Tuesday, 14 February 2012

the down-side of school at home

I would probably describe myself as a reluctant home-schooler.

Out of necessity we school our children at home.  We did correspondence school for many years, but recently have decided to do home-school instead.  This decision was partly due to the length of time it would take to between the teacher setting one lot of work, to setting another lot of work in response to that first lot.  This could take anywhere from four to six months.  In between, the child would be doing work either set at the same time as the first lot, or set subsequently, but before having seen any work the child had done.  In the end we felt like the advantages of being able to 'feedback' immediately was greater than the advantages of being enrolled in a 'proper' school.  Futhermore, having seen how much "faith" (of any sort) is side-lined in the state curriculum, we thought we'd take advantage of this opportunity (however short or long) to educate with faith at the centre.

And I think it's been a good decision.  We are enjoying school much more.  The children are growing and learning.  I have more freedom to teach to my strengths.

But because I am not wedded, in principle, to home-school, I feel that I am free to talk a little more openly about the down-sides of home-school.  Most home schoolers face fierce criticism from friends and family because of their decision to home-school.  They end up having to defend themselves so often that it makes it difficult for them to talk about the difficulties they face without people saying "I told you so" or "well send them to school, then".

Here are three things about home-school I would like you to know.

Home-schooling is tiring.  T.I.R.I.N.G.  I cannot explain why.  I have no idea how a teacher manages thirty children.  I feel like I have no right to complain about being tired as I only have two (three now) students.  But I am.  And so are others I know that home-school.

It is difficult to home-school with younger children at home, too.  My friends whose elder children went to school spoke of how precious this time is with their younger children in their pre-school years and how much they loved getting to know them.  My younger children in their pre-school years were being ignored, or looked after by other people, as much as possible.   I was either occupied with school or too tired to play.  I didn't spend much time with them at all.

Home-schooling literature and magazines and support are so pro-home-schooling it is extremely difficult to change track and enrol in school without feeling like you've let the side down, abandoned ship and been a failure.  Because, as I said, I'm a reluctant home-schooler, going to a 'proper' school would be a relatively easy for me.  But I've read enough of the literature to be overwhelmed by its emotional grip on its adherents.   It's an impossible situation.

If you know anyone who home-schools, whether or not you agree with them, be gracious to them.  Don't let the conversation fall silent after they admit they home-school.  After-all, they're not from another planet.  Truly.


Hannah Blake said...

Such a controversial topic! Thanks for a thoughtful and honest post.

I think teaching a class and homeschooling are really quite different activities. All my kids are the same age as each other and more or less the same stage. They learn to think and act as a group, and that a teachers attention isn't always on them individually. They all do the same, or similar, work together, and I say goodbye at 3pm and don't have to deal with kids until 8:30 the next morning! Whereas with homeschool you have to be on top of multiple curriculums, for multiple kids, and they don't have a classroom full of other kids doing the same work to give them a hand. You don't get a break in between school days, and there are certain things you just can't do without a group of kids.

I would guess, too, that when you're homeschooling, you feel pressure to make every moment of the school day count for something, to have the kids being productive all the time. Realistically, it doesn't happen that way at school! We spend soooo much time every day sorting out playground incidents, teaching routines, putting on hats and bags, waiting for kids to be quiet and listen, having a stretch, not to mention all the waiting that kids do when they're finished but just need to have their work checked. If I compiled all the actual work (in various forms) one kid did in a day, you'd wonder what on earth we had been up to all that time!

I really don't imagine that homeschooling two or three kids is in any way an easier task than teaching a room full of them...

Wayne Connor said...

Well Jill homeschools some of our kids as you know. It does seem MUCH HARDER with young kids. We've sent year 3 and K back to school this year so we only have homeschool for year 6 and 8. Personally I find the best thing about home-school is that we have Fridays off as a family, and we don't have any homework etc after school. I find the worst thing is that I like the idea of a good state system but feel a hypocrite for not supporting it. I'm looking forward to getting involved with school sport and meeting other parents again this year.

Wayne Connor said...

I agree with all your three observations though, especially the last two.

Anonymous said...

All good parents home school to an extent. That is part of every parent's responsibility. I learnt so much from my parents, and continued to do so until they died. When I was a child my parents would affirm, add to. question ( always in a thoughtful way), what i learnt at school.

I spent hours reading my fathers books, and a lot of my knowledge on history, exploration, science and politics came from my father. My mother was my spiritual and moral guide; she always pricked my conscience and encouraged me to read literature and the Bible. I hope i have passed a love of reading onto my children and grandchildren. I hope I taught my children some things.

My children still ask their mum for advice re recipes, sewing and just recently cake decorating.

My parents never questioned the necessity of school however, and never questioned the professionalism of our teachers.

you are right to say it is tiring. When I finished my last prac in 1973, my supervisor said to me, " Say goodbye to late nights and going out because the next few years you are going to be exhausted." Now i have retired i am beginning to realise how tired I was for all those years. I just wish more people realised how tiring it is.

So, what do I think? All parents should home teach; teaching is a shared adult responsibility. Spiritual education in particular should be done at home. State Curricula never satisfy everybody; they never will, but the NSW curriculum is a very professional document even though It follows some educational trends with which I some problems.

Eventually, however, children are going to grow into adults and to be a good, effective contributor to a flawed, sinful society and all its shortcomings they have to learn the warts and all experience of living in that community; and schools provide that experience in a disciplined, caring and protected way

Just recently, the Cricket team from my school reached the Davidson Shield Cricket final and a the more prestigious All Schools final. As was sitting on a deck chair, looking at the semi final at the St Aloysious ground in Willoughby,our coach remarked that the whole experience was something they would remember for the rest of their lives. Schools provide these moments. As I was nearing the end of my career, I was also moved by the sportsmanship on both sides, the impeccable demeanour of all players involved ( one team was a private school and the other a state school), and the confident, articulate way they spoke to each other that I felt that gee wizz schools whatever your faults I love thee still. (Apologies to Lord Byron)

Rachael said...

Thanks Hannah, Wayne and 'Anonymous' for your thoughts.

simone r said...

I agree with Hannah. Teaching your own kids and teaching 30 at school are quite different.

One hour of homework time or music practice with my own kids wipes me out in a way that teaching 30 kids for hours doesn't.

Much more emotional involvement. Much more at stake.

Margaret Thatcher said...

I did distance ed with my eldest for a year. I really enjoyed seeing the way he applied what we did in "school" to all the other things we did in the day. I am sure that happens all the time but now I am not teaching I don't recognise it!

The tricky thing is the move from teacher to mother and back. It worked fine with one child but would have been much harder with one of my other children just because of our personalities.

I found the home-schooling mags etc pushed one particular philosophy of homeschooling which I was less comfortable with so in the end they have all ended up in the WA public school system. It may have its faults but so does every system.

I have always found that really every part of our education system has its time and place and so I have seen homeschooling work really well sometimes and not so well others. The same could be said for private and public schools!

I like your point - what is important is that we don't condemn each other just because we have made different choices!