When my daughter was ten or eleven, two of our friends decided they would home educate as well. It all looked so easy. My daughter obviously enjoyed learning and was very happy and polite. She would be reading Dickens in a corner when they visited, whereas their own children only watched cartoons and talked about trashy television programmes. They hated the effect school was having on their kids and most importantly of all; the children themselves were not actually learning much. In both cases, it turned out to be a stressful and upsetting enterprise for all concerned. One lasted a year, the other three months before returning their children to school. Before we try to see what might have gone wrong, I want to share a personal anecdote.
As readers will perhaps be aware, my older daughter went to school at the traditional age. I had reservations and if it was not for my wife, I doubt that I would have sent her. Still she really wanted to go. All her friends were going and she didn't want to miss out. She had a great time at school and never wanted to be home educated, although at one stage we started taking her out of school for one day a week, just so that she could at least learn the basics. I knew that we had made a mistake when at the age of five, she started saying things like; 'reading is stupid' and 'books are boring'. This was the first time that she had ever said anything of the sort and it was clear that school was to blame.
When my older daughter was nine, she came home from school and told us that she had learned that day that Tutankhamun had been buried in a pyramid. I was surprised to learn this; after all, Tutankhamun had lived over a thousand years after the pyramids had been built. I chatted to a few other children and found that they too had been told this. I ultimately confirmed it by speaking to her teacher, an unbelievably ignorant and ill informed woman. My daughter's reaction when I tried to explain that it was not true about Tutankhamun and even showed her the relevant information in books, was very revealing. 'Miss said...'. That was it. If a teacher said something, it trumped anything said by parents, or indeed anything which she knew herself. 'Miss said..' or 'Sir said...' and that was it. These people were teachers, of course they knew more than other people. Doctors know about medicine, solicitors know about law and teachers know about stuff; that at least was the general impression. If a teacher says something, that has the force of authority in the way that a parent's statements do not. Homo Sapiens have been around for perhaps two hundred thousand years. For almost the whole of that time, parents have combined the role of parent with that of guide, mentor and teacher. In our modern society, they have surrendered the role of 'teacher' to others, who have been specially trained for this task. A natural consequence of this is that from the age of three or four, most children stop respecting their parents' abilities to tell them anything worth hearing and instead place their in faith in strangers to teach them what they need to know. They also start taking many of their views and opinions, learning how to behave and think, from the children with whom they spend so much time, rather than relying upon their parents for guidance.
This attitude quickly becomes ingrained; in effect the child becomes institutionalised. If they are taken out of school, they will not suddenly see their parents as being good people to teach them about anything, whether it is history and physics or the correct use of alcohol. They will still have the mindset that facts and academic stuff have to be acquired from professional teachers. This explains why after deregistering a child from school, many parents try and then fail to teach their kids in a structured way. They are puzzled that their children will not cooperate in learning and all too often give up and either send the child back to school or abandon any attempt to teach him anything much.
Our society is to blame for this distorted view which children learn at school about of their parents. For hundreds of thousands of years, humanity got along very well with parents raising their children and teaching them what they needed to know. The rot set in when we abdicated our responsibilities in this way and began sending them off to others to be taught. No wonder schoolchildren don't listen to their parents. By sending the kid to school, they are effectively saying, 'Well, I can't teach you. I'll have to get somebody else to do it; I don't know enough'. When we give them this idea, we can hardly complain ten years later when as teenagers they refuse to listen to our advice about alcohol, drugs or sex. We have for years been telling them that we are not up to the job of teaching them what they need to know; why should they start listening to us now?
I have an idea that this is at the root of all the trouble that so many people have when first they withdraw their children from school. I think it is why so many stop trying to teach their children after the first few months; the kids just won't cooperate and the whole thing becomes incredibly distressing for all concerned. I am far from convinced though that the remedy lies in 'deschooling' followed by 'unschooling' or anything of that sort. These are of course perfectly natural responses by hurt and upset parents who were hoping to be able to reclaim the role of being their child's teacher and guide, but we need to examine the root cause of the problem and ask ourselves why our children are behaving in this way.