Obstacles to home education…

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?

4) Socialisation

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.



6 thoughts on “Obstacles to home education…

  1. Fab post Matt 🙂 Really succinct and sensible. I would say, however, that the money thing doesn’t have to be such a big deal. We spend a lot of money on our children’s activities etc. but only because we’re given that money specifically for that. We are more than aware that the money only makes home ed easier, not possible. Children don’t need to do all the activities there are out there to do, and there are plenty of ways of being creative so you can do it on a shoestring. Harder to create the same trips etc. as school but, as you say in other sections, home education isn’t necessarily about recreating school at home.

    And with regard to children socialising, I was talking to a home ed friend yesterday about the positive remarks we always get from other adults about our children’s behaviour, sometimes even directly comparing them to school children. I know that, as with any group, there are exceptions, but I do wonder if school makes a lot of children see adults who run groups etc. suspiciously, and even if they want to be there, automatically rebel against them. I did this at university – was so schooled by the ‘teachers vs. pupils’ regime, that I didn’t realise that really the lecturers were on our side. As were the teachers at school, but it’s hard to not fit in with the norm of children hating teachers that we’re socialised into at school. Whenever I see my children in after school clubs with school children, I often harbour a secret smug feeling seeing them listening and paying attention, asking questions and just making the most of being there, instead of doing what a lot of the other children are (not all, I hasten to add!) and mucking about, chattering etc. This is a really, really good bonus of the socialisation aspect of home education – the ability to relate to adults in a mature way.

    • That’s a good point about relating to adults and Jamie is already way better at that than I was at his age. There was defo always a ‘they are an adult and i’m a child’ thing which was a barrier to everything. Now I know that the teachers are just people (probably stressed people) who are trying to do an important job under testing circumstances.

      There was one example from my yoooof where we were in Paris, maybe aged 10, when my family and my cousins from California were in the modern art museum (I also got food poisoning and puked in the Louvre(!) but that’s another story). My sister and I + our two cousins were too busy not wanting to pay attention to the incredible art on the walls and to not be seen to be interested in adult stuff, that we missed what was an incredible opportunity. Maybe a different way of thinking or responding could also have helped with the times we were dragged around ruins in Greece, acting like teenagers the whole time (which we were)!

  2. I think the issue of loss of potential earnings will fade as the years go on. It wasn’t that long ago that we were DINKY. The memories of eating out three times a week and blowing money on goodness knows what, are still too fresh. 🙂

    The majority of HE families are in the same boat, so there are lots of good ideas out there for making it work. I think it is good to not have much money. It makes you more appreciative and less of a mindless consumer. Our children will grow up knowing the true value of money and how to budget well, and not fall blindly into debt for the sake of consumerism. They are learning from seeing us making those positive choices all of the time. Also they do not face the intensities of peer pressure like school children. People have always commented positively to me in shops when they see me asking the children to put things back, and they do it! They rarely fuss or feel they are missing out. They are secure in themselves, without requiring stuff to form their identities.

    • Of course having too much money isn’t a good thing but it would be nice to not be constantly threatened with the evil overdraft! Hopefully not having the car costs will help. Maybe I should say about that secret Euro Millions win??!! hehe

      I have noticed how good both the boys are at leaving things on the shelf – I even sometimes think ‘shouldn’t they be whining at me and throwing a benny when I ask them to put something back?’ It surprises me every time. I blame the parents. Whenever they throw a benny, I blame the Grandparents!

  3. Interesting post Matt which provides some food for thought. This weekend, it has occurred to me that one of the unexpected benefits of home and community based education, is it helps you become much more engaged as a parent. Much better than any ‘parenting course’.

    Before there were state schools, parents ‘educated’ their children in poverty, relative to what we have today with access to so much information and other resources. If you are living in a situation where you are anxious about money, I guess HE does not make life any less or more financially comfortable. The key I think is being resourceful and imaginative, something that young children have in spades. In this sense, I think our children do the teaching.

    The socialisation issue is interesting because many people seem to use that term ONLY when referring to home education. I am left wondering whether the average person even understands what socialisation means. Out of all the arguments against HE, I find this the least compelling. Indeed, I think many gentle, creative and gifted children have been traumatised by state education, never mind socialised.

    • Thanks for the comment! I think people are genetically and societally (is that even a word??) wired to react against what is the commonly accepted approach. People will react to these type of things because they probably may never have even come across it as an issue. I’ve personally found reactions to be about ‘average’ on the scale, if I take into account the positive ones and negative ones. I have certainly become a better parent because of the home ed approach. The more routine there is the less flexible and free the growing experience is. I would say without the freedom to develop, there are reduced chances of children finding their path through life. That’s not to take away from the function of schools in introducing subjects and ideas to children, but the increased freedom of home ed has greater potential.

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