For me, one of the greatest things about home education has been the opportunity to give my daughter the widest possible range of choices in her life. When a child is two or three, it is quite impossible to know what direction her interests will lie in. Will she want to be a carpenter? A doctor? A writer? Nobody can tell. When children are taught at home, it is of course far easier to arrange for a variety of experiences and activities so that they can find out what they enjoy doing, perhaps get some idea what they might want to do in later life. As an example, to this end I took my daughter to the Royal College of Surgeons Pathology department when she was five and showed her the body parts there and let her examine the preserved corpses. She did not care over much for this. I got her to dissect hearts and livers of animals when she was a bit older, which was helpful for the IGCSE Biology examination. As a result of all this, she decided against medicine as a possible career, which was a pity!
At other times, I made it possible for her to help a garage mechanic at work, fire a shotgun, go down a couple of mines, stroke a tiger and crocodile, as well as a huge number of other things. Always, the aim was for her to discover what she liked, what she herself wished to do. At the same time that all these activities were taking place, I was providing her with the tools which would enable her to make the most of her abilities. She was very early in speaking and adored books from an early age. Obviously it would give her pleasure to be able read books independently, rather than be reliant upon me or her mother. Accordingly, I taught her to read. This was not a tricky job and by her second birthday she was reading fluently. This enormously increased her chances of finding out what she liked, what she was interested in. She could look at reference books and find out stuff for herself. This again freed her and gave her the power to choose for herself what she wished to read about. Teaching her to write allowed her to put down her thoughts and ideas in permanent form. This has been important to her since she was three or four.
By the age of eleven, she was talking about going to university when she was older. Of course, she could easily have changed her mind, but it seemed a wise move to keep her options open. A child of that age cannot really be expected to know what will be needed to get a place at college or university. As an adult, that was my job. I therefore chose a fairly broad range of IGCSEs such as would be likely to impress a university if that was still what she wished to do when she was eighteen. At the same time, I made sure that they were the sort of qualifications which would also impress an employer. Covering all bases again, you see. Physics, Chemistry and Biology were obvious choices, as were English Language and Mathematics. As for the rest, I thought History and English Literature would be interesting for her. She also wanted to study Religion, so at the last moment I also included that. The purpose of taking these examinations was always to make sure that she had as many choices open to her as possible. Imagine if she had reached her sixteenth birthday, wanted to take four A levels in order to get into a decent university and then found that no college would accept her without GCSEs! This would restrict her options greatly.
Underpinning all my work with my child's education has been the awareness that she alone must decide the course her own future. To do this though, she needs enough knowledge to make an informed choice. The amount of knowledge needed has changed as she has grown older. Being literate increased enormously the information available to her and therefore made it possible for her to make more and better choices. Without the ability to read, children are often dependent upon their parents and other adults for information. This is not a good thing, because the adults around them may have motives of their own for wanting their children's access to information to be restricted. Being a fluent reader from a young age also opened up vistas for my daughter. It was reading "Brideshead Revisited" when she was twelve which caused her to decide that she would like to go to Oxford!
I have sometimes been accused of believing that the way that I educated my daughter is the only true path and that I see other parents as foolish and negligent. This is of course absolute nonsense. I am very strongly committed to young people being able to make their own choices. Ignorant, ill-informed and illiterate people though, are not generally well placed to make good choices. This is why I find so much of the cant about childrens' "choice" to be a little hollow and unconvincing. Without a proper base of knowledge and skills there can be no real choice.