Monday, 18 March 2013
Why home education is not more popular
I sometimes used to be puzzled why more of the parents we knew didn’t just keep their kids at home, rather than sending them to school. After all, they used to moan enough about the shortcomings of the schools! My wife and I gained a good deal of pleasure from hearing those who had been sniffiest about our decision not to send a child to school, later complaining about the fact that schools today seemed to be dreadful and their children were not thriving there. So why don’t more parents just educate their own children? I think that there are two main reasons.
First, there is the great confidence trick or swindle perpetrated by teachers; that nobody but a trained professional can undertake the education of a child. This is of course a lot of nonsense. It is perfectly possible for any person of average intelligence to teach physics, chemistry, music, acting, sport and anything else that is wanted. All that is necessary is to download the subject specification and away you go. For this reason, that particular objection holds little water.
The real explanation for the lack of popularity of home education is economic, rather than educational. The thing which makes home education so astonishingly effective is the unlimited, one-to-one tuition which can be provided in a relaxed, domestic setting. For this to be successful, whether by means of direct teaching or purposive conversation, it is necessary to have an adult available at all times who is able to give the child his or her undivided attention. And this is where things get a little tricky.
One of the most obvious differences between our family and those with whom we used to associate was that we were a lot poorer than everybody else we knew. No holidays abroad for us; or for that matter decent cars, new carpets, 48 inch plasma screen televisions, games consoles or any of the other trappings that many families take for granted these days. This is because in order to ensure that our daughter had one adult with her at all times, each of her parents was only working part-time. We took it in turns to spend time with her. Instead of two salaries coming into the family, there was only one. Which meant, in effect, that we had half as much money as most of the other families we knew. As it happened, this presented no real hardship to us. As long as there was enough money for books from charity shops and the occasional weekend in Wales, we were quite happy. True, our televisions have never exceeded fourteen inches, even today, but this has not seemed too important.
For many families, material trappings such as new refrigerators, cars, ipads, clothes and so on, are important. The idea of an income suddenly halved is horrifying to them and so both parents must continue to work so that all these things must be paid for. This means that school becomes a kind of childminding service which enables adults to get on with the serious business of earning money. It is this which prevents most families from even considering home education as an option.
Of course, single parents also home educate, but this creates a new set of economic difficulties. If the mother is on benefits, then the pressure from the Job Centre to find work or training can be pretty intense from when the child is still fairly young. If the parent is not on benefits, then there is an inevitable clash between the need to earn a living and the necessity of providing a child with undivided attention whenever needed.
The American situation is rather different from this country. There, research indicates that much home education takes place in more traditional families, where the father goes out to work, while the mother stays home and looks after the children. This is an ideal arrangement, with the children having unlimited contact with one adult all day long. Families constituted in this way are not as common in this country as they once were and again, this is driven by economic pressures. Couples feel that they need so much stuff these days, that one salary is just not enough to provide it all. It is only by having both parents working that the expected standard of living can be maintained. Of course, the irony is that when asked, children say that they would far rather have their parents’ attention than they would expensive holidays or new computers.