Home education & home schooling - reasons to home educate

'Why do you have to be so different?'
Home education & home schooling - reasons to home educate - Andrew Green and family, backpacking in Thailand 2006

... or several reasons why we won't be sending our children to school

"Why do you have to be so different?", my mother once said, and will, no doubt, say again, when I tell her that our children are not going to school.

What will my reply be?

I want them to have their childhood to themselves - to be able to stare into space for long hours, if they want to; to learn things when they are ready, and want to; to not be labelled as children 'with learning difficulties' that time happens to be later than other children. I don't want them to be forced to be herded together with large numbers of children all their age - the 'peer group with its petty intrigues and jealousies, its insiders and outsiders, winners and losers. I don't want them to lose the opportunity to help younger children, or learn from older ones - learning co-operation and respect, rather than competition. 1 want them to be able to interact, on a day-to-day basis with adults who are neither parents nor 'authority figures'.

I hold precious the intimacy and silence of childhood: when on control of their own lives, children like to play with one or two friends and young children need much more time by themselves than most of them ever get,

I want my children to do things for the pleasure of doing them, not, to escape a penalty, gain some kind of spurious award, obtain praise, or to do it better than another. I don't want them to lose their self-esteem for (to quote John Holt who, having been a teacher, subsequently became a passionate advocate of home learning):

We do not gain self-esteem from praise, or from winning competitions. The more praise we get, the less it is worth; the more we win, the less we can stand the thought of losing. True self-esteem comes from doing, to our own satisfaction, things we have chosen to do, because they seem worth doing - things bigger children do, or even adults themselves.

I don't want my children to turn into 'good, upright citizens', ie conforming, non-questioning, fearful of authority, happy to go along with the crowd, needing others' approval, not instinctively knowing their own path in life.

The list of famous people, living and dead, who have thrived from not going to school , but who were, instead, self-taught, is impressive: Yehudi Menuhin, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison, the Brontes, Beatrix Potter, C S Lewis, George Bernard Shaw, Agatha Christie, Noel Coward, Doris Lessing, Jessica Mitford, Gerald Durrell ... to name but a few.

It is hard to know what would have happened to these talented people under other circumstances, but it is my belief that the key is that they did not have their love of life squashed out of them by school. Not 'that I want my children necessarily to 'succeed' by the normal measure of society. I want them to be free and happy.

I'm looking forward to learning, or re-learning, things with them - helping them with the various projects they choose to pursue. Just as, at this stage, I can re-learn wonder at the sight of The Moon, or sheep on a hill, or a bee in a flower, or a flock of starlings making for their night-time roost ... or countless other small wonders of the World "seen in a grain of sand" as Blake put it.

The idea that one can only learn by being taught is, as John Holt wrote, "100% false". Toddlers learn to walk and talk perfectly well (Indeed, better) without our help and this vast capacity to learn for themselves doesn't arbitrarily stop at 4½. John Holt again: "Children come to school curious ... listlessness, boredom and apathy all come later". I would add that this process is aided and abetted by television, which ruins a child's ability to use his imagination - and computers and videos are being used increasingly in schools, as well as in the home. The premise upon which 'education' is based is that the child is an empty sheet of paper, to be filled, rather than a seed which, with nurturing, will grow of its own accord into the full-sized perfection that we can see all around us in nature.

The subject of home education has been in the media a lot recently and it appears that an increasing number of parents are taking their children out of school. They believe that it is an option worth trying - to solve the difficulties and dissatisfaction that they are facing with education. In the UK, home-based learning has grown from a recorded 20 families in 1977 to the current [1997] figure of 25,000, with 100 families per month joining Education Otherwise (the self-help organisation supporting home learning in the UK).

Home learning is also gaining respect from the education establishment: Boston University, in the USA, welcomes applications from non-schooled students, stating that, they "possess the knowledge, independence and self-reliance that enable them to excel in our intellectually challenging programs of study".

Even examined within the conventional parameters of education success, research has shown that 'failures' In home education are rare, in that UK Local Authorities very rarely have to 'recommend' that a child should attend school. Even if a family sustains home-based learning for only two years, their child is normally around two years 'ahead' of their contemporaries at school. Children can learn to read in 30 hours, or be prepared for GCSE Maths (the UK exams for 16-year olds)in 60 hours. There have been quite a few children who have been deemed to be 'failures' at school, but who have gone on to get eight or nine '0' levels under their own steam, at home. Thomas Edison was written off as "uneducable" by his teacher, who said his brain was "addled", whilst Gerald Durrell was described by the headmaster at the school which be eventually went to, at the age of 14, as "the most ignorant boy I have ever come across"!

More to the point, for me, is that children at home tend to be more socially mature and emotionally stable than their schooled friends, who are dependent on their same-age peers for language, attitudes and taste.

If you still believe that children must be taught in order to learn, perhaps John Holt's books might convince you (my wife was sceptical, until she read his books). School and education are such sacred cows in our society, that other people - even those with a generally 'alternative' viewpoint - are often quite angry that we should be thinking of depriving our children of school and the opportunity to make friends - as if school is just a big social club. I wish it were just this, without its pretensions of education and its undercurrent of social conditioning.

And so much for the value of schooling when, as I heard whilst writing this, basic numeracy skills in Britain are the lowest amongst seven industrialised countries and when only one fifth of people between 16 and 60 can carry out simple multiplication and division sums. It seems that, the more money (whether public or private) that is poured into education, the worse the results which are achieved. I feel strongly that, as parents we can 'deliver' a better education, without destroying creativity, self-esteem and the simple ability to move through our lives selecting what is the right thing for us to do and what will make us happy. And, since the education system Is failing so miserably, the last thing we need to think is that our children cannot learn from us because we are not 'teachers'.

So, if you want your child educated for life, to question things, to be flexible and adaptable, consider taking him or her out of school, or , better still, never send them.

After all, what type of World do we want? Do we have the courage and independence to care more for our children's happiness than for their 'success'? Do we want our children to fit well into the existing order, to become standardised people whose needs can be anticipated, people who co-operate smoothly and consume more and more, people who do what is expected of them? As George Bernard Shaw wrote:

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

Or do we want them to become happy people, whose values are not to have much, but to be much - people who will automatically lean towards a gentler, more sensitive approach to themselves, other people and the world around them? As parents, we need to make the decision between full human development and full marketplace success.

The last words on this must be from Zoë Readhead, the head of the alternative free school, Summerhill, and daughter of its founder A S Neil. I asked her what type of person she felt she had become, as a result of an almost totally 'self-regulated' childhood and an education at Summerhill:

"I feel the person who I ought to be. I feel responsible for my life and happy with it. I feel physically and emotionally at peace with myself. If I died today, I would have no regrets about anything l have done with my life."

What more could we want for our children?


© Andrew Green, February 1997


October 2018 - Footnote

My sons are now 24 and have both successfully graduated from university. They are essentially non-conformists, although with the key attribute of being able to fit in when it suits their purposes. Arran, for example, is in the film-making business, which relies very heavily on being able to work in a close-knit team, but is also highly stratified, such that you need to be able to follow instructions from people when necessary. So they appear to be able to be leaders and also to be part of a team.

We feel that, in large part, our hopes and dreams for them have, so far, been fulfilled. It was a true pleasure being with them as they grew up and, equally, being with them now.

If you have young children, I have this advice: savour every single moment, because they grow up so fast!