A few days ago somebody made a comment here when I was talking about education. This person suggested that my view of education was somewhat restricted and that other things were at least as important as a bunch of GCSEs. For example, "happiness, emotional maturity, family relationships, etc," This is an interesting view and one shared by many of the parents who took part in Paula Rothermel's research back in 1997. Quite a number of those people also thought that strong family relationships were a good reason to educate their children at home.
Now of course the first question that a potential employer is likely to ask a young person, whether home educated or otherwise, is not "Did you have a good relationship with your mother?" Similarly, emotional maturity is not likely to come up during a job interview. That's not to say that it is unimportant, just that it is not the sort of thing one can discover in an hour or so. A far more likely question is "How many GCSEs do you have and at what grades?" This is what most people mean by education. This applies not just to employers, but also colleges, universities, the Department of Children, Schools and Families and also the ordinary man or woman in the street. Why should this be so?
The fact is, much of the "studying" for GCSEs entails learning a lot of stuff by heart, none of which will be the slightest use in your future life. Let's face it, nobody you meet after the age of 16 is going to be the least bit interested in knowing what the Alkaline Earth metals are, or how far it is to the Sun, or the date of the Treaty of Utrecht, or anything else that you had to learn in order to pass your GCSEs. Nor will you be expected to solve a quadratic equation or know how to spell "pterodactyl". From that point of view, most of one's "education" has been a complete waste of time! So why do people use examinations as a measure in this way? There are several reasons.
For her History IGCSE, my daughter chose as one of her themes, "The Changing Nature of Twentieth Century Warfare". Unless she gets a job as an historian or applies for a post as a curator at the Imperial War Museum, you might think that all that study was pretty pointless; yet it impresses colleges, universities and employers a great deal. For one thing, it demonstrates that she was able to stick at something for a year or two and work systematically at acquiring the rudiments of the topic. This is what you might call a transferable skill. If you can master a load of stuff about nuclear strategy, the tactical use of aircraft carriers, combined operations in World War I, the concept of limited warfare as developed in the Korean War and so on, then the chances are that you should be able to learn and remember other stuff too. If you are working in an insurance office, then the prospects of your picking up the information necessary to be a loss adjuster are good. If you become a solicitor, then you have shown that you can study and remember information which is of little interest and no use. Looks like there should be no problem learning about law! Passing GCSEs at high grades often means that you did not spend your education flitting like a butterfly from one topic to another, never staying long enough at one subject to get to grips with it.
This sort of study suggests that you are capable of deciding to do something and then sticking at it without giving up after a month or two. This is worth knowing for a potential employer or prospective college or university. You don't want to engage a smart fellow for your office and then find that he loses interest after a few weeks and drifts off to get another job. You want someone who has staying power. Applying yourself to studies for a couple of years is evidence that you might be able to stick at a job. Nor do you want to give a student a place, only to discover that she gives up in the first month or term. There is also some indication of intellectual ability in passing a lot of GCSEs at high grades. An A at maths might indicate that you are not a complete fool and that you could be able to understand abstract concepts. It is certainly not an infallible indicator, but it is better than nothing.
Having a good relationship with one's family, on the other hand, is probably a pretty poor guide to how somebody will perform both intellectually and practically in future life. It definitely does not give you any clue as to whether or not they will make good employees. Again, happy people of course are generally to be preferred to miserable ones in the workplace or university, but some happy people are utterly useless and a bit stupid. Being happy is not one of the most prized traits which employers are looking for.
In short, it is a good thing for children to be happy, emotionally stable and to enjoy strong family relationships. I certainly valued those things myself, but they do not really constitute an education. That is also why, when a local authority is wondering whether a child is receiving an efficient, full-time education suitable to her age and ability, they tend to be asking about dull stuff like how many GCSEs will she be taking, rather than how happy and emotionally mature she is.