‘I don’t teach, they just learn’

How important is your child’s future?

If you ask any parent, I hope, you get an answer something like: ‘very important!’

I also expect that you’ll get the same answer if you’d ask how important their child’s education is, yet people seem to assume that that the answer to those questions is different for home educators.

Why does nobody ask: why are you sending your children to school?

Since we started home educating, I have noticed there are a lot of prejudices on home education out there and that most negative opinions are based on ignorance.

As I mentioned in my previous blog I asked some home educating families about comments and reactions there were getting from people around them about the fact that they were home educating and I decided to have a look into this.

Sure, it is easier to go with what ‘everyone else’ is doing, but is it the right thing to do? I think a lot of people don’t even question it.

For us, the idea to home educate our boys initially came from my husband. I didn’t even know it was a legal option! Maybe it was because I am Dutch and in the Netherlands it isn’t really an option, unless you have ‘exemption from the requirement for school enrolment (or attendance)’.

Dutch law states that exemption will only be approved under certain circumstances:
  • Unsuitability for schooling due to physical or psychological disability (this will be assessed every year; the fact that the child is unhappy at school or being bullied does not in itself a ground for exemption in the Compulsory Education Act.)
  • Having reservations about the direction of education in all schools with adequate education at a reasonable distance of the house (meaning that the parents cannot find a school that embodies and promotes their religion or belief in teaching)
  • Any disability, but the fact that the child is unhappy at school or being bullied does not in itself a ground for exemption in the Compulsory Education Act.
  • When the child is registered in the Netherlands, but resides abroad and attends a school there.
  • You are a traveler.
(I did have to translate this from Dutch, so there could be something missing – but I did my best)

As this is all fairly complicated and explained to the general public mostly as illegal (unless your child has a ‘problem’), I think it is reasonable to say that, generally speaking, exemption is not really an option.

Living in the UK now (where home education is definitely a legal option) I have now learned that my ignorance about home educating was not solely down to me being Dutch. It is not just people in countries where it is difficult (and sometimes illegal) to home educate, that are so judgemental and ignorant about having their children learn outside of the school environment. I have to admit that I was quite shocked!

How can you judge something if you don’t know the facts? And if you are not interested in knowing more about it, why bother forming an opinion on it in the first place?

I understand that people might be uncomfortable with other people’s choices, but do you seriously believe that I am comfortable with all the choices you make? most likely not!

Why do people make it their business to even comment on the fact that a child is home educated, as if home educators are doing something wrong (which we are NOT!)

How would you feel if I asked you ‘why are you sending your child to school?’

Some of the things people mention are more common than others. I have noticed that the most common responses seem to be about Social life and Curriculum.

Social life

The social aspect seem to be very much on people’s minds when it comes to home education. Why though? Home educated children have so much more time to socialize. Their social life is different than that of a child that goes to school, but in general more varied. They do not spend most of their days in school, where the options to have social interaction are limited and where the choice of people to interact with are chosen for them.

Do they really think that sitting in a classroom, asking permission to talk or only interacting with your schoolmates in the lunch breaks is the ideal social setting?

(And then I am not even mentioning the bullying that seems to be accepted as part of school life.)

In comments to home educators, people seem to use words like socialisation and socialising as one and the same thing. so just to clarify:

socialise: take part in social activities; interact with others;

This is what a child does when playing with others in a playground or club, but it also means talking to your neighbour or the lady in the shop.

socialisation: a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity learns the norms, values, behaviour, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position;

This is what every child learns by simply living, and it doesn’t stop when he becomes an adult.

So I am still not quite sure how people ask home educators questions like the following, (unless they believe that the children are indeed lock up in the basement):

  • What about socialisation?

We could be answering this with the question: ‘what about it?’.

You might then get an answer explaining what they are actually referring to, or the conversation is finished. You might have to point out that: Socialization doesn’t mean ‘the opportunity to make friends’

  • Doesn’t he miss out on the social side?

Are you referring to the bullying? or the times they are competing in school?

One answer I received on my quest to find comments was: ‘school was making my son suicidal!’. How is that for a social side?!

Some people even go as far as thinking home educated children are or will be social misfits and would be unable to make or have friends. But again what is this ‘knowledge’ based on? Home educated children are not locked up in the basement, in stead they are out in the world learning from all experiences and this includes interaction with people of all ages. They tend to be more confident and able to communicate with anyone they meet.

Curriculum

It is widely assumed that education can not be followed without one. This however is very untrue. As a home educator you don’t have to follow, much the same as a child in a private school, or an academy, who don’t follow ‘the’ curriculum either.

Some comments/questions (and answers) I received on the subject:

  • How are you going to follow the curriculum? ‘I’m not’
  • How are you going to teach all the subjects that he needs? (This may well be a genuine question, but they are probably talking about a curriculum)

The answer could simply be: ‘He is!’. If you feel the need to explain: ‘he decides what and when he wants to learn something. And when he decides, he will learn it, because it is important to him.’

  • But in secondary school and university the teachers will have specialized in a subject, are you able to compete with that? (Teachers are mostly trained to deal with a group of students/pupils who are not interested in the subject. They are under pressure to have them pass exams, not to have them remember the knowledge in 10 years time)

I don’t need to compete. Besides you no longer have to be qualified to work in an academy, so your child might well be taught by an unqualified teacher.

Not all teachers that specialize in a particular subject teach that subject. I know a science teacher who had to teach Religious Education, but because he didn’t specialize in Religious education he got the kids to do their science homework in his Religious Education lessons instead.

But my general response is that if either of us feels the need to call in someone with a particular experience (I’m thinking things like language and music tuition in my case) then there are lots of opportunities to do that.

Then there are people who think that, if you don’t go to school you will not be able to receive any qualifications.

The fact is that children who are being home educated can start courses or go to university, if that is their choice. They will have lots of time to figure out what they want to do and also have the opportunity to experience the job for real as an apprentice or volunteer. When they decide to go to university it will be their choice and they will have thought about it long and hard, which as a result has turned them into very motivated students, who want to learn and not just pass exams.

  • Your child won’t be able to have a job where they have to follow rules. (Why not? doesn’t life itself has rules as well?)

A response from another home educator was: ‘Why do you want your children to be employees?’ (why not have their own business instead?)

Selfishness

Also comments about ‘being selfish’ were made:

  • You are damaging your child when you don’t send him to school (How is living and learning in real life damaging?)
  • You are being selfish and handicapping your child for future jobs (This comment is probably based on the child not following ‘the curriculum’)

My answer would be: He can focus on what he really wants to know and he is able to learn more intensively, than if he was in school. Therefore he is more likely to end up in a job that he loves and be happy.

  • Forcing my political beliefs and lifestyle choices onto my kids (Seriously???)

I understand that home education is possibly not for everyone, but it works for us and for a lot of other people, but why is it seen as a problem by some (or maybe a lot of) people?

Some people are automatically fearful and suspicious of people who do not follow the herd and maybe that is why they react badly or seek to ridicule them.

Apparently people who home educate or are home educated are seen as strange. Some are called an oddball and a hippy. One person mentioned that when she was being home educated as a child, she was seen as a problem child (which reminds me of the Dutch attitude I have come across).

A mother of a child (who attends school) responded to her son, when asked to be home educated as well, with ‘but he has problems and you don’t’

Well, maybe we are strange…. but what does that mean? Who decides what is strange? Yes, we might be going against the grain, we might not follow the herd, but we actually think about what is best for our child and his future, we are making a conscious decision to be active and take responsibility for our child’s education. And you know what?! If that makes us strange, what does that say about all the parents who send their child to school with the assumption that it will all work out. Sending the child to school without looking at all the options, and not questioning if school is the right thing. Of course there are people who send their child to school after having considered all the option and that is fine, but the majority hasn’t. And I reckon that those who haven’t are the ones who react negatively, simply because they are ignorant.

  • Life is NOT about doing what YOU WANT to do so get used to it! (Why not???)

This comment can only come from a bitter person in my opinion. Why would you not be able to do what you want to do? Sure, there are things that you might not enjoy as much as the next, but why do it just for the sake of it. For example, who likes tidying up? not my hobby, but I do it because if I don’t I can’t find my things, I will trip over stuff and my life will become uncomfortable for me. So there is a reason for me to do something I don’t particularly enjoy. The same goes for learning. If you need to gain certain knowledge or qualifications to be able to apply for your ‘ideal’ job, you will want to do whatever it takes to get to your goal. This won’t always be easy, but with the goal in mind, you know why you are doing it. But ultimately it is still your choice!

  • I couldn’t HE because I’m not smart/clever enough (Does this imply that I am smarter than you, or that you think I am not capable to home educate my child? When in doubt, choose to see it as a compliment!)

As this is not a question, you could just not respond, but if you feel the need you could ask them: ‘Do you think your child’s teacher knows everything?’ or explain to them that you don’t teach (like a teacher) but facilitate.

Judgement based on ignorance

  • People who ‘just don’t agree with it’ (but are not able to explain why not)

Someone responded to that comment with:”Oh, do you know someone who is home educated? No? Have you read about it? No?”

How can you agree or disagree with something if you don’t know anything about it?

  • Losing friendships

Some mum told her child (who attends school) that home education is illegal, but of course the child didn’t fall for that one, because they have a friend who doesn’t go to school, quite legally.

It looks like the easiest thing for their parent to do, is stop the friendship or make up lies, in stead of investigating the truth.

(Now, who is being selfish here? what are they afraid of?)

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8 Responses to ‘I don’t teach, they just learn’

  1. Sinead says:

    Wow thank you Patricia, a lot of what you posted is resonating with me on some level or other. I appreciate your connecting with me via my post and guiding me to your blog. I shall refer to this again! Blessings !

  2. Thanks Sinead, I hope you can use some of it to help you deal with reactions you get.

  3. rossmountney says:

    A fascinating and thought provoking post. We home schooled our two children and came up against all the above! Now that they’ve moved successfully into the wider world after little ‘curriculum’ no school ‘socialisation’, following activities they wanted rather than were forced on them, and generally not being controlled by petty institutional rules, they are proof that all of those criticisms directed at us were unfounded after all! You might find support from our stories on my blog (http://rossmountney.wordpress.com). Meanwhile very best wishes. x

  4. Karen Kelly Maguire says:

    Thanks Patricia. You make some really good points and great witty comebacks to those all to familiar comments and questions! We are still fairly new to Home-ed and kicked up quite a lot of dust when we withdrew from the “system” in our fairly remote rural area! I think I have had quite a few of those remarks and loaded questions aimed at me over the last few months and very often found myself sounding too defensive or trying too hard to justify our decision and convince people.
    Armed with some of your arguments and points I feel ready to face the onslaught again in September (after the summer holidays end and all the other kids are “disappeared” behind school gates during daylight hours!) when we once again no doubt we will be the focus of attention as we simply try to go about our own home-ed business! I hope now to arm my kids with some good “answers”/strategies, as unfairly some adults feel quite justified in interrogating them as well!

  5. susan says:

    Thanks for that will send to my parents , when I drop the bomb shell ( in their eyes) that I’m not sending my son to secondary school.

  6. Dennis Queen says:

    This is a marvellous blog with some great answers. These days I answer the social time question this way:

    “But what about having time with other kids/’socilisation'(used wrongly usually)?”
    “Yes, it’s great that they get some time to socialise now”

    If they need more info I tend to explain that my ‘autistic’ child was being managed (not educated) in corridors or rooms on his own with a teaching assistant for one hour per day by the time we left.. getting no sort of social time at all via school

    • Thank you for your comment, Dennis.
      It’s questions like those that show how little people understand about learning through home education and learning through life and how strong the brainwashing regarding the benefits of school has become. 😕

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