Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Is the social aspect of home education more difficult for women than it is for men?

We can make this broad generalisation about men and women; that men are often more competitive and seek to engage in one upmanship, whereas women tend more to seek agreement and consensus. Tell a man that your favourite season is autumn and he will like as not say, 'Oh I hate autumn. Spring is the season I love'. He will then spend half an hour telling you why his choice of season is better than yours'. Say the same thing to a woman though and the chances are that she will say, 'Oh yes, I love autumn too'. The two women will then forge a link through their common love of a particular season. Women will do this even if they secretly hate autumn! With men, everything is a form of warfare and seeking tactical advantage. This is true in conversations and also in their social lives. For women, the opposite is the case. They are constantly seeking common ground and finding what they have in common. This can pose a problem for the home educating mother, a problem which is not faced by the home educating father.

For the home educating father, the differences between his chosen style of childrearing and education become just another way of getting one over on other men. He does not mind being the loner here, as long as he can show that his choice is better, more sensible and yields higher results than the other guys. This is why the children of home educating men must have two million IGCSEs, be chess champions or the youngest professors of mathematics in American history. For women, this is not an advantage at all. When the other mothers say how much they are looking forward to the end of the summer holidays so that they can be rid of their kids again, what can a home educating mother say? She can hardly agree with them, because it is obvious that she does not feel that way at all. When friends are talking about how good school is for their children, again the home educating mother is placed in an uncomfortable position. She can hardly agree, because of course she has demonstrated by her decision to home educate that she is not very keen on schools. The best she can do is keep quiet on the subject. Unfortunately, this can be interpreted by other mothers as a reproach to their own choices or even worse, smug superiority on the part of the home educating mother. In other words, the finding of common ground and the natural search for consensus is disrupted. The problem is that talking about our children is quite a big part of most parents lives and if every conversation about kids and their education ends up with an awkward silence or in one side or the other feeling that she is the object of disapproval, it does not do much for friendships.

In short, home education for a man can fit in perfectly with the male way of socialising, which is in any case based upon proving that he is shrewder and better at arranging things than anybody around him. Whether it is demonstrating that his car is faster than anybody else's or his child more gifted, he is still playing the same basic game. For most women though, the business of home education forces them to play a completely different game, one with which they may not be at all comfortable. They are put, unwillingly, into a situation where they cannot agree with those around them and find themselves in opposition to other people. It is interesting to see women set up home educating groups. Ostensibly, these are for the benefit of their children and designed to give the kids a chance to socialise. I am sure though that the primary purpose is to give the women themselves a chance to socialise and spend time with others who have made the same choice about education that they have.


  1. Mmmm...I agree with a lot of this, BUT, I was very aware, when I set up home ed support groups that I was doing it for both me AND my children. The 'ostensibly' bit wasn't true in my case.

    I think most women are very aware of their needs.

    Mrs Anon

  2. 'I think most women are very aware of their needs.'

    I'm sure that's true. I really wrote this piece with some well known,(hem, hem, male home edcucators in mind and tried to think why they seem so different to the usual sort of female home educator.

  3. I think *some* men tend to focus on achievement at the expense of socialising. I also know many men who don't.

    I was an HE mother for many years, and I see HE as a whole different lifestyle, not just a different kind of education. I see a lot of the 'socialising' that goes on in school as dysfuctional, and I wanted to provide a better model for my children. I figured that they would be better able to learn, as well, in a healthier social environment. So as well as taking them with me to work, getting involved in our local community and making friends who socialised as families, I took them to social HE groups. The children saw a very different society modelled here from the one some of them had seen at school; they were treated with respect by the adults (who they could also see treating each other the same way) and encouraged to be respectful to each other, and they learnt to co-operate and to resolve their conflicts peacefully (usually, at least!). They had a lot of fun and they made some very good friends, and so did I. We helped each other to HE in so many ways. We shared books, resources, skills, experiences, wisdom, articles printed from the internet by the one family that had a computer (this was back in the Dark Ages), food, celebrations, holidays, and problems. That was very important to me. HE would have been very different, and I think much harder for me, without it, and more importantly, from my point of view it would have missed the point.