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To school, or homeschool? The question that will not go away

To school, or homeschool? The question that will not go away

by Veronika Winkels | July 17, 2018

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I keep flirting with the idea. Then shelving it. Taking it down. Analysing it from every angle. Researching. Asking friends. Interrogating veterans. Listening to those who oppose it. And yet the question of home-schooling has got me knocked for six.

Never home-schooled myself, I grew up with friends who were, and envied them. They’d fly though daily lessons by midmorning, didn’t have to wear uniform, and scary teachers as well as peer-pressure were a non-issue. It sounded like bliss to my eight-year old mind.

I loved to learn, but at school, that was considered nerdy so I feigned disinterest in the lessons, (although now wish I’d had the guts to not care what anyone else thought.) Likewise in sport, not having whatever gear was en trend meant shame upon shame. Everyone also knew I was from a big family. That would come out regularly in derogatory ways.

In comparison, my husband was partially home-schooled, and although he has no strong feelings against it, isn’t sure it’s what he wants for our children. So far, zero score. So I’ve looked further afield, and have found three key elements to the question.

Some home-schooled families are decidedly odd. There, said it. However, others are surprisingly ‘normal.’ By that I mean, sociable, integrated, well educated, and world-ready. Problem no. 1: it’s unclear which is the rule and which the exception.

Taking home-schooling mothers as some sort of radar, it’s clear there is a vast range of motives and methods for home schooling. There are home-schooling tiger-mums and there are gentle facilitators; hippie ‘anything-goes’ mums, and others who harbor a ‘the-world’s-a-bad-place’ attitude. Those ones are perhaps most off-putting.

Then there’s problem no. 2: the toll on mother-child relationships. Can a mother be too involved in her children’s upbringing? Some will snort at that, but you have to wonder. Book titles such as ‘Home-schooling For Excellence: How to Take Charge of Your Child’s Education– And Why You Absolutely Must, strike a tone of know-it-all, my-way-is-best, moral superiority that I don’t want to be handing down to my kids.

Some mothers take it year-by-year, semester-by-semester and even put their children in school alternate years for a break, or if they’re worried about the social aspect. Another acquaintance has arranged for her children to attend three days a week while she teaches them Maths and English at home the other two days. These seem like disruptive pathways, but then perhaps it’s a case of ‘horses for courses.’

Either way, there’s a strong enough presence of sensible families whose children’s natural thirst for knowledge is being kept alive, as well as satisfied. These are the ones who exude both self-discipline and freedom of spirit. They are not being reared to fear or disdain people or the world, but to be genuinely respectful, educated citizens who engage well with others and want to make a contribution to society. That homeschooling can produce such young people keeps me from discounting the option entirely.

But here’s one thought in particular that is most niggling. I can’t say I liked school. Or that it was a great academic experience. But I cannot deny it was an education, and one that could not possibly be recreated in a home-schooling environment.

In a place where more than a thousand individuals would congregate daily, confrontation and the clashing of values, even if only inwardly, was a regular occurrence. But even if I couldn’t appreciate it in the moment, the benefits of it are still being reaped, long after last class.

When in Year 8, my cooking partner in food class told me she’d had an abortion, I was shocked. It was tragic. But experiences like this, which accrued almost imperceptibly throughout high school, helped me to form a fuller vision of humanity, and a deeper and more compassionate one, than if I had not been exposed to such an array of life experiences early on.

But that was ten years ago, and new social and cultural expectations and experiences have moved into schools. There must be a point beyond which we shouldn’t push our children too early, burdening them with  controversial issues before they are mature enough to hold fast to what they know is good, and strong enough to withstand peer pressure.

In defense of home education, the increase of problems in schools such as pornography and the pressure to be sexually active among primary and secondary age students weigh heavily in the balance. As well as the politicization of curricula and falling grades.

These things drastically impinge on the children’s journey of honest and open intellectual enquiry as well as the formation of their sense of integrity and responsibility– the first purposes of education.

Admittedly, it’s not helpful to lump schools under this one generalization either. Perhaps some prestigious private school would foster the true respect and thirst for educational that we are after – if only we could afford it. Who knows, in a year’s time when our son turns five, we might just toss a coin.

Veronika Winkels is the mother of two young children. She writes from Melbourne.

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