Sunday 11 January 2015

Go for Home Ed

Why dads should embrace home-education. 

As a family we have had a wide educational experience. I had a very expensive education in England which allowed me to accumulate a frightening amount of information. This school-acquired information has been primarily (maybe only) useful for certain types of crossword and being successful in pub-quizzes. Lists of kings and queens, central European railways, rivers of Africa and South American capital cities have all helped me win a share of cases of wine and boxes of chocolates. It wasn't until I left home and left the country of my birth to go to college in Trinity College Dublin TCD that I started to learn anything useful: how to think clearly and critically evaluate data; how to appreciate other people and their point of view; how to search for novel solutions rather pushing open the same-old same-old door. I built on those skills during a PhD from Boston and have spent the last 40 years in the academic world teaching and researching. I was for several years the Transition Year Liaison Officer in my department in TCD and met scores of teenagers both school-taught [the majority] and home-educated.  The latter were not brighter and more engaged than the former (who were competitively selected as we only had places for <10% of application).  But the Home Ed kids were every bit as as good; and they were also a bit quirky and could be relied upon to know something (or two things) that the other kids didn't know.

The Boy went to 7 schools in four countries in 11 years as we moved about the world: so we have a wide experience of what schools can (and cannot) do for children. Schools can make children crueler; more competitive, disciplined, institutionalised; more capable in maths, less capable in empathy; able to read early but without time to read widely.  18 years later we had, in quick succession, two girls who never went to school. They were never bullied, forced into tedious rote-learning, required to spend dreary hours doing home-work, never required to compete for academic prizes or exams, never driven to be better than other children at spelling, running, long-division, or securing affection / respect from the only adult in the room. By coincidence, both the girls taught themselves to read in the month after their sixth birthday and they both left home just before they were eighteen to seek their fortune in the wide world. The older left home and country like her father did at about the same age, and is now working abroad, the younger left home and county to be happy in Cork.  In between learning to read and learning to live independently, they read their way to an education (thanks Dorling-Kindersley books!); supplemented by
  • take-no-prisoners discussion round the kitchen table
  • the internet, the library, DVDs,
  • their friends (both school- and home-ed)
  • ballet classes; whistle, voice, flute and piano lessons; drama classes
  • editting the kid's supplement of the Home Education Network HEN newsletter
  • cooking [great for maths]
  • looking after the chickens and bottle-feeding orphan lambs. 
I'd have either of them on my pub-quiz team - with both of them at the same table with their disparate interests and acquired knowledge we'd be devastating!  Because they were let alone to find their true selves, they grew up very different in their skills, talents and accomplishments. Last year, I mentioned in passing a girl whose first experience in the catering trade was being blanked by her friends'n'relations. Coming from the middle of a large family, she struck most people as The Quiet Wan. But while attending a Further Education College (her first formal education) at 16 she consciously reclaimed her true self as a people-person. She left home after a year of unchallenging schooling and got a job . . . in catering. Just before Christmas, she was tribbed by her Boss as having the best customer skills he'd ever encountered in a decade of working in the catering trade. She isn't yet eligible to vote. €5 says she'll be running the coolest restaurant in Berlin or Barcelona before 2020.

Both of our girls grew up straight and tall, standing on their own two feet and having a well-tuned crap-detector. Parents (particularly fathers who tend to be less able to kick over the traces of school-is-where-the-education-is) of kids who are failing-to-thrive in school, you should try the old home-ed lark: give it a go. Your children won't be any less happy, certainly won't be less knowledgeable . . . in the things that matter to them.  I think there is a false virtue made about school-based education: that it provides opportunities.  It may in a generic way but it doesn't always provide the right opportunity for a particular person and it certain-sure closes down some avenues as it opens doors to opportunity elsewhere. It was effectively impossible with my education to get a job as tailor, plumber, butcher or welder.

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