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Homeschooling holds its own

| January 22, 2020 | 0 Comments

By HAYLEY GIBBONS

I went to school in the 1980s, receiving what was, by all accounts, a good basic education.

Fast-forward 25 years, and my two sons’ schooling experiences look completely different to mine. I am a homeschooling mother. I belong to that once rare breed of parent, existing almost exclusively in the public
imagination: white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants of the middle class. Happily, this group now includes all tribes and tongues and is expanding rapidly around the globe, to varying degrees of welcome by education authorities and society in general.

In truth, home education is the oldest form of education that human beings have provided to one another. Parents were teaching their children to read, write and do arithmetic en masse, long before industrial revolutions and societal changes brought about the concept of institutionalised schooling. Of
course, mastering the ‘three Rs’ by no means equals a comprehensive education in today’s terms. But with the massive growth of the educational resources sector, the would-be homeschooling parent wants for nothing. The internet provides a smorgasbord of curriculum choices, both local and
international, and school-leaving certification is also no longer limited to the national one.

Parent-child bond creates learning success

Research has found that two most important elements in a child’s learning experience are the quality of his interaction with the educator, and the extent of positive family involvement in his education.1 Home educators have always taken these two criteria very seriously – they are the reason for the great success of this alternative to formal schooling. There is no one who understands a child – his needs, his abilities, his quirks, his limits – better than his parent. Equally, no one is more invested in his success. These factors make parents the ideal teachers of their own children. Of course, the argument arises as to the academic abilities of parents who homeschool. ‘Would I cope teaching algebra?’ one may ask. Survival instinct usually causes people to imagine the worst-case scenario first! In truth,
however, by the time they get to the teaching of algebra, longtime
homeschooling parents have found that the user-friendly resources available enable them to manage, especially when adding in a tutor for a few hours a week in higher grades.

Home educators are not a homogenous group

People who bring their children home to educate them (or who never send them to school in the first place) do so for various reasons. Thankfully, the old stereotype of the socially awkward, Christian fundamentalist family is fading fast, as members of other faiths – or no faith – join homeschooling ranks.

Explanations for this lifestyle choice now include travel requirements, sporting commitments, special needs education, avoidance of violence and bullying, and concerns over a decline in academic standards at public schools.

Just as the reasons given for choosing home education are varied, so are homeschooling styles, and homeschoolers themselves are not agreed on what methods are most effective. On one end of the continuum are proponents of a structured approach, which involves using a specific curriculum and keeping school hours and terms, much like those in a formal school setting. On the other, there is the ‘unschooling’ approach,
where a formal curriculum is not highly prized, and the natural interests of the child are permitted to dictate what is learned and how it is learned. Between these two extremes are, perhaps, the majority of home educators, who describe their methodologies as ‘eclectic’: i.e. they make use of a variety of educational resources, drawn from different curricula, the local library, Google and daily life experiences.

Can homeschoolers co-exist with others in society? Is there reason to question their motives or to fear their choices? Do they contribute to making their communities better places? These are the kinds of questions faced by any new or unconventional societal group, especially as it grows and gains greater publicity. There are no accurate statistics on the number of home educators currently operating in South Africa, but the
number usually bandied about is 100 000. That is not insignificant. Whereas in the past, this community could have been brushed off as somewhat of a quirky, fringe element, it is taken much more seriously now. Homeschooled children are actually being educated! They write books, play for provincial and national sports teams, go to university on scholarships and become successful entrepreneurs.

Schooling experiences change with each generation

The generic response to home education in today’s new era of acceptance is the comment that both homeschooling and traditional schooling ‘have advantages and disadvantages’. But perhaps that is too simplistic. Those who say this may not have thought long enough about the perceived indispensable place of institutions in society. Most parents of young children have not weighed up the ‘disadvantages’ of traditional school – it’s often considered not really an option to do so. (I know this from the
incredulous looks on strangers’ faces when confronted with my children’s
‘truancy’ on a weekday morning.) Homeschoolers, however, have generally spent much time weighing things up. Weighing the legal implications of their choice.The single income. Mom’s fear of losing her mind. But mostly,
weighing the cost to their children of NOT taking this leap.

There is a certain nostalgia with which Generation X looks back on its school days, and it is often inappropriately projected onto the schooling experience of the current generation. Thus, when considering alternative forms of education, the concern is that ‘missing’ formal schooling is almost akin to depriving a child of a real or full childhood. Those who teach at home disagree vehemently. For them, there are few advantages in ‘the
system’ for their children. Any nostalgia is eclipsed by the appalling state of public education, with its declining academic standards, overcrowded classes, dearth of support for special needs and seeming inability to deal with issues of discipline.2

Homeschooling provides academic advantages

It is self-evident that academically speaking, there is no better means of education than that which occurs in a one-to-one ratio: parent and child. The ‘teacher’ here can devote all her attention to the child and the subject at hand. The child cannot get ‘left behind’; in fact, learning and, indeed, mastery, can happen at the child’s own pace. Much more work can be
covered in any given time, if so desired, than is covered at school, because there is no roll-call, assembly, handing out and taking in, time wasted on behaviour management, etc. Furthermore, universities around the world are recognising that homeschool graduates make highly successful students, because of their ability to think and work independently.

Besides the individual attention, the homeschooled child also has the advantage of learning daily in an environment in which he is relaxed, happy and unmolested. Science has proven the great detriment of the stress hormone, cortisol, to cognitive functioning.3 Being able to avoid the current epidemic of violence and bullying in schools, negative peer influences and
inappropriate or premature exposure to media content means that cognitive function is maximised and learning fully realised for homeschoolers. The latter typically only start paying for extra lessons in the teenage years, unlike in the cases of many school-going children.

Dispelling the ‘social misfit’ myth

It has been said that the main disadvantage of home education is a certain ‘shielding’ from the ‘real world’ or community life. This is a misconception that homeschoolers often find amusing. Do people imagine that our children are let out only on weekends? The truth is, homeschooled children are just as socially active, generally, as other children. Those in my local
community meet with each other weekly to play soccer, do art, sing in a choir, attend ballet and karate lessons (with school-going children), walk
on the beach, prepare for a concert and, yes, have a game of Minecraft. We comprise all colours and creeds, and all of us are devoted to our
communities and to making productive and exemplary citizens of our children. Homeschooling is precisely what enables us to do that.

Our children have not been artificially age-segregated for 12years of their lives. On a daily basis, they interact with those older and younger than them. They do chores. Young men hang washing on the line and make lunch. They learn compassion for younger siblings, and they see what makes a marriage work, up close and personal. They come to understand, to their great future benefit, that a household is a place where people who love each other work together and make sacrifices. They learn that home is a happy place to be valued, not a ‘bed-’n-breakfast’ for ships passing in the night. It doesn’t get more ‘real’ than that.

When it comes to learning to fit in and to handle conflict, there is no lack of opportunity for that among homeschooled friends and siblings. The difference is that while these children are still learning such lessons, loving parents are on hand to provide insight and guidance. A philosophy of many home educators is that a child does not need to be ‘broken in’ by school pressures to handle adult life. Indeed, what many parents
expect children to handle on the school playground, they themselves would not dream of tolerating in the workplace. Again, the difference is that rules and procedures keep the workplace polite. Not so on the playground. Let us not force adulthood on children before their time.

Small schools in homes are ‘homeschools’

And what of the legalities of this alternative to school? Well, home
education, defined as that which takes place by the hand of a parent or guardian at the child’s own home, is legal according to the South African Schools Act 84 of 1996. A home-educating parent is not required to have any
qualifications and may use a tutor to supplement the child’s education in specific areas of difficulty. The child is required to be registered for home education with the relevant Provincial Education Department (PED).
Tutors are not permitted to substitute the parent as primary educator, and ‘tutor centres’ are only permitted by law to offer extra lessons to homeschooled children who are so registered. Tutor centres/cottage schools offering full tuition programmes must be registered with PEDs as independent schools. Indeed, any group of children gathered together to receive basic education, unless said children are all siblings in their own
home, is considered to be an educational institution, which must be registered as a school to operate legally. Otherwise, both owners and parents may be prosecuted.

So, after 12 years of teaching children at home, would I do it all over again? Without a doubt. Having said that, I hasten to add that I am a realist. Homeschooling is not for everyone, though some homeschoolers may think so. Education institutions will always play a big role in society, especially in the developing world, and South Africa has many excellent ones. For parents and children who are unhappy and looking for an alternative, however, this lifestyle of learning is tried and trusted. I would never describe it as easy, but then nothing worth doing ever is.

References:

See, for example: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/earlychildhood/
reports/2017/02/13/414939/quality-101-identifying-the-corecomponents-
of-a-high-quality-early-childhood-program/ and https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5f69/e435db54111801b6833293d65f5d0f1a3b 96.pdf and https://www.nap.edu/read/19401/chapter/11

See: https://www.news24.com/Columnists/GuestColumn/south-africaneducation- is-appalling-but-there-are-answers-20190721

See: https://www.stopbullying.gov/sites/default/files/2017-10/consequences-ofbullying- fact-sheet.pdf

Category: Summer 2019

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