Some friends of ours have recently decided to jump into the world of home education, and this has brought up a few issues for their family, but also made me think about it more. It’s easy to just go along with what you are doing but it’s good to step back and redefine why things are happening the way they are.
There are a number of classic issues which are always brought up by interested (or otherwise) groups or people, who aren’t familiar with what home education is all about.
1) Getting past ‘normal’
The first major test, for the home ed families and others alike. Each society has a cluster of laws, social habits, customs and practices which define what people in that society would generally call normal. There is an overlapping range of familiar behaviours and opinions, within which most people fit.
The term ‘normal’ is obviously open to a lot of subjectivity, based on a person’s own experiences and perceptions throughout their life, but home ed is one of those things which certainly falls outside most people’s perception of normal, based on knowledge and personal experience.
So far, the vast majority of people i’ve told about this haven’t known anyone who has followed this route, and haven’t known much about it themselves. This can sometimes be a bad combination, as people can tend to react negatively to things which they haven’t necessarily considered or experienced at all before. People tend to take references from either personal experience, or from what they know is already defined within their society as normal, or acceptable. New things aren’t always widely accepted, or if they are, it takes a bit of time. Knowledge normally leads to a better understanding and a more logical or sensible debate.
Once people (myself included) have had time to consider the issue, it really doesn’t seem such a big deal. It also helps knowing ‘normal’ people who are also home educating, who can help to give a reference to your own actions.
2) Money and earning potential
Another hurdle for home educators is balancing the budgets, juggling money and keeping in the black.
The main issue here is that one parent, or in some cases the only parent, has to be at home with the kids, meaning there is a reduced earning potential. Normally, the kids would be at school during the day, meaning the parent could go to work, or in some cases, both parents would go to work. This just isn’t possible if you home educate, but there are certain jobs which can be done from home, such as book keeping, child minding, or writing, which means some additional income can be generated.
Another issue is the increased cost of choosing this path. It’s not just about the loss of potential income, but the fact that it can cost a lot of money. We’re already paying twice, once for the school system and once for our ‘home’ system, but added to this is the cost of activities, such as groups or classes, trips out, materials for learning, including books and toys etc. There’s even the cost of more food, as we’re at home and just eating throughout the day.
Trips out cost in terms of petrol for the car, money for public transport or for hiring a car. There’s also the cost of being members at places like Slimbridge bird centre or Westonbirt Arboretum – essential for activities.
There are, however, savings to be made, like going on holiday during term time, but that won’t necessarily apply to us as much as others as we aren’t going on package holidays, as we can’t afford it! Practical benefits can include going on trips outside of term time, with reduced cueing at theme parks, such as our recent trip to Legoland.
3) Education = school
The most ingrained issue to overcome. Some people just can’t seem to be able to separate the two things. A huge amount of education happens outside of school and in particular during the critical pre-school years, where much of a person’s character and intelligence is formed.
Education doesn’t just happen at school. It’s just the most widely used formal method from ages 5 to 17. Because of the huge and vastly expensive system that has been built up to support education, it can sometimes seem like this is the only way to do it. When you say you aren’t going to be part of that system (for a variety of reasons), it’s almost like a personal affront to some people, in that you don’t agree with their own choices, or that their choices aren’t good enough for you.
There’s also the idea that societies have worked so hard to establish formal education, as a basic human right. Why are home educators not accepting this and embracing this hard fought right? I feel that our society has moved beyond the often narrow form of education offered by the school system and that there are enough resources, networks and support systems to offer a realistic alternative, the internet being the most powerful of these.
The last statistic I heard was that over 70% of home educators are also teachers in schools. Maybe a close experience with the school system turns people away from it?
Maybe the first thing which people unfamiliar with home ed will bring up. I was talking to my good friend in Bristol about this and he brought up this issue, followed by the teaching issue. To be fair, this was my main concern from the start and I worried that there wouldn’t be enough exposure to kids within what I would call my boys peer group. I told my friend about this and he immediately recognised what I was talking about. He said his best friend at one of his previous jobs was a 45 year old woman (he was 25 at the time)!
This is, in general an accurate assessment, and there isn’t as much exposure to kids in their own age group (i.e. of the same school year group). The question isn’t ‘is there enough exposure to this same age group?’, but ‘is exposure to the same age group important?’. A certain amount of same age exposure is important, but certainly not to the extent that we see in school year groups, where there are 30 pupils to a class. 30 pupils to a class is a major issue when it comes to educating.
One of the important positives of the home ed system is that it incorporates exposure to a wider range of kids, from a range of age groups, backgrounds and living environments. School kids are drawn from a local area, whereas home ed kids can be based in different areas, or even different towns. My boys aren’t restricted to, or taught that it is only other kids of the same age group who are their peers. Home ed kids generally develop better communication skills and can be better prepared for jobs because of their experience in talking with adults and older kids.
There are plenty of groups to go to, classes, houses of friends etc. I personally value the flexibility and freedom of home ed and being able to not do things if that’s how everyone feels on a particular day. Sometimes the boys are up for activities and adventure, while sometimes it’s about chilling out.
So, those are some of the big issues which people who home educate face. There are many other aspects to home ed but from my perspective, it’s all about being responsive to your child’s needs. School works for lots of people, but some kids are better suited to home education. There is no right answer and there is no failed exam – there is just what is best for your family.