Sunday, 18 October 2009

Why some people don't "get" home education

One of the things which I have noticed over the years, both in my personal and professional life, is the huge number of parents who cannot apparently wait to get their kids into nurseries almost as soon as they are born. I am talking here not of busy professionals on Maternity Leave, but couples where one parent is not working and also unemployed single mothers. I have sometimes felt like saying, although I have never been so rude, "If you are that keen to get shot of him, I wonder you had the bloody kid in the first place!" I have often thought that this strange desire to pack children off to nurseries, schools, play-schemes and holiday clubs might be at the root of many people's suspicious attitude to home education.

When the Summer holidays are beginning, newspapers routinely run jokey articles asking how parents will survive for the next six or eight weeks. Many parents have told me that they dread the holidays because they don't know what to do with their children. I find this truly extraordinary. Like most, probably all, home educating parents I absolutely love my daughter's company and have done so from the moment she was born. Why would I want to miss out on a single minute of her childhood?

My wife an I have friends are utterly foxed by this. They tell us that it would drive them mad to have their children at home all day. They say things like, "I don't know how you do it!" or "Don't you get fed up with just your daughter for company during the day?". We also know mothers who complain that their brains feel as if they are turning to mush because they are stuck with their baby or toddler all day and that they simply can't wait to get the child into a nursery so that they can get on with their life again. Regular readers of this Blog will be aware that my social skills are all but non-existent and I am hardly able to disguise my horror that anybody could speak this way about their child.

Those who feel this way about their children, and they are in the majority, find it unbelievable that there are people who would choose to keep their children by their side for twenty four hours a day. And this was quite literally the case when my daughter was young. I never felt that I wanted to be parted from her for a moment and even now that she is sixteen, I frequently spend the weekend in her company and still find her a constant pleasure. Well, why wouldn't I? As I say, this is how most home educators feel. For those who do not feel like this, I get the impression sometimes that they think that this is a bit fishy, even creepy when they encounter home educators. Normal people are not this attached to their children, there must be something abnormal about it. What are they up to? Are they abusing their kids? Something's not right!

As I said above, I think it possible that these completely different views of children may be the cause of any friction between home educators and normal parents. People who send their kids to school just don't "get" it, the idea of parents and children being so close that they actually enjoy being with one another! I thought in this context, I would again post the link to part of a television programme which my daughter and I appeared on a couple of years ago.

The people talking to us, Matthew Wright and Lowri Turner, seemingly took it quite for granted that Simone's education would be as good as she might get at school. What neither of them could grasp was the idea that a father and his teenage daughter could enjoy being with each other all day and that it was really the most natural thing in the world. Lowri Turner makes one of the most tacky and tasteless remarks I have ever heard in the whole course of my life and says that Simone and I seem unnaturally close and that she seems more like my wife than my daughter! This is fascinating. She had already told the audience that at that age, she would not even sit next to her father on the beach. She evidently believed that this was normal; to me it sounds completely dysfunctional. This shows the enormously wide gulf which can sometimes exist between "ordinary" people and home educators.

It might be as well to remember this when we are talking to those who do not educate their own children. To me and I think other home educating parents, getting on well with your children is the most natural thing in the world. It is not getting on with your kids that is strange and unusual. For many parents of school children, the case is precisely opposite; it is not getting on with your child that is the norm. I can't help wondering whether or not the current demands for tighter control might be caused not by any genuine fears about forced marriage and so on, but rather because so many people, both in government and also in the general population, just can't imagine what we're up to, wanting to have our kids with us all day long!


  1. I completely agree with you. The many people we bump into on our travels seem bemused as to why I would even spend more than an hour with my children, the fact we live without a television, Xbox and computer games only fuels there suspicion of us. Unfortunately this has given us somewhat a reputation as the Addams family [the reference being my children and I have black hair] people are strange!
    I'm sure it comes down to the fact people are so used to being sheep and following the rules, when they come across someone who's bucked the system they don't know what to say or even how to act, we're viewed with suspicion and they can't wait to get away from us in case there found to be guilty by association.
    As for school holidays, I've sometimes had several boys pleading with me to stay the night as they find our environment cool with the cooking and playing games and my husband taking them on walks where they come back covered from head to toe in mud. It seem these are actives parents of school children seldom do, I find from conversations with the children there told to clear off to their room onto the computer. To me that just strange wanting to get rid of your child.
    As you know Simon us home educators are from another planet.
    I thought you and your daughter were very credible and put your view across well, as for Lowri Turner I had know idea who she was, sounds like another over paid brain dead celebrity.

  2. My daughter goes to an archery club in a secondary school, and naturally, the children there are fascinated by the fact that she doesn't go to school and ask lots of questions.

    One boy asked her what exactly was so great about home education, and her answer, so she tells me, (as I was banished from staying as it is VERY uncool for mum to be hanging around when you're in a group of teenagers) was that you get to spend lots of time with your family, when you don't understand something, your mum can explain it ect....

    My daughter said that the boy looked at her like she was "an alien that needed examining under a microscope". (However, he was V. jealous that she can wake up whenever she likes, as he has to get up at 6 am)

    So it's not just the parents, children also don't get how somebody would want to be close to their family, they're so disconnected usually from family life. I just watched the TV series called Electric Dreams, and it shows how the development of technology has caused this schism in the family and now that children have all the electrical gear in their rooms, families rarely spend much time together. I wonder how this generation of children brought up in their rooms are going to raise their own families?

  3. Interesting that you mention cominback from walks covered in mud, Amy. My daughter's friends always wanted to visit Epping Forest when they cam to visit. Some of them live just as close as we do but their parents had never taken them there! As for cooking quornburgers on a fire built in the forest, it was the most exciting thing they could imagine. Most children have televisions in their bedrooms these days and I am sure that this is as much for their parents benefit as theirs.

  4. They won't need to raise their children, Gisela, the state will do it for them! Have you not seen the news this morning that Ed Balls wants everybody to send their kids to school as soon as they turn four? Once they get home from school, they will scuttle off to their bedrooms to watch DVDs and surf the net. It is a vision of hell, the collapse of the family, which is of course the basic unit of society. You are right about what children say about home education as well. Some of Simone's friends, especially as she has grown older, have told her that they could not imagine anything worse than being with their parents all day. School is a place to meet their mates.

  5. Read the OP on this one with interest. Those are exactly the same reactions we experience, and we react just as Simon did. So many parents are willing to broadcast the fact that they can't wait for their children to go to school, or that they're dreading The Holidays, because they'll have to spend time with them.

    I'm relieved it's not just us who wonders why these people bothered to have children in the first place. No, we wouldn't voice those opinions either (not unles the other people were being very rude, in which case, the gloves might have to come off...;>).

    Generally, people are supportive of our HE-ing our child, although there are always people who insist they couldn't do it, usually because they couldn't stand to be with their family all day every day.

    I remember watching that broadcast too. It was intriguing for all the wrong reasons.

  6. I must confess that I was once "one of them"...never thought about it at all - eldest one went off to playgroup at 3 and then into school without us ever considering any other options. Fast forward a bit and then just as ds3 came up to school age (he was a summer birthday) they reduced the school entry age so that he was expected to start at just 4 rather than nearly 5. That was the first time I think that we thought about what we were doing and kept him back a couple of terms, although it did prove tricky. Then when we got to the next child it was obvious she was different and that school was going to be challenging, to say the least, but my attempts to defer her a year were frustrated by the fact that it was by then an over subscribed school and there was no way we were going to get her in late.. so she went, it was a disaster and eventually we started home educating.

    It was going to visit a playgroup though when we were fostering toddlers that was a real eye opener. This contained children from 1 year up and had wonderful toys and equipment because of funding from the LA special needs budget and a charity. However playgroup was a complete misnomer -they only got 30 mins play a session and all the rest of the time was structured education. No drink unless they could identify their name and sit at the right place; recording of just about everything they did; and a great deal of trying to make the children comply when al they wanted to do was play!

    The trouble is that families just trundle along the "norm" without thinking there is any other route...