, Leo. Am I right in thinking that you are concerned about foreclosing on your child's choices by not being able to offer him a full range of knowledge? Or is it more a matter of difficulty with managing the logistics?

For more stories on how people first heard about HE, there's this page at the Education Otherwise site.


Leo said...

Hi Carlotta,

I see you always questioned schooling, so you were never really on the other side.

When I was young I believed that school was right. I did well up to one point and I thought my failure to be my own fault. I still hang into that belief sometimes, because I know schooled people that are happy and sucessful and I am just an outcast. If school was as damaging as John Holt claimed, society would not have evolved at all.

Most of the "alternative" ideas, HE included, I've found out about when I was still pregnant and was subscribed to a mainstream mailing list (one of those "due on x month" kind). Someone posted pictures of an unassisted homebirth and from there the journey started. I also had a relief feeling.

I was pretty confident with the idea of HE until I witnessed how HE can harm people too.

I'm concerned about my child's future choices but my lack of wealth weights on that more than anything else.

Other concern is I am not good at it. I am not a social person and HE makes the child's friendships very dependent on the parents. I also fear being one of those parents that does more harm than good. It's still easier to cope with HE than it would be with schooling but I don't want to impose it on my child because of my own problems.

Anonymous said...

I'm not able to provide an answer as such, but I can really see why you would question HE.

It's absolutely true that HE could be extremely disadvantageous to a child in the circumstances you describe. If the parents are anti-social and self absorbed and have a child who loves socialisation and learns best in groups HE could be a bad option. He would be in a much worse situation without other outlets where more would be on offer.

I, too, have met HEd children who have had for example years of depression and other problems as a result of very self-absorbed/'absolutely obssessed with an idea' parents. These children would have almost definitely been better off being allowed to attend a school, or even being able to live with other people!

The money thing is an issue that I have struggled with too. It is hard to make things available that you know your child would love to know about when it's hard to find enough to eat or how to pay the bills on some days.

HE was not an easy choice for me at the time - due to the money factor But I was grateful for C introducing me to the idea (thank you C!!!) as it increased the possible solutions to a difficult situation at the time. It's not pleasant to see your child suffer and I had no faith in the school sorting the problem out.

Working at offering the child as many options as possible and frankly explaining the advantages and disadvantages (including one's own limitations), then leaving them the choice is one idea. But I don't know how fair that is...or whether such an act would have any integrity given that we are likely to be making the decision for our children even when we think we are not.


Carlotta said...

"If school was as damaging as John Holt claimed, society would not have evolved at all".

I personally do actually think it possible that some children will be well suited to school, and that therefore society could prosper, or that some children could survive and then thrive despite school, but school is such "one size should fit everyone" system that it could never possibly account for individual learning differences and therefore unnecessarily penalises others who would otherwise thrive given a different system.

There is some value in learning about coping with a system that you dislike, or about changing your preferences so that you can fulfill the things that your better self would prefer that you do. Viktor Frankl coped with his experience of concentration camps by recognising the last of human freedoms and keeping his spirit in a free space...Schooling can help some children do this, but in the case that the child simply cannot see the benefit of changing his preferences, or that he has to spend so much time trying to do this that he actually misses the content of what he is being taught, then one must question the educational value of him being in school.

(And all this aside from the fact that one may have strong complaints about what is actually being taught, and other issues besides...such as school's inability to assist children to be self-directing and to cope with bullying etc, etc.)

HE children, if they are being helped at all, will also come to realise the value of preference change and dealing with the issues of integrity and congruence that this will arouse. School is not essential to this particular process.

It may well be that failure in school is at least partially the fault of the child, (it is impossible to tell here really...) but if failure is happening one way or the other, why perpetuate it? Why not seek better solutions that more obviously and immediately work? Such thinking is not a matter of accepting defeat but of retaining creativity and solving problems.

Despite not wanting to look at kids purely in terms of how they eventually turn out, it was, I have to admit, a huge relief to see so many who would in all probability have had significant problems in school, thriving in the HE environment. Clearly some HE families do fail, (and perhaps I don't meet many of those who do), but I think that when this does happen, it IS the fault of the parent, because in all likelihood, the situation really was entirely in their hands.

I would say that certain qualities do make it easier to HE. Socialising doesn't by any means come easily to me, for example. I often feel stupid and gauche, but I do try to put this all aside, and feel all the better for it. Plus, the HE bunch I know are a forgiving and tolerant bunch as a general rule...(that is tolerant in the proper sense of the they put up with things with which they can disagree, not that they suspend moral judgement altogether...) so we all end up enjoying each other's company and learning from each other in significant ways.

Carlotta said...


I know what you mean about secretly deciding for one's child, but I don't think by any means that it is impossible for a child to make a free choice...or even a choice that the parent would otherwise disgee with...

(Dd probably will end up in school, given that she is so eager!)

Clare said...

Wow! Some really interesting points here that have really made me think!

1. C, I think you need to remind yourself of how lucky you are to have already been so confident in not following the crowd when you first had O. The very fact you breastfed beyond 6m shows that you are open minded and willing to learn about less-mainstream ways of living and parenting. I was the same - planned to co-sleep/bfeed/homebirth etc. - but didn't learn about HE until after R was born. However, it was an easy leap in attitude and opinion to make having already made so many other less-mainstream choices. I'd happened to read good parenting books up until R was born, that helped me stay on the path my mother set me on when she breastfed me and my brother and tried to parent us as naturally as possible. I got lucky. People who've never been exposed to non-mainstream parenting ideas have got a huge leap to make and need to do it in small stages if they are ever going to understand the choices we 'weirdos' make! I think that most parents don't like to think that other people might think they are doing the 'wrong' thing, and in waxing lyrical about doing something different to them, we risk upsetting people. That's not to say we shouldn't explain our choices in the interest of informing those who are, as yet, ignorant of HE etc.; just that we need to be aware of the difficulties involved in accepting ideas so completely different to our own!

2. "If school was as damaging as John Holt claimed, society would not have evolved at all".

I disagree with this statement, partly because John Holt doesn't say that school is damaging to everyone who enters it and partly because society does appear to be regressing at the moment! Why do we have a 'yob culture' if it's not because children are being damaged in some way by their childhood, and a huge part of childhood includes school for most children.

However, some children undoubtedly suit school and thrive there. Some schools are undoubtedly wonderful, as are some teachers. The real issue here is respectful and instinctive parenting. Children who grow up with parents who will respect their needs and wishes are likely to thrive however they are educated. Children who's parents don't respect them, or even care much about them, are, in general, the children who schools were originally designed for and who they fail so miserably with at the moment. So I don't think that school itself is damaging to children. I think that bad teachers, bad schools and bad parenting are damaging to children and if every child were to be HE'd there would still be the problems we see now - perhaps worse if the only role models some children would see would be their parents. At least school offers another way of life to disadvantaged children.

I realise I'm probably putting myself on a pedestal here, but believe me, I don't think I'm perfect and have done things with my children that I've later learnt that I disagree with and subsequently feel very guilty about! I am sure that this pattern will continue throughout their lives so I will continue to question what I do, in order to give my children the best start in life that I can.


Leo said...

Clare, if there is "yob culture" in Portugal is not as accentuated as here.

I don't know how school subculture is here, but in my time at least, Portuguese kids were proud to have part time work and earn their own money. Being a mummy's or daddy's boy was not well seen, so one's wealth would not have much weight in public schools. If you got brand shoes because you worked weekends, you were cool. If it was because daddy was rich, you sucked.

Right now, it's perhaps different, I don't know, but happy slapping is still unknown there. Portuguese teenagers don't go on rampages to kick adults to death or go on TV to say they vandalise their neighborhoods because they are bored and the council doesn't do facilities for them to play.

Actually, I noticed while I was there on holiday, that if there is attention given to children on TV at all is the good and talented ones.

So I think besides school, there is something else that is ingrained in British pop culture that I could not completely figure out.

Anyway, the UK is still amongst the most fast developing countries. You say there is regression comparing to what?

"Children who's parents don't respect them, or even care much about them, are, in general, the children who schools were originally designed for and who they fail so miserably with at the moment."

I really don't get how your school system can be that bad. Schools can never completely replace parents, but I know some parents who got more positively involved with their children once they went to school. It seems that at least for these families, the attitude to grab opportunities instead of making sure they do exactly what they want all the time is helping them.

I also think bullying in schools can be caused by the way parents raise their children. They probably prevent their children from fitting in. For instance, I am not sure if the parents that see their children as "special" or "learning disabled" are helping them at all. The movie "About a boy" for instance, seems to portrait this problem somewhat fairly.

"I am sure that this pattern will continue throughout their lives so I will continue to question what I do, in order to give my children the best start in life that I can."

I actually think it wiser to give children the idea that one's life start is the NOT the most important. This doesn't mean making their childhoods horrible on purpose, of course.

Carlotta said...


thanks so much for the insight! You are quite right. I had done a lot of the groundwork prior to hearing about HE for the first time. It must have been just one of those perfect moments when one is just at peak receptiveness...if only education were always that easy...Ah yes...well maybe it isn't so difficult! Perhaps that is what we are calling autonomous ed!

Clare said...

Hi Leo

Just wanted to reply to a couple of things:

"Schools can never completely replace parents"

That's not what I meant. What I meant was that school for all was intended for those who parents couldn't (or wouldn't) provide any sort of education for them at home, particularly with regard to literacy and numeracy. Now that the NC is so full of other things, it's clear that these things are not being taught well at school - children from less-literate families tend to remain some of the less-literate children, for example. Children from families who all read, and have a love of books, and who get read to all the time, are likely to learn literacy skills whether or not they go to school, and did so before school became something that all children could attend.

"I actually think it wiser to give children the idea that one's life start is the NOT the most important."

Again, I agree with you - I think you may have misunderstood me. I feel that my role as far as my children are concerned, is to do my best to provide them with a good beginning part of their lives. That's not to say that I think that everything I do or don't do now will affect the rest of their lives (although it might well do, it's just not necessarily so): just that I would like it if I can make the bit of their lives where they are in my care positive, enjoyable and worthwhile!


Julie said...

Just a quick comment about something Claire said;
Children who grow up with parents who will respect their needs and wishes are likely to thrive however they are educated.
Not always I'm afraid Claire-no matter how much we respected our childrens needs and wishes, or supported them in their school education, everything we did was undone by the school system-simply because their sperfic learning difficulties were completely mishandled in all three schools they were attending. A little of this was because of lack of resources but mostly because of a lack of understansing and expertise on the teachers part about their difficulties in managing to learn within that system.
It didn't make a scrap of difference how well we parented, our children were failing to thrive in the school situation-but began to recover and then thrive as soon as we began to home educate them-which happened the minute we found it was legal!
Now their SLD are irrelevant-now we are autonomous home educators, their lives and therefore their learning styles fit them exactly ;o)

Clare said...

Hi Julie

Thanks for pointing that out...I guess I got it slightly wrong. But the fact is that you did respect your children's needs and as soon as you knew it was a possiblity, began to HE them. Also, you reminded me of my own family - all of my siblings and I were brought up in a respectful family, but only 3 out of the 4 of us got on well at school and that was me - and I couldn't really describe myself as 'thriving' there! Maybe I should have said "have a better chance of thriving" and that their parents are more likely to try to change the situation if it is clear their children are not thriving!