I wrote this article for the Australian online homeschool magazine Stepping Stones, and thought I'd share it here as well. Ideas and comments welcome.
It’s alright, I’m just kidding. Sort of. We all know home education has many benefits – flexible and individualised learning, reduced exposure to peer pressure and bullying, academic success, being able to become socialised in the real world, strong family relationships – and that list isn’t exhaustive.
Any yet, like all communities, we too have our problems and our flaws. Not the same old “the children must be socialised” or the “are you qualified ?” or the “is it legal ?” objections that are raised by people ignorant of home education and the many ways it can work.
The problems with homeschooling are things we don’t even discuss amongst ourselves most of the time, things we sometimes struggle with alone, thinking it must be me, I’m not doing this right. Things we may fail to anticipate or observe.
Like socialising. No, I didn’t mean to type socialisation. There’s a difference and we all know what it is. Although we co-op and run classes and groups and excursions and workshops and meet up at the park, the tough fact is that most of our childrens’ potential friends are sitting in a classroom 9 – 3. And while most of our children can find friends to connect with – if not through homeschool activities, then through church or other community groups – a significant minority do not. It’s a complaint you most often hear on online forums, where a degree of anonymity applies. Not that I’m suggesting school would do a better job for the lonelier or more isolated of our children; but if as a community we acknowledged this difficult and emotional aspect of homeschooling experience, surely we would be a step closer to working out ways to support all home educated students with their social needs.
Diversity is another topic not much discussed amongst us. How well does our homeschool community reflect our wider community ? Do we home school alongside those of other cultural backgrounds ? Do people of other religions or of no religion at all feel comfortable in our company ? Do we reflect a range of socio-economic circumstances ? Or are our communities somewhat closed to “others “ ? These are questions worth thinking about by us – we who see the value in home education and might properly wish to extend that value to others in our wider community.
Economic disadvantage is the issue that I personally find most troubling. It falls into two parts. Firstly, our children are disadvantaged in that, whilst being legally home educated, they are the only students in the country who receive no funding. This must directly affect how diverse our homeschool world is, as discussed above, and puts a strain on homeschooling families that other families are not required to bear.
Secondly, the primary homeschooling ‘teacher’ – usually but not always the mother – is at a significant disadvantage financially the longer she continues to homeschool full-time. We’ve all heard about how difficult it is for mothers who take a year or so off while their baby is young and the troubles they may have re-establishing their careers and compensating for lost earnings and superannuation. For homeschooling parents you can magnify that a considerable amount. Sure, right now you may have a plan. You may have a spouse who can increase his or her earnings to cover yours. And almost all of us are experts in making do. My concern is what happens when the plan derails – when health, a job or a partner himself is lost ? When a separation or divorce occurs ? When you try to return to work and find you’re considered too old ?
We spend a lot of time obsessing about curriculum. Maybe we should be spending some of that time planning for us – how we can re-train, combine work and home education, establish life plans that can deal with the unexpected. Or work together to create home education – friendly ways to support ( mostly ) women who are out of the workforce for an extended time. Lobby for student funding, which would help free up the family budget to make adequate provisions for us, or for cancellation of a home educator's higher education debt, which waits for her when she resumes paid work.
Yes, we homeschool because we value the individual and the family; but we live in the world, not apart from it, and perhaps, amongst ourselves and away from the ears of the ignorant, we can start talking and planning and working to support ourselves as a community and as part of that larger world.