Recently I became involved in an online discussion about the levels of support available to home educating parents. As someone who is seriously considering this route I was particularly interested to hear from more experienced home educators. As a result we started to discuss the types of support on offer but unfortunately the conversation deteriorated when one contributor suggested that some home educating parents were using home education as a means to abuse their children in secret.
The comment was antagonistic and had no place in our discussion at the time but the commenter argued that it was important to compare like by like, ie you can’t compare the best of home education with the worst of school system. That is a fair point but in my opinion stating that some home educators were abusers in hiding is not equivalent to saying that for some children schooling does not work. For example we haven’t specified the reasons why school fails some children (there are a multitude of reasons anyhow) and yet the contributor gives only one reason (and a provocative reason too) as to why home education may not be such a good thing. Now I’m not saying that abuse doesn’t happen in home educating households but lets remind ourselves that it also happens to children who are attending schools. So my point is if someone is going to talk about abuse then it is only fair if they discuss all the contexts in which this happens. To only mention it in relation to home education is tantamount to a slur particularly when it is not backed up by any credible evidence (and yes that TES article which was referred to was no more than an emotive piece of journalistic rubbish that was designed to discredit home education). Not surprisingly the comments felt like an attack on home educators and in view of that I want to make several things clear.
1. I love being with my children. To be able to support them, care for them and educate them is something I enjoy. This may seem strange to some people who can’t wait for their kids to be at school but when school becomes so difficult for your child then home education can be a very attractive option. Even if it arises out of lack of choice or lack of support, parents can rise to the challenge of home educating and find (as I am currently finding) that the flexibility and safety of home creates a perfect learning environment. Home educating is a viable option; it should not be derided or seen as the lesser option to school.
2. I am more than qualified to teach my children. I have considerable academic qualifications and tons of life experience. I also work with adults with specific learning difficulties. I am more than qualified to teach my children so please do not assume that because I am ‘just a parent’ that I know nothing. I know more about my children than anyone else. I know how my children learn. I know what interests them, I know what doesn’t. I know how to engage them and I know when to back off when they are overwhelmed. I also know my limitations and when it becomes important to use the services of someone else in the support/education of my children.
3. Abuse and neglect can happen in our schools. It can happen to children who are in the education system, it can happen at the hands of professionals, it can happen at the hands of other pupils (bullying) and it can occur through lack of support. I’ve seen the way my autistic children have been treated in school and the damage that has been inflicted on their vulnerable minds. I’ve also seen how the imposition of a rigid curriculum with few opportunities for creative or independent thinking can also wear some young people down. Its tragic but that is the reality of a standardised education system; it doesn’t suit everyone.
However, I also know that there are some outstanding schools and some outstanding teachers who do great things. There are also some outstanding home teachers. The point is that not one system is better than the other and we ought to be mindful of that and not pitch one against the other. To do so divides our community and deprives the sharing of information that could help parents make an informed decision about how best to educate their child.
Another response to the claim that home education is being used as a cover for abuse is this powerful post by Live Otherwise – I have been accused of neglect . Though this post is two years old it is still very pertinent to recent discussions. I recommend that you read it and the comments.