Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Arguably the most important stage of a person’s life is their childhood, their upbringing. Take one look at the packed prisons up and down the country: nine times out of ten, for many of the poor inmates, who seem to know no better, it all went wrong from the start. There is a clear correlation between how a child was brought up and where they end up. Although, of course, it isn’t always as simple as that.
My first day of school was September 11, 2001. A day synonymous with another dreadful event, a harrowing reminder of the dangerous world we live in. When I was almost seven years old, my parents took the decision to home educate me and my siblings. This decision has impacted my whole life, and, ultimately, I believe was the right decision.
So yes, I am one of those weird homeschooled kids, although not from a particularly large or wild family (as far as home educated families go!). It is my desire in this brief piece to reflect on my homeschooled childhood and weigh it up, as I see it. Hopefully you’ll find it interesting, if not edifying.
Broadening one’s horizons
Home-schooling/home-educating/home-edding/CHEddering (or whatever term floats your blow-up dinghy) opens up new doors and opportunities whilst closing others. Basically, it’s quite different from the orthodox state-school approach (as anybody with even the faintest idea of what it is will agree).
One of the fun things about home-education is that you get to do everything, washing clothes, cooking dinner, cleaning out gutters, emptying drains, carrying out archaeological digs on veg patches, etc. These, all being things that normal kids don’t often get the opportunity to do, with schoolwork and homework. Home education is very hands-on, although different parents can do very different things.
On a practical level, for a homeschooled family, outside of the state school system and holidays: you can do what you want when you want. Discount term-time holidays; trips to adventure parks, museums, and swimming pools on weekdays minus the usual hustle and bustle; etc. are all in order.
Due to the lack of a class-room atmosphere, and depending on how strict your parents are (and how much else they have on their plate), home education offers up chances of skipping work to focus on more ‘fun’ activities (I speak from experience!). We got up to all sorts…
Another result is that us home-educated kids can end up a narrow-minded lot. Our main sources of information are our parents, siblings and other home-educated kids. Whilst we miss out on some of the often erroneous and arguably dodgy teaching in public schools (as well as an increasing atheistic/humanistic agenda), we grow up in a bubble, protected from the outside; this can be good and bad. When the time comes to venture out into the big wide world, it can come as a bit of a shock!
Myth-busting: homeschool style
However, with all this, there are many popular myths flouted around by namby-pamby type people who don’t know any better (just kidding of course!).
One such is the perceived lack of social life. This isn’t completely true, and really annoys homeschooled kids. Home education groups offer children the opportunity to mix and interact in different circles, with older and younger children – a very rewarding experience, and something you don’t necessarily get in the same way in classrooms at school (bully from the year above, anyone?).
Home education holidays, weekends and conferences take things further, with the added benefit of home-edding circles being fairly small.
Overall, I guess we do kind of miss out on social interaction outside of home education circles, but you do miss out on school bullies, and other school mischief (although home-educated kids can certainly get up to plenty of mischief on their own!).
The legal stuff
Fact time. In many countries, across the world, home education is illegal, including Germany where Adolf Hitler reportedly first banned it (a fact you may well hear oft-repeated in home education circles). As you can see in the graphic below (Green is legal, yellow is legal in most political subdivisions but not all or is practiced, but legality is disputed. Red is illegal or unlawful. Orange is generally considered illegal, but untested legally. – cut n’ pasted from Wikipedia):
The United Kingdom is one of the few places where home education can be practiced with minimal interference from the state, a fact home educators are very grateful for. Up to 100,000 children are home educated in the UK, and roughly 2.5m in the USA. These figures have risen steadily over the last few decades, as dissatisfaction with the school system grows and, of course, the astronomically high birth-rate of home educated families (something we are all so dearly fond of).
As a slight diversionary note: In 2009, in England, home educators were required to register and report back annually to local authorities. This was based on a review conducted by a certain Mr G. Badman. Taking a leaf out of John Bunyan’s book, if names are anything to go by, this was resented by home educating folk!
However, and thanks to Peter Reynolds and others for pointing this mistake out to me in the comments section, there was such a large uproar over these plans that they were never actually passed through parliament.
Consequently, with understandable motives, there is a growing movement to discourage home education and better ‘support’ parents.
Home education is a whole world apart from orthodox state schooling. In some ways it is less demanding on parents than school (my Mum was glad to be rid of the schoolrun!). However, it also presents new and different challenges for the family, which can be much more demanding in different areas. For the parents, you’ll never get away from the kids!
My home educated childhood has been the most important period of my life, a period of molding and shaping. I am immensely grateful for this upbringing. At times, I admit, I was envious of school kids; but hey, the grass is always greener on the other side, right? I knew many state-schooled kids who thought just the opposite…
Whilst on both sides, we can adopt a ‘them’ and ‘us’ attitude, our Christian faith and love transcends any such barriers. We should never judge each other, “This is how it should be done.” We are all different and should respect that. For many others, the situation is different, going to school is completely the right thing to do (much also depends on the local schools too and possibly a whole range of other factors). Both my parents happened to be teachers, giving my family a bit of a headstart. For me, home education was definitely the right step to take and so far I think I’ve turned out pretty good (although some might say otherwise!).