Some of my home education friends in the UK and some you who read this blog might not believe it but once upon a time, in another life, I was one of those American christian homeschoolers. Yes, my four oldest, now adult offspring were home educated for religious reasons.
Even that is not what many have been led to believe. Yes, we bought curriculum. Yes, they sat at the dining room table and completed their assigned workbook pages for that day. But they were not isolated. When we lived in Houston, we were active in a homeschooling group that close to a hundred members. We went to parks, museums, a bakery, a firehouse, and even the Blue Bell ice cream factory. They had friends. And loads more free time than their friends who went to school.
They were a bit more isolated when we moved to the country where they were the only homeschoolers. But they merely waited for their schooler friends to come home and ran off to play.
Surprisingly, it was our special educational needs son who began the transition to school. We just did not feel like we had the expertise to meet his needs. We unrealistically believed that schools could help him achieve things we could not. We were wrong. Badly wrong. He is thirty now and still struggles with low self-esteem from being labelled ‘special needs.’
Over the years, I abandoned religion. I divorced, built a career, struggled as a single mother, remarried, and moved to another country. But while I might have left that god-complex, I still believed that home education was the best option. Not for religious reasons, but because the one-on-one attention of a committed parent/s offers more than a thirty-to-one teacher ever could.
I battled my long-term partner and lost when it came to home educating our son. Of course, California is one of the hardest places in the America to homeschool. That was one of his arguments against it. That son did well in school.
When we moved to the UK, I was appalled at what I saw. As at waited at the bus stop on the way to work each morning, I watched this mother walk about half-a-dozen very small children to school. Each was dressed in pristine and identical uniforms with little book bags. The uniform and bags were tattooed with the name and logo of the school. This was early, before eight. All I could think was…poor babies. It reeked more of indoctrination than education to my American spirit.
I begged and pleaded with @PanKwake’s father not to put her through that. But since she was not even a year old and we planned to return to America, I did not worry too much. When she turned three and he began to push for the fifteen hours of free nursery that the government offered, I balked. To be fair, the community nursery that I found very close to our home was brilliant. Everything that a nursery or school should be. Its manager and staff loved those children as if they were their own. Honestly, in some case, even more.
Our time there was brilliant. I became exceedingly close to the manager, helping her to fundraise. She was my lifeline after my miscarriage and as my marriage fell apart. She noticed @PanKwake’s challenges and believed as I did that she was autistic. She referred her to the council’s Early Years SENCo (Special Educational Needs Coordinator). That woman dismissed @PanKwake’s delays, saying that she was a girl and would catch up. But she did authorize funding for additional hours at the nursery to prepare @PanKwake for school. And along with the nursery manager helped me to organize a transition meeting with the SENCo at the school.
But that was where our nightmare began. The woman showed up for the meeting late and was dismissive of every developmental delay that @PanKwake struggled with. She was only concerned with her medical condition (epilepsy) and then only because if something happened while she was at school it would look bad on them. But I fought hard and @PanKwake was supposed to start early, giving her time to adjust before the other children began. Then I heard nothing. We scheduled a meeting with the head teacher. And were bullied.
Honestly, the next eight months were such a nightmare for @PanKwake and me that I don’t want to even think about it. But the stories I could tell would enrage and shock most people. In the end, it was so bad that even @PanKwake’s father could no longer deny that it was not a safe place for her.
Yes, I said safe. She was not eating all day, and no one told us until a month before school was out. Then when we sent the food that she would eat, we were told she could not have those because they came from McDonalds. We sent extra clothes and wet pads because she lost control of her bladder during some seizures. Yet, I had to walk out of there with her wrapped in my jacket and buy her new clothes because they could not find the clothes we had sent.
But the worst was when I found her walking after school with a friend’s mother. I was surprised that the school had allowed her to take @PanKwake since she was not on the list. Turns out she had not. @PanKwake had sneaked out and was walking down the street ALONE. When our friend saw her. that was the last straw.
We had already told the school that we would be de-registering her and home educating. But I was working out my notice. @PanKwake never went back to that school after that day. Even her father understood why.
But when we began this home education journey, I had very different ideas of what it would look like. Most of those based on those homeschooling experiences. And honestly, our society’s perception of what education is supposed to be. But more about that tomorrow…