I know that’s not very fashionable. I know that the phrase “homeschooling” brings to mind weird, undersocialised fundamentalist christian kids, or a borderline Flowers in the Attic thing. But I think that’s not all there is to it.
I had a shit time in school. That’s fair enough, so did most people. I constantly felt completely alone an isolated, that I wasn’t cool, that I wasn’t fun, etc. I still have these feelings of extreme anxiety – when things are bad, I feel as though I am utterly unspecial to my friends, that no one really wants to hang out with me, that I am a second thought for them. This is pretty stupid, but I spent 13 years having this drilled into me.
“Julia, you shouldn’t wear black so much, you look weird.”
“Julia, you read too much.”
“Julia, it’s okay if you want to talk around me, but don’t do it so much around my friends. You say weird things, and it’s embarrassing.”
Those were helpful statements from my friends. I’m not going to mention the things said to me by my enemies, highschool sucked for everyone, you can probably fill in the blanks yourselves.
I don’t want this experience for my kids.
Here’s a blog post by a woman who was un-schooled, “I used to be the prettiest girl in the world”. I want my children to have that level of self-confidence and belief in their own abilities. Especially if they’re girls, because it is SO HARD to be proud of yourself if you’re a girl. Hard for boys too, but man – modesty is bullshit. I would like my children, during their formative years, to be largely unconcerned with conforming to whatever aesthetic ideal has been set by the media and the cool group at their school. I want them to be able to express interest in whatever they like without having to worry that they’ll be seen as uncool. I want them to try on different identities and feel out their own sense of self, unhindered by constant negative pressure to conform to… whatever.
However, it’s not just personal development that makes me want to homeschool my kids one day, it’s largely the horrendous failings of our educational system. As a teacher, I’ve seen what it’s like. Teachers are overworked and undersupported. They teach enormous classes full of hugely diverse kids, and are expected to deliver lessons that cater to all of them. They are trapped by the very strong limitations of the syllabus. I do not understand how kids manage to be enthusiastic or passionate about learning in our current school system.
I would love to homeschool my kids. I am passionate about what is called cross-curriculum content, but basically means learning skills over a variety of disciplines. I believe the boundaries of disciplines are largely useless at school-age, and the focus on subject areas means kids learn to hate certain subjects and the skills that go along with them. Having a hard time with one aspect of maths means you decide you’re no good at maths as a whole. Finding one aspect of history boring can mean you write the whole subject off. Cutting yourself off from these skills at such a young age is a tragedy.
I would love to teach my kids about fractions using baking. I would love for them to read Asimov, then discuss the ethical and metaphysical implications of robots (are they human? are they not? Is it okay to have them as slaves?), and then maybe build a robot. Maybe a model, maybe something with some cool electronics. I would love to teach them history and physics together by building working models of medieval siege engines.
In the classroom, it is hard for me to feel amazing and inspiring. I am so limited by the curriculum, by the school timetable, by the resources available in state schools, by the lack of interest of the kids, by the overbearing bureaucracy that seeps into every aspect of school education. Sorry, kids, we’re doing textbook work today because I’ve got to write your term reports, so I don’t have time to create interesting lessons. Sorry, kids, there’s no time to teach you about the protest movement, music and counter-culture during the Vietnam War, we’ve got limited teaching hours for this topic. Sorry, kids, we can’t derail this lesson into a discussion of gender in ancient greece, we’ve got to stay on track so we can finish the topic in time for your exam.
This is not how learning should be. Students should not have to work hard to stay interested. Teachers should not have to unprioritise inspiring, engaging lessons.
This is not just a failing of the state school system. I’m currently employed as a tutor for two kids, a brother and a sister, who are in year 6 and year 7 respectively at two of Sydney’s most prestigious private schools. I don’t tutor them, per se. I extend them. I provide an interesting, engaging counterpoint to what they’re learning. I provide the one-on-one time they need. I link what they’re learning to their other interests.
They shouldn’t need me to do this, not with what their schools charge. The schools have amazing resources – drama rooms, art supplies beyond a public school teacher’s wildest dreams, huge and beautiful grounds – but they lack diversity. Everyone is upper middle-class. The kids I tutor complain because their mother won’t buy them iPads or designer clothes, like their friends’ mums do. The 12 year old girl felt stressed about attending a year 6 school dance at a nearby independant boys’ school because her mum wouldn’t fork out for a proper formal dress. Instead, she went in a lovely sun dress. She isn’t even interested in boys yet, but was extremely concerned about not wearing the right thing in case her friends judged her. The boy attends an Anglican school and his mother is increasingly concerned about the overbearing religious aspect of his education.
I think about education all the time. I love it. I love getting young people to understand things. The Eureka! moment is amazing to watch. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been unable to extend a student within class due to the millions of limitations placed on us. And I’m afraid of putting my own hypothetical children in this system, where they become faceless, where they can’t pursue their interests, where they can’t direct their own learning.
Already, there are so many fantastic educational resources on the internet, and in the next decade, this will only grow. By the time I have kids of schooling age, the internet will be full of everything I need to teach them. My own skills as an educator would add to this – when utilising online resources, you can’t really just sit a kid in front of a computer and let them go. I know how to structure activities using resources so that the students actually gain knowledge.
One of my favourite sites, which I’ve used for the year 7 History curriculum, is the British Museum’s Ancient Greece site. On my second prac, I created a worksheet for kids that required them to use this site as research, and to analyse the information and present it in new ways. They loved it. I don’t get to teach fun classes like that enough. Educational experiences using awesome websites and interactive resources shouldn’t be a sometimes food. They shouldn’t be a special treat, a break from the norm of textbooks and whiteboard notes. Homeschooling would give me the chance to create holistic, memorable educational experiences. My kids could spend their formative years loving learning, and loving themselves.
And so what if they were weird and undersocialised at the end of it? So was I, when I finished high school. And I certainly wasn’t the most awkward person to ever start university. I think, largely, the concept of age-based peers is completely overrated. Some of the teachers I’ve gotten on best with have been lovely middle-aged nerds who use comic books in English classes, rather than the women my age who just want to talk about Masterchef. So, yes. I attended a variety of different schools (a k-2 infant’s school with a focus on early childhood development, a multilingual school where I did a third of my classes in German, a small-town state public primary school where my teacher created a whole program just for me because I was brighter than everyone else, a state highschool where I was invisible and unhappy, and a private Uniting church school with a seriously amazing extra-curricular program. I’m still a total spaz when it comes to socialising with people my own age, and I’ve had to work very, very hard to overcome the damage school did to my self-esteem.
So why not homeschool? Why not save everyone from that? Why not totally avoid being told I’m a bad mother for NOT letting my kids wear designer clothes? There are extracurricular activities available outside schools, surely my kids could socialise through those?
I just can’t really see any overwhelming arguments FOR sending my kids to a normal school. Does this make me a filthy hippy? Possibly. I just think of the whole thing, thirteen years of trying desperately to fit in, and I kind of feel it’s not worth it.