Are some children just not cut out for school?

"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."

"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. 

10 comments

  • Home schooling is ok for Osprey, Coriander and Thor. I reckon Peggy and Bob might miss the other kiddies.

    Commenter
    Barry
    Date and time
    June 04, 2014, 8:02AM
    • These parents who think they are experts in pedagogy, child development, psychology, attachment theory etc. rarely are. Sorry, but reading "The brain that changes itself" doesn't make one an expert in neuroplasticity, and being able to read yourself doesn't mean that you have the ability to properly impart literacy skills to your child.

      I am amazed by the hubris of parents who think they are such polymaths that they can home school their children effectively, or that their family unit is a suitable substitute for the social immersion that goes on at school. It is no coincidence that many home-schooled children lack fundamental academic and/or social skills.

      In my experience, many are also home schooled for the purpose of religious indoctrination. I was told by one mother (who home schools a large brood of children with only her HSC as a qualification) that she simply didn't want the children exposed to "ideas" at school that may conflict with their family's extremely conservative views. The children's "school day" mainly consisted of a couple of hours of scripture and bible-based colouring in, with minimal focus on literacy and numeracy. The mother's own spelling skills were atrocious, incidentally, and she moved her lips while reading. She expressed the intention of home-schooling all the children until they were in Year 12. Those poor kids. What chances will they have?

      Commenter
      Red Pony
      Date and time
      June 04, 2014, 9:36AM
      • Good grief. You think that we all came out of school as robots!

        Home schooling might be safe and calm but it won't teach the delicate little snowflakes any real social or coping skills. My mum didn't socialise us much when we were little so when I started school I was incredibly shy and found it overwhelming but I learnt to deal with it and make friends and overcome my inital fear. When I was 10 my parents moved and the local primary school was all about fostering creativity. Yeah, great. There was no structure, no timetable, no homework, no real marking of work. All random and you could write a paragraph or go play in the art room. Honestly. Needless to say that when I started High School a few years later in a different area I struggled and really had to start all over again.

        The education system isn't perfect nut neither is the working world. Most jobs require people to follow rules and procedures, most regulatory. Employers really don't need 'Osprey, Coriander and Thor' getting all upset because it doesn't allow them to express their individuality. Just like school, you can do that on your own time.

        Commenter
        Ripley
        Location
        Hunting Aliens
        Date and time
        June 04, 2014, 12:46PM
        • I love the detailed research and statistics I'm reading! As a teacher, I can confidently inform you of the facts - where home schooling has been studied, children who are home schooled often come out as more civic minded, more likely to get into politics, more mature, more able to relate to people from a variety of age groups including adults, and more socially skilled. Not to mention academically brighter. They often have more than one degree or start businesses or other enterprises at a young age. They are taught that they can do whatever they choose in life. These are actual findings from the US. Where are your findings that home schooled children are snowflakes? How does bullying create tougher kids rather than emotionally scarred children?

          School is not real life. You can compare it to your workplace (if you are in a cubicle) but there are fundamental social, developmental, authoritarian and democratic differences between a workplace and a school. Not everyone wants to be a sheep - some want to be the boss, or an independent contractor or freelancer or small business owner. I'm glad not every parent wants to home school their kids. We can't all be exceptional.

          Commenter
          Josie25
          Location
          Rose Bay
          Date and time
          June 16, 2014, 2:40PM
      • Some things in this article are way off the mark. You state that '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,(ASD) a severe learning disability or behavioural problems. This is incredibly unfair'.
        Sarah, you may have studied psychology at uni, but it is clear that you have never practised as a health professional, so your remarks are unfounded. Many kids with intellectual or physical handicaps can not be placed in mainstream schools, as the teachers do not have the training to teach these kids, and the physical environment of some schools is not tailored for many kids. You are not aware that some kids with autism have NO SPEECH, so how can they be placed in a mainstream school? Please note the word SPECTRUM is placed next to the word AUTISM for a reason... quite simply there is a spectrum of severity of communication and physical abilities. These kids are in special schools for good reason, they are not being home-schooled because mum and dad think they can do a better job. This is a completely different set of children, and the state and private schools can not be expected to cater for children with such needs.
        Unfortunately ASD is on the rise, so we will continue to see more kids who can not go to mainstream schools, but this is a totally different topic to parents who choose home schooling for their intellectually normal children. It is a pity you made the disparaging remark that the school system abandoned them. These kids are being well-cared for in special schools, they are not being home-schooled by parents.

        Commenter
        HEIDI
        Date and time
        June 04, 2014, 12:56PM
        • I am a home schooler. I do if because of several ideological ideals. But when we are at meets and groups I frequently meet parents who childs mild to significant learning a physical disabilities have meant they have removed them from they system as they felt there needs have not been met.
          I have worked in special ed and schools where children Go when removed from the mainstream and I totally understand this choice.
          The truth is schools of all kinds are underfunded and many parents feel better able to cater to their childrens needs, whether those needs are special or not.

          Commenter
          roseweinmeet
          Date and time
          June 05, 2014, 6:57PM
      • Children in Australia (technically) have a right to a 'quality' education. There are many parents who don't have any desire to raise snowflakes but feel they have little option when face with dreadful local schools. If you can't afford a private eduction and the local state school is rubbish then what does a parent do? Some choose to home school.
        I'm a teacher and have worked at some truly appalling places of 'education'. Bullying, sexual harassment and astonishingly poor educational standards are quite common place and combined with poor school leadership leave a massive gap in the provision of a 'quality' education for Australian kids.
        I can't believe the callousness of some of the above comments.
        Not every home schooling parent is an idiot, some are so amazing and responsible they make the choice to educate their kids at home because they care about their children and want them to have a future.

        Commenter
        boy or girl
        Date and time
        June 04, 2014, 5:52PM
        • The students I have come across that have been home school for some of their schooling life have literacy skills far below their age peers and struggle with much of the curriculum because the skills and knowledge they need is not being met through home schooling. their social skills have also been lacking. I know of students who have been homeschooled because of their behaviour (with a mother acknowledging she had no idea what she was doing - YET the approving body accepted her application to home school her child). They did so much better when they started attending the public education system. Another student's parent was approved to home school her child only now to have that child totally lost to the system and society. The mother was unable to home school her child and the father was in jail.
          It is scandalous that these situations arise and continue.

          Commenter
          ljb
          Date and time
          June 04, 2014, 7:35PM
          • I love the detailed research and statistics I'm reading! As a teacher, I can confidently inform you of the facts - where home schooling has been studied, children who are home schooled often come out as more civic minded, more likely to get into politics, more mature, more able to relate to people from a variety of age groups including adults, and more socially skilled. Not to mention academically brighter. They often have more than one degree or start businesses or other enterprises at a young age. They are taught that they can do whatever they choose in life. These are actual findings from the US. Where are your findings that home schooled children are snowflakes? How does bullying create tougher kids rather than emotionally scarred children?

            School is not real life. You can compare it to your workplace (if you are in a cubicle) but there are fundamental social, developmental, authoritarian and democratic differences between a workplace and a school. Not everyone wants to be a sheep - some want to be the boss, or an independent contractor or freelancer or small business owner. I'm glad not every parent wants to home school their kids. We can't all be exceptional.

            Commenter
            Josie25
            Location
            Rose Bay
            Date and time
            June 16, 2014, 2:41PM
            • You could possibly say we home-schooled our kids before they started school, in the Catholic system. They were literate and numerate prior to starting at kindergarten, mainly because we spent time with them, and took them on a trip around Australia for five months when the elder was in his kinder year. Lots of time to keep them interested by counting things we saw, reading them books at night before bed, showing them the alphabet and how letters became words, etc. I would have hated to home school them when older, they needed the interaction with other children, although some teachers were not up to speed for highly intelligent kids. The younger learnt in spite of one teacher, not because of her. They are both well-balanced adults because we didn't push them to fulfil our expectations, but allowed them to follow what they wanted to do, which we supported them to do. Some doctrines of the Catholic church they questioned at a young age, and have said the best way to turn kids against organised religion is to send them to a church school. Doing science as one did has done goes totally against their former church teachings, but they are fine with that, as are we.
              Home schooling would have been detrimental to them.

              Commenter
              Langy Cynic
              Location
              Melbourne
              Date and time
              June 29, 2014, 1:44AM
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