I have a confession to make – I got into a Facebook battle the other day. Yes, I realize how stupid that was. I rarely do it these days. I know that people are frankly just plain old stupid. Stupid = don’t want to change or learn anything different. So, 99% of the time, I pass that stupidity by with a shake of my head. But sometimes, just sometimes, you have to stand up for what is right.
So, what got my heckles up so much yesterday?
But that’s just funny. Nothing serious there.
Yes, yes, there is. What is happening now is NOT homeschooling.
While ‘homeschooling’ is a word that has fallen out of favor in most circles, in favor of the much more accurate term – home education, it is a word steeped in history and a culture all its own.
Homeschool was a word first used in the late 1960s and early 70s for the progressive and radical idea of teaching your children at home. It was a phenomenon first brought to public awareness by an educator named John Holt. For an excellent introduction to the subject, I highly recommend his book Teach Your Own. Over fifty years later, and many of his ideas are still considered radical.
Nonetheless, homeschooling was an idea that caught on. First primarily in the US and then across the globe. While home education remains a small minority, even in the US, only one to two percent of young people, its reputation is a mixed lot.
Home educated young people have time and again taken highest honors in national and international scholastic competitions from spelling bees to science fairs. Yet, the negative and mostly false image of home education is of a handful of abusive situations, which involved no education at all.
With this word being bandied about now, in terms of school closures that force parents to supervise ‘schooling at home,’ as a home educator with three decades of experience in two countries and five children, two of whom are classified as ‘special educational needs,’ I want to set the record straight.
Home education is a CHOICE.
One that some parents make from even before their child/ren are born. That others make because the schools fail their little humans. But it is a choice.
There are many reasons that parents choose home education over traditional schools.
- Religion – Let’s begin with the stereotypical and controversial. Yes, some parents choose home education for religious reasons. But it is not just far-right Christians. Other faiths also home educate and self-insulate their children from views other than their own. Three decades ago, this was my own introduction to home education. I won’t get into the pros and cons here, other than to say, when one school has extreme troubles, no one calls for all of them to be closed. Neither should all home educators be painted with the same brush as a high-profile minority.
- Quality of education – Whether it is being assigned to a school not of their choosing, or a more general belief that schools today do not provide the qualities of a classical education or the outside-the-box critical thinking skills needed for the future, this is an equally prevalent reason for selecting home education.
- Philosophical differences – For some parents, it is not the quality of education, but rather the schools’ teaching methods that they disagree with. Montessori, Steiner, and self-directed education are just a few different educational methodologies employed by these parents to educate their little humans.
- Failing of the school to meet complex needs – This one usually applies to young people with additional educational needs. Whether it is a classroom that is too bright, too noisy, and too crowded to allow the neurodivergent child to concentrate, or it is bullying, this is all too common. In fact, some of these parents may feel like they ‘have no other choice’ also.
While those are the most common reasons to choose home education, there are as many others as there are home education families. Some include 1) wanting a break from school for a brief time, 2) travel, 3) long commutes to schools, and 4) living in a different culture and/or speaking another language, among others.
The truth is that usually, it is a combination of two or more of those reasons. It is a complicated recipe of ingredients that bring families to this life-altering decision.
And that is the problem with that meme. It demeans the choice made by those families who have actively chosen this path.
It is another example of cultural appropriation.
Yes, I am incredibly leery of using that term. Because unlike Native American, African, Afro-Caribbean, and other cultures that have been appropriated, home educators choose to place themselves and their families in an under-represented and misunderstood minority that is under attack. Those others whom I admire and support had no choice in being a minority. Nonetheless, home educators are a minority that is stereotyped and under-attack.
In the UK, where I now live, when someone learns you are home educating, they look at you like you are a freak or a criminal. They assume that you are isolating and abusing your child. That they are missing out on some wonderful experience called ‘socialization.’ When the truth for many is that home education is protecting our little humans from the long-term effects of bullying and thus giving them the best chance at success and happiness in life.
But, surely, home educators do not experience prejudice or persecution? Yes, home education is under attack globally. In the last decade, many European countries have outlawed home education completely. In Germany, parents have had their children taken away. Some have even gone to jail for home education. France, which already has some of the strictest home education policies, is trying to follow suit.
Even as parents across the UK are complaining and moaning about being ‘forced to homeschool,’ home education is under attack in England and Wales. Despite this pandemic and national emergency, a strict ‘registration’ law is working its way through Parliament. It would restrict our rights to do what some moan about – assume full responsibility for our children’s education.
So, please, all I am saying is…
Learn the truth of that word and our culture before throwing it around.
What you are doing is NOT home education. It is not an active choice. It is not for the long term. Though in the US, many families are discovering they prefer it and electing not to return their children to schools. Home education groups and state registers are doubling in some places.
And while homeschool is no longer the favored terminology as this community has recognized that what we do is not ‘school’ but educate and/or provide learning opportunities, that word is still used by some. Its history is deeply rooted in the movement.
While I recognize the need for some terminology for these unique times, what is happening now does not make parents home educators/schooling. Any more than a 10% Native American DNA result makes you part of that culture. Perhaps a better term for these times would be ‘school at home.’ This more accurately reflects that the schools rather than the parents provide the primary responsibility, curriculum, and resources.
Nonetheless, I believe that home educators do have experience and knowledge to share, making this time less stressful for parents and children alike. So, for the rest of this week, I will be sharing some of my experience over those three decades, twelve years, two countries, five children from three ethnic/cultural backgrounds, and two of whom have additional educational needs.
- Tara’s Top Tips for learning at home
- Meeting those ‘additional’ learning needs
- @PanKwake’s Favorite Resources for learning
- Where to go for more information and support.
I hope you will join me on this exciting adventure that, while it is not homeschooling, can still be a unique opportunity to reconnect with your little human and share your wealth of knowledge as well as experience and values. It does not need to be stressful or traumatic for either you or your child. It can actually be fun…