Monday, 22 April 2013
Three home educating myths
I have before examined in detail some of the odder myths associated with British home education, but there are many new readers here lately and for their benefit I shall today outline three popular misconceptions about home education.
1. Paula Rothermel found that home educated children did better academically than those at school.
This old chestnut is still doing the rounds; it cropped up last month in a comment on the Times Educational Supplement forum. Briefly, the legend is that Paula Rothermel conducted extensive research and found that home educated children did fantastically well academically. This is awfully misleading for two reasons. First, because the samples used were so tiny as to be meaningless. For instance one of the claims was that 94% of six year-olds were in the top band when tested for reading ability. This was in comparison with the 16% of schooled children who fell into this band. Very impressive, until you read the fine print and learn that this research relates to just seventeen children. Even less impressive when you learn that Rothermel did not test their literacy herself, but posted the tests out and relied upon the parents to conduct them! For some reason, Rothermel's tiny, self-selected samples, which rely almost entirely upon parental assessment, are still being touted around by home educators.
2. Many famous people were home educated.
Claiming that people like Einstein or the Wright brothers were home educated is intended to show people that being home educated can create great scientists, inventors and writers. The trick here is in how you define ‘home educated’. On one of the home education lists Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian, was recently described as being home educated. In fact, like most German children before World War I, he started school at the age of seven. What people do is use the British school starting age of five and then assume that any child in Europe who does not begin school at that age must be home educated! Sometimes, people are plucked at random and the assertion made that they were home educated, even though they really attended school like everybody else. Einstein and the Wright brothers are in this category as are most of the other names one sees in the lists of famous people who were home educated. Even more curious is the inclusion in such lists, of people who could not have attended school. The Home Education UK site has Joan of Arc down as being home educated. No girls at all were at school in France during her lifetime.
3. You don’t need GCSEs to get into college or university.
This one has proved an absolute killer for many home educating parents; particularly those who favour autonomous education. They avoid entering their kids for examinations and then when they are fifteen or sixteen, expect them to get into college. It very rarely comes off, except for subjects like art, textiles, design, photography, drama and so on, where you can sometimes get in on a portfolio or audition. It is almost unheard of for a college to allow a child without GCSEs to study academic A levels like physics. Even on the rare occasions when this does happen, getting to university can be gravely handicapped by the lack of GCSEs. Because there are often many applicants for university places, all with the same A levels, a kind of tie-break sometimes takes place. If you have two young people, both with three A levels at A in the same subject, then a good way of deciding is to look at their GCSEs. The one who has ten GCSEs at A or A* will generally be preferred over the one with no GCSEs at all.
I shall be covering other misconceptions and myths over the next few weeks, because no matter how often these ideas are exposed as nonsense, a new generation of home educating parents is always ready to come forward and be led into error by people who really ought to know better.