What is education and what is it for?
For young children it is an ongoing process by which they learn how to live their life – they need to develop their mind and equip themselves to deal with reality. They must learn to think, to understand, to integrate, and to prove. They need to discover the essentials of the knowledge discovered in the past, and to equip themselves to acquire further knowledge by their own effort. Let’s explore if home-education is the best way to achieve this?
In the broader sense, education is a life long active process of wanting to know, finding out and building ones understanding of reality, with the goal of living more effectively and happily within it. When we consider all the evidence, there is a convincing argument that modern schooling may be counter-productive to this end, while an appropriate home environment appears more conducive to it.
What benefits are there of home-education within the caring environment of the family? What can be gained by allowing children to decide how to use almost all of their time, instead of spending 12 years or longer forced to do things they are quite likely not interested in at times when they don’t want to do them. Isn’t it better to teach them to obey authority and to fit in? After all, that’s what the real world is like. Isn’t it better that they get used to what it’s like out there sooner rather later? And anyway, how will they learn to socialise?
These are just some of the comments I have heard over the years from well-meaning people questioning my decision to keep my own children out of school and facilitating their self-led education at home. Many people are uncomfortably challenged by the whole idea, perhaps realising that they haven’t thought it through themselves. Most parents are simply doing (or did) what everyone else does. Unfortunately, many of our behavioural choices are similarly automatic, doing that which is done by others, choices made with little or no conscious thought. Sending our children to school is just another of these. Most people are not even aware of the possibility of home facilitated self-led education, and when questioned about their ‘choice’ rely on their ‘group-think’ conditioning to repeat unjustified concerns. Such concerns usually melt away as the light of enquiry is shone upon them.
The commonly accepted idea is that “you have to go to school, to get an education, in order to get a good job”. The problem is that this commonly accepted idea contains assumptions that are not true.
The first is that children have to go to school. The second is that what a child gets at government schools is an education. Another is that the institution of school is where to get it. And lastly that this so-called education will lead to the securing of a ‘good job’ at the end of it and serve the purpose of living that happy and effective life as the end goal.
The truth is: Firstly schooling is not compulsory in the UK, not yet anyway. Secondly that an education in the true sense of the word cannot be achieved through modern compulsory school attendance. Thirdly there is less and less evidence of a modern education still being a significant stepping stone to a desirable career, or guaranteeing a good job in the way it once did. But also there is evidence to suggest that school attendance particularly in the early years could be detrimental to cognitive development.
The Questions addressed in the podcast series are these…
- Are children already natural learners?
- What do young children really need?
- So is preschool a good idea given the psychological and cognitive development that takes place in the early years?
- Is role-model quality and availability as good in schools as it is in the home?
- Is self-led learning the most effective learning?
- Which is best, self-led learning or structured learning with a fixed curriculum?
- What does school teach?
- Does school adequately prepare children for life?
- Is there such a need for schools now, with the Internet serving as such an extensive library?
- Is the arbitrary compartmentalisation of ‘subjects’ and the planned sequence of study unhelpful given that it is contrary to real life?
- Is there benefit in trusting children to educate themselves?
- Are 12 years of compulsory school attendance robbing children of their childhood?
- What about the practical inconvenience of school as opposed to remaining in the home environment?
- What is left untaught?
- Is there a link between peaceful (non-coercive) parenting and homeschooling?
First of all, it is legal to not put your children through school. In the UK the legislation states that parents are obliged to ensure that their children receive an education ‘through schooling or otherwise’. It is this magic little phrase ‘or otherwise’ that leaves the door open for children to avoid the experience of forced school attendance. Experience has shown that it is far easier to never go to school than it is to get out once you have started. Government is never keen to see any children getaway, and some ‘Local Education Authorities’ have been known to give parents a hard time as they try to do their best for their children within the current legislation.
A broad range of options
There are many good reasons to home facilitate your children’s education at home. But firstly it must be noted that there is a wide spectrum of options from those who replicate the school framework and curriculum at home at one end, to the hands-off child-led approach at the other, and there are many different levels of time management in between. The approach my wife and I use is generally hands-off although we have a few regular activities in the week joining with other children within our homeschooling community. We organise outings together as a family and activities at home, but most of the things we do together revolve around the families real-time needs.
Two categories of reasons
The basic model of modern education has been unchanged for many decades and is based upon the Prussian military method of soldier training, and is poorly suited as adequate preparation for life in the current context, by design. It is because there is much wrong with modern education that the reasons for home educating fall into two basic categories – the detrimental things to avoid in schooling versus the positive advantages of the self-led model.
The heart of the matter
Allow me to zoom out for a moment and say that right at the root of the issue is the question of how we live our lives? Before we consider how to educate our young, lies the question of the morality of the use of force. A growing number of people are noticing the obvious inconsistency between paying lip service to a desire for non-violence and yet coercing children, forcing them, giving them no freedom of choice in the matter of school attendance. It seems to me that if we are serious in our proclamations against violence we must act and demonstrate peace. Just as it is unacceptable to use force in any dealings with adults, it is equally unacceptable (if not more so) to use force against children. Whatever the best model of education for a young life it must not be inflicted upon the child. If there is no choice over curricula or attendance, then the very first lesson is that might is right, that violence works. The method is the message.
Additionally, if we value the concept of freedom at all, why would we prevent our children from enjoying it. I am not advocating the removal of all boundaries, but the respect of a human being to own their own life, a respect for rights. There is no other way to teach these concepts than by demonstration and experience.
The second issue at the heart of the matter is that education is rightly a lifelong practice. It should be a normal part of life to inform ourselves, to be interested in what’s going on and to participate. It is then only proper to ‘teach’ this by demonstration, and be seen to be informing ourselves in our children’s midst – leading by example. If education is a self-generated ongoing activity continually updating and expanding one’s knowledge of reality, it doesn’t require a specific venue where attendance is compulsory, it must be lived as a lifestyle choice.
Teaching is demonstrating. This is the second fundamental reason for homeschooling because the school attendance model of education has two fundamental and problematic assumptions built-in. The first is that you need to physically go there to be educated, and the second is that by implication when you leave the educational establishment after 12 long years you simultaneously leave behind the concept of education. Both of these divorces the concept of education from everyday life. This is not to argue for no courses, or activities or formal lessons at all. Only to remove the compulsory structure of the school. Education should be a non-coercive chosen activity in a free-market of classes and courses.
In any consideration of the merits of home-education, it must be remembered that at any time during the education of a young man or woman it is possible to enrol into a course of studies to acquire any particular paper qualification. Structured and formal education has its place and nothing written here would claim the contrary.
For a discussion of the reasons why parents might choose to facilitate their child’s self-education in the home environment, please go to part 2 of this post