Monday, 6 September 2010

Why do parents send their children to school?

When my daughter was small and we were out and about, we often encountered the irritating question, 'No school today?' Once it was established that it was not just a question of no school today, but no school any day, I would sometimes be asked why I hadn't sent my daughter to school. Occasionally, I would turn the tables on such questioners by asking why they had decided to send their own children to school. What struck me was that this particular question seemed to leave most people struggling for an answer. I was always happy to explain my motives and reasons for educating my child at home, but those who sent them to school did not seem to have thought much about why they were doing so. They sent their kids to school because that's what you do with kids. Choosing to keep them with you past the age of five needed some sort of explanation, but packing them off to spend the day with strangers was apparently the most natural thing in the world and only a really weird person would choose to do otherwise.

I have always found something a little unsatisfactory about this attitude. I don't doubt for a moment that the parents of schoolchildren love their kids just as much as anybody else, but in that case why are they so keen to send them to nurseries when they are two or three? Why do they actually send them to school? I have always loved my daughter's company, right from the day she was born. Why would I want to send her off to spend the day with anybody else?

There are I think three main reasons why people send their children to school. The first is that in our society this is the default setting; it's just what everybody does. When everybody else is doing something, whether it's going to church, joining the Nazi party or sending your children to school, it takes a real effort of will and a lot of hard thinking before you are prepared to do something quite different to what your friends, relatives and neighbours are doing. At the very least, deciding not to send your child to school when he is four will mean having to explain yourself to everybody you know and face widespread disapproval from people who matter to you. Unless you have powerful reasons for being prepared to put up with this, then simply sending your child to school is the line of least resistance .

The second reason that people send their children to school is that they have been brainwashed into believing that it is necessary for the child. For most people, education equals school. It is as simple as that. When my daughter was ten, we went on a day out with our church. Some of the members didn't know that she was taught at home and one woman was horrified and disapproving when she discovered the awful truth. She said, 'I'm sorry, I don't think it's right, not educating a child like that!' This is exactly how many people who send their kids to school see the matter; that a child not at school is a child being deprived of an education. Once their children are safely at school, parents are warned that every day taken out of the child's schooling will cause harm to her education. This is the reason why there are crackdowns on truancy, even when the child is in the parent's company and also the campaign against term-time holidays. While the child is at school, she is being educated. Take out for a few hours and the education suddenly and mysteriously stops! Most parents absorb this attitude and after their children have been at school for a few years, powerful psychological barirers grow, so that they would feel guilty about de-registering the kids. It would, they have been persuaded to think, mean the end of their education.

The final reason that parents send their children to nurseries and schools is the most depressing. They do not actually want to spend much time with them and school gives them a break from the child's company. Every June newspapers carry half joking articles telling people how they can survive the summer holidays. The underlying theme is that spending seven weeks with your children is bound to be a torment for most people. One hears mothers at the supermarket checkout bemoaning the fact that there is still a fortnight of the holidays left for them to endure. Much of my work at one time entailed trying to arrange nursery places for small children. And I mean small; I'm talking about twelve month old babies. I would find a play-group or one o'clock club and the mother would tell me that that was no good. She didn't want to have to be there with the baby, she wanted somebody else to have charge of him. If I managed to get a few mornings a week, the next thing would be that I was being hassled to make it full time. Some mothers simply can't wait until they can get their children off their hands and into the care of complete strangers.

The perspective of society is that the natural scheme of things is that children enter a nursery at the age of two and then start school a couple of years later. They will then remain at school until the age of eighteen. Those of us who do not like these arrangements are viewed as being cranks and misfits whose motives are a little suspect. For my own part, this was a small price to pay for the pleasure of spending so much time with my daughter and educating her, but I rather think that this mindset discourages many parents from even considering home education.


  1. Spot-on, Simon. I've also been accused of somehow engineering a 'guilt-trip' on others, particularly mothers. Not so - but if the shoe fits...

    I too had the 50s/60s pommie education - perhaps the last era for an education within a school?

  2. Can I take that you are in Australia, lovechocolate? Were you a £10 Pom? I too was at school during that period in Britain.

  3. at last the first thing you have written in over a year where I have no 'reactions' to what you write. Of course you missed out one crucial reason- finances and / or career advancement.

  4. This was a great article and as "loveChoclatte" put it: "SPOT ON!" I'd like to share this video, about the History of our Compulsory Public school system (it's not my video, actually, it was done by a person named Brett Venotte who does a podcast called the "School Sucks Podcast"):

  5. OMG, what a close minded "three main reasons" crap.. REALLY?! The reason I send/sent my children to school is/was because I had to WORK to be able to support and provide for my children, if I didn't work, no money, if no money, no food, if no food, we would have starved!!! Believe me: If I had had a choice, I would have chosen to stay with my children, but I wasn't born rich! My husband's income just wasn't enough to cover even half of the expenses, so there, there is one more MAIN REASON. God knows I would have really, really liked to spend WAY MORE time with my children but that wasn't possible and that's something that will always hunt me.