Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Home Education - How it works.

My first blog post begins on a serious note. Recently the home education debate has been under renewed scrutiny following the tragic case of Khyra Ishaq. Khyra’s mother and partner were recently found guilty of her manslaughter after she was starved to death at her home in Birmingham 2008. Khyra’s mother had withdrawn her from school five months before the tragedy, saying that she had decided to home educate. The educational welfare service automatically arranged a follow up visit, (a routine occurrence when families de-register their children from school), yet, tragically, failed to identify the occupants' squalid living conditions and Khyra's malnutrition that eventually killed her.
I have always been a supporter of home education. I was appalled when I heard the details of this case that I have since reassessed my standing on the matter of maintaining privacy, and about having regular checks of families carried out by the education authorities. I never thought the checking of my own home educated children necessary, especially by a department I felt had let us down. I have, however, removed myself from being a one voice supporter of the movement as a whole, not because I no longer agree with it, but because it must not be possible for anyone to take advantage of relaxed monitoring of home educating families in order to harbour abuse. Perhaps it is time for tighter control and regular checking of home educating families. Nevertheless, one thing that has to change is the way home education is reported. It needs to be reported differently so that the public do not lump all home educating families as one.
Allow me to give a fresh perspective on the matter, dispel a few myths and simplify how home education works. I think, after eleven years experience of home educating, I have some meaningful things to say on the subject.
My eldest started sixth form last September, having received her education at home for ten years. She quickly found the sceptics to be out in force. I am not sure how much of it was humour but it was suggested that she show some kind of outward sign of having been home educated. Someone said to her ‘you can usually tell’.
My son is continuing to receive his education in a home based capacity and it would be easy for me to set the tone by describing a typical day in our home. Yet I wonder if such representations actually add to peoples’ wrongful perception of the subject. Therefore, I ask myself, how I can argue the case for home education as being something that is workable, yet do it effectively so that it impacts differently? The cogs are in motion and I can probably answer this straight away. I think it best not to speak out in support of the home educating community as I have done in the past, but highlight the banality of the reporter’s slant on home education and how the gross overuse of format is squeezing the life out of the debate.
One thing you have to be clear about is that a home educator is totally alone with the job they have undertaken. I know that the very suggestion of the word isolation will immediately send anyone living the life into a defensive frenzy, but it is true, in an abstract sense. Having made such a bold statement, my objective now, is to explain the concept of home education and how it has been a positive experience for me and my family.
It is human nature to seek the company of others. People group up and form their friendships and communities. When my husband J, and I, made the decision to home educate our children we were reassured to know there were others doing the same. We met those families and formed friendships. We have moved since and again we made similar efforts for our children to meet new friends, some have been home educated children, but more have been school attending children, a situation that statistics naturally dictate.
As for J and I…we have formed friends through our own working practices and with the parents of the children’s friends. Naturally, for all four of us, friendships have come and gone while others are proving to be close and long lasting – a normal state of affairs on the subject of social interaction you could say. Yet my children's social interacting has often been scrutinised, and unfairly so.
We live in a society where people are desperate to know about other people’s private lives,and, when it comes to family matters, there are many pressures on us all to prove our decisions to be the right ones. In this age we are encouraged to judge others and our opinions can directly affect people more than they once did. My family life has been the subject of enquiry over the years; from the mouths of schoolchildren we have been asked innocent, amusing questions about our status, to the blatantly discriminatory ones usually delivered from professionals in the field of education, to the plain ridiculous that, unfortunately, has echoed the viewpoint of parents that have apparently found our set up at home to be inconceivable.
Yet as with every household in the land, ours too, uniquely differs in the way it functions. My routine, and the way things tick along for us, no more duplicates that of any other home educating family than it would match the family life of my next door neighbours, and subsequently the lives of their neighbours and so on.
I could voice the success of my own approaches to home education and praise the attributes of my own children and the people they are becoming, but that is all. I am not in a position to blanket support the home ed. movement, or the course adopted by home educating families as an entirety. Anyone in a similar position should arrive at this conclusion and not attempt to defend the bigger picture because if there is anything meaningful to be said on a personal level it is often lost in the way it is reported or recorded.
Which leads me into the reason I am left disheartened with the reporting every time the right to home educate debate gets an airing. The format goes like this:
We learn that home education is legal in this country. Then the key questioning comes up, for example are home educated children ahead or behind with their studying in comparison to their counterparts? Are the children deprived of social interaction? Should there be stricter monitoring of families? We then hear the voices of authority i.e. Doctors, chiefs etc. who generalise and make sweeping statements about home education. The points they make are not always negative, but are often derogatory.A counter argument is set up whereby home educators are interviewed in their own homes and they describe a usual day in their lives and air their philosophies on the subject.
These are simply exposé pieces and no matter how articulate the interviewees might be, their opinions are very much their own and so the argument against is weak as it is always to some degree self-protective. People do not care when you say about how little Amy struggled to adjust to school or how clever little Johnny is. I have written this way before - from the heart, but unless the experience is cathartic and serves that purpose, such information is nobody’s business really.
So who home educates? Do they share something deep down that links them? The answer of course is ‘No’. Not everyone is anti-school or has reservations when it comes to people and places of authority. The math tells us that there is, percentage wise, a handful of families choosing to do it because of their religious practices, and, likewise, there is a high percentage of parents with children who have special needs being educated at home. The hands of some parents have been forced to take it on in order to remove the physical and psychological damage that bullying and manipulation is having on their child, the same for others who might be doing it as a temporary measure until a preferred school place arises. What, you might ask, of the unconventional types for which the lifestyle is renowned? And to that I acknowledge, yes, there are these families home educating, but not as many as you might think and I suppose such people actually are in a sense conforming, albeit within their own minority set.
For us it was for philosophical reasons initially that J and I decided it would be best for our children, especially when educating the children through their informative years, but by the time they turned teenage we were simply more confident and happy to continue with the way of life, simple as that. Therefore, the only notion I can safely say that I share with other home educators is the fact that I am glad the option to home educate is legal in this country. Ministers should note that the hysteria they meet when they intervene at times, stems from the worry families have about the right to home educate being taken from them.
It is not my place to pass comment on the way that other families might structure their child’s learning. It would be impossible to gauge as an outsider looking in. The same applies to any one individual going through mainstream education. Can one really be sure that school life is working for a child and bringing out the best of him or her? You cannot measure education. You can test until you are blue in the face, but we know this tells us very little about the complete person. The main priority should always be a child’s safety and protection, and as a society this is something of which we are all responsible.
I revealed earlier that I felt home educating families are alone in their own conceptions of what home education actually is and how it works–and they are, because they are living out ideals that no other family can possibly share - match for match. This statement has nothing to do with having no social life or outside influences, or other people around. It is down to the quirks of human nature and how it makes us all individual.
My daughter is generally well received by people because of her agreeable persona, but she should also expect not to receive a more convivial attitude from people who always will, undoubtedly, prejudge or judge her because of an ingrained mind set and general opinion of what home education is all about. I have warned my son to expect the same.
At best I hope that I have made the most of opportunity to take a worn out debate and give it a shake. I would hope too that I have made some advance in explaining how home education is not an insular activity but is something that reflects the diversity of culture, lifestyle and social framework in our country. I am sure that committed home educators will not be hostile to any moves authorities may take towards making checks and allowing access to their homes, if the move will mean overall safeguarding the vulnerable that may otherwise fall foul to the actions of their wicked minded parents or guardians.

1 comment:

  1. Wow that was a hefty first post ,with many valid points,I applaud you for your views,..love Jan xx


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