Homeschooling versus traditional schooling

| September 9, 2019 | 0 Comments

BY SIMON CRANE

Over the 28 years that I have been in the English classroom, there is a question from parents that keeps reappearing: what are the advantages/disadvantages to homeschooling when compared to a more formal traditional school programme?

Homeschooling offers certain advantages and disadvantages for the modern boy or girl. Without a doubt, a homeschooled child is spared some of the social pressures that exist within the school environment. They are able to operate at home, away from a school playground, away from other children with whom they might disagree or feel uncomfortable, and this alleviates some of the issues that a child faces in a school environment. In addition, they will be taught by a parent and so will be shielded from having to be in a classroom with someone to whom they may not be able to relate teaching them. I have three nieces who have been homeschooled in the United States and they are all exemplary young ladies. They are articulate, bright, perceptive and really lovely girls who will go on to make invaluable contributions wherever they choose to lay their metaphorical hats. Their education, at home, has been a complete success story, and so I come from a perspective that homeschooling does work.

Homeschooling not a walk in the park

But homeschooling involves work and a wholehearted diligent commitment to educate by the parent who is delivering the programme. It isn’t a day at home. It is a day of study, with a tight and focused curriculum and work that needs to be covered, assessed and benchmarked against a national curriculum. It isn’t an easy job at all, and it needs to be sustained for 200 school days a year. Homeschooling can be done poorly, but it takes a serious commitment to do it well. I meet many children who have been homeschooled in the primary years, who then opt to return to traditional schooling for their high school stage. The primary disadvantage to homeschooling for me is the shielding from community life that forms the bedrock of this choice.

Traditional schooling offers a sense of community

Life is about community. It is about working with others to collectively better society and ourselves. It is about our being the piece of the jigsaw puzzle that perfectly fits that gap. It is about learning to cooperate and relate, even when it might be tough, and I think schools offer the most value in all the times when actual formal teaching is not happening. And so we teach the most when we don’t even know we are teaching. It is those moments when a pupil feels truly in community with others as she or he walks to the next class. It is those moments when a girl passes a hockey ball quite by accident into the perfect place and a teammate shouts the word ‘Shot!’ as an encouragement. It happens in that moment when a teacher puts an arm around a boy who has just gone out on the cricket field and says, ‘Don’t worry. Next time buddy!’ It happens in those moments of community that we all relish and can remember. At HeronBridge College, we work hard to make traditional schooling untraditional. We try to un-school school. We try to make conventional schooling unconventional and to try to provide an environment that enables the children we are privileged to teach. I am a dad and during the course of my life, some people have told me that while you love your children, you can’t be friends with them, because then you cannot discipline them and be the parent. I do not believe that at all.

Striking the balance

I firmly believe that you can be a friend to your children, and at HeronBridge we try to be both teachers and mentors to our pupils. We try to break down power barriers that might impede a sound working partnership and relationship. We delight in our pupils’ successes and we enjoy spending our days with them. In many ways, our relational approach to teaching provides the best of both worlds: a traditional environment where pupils learn to work with others, learn to be self-motivated and learn to work with people with whom they might not necessarily agree. At the same time, our relational approach reduces power barriers and promotes an understanding and care for each other that makes our school particularly untraditional. Consider the photographs that appear with this article, where the senior management team, dressed to the nines, is crowd-surfed across our swimming pool during the school gala. For me, that single event and willingness to be vulnerable connects our staff and pupils, and this enriches us all. There is no right and wrong with regard to homeschooling versus traditional schooling. They both contain advantages and disadvantages. But a great school enables the children within it, and I believe that is a story worth telling.

Simon Crane is deputy head at HeronBridge College in Fourways, Johannesburg, Gauteng.

Category: Spring 2019

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