Saturday, September 06, 2008

I've said it before, but I'll say it again....

From the School Gate in the Times, by way of a response to James Bartholomew's article about his actual experience of home educating, we have a list of disadvantages as viewed by someone who does not appear to have home educated and who needs to find out a little more about the subject. Let's see if we can lend a helping hand. From the article:

"...disadvantages of homeschooling your child - for them and for you:

1) Social issues

Most people point out that your child might lose out socially by staying at home. Those in favour of homeschooling say there is little evidence of this, and there are now many ways for homeschooled children to meet, and so mix, with each other. However, one of the benefits of a school environment is that children mix with such a wide variety of children, of different ages. It's difficult to see how this can happen if they are homeschooled."

OK, so we have dealt with this particular chestnut any number of times on this blog, but perhaps we haven't been explaining ourselves clearly enough. Actually I have just thought of another way of putting it. The other day, our HE group arranged to use the facilities on a mobile museum bus for a day. The bus came complete with two teachers who gave a number of lessons to the children (ages 2 - 15). Afterwards the teachers revealed that they were in fact both retired head masters. One of the things that impressed them was how well the home educated children interacted across age groups. When there were to be lessons aimed at the younger ones, many of the older children and siblings went in with the younger ones to help them out, and the experience was all the richer for it.

My children have mixed with hundreds of others of all ages, in all situations, social, work related, in this country and in many others. This applies to all the other HE children we know well. It is simply not accurate to suggest that HE children need suffer from any lack of opportunity in this department.

"2) A child's ability to get used to being taught, and to listen, to a variety of other adults

These include those adults they don't get on with. Surely this helps with social skills."

The thing is, our HE children learn from all manner of different sources - parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, parents of friends, in extra-curricula classes...teachers, hobbyists, skilled workpeople, businessmen, artists, biologists, linguists, geologists, property developers, IT bods, canoeists, doctors, vets, farmers, film set builders, builders, horse riding teachers, climbers, pot-holerists, people who collect clams as the tide goes out.....Ok, I'm stopping now, but all this in the relatively recent past.

However, I do wonder as to the merit of learning from people one doesn't like. One would hope that in this situation, the likability of the teacher would have no bearing at all on the subject matter being taught, though it is hard to see how this could be so. An inability to present a subject in such a way as to not alienate the learner would suggest a degree of ineptness which would cause one to question whether such a person had a great deal of value to teach anyone.

Besides, in this age of choice, why learn from someone one doesn't get on with? One risks not being able to ask those pressing questions, or have them answered. Or one runs the risk, despite one's best intentions, of drifting off and staring at pigeons if they seem more interesting at the time. It is simply silly and uncreative to persist in such a situation. As an adult, if I don't like my teacher, book or website, I find a new teacher, book or website. Why should children be prevented from using their discerning natures and initiative, I wonder?

3) Demands on your time

This is probably not a disadvantage for your child, but it may well be for you. Home education means making a huge effort. It can easily take over your life, affect you emotionally (when will you have time for yourself?) and, of course financially (it's difficult to have a job if you are at home teaching).

The hard work myth really is overdue for another busting! Talk to most parents who have given home education a good chance and ask them to compare it to their time when their children were in school and you are likely to find that they say that HE is at the very least, no harder than school. For example, you don't have to bustle out of bed in the mornings and iron a gym kit - you can stagger around in your pjs for quite a while if you really want to; you can go on holiday when it's cheaper and to museums etc when it's less frantic, and most importantly, you can pitch the information you provide to the interests and abilities of the learner, which makes everything easy. And don't forget, the HEing adult will probably find that he has plenty of time to himself and whatever home work he can dream up, as his children speed way ahead of him in their various specialities. Yes, home educating does affect you emotionally but it's James Bartholomew who has it when he wrote "For those who can find a way, home-educating is a glorious, liberating, empowering, profoundly fulfilling thing to do."

"4) The cost
All those trips out - to Pompeii and Oplontis, France and China, as James Bartholomew writes - cost money. So do the books, materials and even computer software."

Don't schooling parents provide this sort of thing then? Maybe not, and of course in their defence, it is often much cheaper to travel during the school term time and the HE community is generally good at finding ways of doing things on the cheap. We take Megabuses and do the Travel Lodge cheap stays, we swap and hand on resources, we raise cash in various ways, we give each other free internet tips.

"5) The knowledge you may lack.
If you choose to homeschool you need to make sure you can teach a wide variety of subjects, from science to geography."

When you say "you" of course this needn't be "you, singular". "you singular" can access the wide world and use anyone out there who might be of help and interest to your child.

"6) The constant explanations of why you do it
Not the best disadvantage, I grant you, but if you start homeschooling your child, you will soon have to learn to develop a thick skin."

Yet this can be useful. Indeed, it seems that I have managed to develop such an impenetrable hide that I have got to the point that I'm hardly ever aware of using it nowadays. In truth, I find that I rarely have to explain myself in person any more. As often as not, I find that schooling parents feel they have to justify their choices to me.

"7) Your reasons for continuing if your children don't want to
What happens if they say they want to go to school? You have to know whom you are doing this for."

Easy peesy. No HEK we know is HEd against their will. Their parents would send their child to school if they wanted to go. Indeed this does happen.

"8) Your own teaching skills and patience
While it's true that you love your children, teaching them is completely different from simply looking after them. Are you sure you have the right skills and patience to do this?"

Yes, but a prospective HEor might benefit from finding out about how the whole process works in the real HE world, which is vastly different from the teaching process in school. Simply put, most sensible HEors set out to assist their children to learn whatever it is that their children want to learn. HE parents provide the necessary resources. As David Friedman (another famous HEor) put it " you throw stuff at them to see what sticks." This is a far more successful way of learning than the school model and it makes the whole thing so much easier. In this information age, you will probably find that your children rapidly outstrip you in their various specialisms.

"9) The extra stress and pressure when it comes to your relationship with your child
You are now no longer just your child's parent, but their teacher as well. It may be difficult to get the balance right."

No it isn't. All parents should see themselves as having a role in teaching their children. HE is simply a continuation of this natural process. It's school that is the artificial construct here. By way of some sort of personal testimony, tonight as I sit here, I honestly believe I couldn't be more in love and at ease with my children than I am already. However, this might not be the case if they had to go to a school that they didn't want to go to and where they were not happy. Now that WOULD put extra stress and pressure on my relationship with them.

Should the personal testimony above be insufficiently convincing, it would be worth casting an eye of the research into home education in the UK that has been undertaken by Dr. Paula Rothermel, which can be found here.


Ruth said...

The comments section is coming along nicely ;-)

Anonymous said...

Ooh that's actually quite funny! As a parent of kids in school (He'd in past) I'd say that there are many disadvantages to school. There are always some parents who agree and stand at school on the first day of term sad that the holidays are over but we seem to be in the minority.

Some disadvantages:
1) social issues - can't see enough of HE friends!
2) being taught by people you don't like - my kids hate this and it can really put them off a subject. 'Physics is boring.' Apparently this was mutual, 'E's physics exam result was a pleasant suprise. In fact a bit of a shock.'
3) Demands on your time. One of the things I most resent about school is how much of our private time it organises in spite of my efforts to minimise this. What time we get up, eat, go to bed, homework, school uniform washing, lunch box etc etc
4) The cost- Uniform, stationary, resources etc
school skiing trip £800. Actually going during term time 'to take advatage of lower air fares.'
5) Knowledge - some teachers are gifted and encyclopaedic in their knowledge of their subject but others... And the national curriculum needs some help in some subjects not to kill any curiousity in a child.
6)Constant explanations - I think I'm finally getting over the kids choosing school!
7) see above
8)Your own teaching skills and patience - absolutely essential if your child is to enjoy school/thrive/succeed in life. So much time is needed to talk over homework and classwork, to go to museums, art galleries, zoos, nature walks, canoeing, walking, climbing, cooking, managing your finances, how to treat others, watching TV together. Sometimes I say that most of my friends home educate some of the kids just choose to go to schoool as well!
9)Stress and pressure on relationship with your child - the coercion to go to school and do homework where a child doesn't want to must be terribly stressful for all.

We may be home educating again in the future and would then have some in and some out. Anyone with this arrangement knows that this brings some genuine disadvanatges!

sorry that's a bit long! Got on a roll.


Carlotta said...

Thanks so much for the insight, Sarah. Would love to lift that to a post...???

Anonymous said...

Sorry I missed the request. If it's not too late to elevate it to a post, feel free. Also feel free to correct the spelling!