The following is a quotation from a recent NYT article…
…”humans have a tremendous capacity for living inside their culture and accepting those arrangements as natural, and finding other arrangements weird, unnatural, even abhorrent.”
We are a judgey bunch, aren’t we?
I have to confess that I knew nothing about homeschooling till a few years ago. Before that, the movie “Mean Girls” was all I had to go by: Lindsay Lohan plays an awkward teenager, fumbling her way through the last years of high school after being homeschooled all her life. Don’t get me wrong, I love that film! But, the message to your subconscious is clear: homeschooled kids are weird. Not so weird that they are outsiders in society altogether, but not quite “complete” either.
I didn’t come across homeschooling again after that for a few years, till I heard about the Harding family in the US. Six of their children began university degrees by the age of 12. There are 10 Harding children altogether, and by their early 20s, they already featured a doctor, an architect, a spacecraft designer and a master’s student. Those still studying hope to become a computer scientist, a musician/composer, a scholar of the Middle Ages and possibly a lawyer. Before you start telling me that accomplishing so much in your teens comes with its own set of problems, I’m not saying they got it right (or wrong); I’m saying, how can this not grab your attention and make you want to know more about homeschooling?
Looking back at the NYT quote at the start of this post, I really feel it captures our thoughts on all things parenting perfectly: if there’s something that we don’t understand or we’re not used to, we simply turn our noses up at it. I got into a well-meaning discussion on homeschooling last year (when I wasn’t yet a parent myself) and was quite taken aback by how strongly people were against it. It’s completely fine to be on one side or the other of any argument (this is a democracy people!), but to write something off that you have not experienced, researched or even tried to understand as “totally wrong” is a bit baffling to me.
In a recent HuffPost article, homeschooled Chris Sosa writes that his family “quickly discovered that others, oftentimes strangers, had strong opinions about this choice.” I can believe that. He also highlights that some parents choose to homeschool their children for intervals in response to the needs of their children at the time. That sounds sensible to me; isn’t recognising, understanding, and properly responding to your child’s needs crucial to their psychological well-being?
Saadia Chevel seems to agree. She writes: “The decision of whether you want to home educate your children or send them to a proper school relies entirely upon what your style of parenting is and the method of teaching your child is more comfortable with.”
A closer look at formal schooling:
Formal schooling in England currently starts at the age of 4. But OFSTED has even suggested some children should begin school at the age of 2! There must be good reasons why this age was chosen, right? Something to do with their brains at that age? Some theory of learning that points to “4” as the magic number to start educating? Well, according to New Scientist, this was introduced in 1870 “in order to get women back into work, rather than on the basis of any educational benefit to children.” Right.
Did you know that Finland’s pupils often score the highest average results in science and reading in the whole of the developed world? The WHOLE of the developed world?! Surely they must have the best teachers, or classrooms with the most advanced technology…? Well, according to the BBC, Finnish children spend the fewest number of hours in the classroom; primary and secondary schooling is combined, so the pupils don’t have to change schools; and they begin formal schooling at age 7. They spend an extra three years with their parents before they start school.
Not everyone in the UK agrees with OFSTED though; David Whitebread (a Cambridge professor) has expressed the view that the school starting age should be 6 or 7. According to him, early exposure damages rather than enhances reading skills.
So whether or not homeschooling is the way, one thing is for sure: more and more people are identifying the benefits of starting school later.
But homeschooled children probably have no friends…
By far the most common “problem” associated with homeschooling is socialisation; how are homeschooled kids supposed to meet anyone in the first place, let alone befriend? And how will they learn all those basic principles that are vital in the “real” world, like sharing, team-work, networking, etc.?
Blogger Juliette from California has a response to this: “um, this cool thing called opening my mouth and talking to the other kids on the block or playing sports and interacting with regular human beings.”
She has a point. But if I were to homeschool my daughter, I would need more guidance on this. I don’t think I could leave it to chance that perhaps she’ll talk to people while I’m grocery shopping or at the dentist, and there you go, she’s made lifelong friends!
A lot of homeschooling parents say they get together regularly with others in the same boat, plan excursions, etc., so the respective children benefit from regular peer interaction. Sounds good, in theory, but what would someone like me who doesn’t live near (or know) other fellow homeschoolers do?
Some of my happiest and most cherished childhood memories are with my best friends… at school. I would hate to rob my daughter of that… But, I also witnessed bullying and all sorts of other nonsense at school that I wouldn’t want her to unnecessarily experience too. So I’m still on the fence about this one.
Helicopter parenting refers to parents exerting a profound amount of control over their child’s life. The “cocoon” facilitated by homeschooling parents is not representative of the real world, according to critics. I thought I’d found a solid argument against homeschooling; I may have even heard an “a-ha!” in my head.
But… here’s the thing: some light Googling tells me that helicopter parents exists even when the children aren’t homeschooled. The phenomena is definitely not limited to, or defined by homeschooling. Parents in the US have been known to call up their non-homeschooled children’s professors at university to discuss their grades–something the Guardian points out they cannot legally do! Last year, a mother wrote about being a proud helicopter parent in Time magazine, describing what that involves in her case. And guess what… the child in question goes to regular school.
In fact, according to Anthony VonBank, schools themselves are actually instigating helicopter parenting; for example, by assigning homework/projects that require assistance from parents. In effect, the students are then penalised or rewarded based on how much time, effort, or energy the parents are willing to give at home.
But where to find the time?!
My good friend Iram is a mother of two, and a teacher. I asked her if she had ever considered homeschooling, and she made an excellent point: “you have to have a certain personality to be able to stay at home with the kids, and you have to look at your own individual commitments too. Everybody has different personal lives and where one person may be able to juggle things, others can’t.”
She did in fact consider homeschooling at various stages, but a number of reasons eventually outweighed the decision, including having a big extended family and a small baby to give attention to.
She also highlighted that its important to consider the child in question’s personality too. Her lovely daughter, for example, is far more willing to listen to a teacher at school. “Although she knows I’m a teacher,” says Iram, “I’m her mummy first and I didn’t want to spend all day telling her to listen to me. I knew this would cause friction between us.”
Is flexi-schooling the answer?
Flexi-schooling involves withdrawing children from school for part of the week and homeschooling them. According to the Guardian, its sort of for parents who don’t want to commit to full-time home education, and, in any case, are supporters of comprehensive education. But, they want to encourage children’s interests “beyond a school curriculum that’s focused on literacy and numeracy.”
Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? Best of both worlds.
I asked flexi-schooling mum of three, Ayesha Iman, for her thoughts. Ayesha used to homeschool her children, until she had her third child. She now sends them to Manara Academy for part of the week, and homeschools them for the rest. According to Ayesha, its “the best decision she ever made.”
Where does this leave me?
I certainly see the pros of homeschooling. But there’s no doubt that it is a HUGE commitment. It would mean not being able to return to work, and would require a lot of patience.
But then I hear from people like Abeer, who describes her homeschooling journey as “priceless.” She sent her son to school, but decided to homeschool her daughter who was born after, and says she benefits from tailored, individualised learning. Who wouldn’t want that? She admits that she has moments where she wonders “can I really do this?” But she takes each stage as it comes and knows that her daughter would be fine integrating in regular school if need be.
And I suppose that’s the main thing I’ve taken from talking to all these mothers: that there doesn’t have to be one fixed decision that you are “stuck” with and can never turn away from! Perhaps its worth a try, and if it works, great! If not… never mind?
But would I be “brave” enough to give it that first try…?
Only time will tell I suppose!
I would love to hear your thoughts on homeschooling in the comments section below 🙂