Saturday, February 28, 2009

Why we home school - article for JOY

Only Religious folk and those who live out back of Burke home school right? That’s like saying only crazy whacked out hippies homebirth. In Australia there are a growing number of secular home schoolers living in major cities. So why do they do it? Two of the really common reasons are socialisation and purposeful education, not just the same old drivel that bored us all silly when we were kids (they’re still using it by the way). The common stereotype of religious home schoolers fervently sheltering their children from the evils of the big bad world and (gulp) … evolution theory, is a misconception. Especially when applied to many families in Australia who choose to home educate.

According to HEA (Home Education Association ) there are an increasing number of new registrations based purely and simply on protecting children from the bullying that is so common place in schools. Although when speaking to people (non home schoolers) about home schooling the very first question that comes up is “what about socialisation?” Anyone who has read a newspaper in the last year will have seen countless articles devoted to school bullying, suicide attempts caused by bullying, and anti social behaviour occurring within and outside the school. It could easily be argued that instead of learning to socialise, school children are learning about pack mentality, sticking together to the point of excluding others, and very little about human compassion.

But students aren’t the only perpetrators of violence against students. How many scandals have we seen where teachers or religious instructors working within the institution have abused, raped, or coerced children into inappropriate sexual “relationships”? With a small child in a park we intervene to protect them from bullying when we witness it. With a school age child we must rely on them telling us about it - just for starters. Although it seems radical to many, removing children from school to protect them from pain and anguish is a wonderful message to send. “I love you, and I will do what I have to do to ensure that you are safe and happy”. Maybe it’s not so radical after all, maybe it’s simply adhering to basic AP principles. After all, parenting doesn’t end when children turn five.

Many parents hope desperately that everything will be ok, they convince themselves that their child will “survive”. How many times have we heard someone say that a bit of bullying will “toughen [name of poor child] up”. Struggling to merely survive for thirteen years must take a huge toll on children. Bullying is not a rite of passage contrary to popular belief, it is really dangerous abuse suffered by powerless victims. Some children do attend the instution happily for thirteen years though, and they come out relatively unscathed. But hey, some womyn give birth in private hospitals with obstetricians and manage to fluke a real birth too, do you want to chance it?

Socialisation is not the stated purpose of the education institution, learning is. But it is one of the major concerns of people who know nothing about how it works. One member of Joyous Learning declares that her husband had a pivotal moment and decided home schooling was the way to go when “Meeting [name of JL members] children and meeting natural learners while we were traveling last year. And spending quite a bit of time with them was the catalyst for us. DH really cause I had already decided! The comparison between the children who were learning at home and the school kids that blew in was extraordinary!”. Shaunti Feldhahn states in her article about home education “This uninformed, critical opinion [that home schoolers are not socialised] lasted precisely until I met my first home-schooled children several years ago. Within one month I met five home-schooling families, and their 13 children were among the most polite, well-adjusted, socially adept and academically advanced kids I'd ever seen. Being home-educated seemed to have given them a confidence and maturity — and yes, social skill — far beyond their years. They had many friends, but didn't seem dependent on their peers for approval — a far cry from what I remember as a kid. I've since learned that these kids were not the home-schooling exception but the rule.” The anecdotal evidence of this non-phenomenon is extensive. Home schooled kids ARE socially well adjusted!

But we seem to have forgotten something along the way. Oh that’s right, learning! Actual academic learning! What are school children learning and how useful is it? And how much of that information do they retain in adulthood? When asked why he chose home school, one father responded "I guess it would be a few key points, I don't trust the integrity of information that they peddle off as fact in schools, the over-lording of the system over children instilling in them the hierarchy of social power and authority, and the lack of useable values and life skills that should be presented to children but aren’t.". Note that his concerns included the social aspects too, but lets concentrate on his other points.

What are they learning in school and how much do they retain? Walk down any busy street, accost a perfect stranger and engage them in a simple test. Ask them to explain Pythagoras’ theorem, perhaps give you a little demonstration of it. Can you do that still? Were you ever any good at it? How many times have you referred to it in the last ten years? Now ask the same poor stranger to explain to you the geological factors which result in the formation of volcanoes. (give it a go yourself if you want) Maybe you could offer up a basic text and ask your social guinea pig (who is already visibly shaken) to correct grammatical errors, spelling ones, punctuation, and also to point out (by deconstructing the text) the various language techniques used within and how they impact the reader (a hint: remember alliteration? It adds emphasis!). Granted some of us are good at one or two of these things. But to find someone who can do them all without using a lifeline and calling a friend is highly unlikely. Not even a teacher would succeed at all of them, teachers, like other grown ups have certain areas of expertise. So do children. Which brings us to ……

Why must all the children learn all the same thing when they’re not interested in most of it anyway, the bulk of it is totally useless in the real world, and they’re only going to forget it after a few years (if not a few minutes). If all children grew up to occupy exactly the same positions in the work force then it might serve a purpose.

The human brain is an extraordinary piece of machinery. It acts as a filter for useless information and it safe guards the life saving stuff. In the context of institutionalised education, the things children are learning are largely deemed by their brains to be pointless, and downright BORING! So what happens? Despite the fact that they had every capital city of every country memorised perfectly in year 8, they forget more than 90% of it by the time they’re graduating. And they need to learn entirely different skills if they are to survive in the real world anyway. Knowing capital cities won’t earn you any money. School is not teaching life skills, it’s just teaching lots of “stuff”. And what choice does it have? The institution must occupy millions of busy minds and keep all the attached, equally busy bodies still for six hours a day over the course of thirteen years!

One Joyous Learning mother gives her reason to home educate as “His learning style - he's just not a sit and listen kind of kid. Also he's very advanced in some areas and delayed in others so I believe I can cater for his learning far better at home than in a large group of children.” Schools are supposed to offer all children equality, as well as unequivocally supporting each child, and preparing them for life. But what institution can offer individual care to each and every one of its‘ charges? Hospitals sure don’t, and they deal with a lot less birthing womyn each day than schools deal with children. Home school is individual, it supports thriving. Home school is not institutionalised.

Schooling is based on the notion that children do not want to learn and are not social creatures - thus we must institutionalise them to make them functional and successful. In an article called Schooling - the Hidden Agenda (by Daniel Quinn) he talks about what children learn at school in the early years. “In these grades, children spend most of their time learning things that no one growing up in our culture could possibly avoid learning. For example, they learn the names of the primary colours. Wow, just imagine missing school on the day when they were learning blue. You'd spend the rest of your life wondering what colour the sky is.” If children were not interested in learning, how would they start speaking? Or walking? And those are just the most basic of things children achieve by simply being in the presence of other humans. If children were not innately social the human race would not be around thousands of years after it‘s inception - that‘s pretty obvious. Basically the mission statement of educational institutions is based on complete myths and therefore it is completely wrong.

Daniel Quinn’s entire article is found here []

So what can home schoolers learn then, that will set them up for life? They’re [apparently] not being socialised, they’re not learning the exact same things that the millions of other children around the country learn, how will that help them? Well we have already debunked the theory that schooling is a social learning curve. It’s not hard to see how children learning in the home will learn how to manage a home, how to manage money, how to shop for food and cook it. These are life skills, REAL life skills. And what’s more, they involve reading, maths, science, and just about every other subject covered in the institution, but on a useful, more memorable level. Children who learn at home can also concentrate on the things that really interest them, like dinosaurs or bugs, (science anyone?) Ancient Egypt, WWI (history at home) or maybe how to create art works by knitting, painting, collaging, the list goes on, music, home economics, woodwork, political science, media studies, sustainable living…. On and on!

In the competitive country of America home schoolers are outshining their schooled peers, “and are in some fields over represented“ according to an article in The Seattle Times. They win science competitions (although they have never been in a science laboratory) they win mathematics competitions (although they have never done mind numbing hours of maths homework) they even win the most American of all competitions … the spelling bee. Academically, and socially, home schoolers are performing as well if not better than their schooled peers. An independent study by Lawrence M. Rudner, Ph.D., Director of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation compared 20,760 home-school students to schooled children and concluded that: "In every subject and at every grade level, home-school students scored significantly higher than their public and private school counterparts” They also found that younger home schoolers performed one grade level higher than their schooled cousins, and by year 8, "the average home-school student performs four grade levels above the national average."

And when they are ready to go beyond the home, when their own lives as adults begin (sob) they have the option of attending university or TAFE., they are confident of success and they know how to achieve it. As they persisted with learning to speak, and then to satisfy their unquenchable thirst for knowledge of dinosaurs, they now persist in further study until they achieve their goals. The desire to succeed is a basic human instinct, it has not only kept us alive into the twenty-first century but invented the quirky and amazing technological world we live in today!

Home school is for everyone, just like homebirth is. Not just people in Burke, or loony christians. Every child, every family, who embarks upon home schooling benefits from the sometimes hard - but completely enjoyable - task of deinstitutionalised education. Ten thousand years ago we were clearly succeeding at life on earth and yet none of us attended any formal kind of schooling. Five hundred years ago people who took up trades learnt on the job, in what we now call apprenticeships, very few people could afford to send their children to schools, and there were very few schools to attend anyway. Life was successful! Life was social! Although we live in a technological bonanza, life is still life. It’s still about waking up in the morning and surviving, caring for our children and elders, eating, and reproducing.

That’s why we home school, because life is not an institution.

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