Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Why don‘t people want to be with their children?
Unlike many home educators, I have no ideological objection to schools; nor do I think them bad places in themselves. I have remarked before that they are, to me, a necessary evil; in an ideal world, they would not be needed. The question that I have been considering lately though is why nearly everybody sends their children to school as soon as they can. Of course, it goes without saying that part of the explanation is simply that this is what you do when your child turns five, but there must be a little more to it than that. After all, there is nothing magical about the age of five. Legally, you could delay starting school until the child was six, seven or even older. What actually happens is that almost everybody sends children before that all-important age of five. It is a rare child today who begins school at about his or her fifth birthday; most start when they are three or four, by which time an awful lot of them have already been in nurseries for a couple of years.
When my daughter was two, I enjoyed her company enormously; she was an endless source of pleasure to me. Why on Earth would I have given her to strangers, so that they could have her instead of me? In some families, where both parents are working, it is presumably a matter of convenience, but for most; it seems to be a relief for them to get shot of their kids. During the decades that I was working with families with small children, the request made most often was, ‘Can you help me get a nursery place?’ This was being asked by single mothers, when their babies were six months old. There was a great desire to see the children packed off to day-care, so that the mothers could get on with their lives. Once the children were at school, then there were breakfast clubs, after school clubs, holiday play schemes and a dozen other ways that parents could ensure that they saw as little of their children as possible. In recent years, this has become very common and many parents appear to have the idea that it is for the state to look after their offspring for most of the time and that the parents should only have to have them for an hour or two in the evenings. It is not at all uncommon to hear people bemoaning the approach of the summer holidays and complaining that they do not know how they will cope. Usually, it is clear that this is because the parents just don't like being with their children too much and dread being forced to spend time with them.
I am genuinely foxed by all this. I can truthfully say that I never became bored with my daughter, from the first day of her birth. I still don’t, even though she is now twenty. I cannot imagine why I would be wanting to shove her out of the way for as long as I could manage. It is against this background that we need to consider the political and philosophical objections that some home educators have to the notion of the state as parent. This is sometimes represented as being a sinister plot, whereby the state will take over the care and upbringing of our children for unknown reasons of its own. It is nothing of the kind! It is just that nearly all the parents that one meets wish to see their children safely out of the way in nurseries and schools from as soon as they can walk and talk. The government is not pushing for parents to give them their children; the parents are clamouring for the state to adopt their babies and children and keep them out of their parents' way.
Home educating parents are different, in that they are happy to spend all day, every day with their kids. I wonder sometimes whether this love of their own children and unwillingness to fob them off on others, makes a lot of other parents faintly suspicious of home educators. It's such a weird way to feel about your kids these days, that perhaps this is at the root of some of the fears that we see about the practice of home education.