"Parenting is a massive responsibility. Sometimes it’s lovely to share it; to hand a child over to the mainstream, the professionals and the ant heap of life." Photo: Getty
It was 10 am and 39 degrees and I went to the pub. It was my second child’s first day at school and I washed the lump in my throat down with a glass of good champagne. I was both celebrating giving him over to society while drowning my sorrow that I was submitting him to an institution.
The thrill just edged over the sadness. After all, I figured, it takes a village.
Some parents can’t swallow that lump. They instead choose to home school their child and their numbers are rising.
Indeed, in NSW home schooling is such an increasing phenomenon that a parliamentary inquiry has been ordered into why parents are rejecting the system that is meant to serve them.
It’s also increasing in other states and other countries such as the UK, the US and Japan.
Education is a right. We are guaranteed it and we pay tax for it. So why is it being rejected? Is it all about the parents being too precious or fussy? Or are some kids just not suited for school?
In the United States they most likely blame Jesus, or the lack thereof. Nearly 40% of home schoolers are there for religious reasons and most of them are Christian fundamentalists. But here, God, thankfully, is not the main reason.
In Australia one of the most understandable explanations for home schooling comes from parents who are actually not really choosing to opt out from the system. The system is opting out of them. They are leaving due to a lack of support for their special needs children. These may be kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder, a severe learning disability or behavioural problems. This is incredibly unfair. These parents are already working so hard to help their child and feel understandably abandoned by a system meant to support them.
Some have unspecified problems that make school unsafe.
At the moment, laser tag parties are huge. Partygoers go into a dark room to watch a video of a futuristic world made anarchic by climate change. My kids can’t hack the terror, the violence and the over sensory stimulation. This is what the school ground and classroom is like for some children – so brutal and terrifying that they cannot cope.
Perhaps some kids are just not suited for school. But couldn’t school be more suited to them? Couldn’t we cater for difference? There are many schools that try but sometimes it just doesn’t work. Home schooling can provide safety, security, a calm atmosphere, peace, order and controlled social situations with other home schoolers.
But for others who home school it’s not because the kids aren’t suited. It’s a fundamental rejection of the way schools work. These parents won’t compromise to fit into an imperfect system.
They reject the regimentation and the loss of freedom, spontaneity and imagination in the education system. They worry that their child’s creative spark will be snuffed. They detest the lining up, peer grouping, boring assemblies, bad uniforms, uninteresting art, and conforming haircuts. We all worry about the deadening of their personalities. I understand it’s hard to force conformity on kids, kooky or otherwise.
Some schools are one size fits all. But most do allow and celebrate the diversity of learning types and personalities and behaviours. In the 1970s a substantial number of parents decided schools have become like factories spewing out kids like robots. Some of their alternative schools live on – as do Steiner, Montessori, democratic schools and John Marsden’s fabulous school in Victoria. But the home school movement petered out as more women worked and life got more expensive. It’s interesting that it’s having a revival at a time women are increasingly working.
This refusal to compromise for the mainstream is another step in the increased professionalisation of parenting. Parents take their jobs seriously these days. They are schooled in psychology, attachment theory, neuroplasticity and self-help and many can’t bear the imperfection and compromise of the system. There’s the yearly round of Russian roulette over which teacher they get and have to share with so many others. I understand and appreciate that it’s hard to watch the boring worksheets, the continual testing, the disappointment that natural desires are quashed, the concern there’s no time to daydream, nurture and grow at their own pace. School is a compromise. But hey, so is life.
Home schooling is a massive compromise for the parent.
Becoming a qualified teacher would be beyond me – a profession I value and respect too much to attempt. Doing so is both an elevation of a parent’s role but also a putting aside of (usually) their own dreams and ambitions.
Parenting is a massive responsibility. Sometimes it’s lovely to share it; to hand a child over to the mainstream, the professionals and the ant heap of life. Yes we often need to dive in and rescue them occasionally but it’s great to be involved with a place of learning. I wish home schooling parents well and admire their guts, determination and skill.
But I feel lucky my kids love our school. I love that it accommodates their quirks and needs while embracing them in a big, broad, diverse community.
That’s why I chose compromise and the pub.