Friday, February 26, 2010

My thoughts...

Trial by media, misconceptions, ignorance, used for political gain...take your pick.

I have tried to keep this blog just about my family, and about our personal journey as we embark on our day to day home-educating adventures.  Thus far I have succeeded in keeping the blog a political free zone.  When I awoke this morning at 5am, and lay in bed thinking about what the day would have instore for me, my mind wandered into thinking what I would blog about later in the day.  I wanted to write something about how home-educators are perceived by the media.  I wanted to talk about the media slotting us all into convenient little boxes - the free and easy hippy type, the fanatical religious type, the hot-housing "wanting to produce child-genius" type - you get the idea.  Why?  Why don't the media ever talk about ol' Joe Bloggs and family, happily home-educating their children, with no reference to radical ideas, extreme views, child abuse claims, Mensa joining, phenomenal IQ etc etc?  Just a down to earth "this is how we do it, and look no schoolroom, tutor or workbook in sight, oh and we even have friends!" article that hasn't been negatively twisted by the journalist, and could maybe even help dispel the myths that surround the much misunderstood world that is Home-Ed.  Argh, now that wouldn't be news now would it?

Little did I know during my morning thought-fest, that by lunchtime my day would become a swirl of frustration, disappointment, anger, upset, and pure despair.  I've got so many thoughts, feelings and opinions pulsating through my mind, I've got yet another headache.  But, enough is enough.  I've reached procrastination overload and it's time I unleashed my thoughts into blogland. 

So, what has happened today to create this sudden u-turn?  Enter Fern Britton and the Radio 2 farce.  Alarm bells should have rung immediately when Fern opened the show with "Should home-educators be required to follow the same rules as the rest of us?"  Erm, what rules are they then Fern?  Home-Educators do follow the exact same rules as every other law-abiding citizen in the Country.  If these rules that she speaks of concern education, well the law states that it is the parents responsibility to ensure that children receive a suitable education - we do that, just at home (and in the big wide world)  instead of within the confines of the system.

I am absolutely sick to death of having to justify and defend that law-given right in a so-called democratic country.  I feel like the past few months of my life have been spent pointing out media inaccuracies, righting the wrongs, and fighting.  Fighting for what?  Fighting for freedom of choice, fighting for parental rights, fighting for my children.  For my children - for that reason alone, I will not give up.

Let's get sidetracked and look at my reason for home-educating for a moment.  Initially it was due to my eldest son not thriving within the school environment.  The short version is that at 5 years old he became withdrawn, painfully clingy and shy, and I was scared.  I woefully observed my happy-go-lucky, always smiling, cheeky child, deteriorate into a figure beyond my recognition.  He was returning home with broken glasses numerous times a week, and was recoiling into a world of his own.  The teachers noticed a dramatic change in his personality and commented on it - stating that he "wasn't his cheerful, happy self anymore".  He went from being the child whom would jump up and dress himself in school uniform at 6am eager to get to school, to being physically sick as we walked there within weeks.  I can't begin to explain how I felt at that time.  Emotions consisted of fear, anger, confusion - not eased as nobody could explain why it was happening.  Enough was enough. I researched bullying and school-phobia desperate for alternatives and discovered (for the first time in my life) that home-education was a legal option.  Upon further investigation and much soul-searching and worrying, the decision to de-register my son from school was made (with the full support and agreement of my husband).  This was not an easy decision.  It was certainly not a decision I took lightly.  It wasn't the easy way out.  It was a choice I made to take full responsibiltiy to help my son.  My son that had stopped talking.  My son who was petrified of being away from me (despite happily progressing through the usual Nursery route, where leaving me had never been an issue).  My son who had lost the zest for life that he once had.  My son whose eyes had lost their spark and whose mouth had forgotten how to smile.  Why? To this day that question has never been adequately answered.  He will still mention children being horrid to him and breaking his glasses.  He will talk about the teacher ignoring him as she couldn't understand what he was saying and didn't have time to try.  He will talk with such sadness about his short time in school.

I admit that the Home-Ed decision was initially a temporary one.   I was thinking a year at the most, just time to rebuild lost confidences and work on the speech problems.

On March 3rd of this year, we will have been home-educating for 7 years.

So why have we stuck at it?  Why have I sacrificed the chance of a career?  Why did we make the decision to live on one income and go without the luxury holidays abroad, the meals out, the posh cars, and all the other material trappings that so many others relish?  Why do I pour over our finances every single month, worrying that there won't be enough in the bank to cover the rent and utility bills, knowing that I could go out and get a decent paid job to cover it?   Put simply, for love.  Now, before I get jumped on for that comment, I'm not for one cotton-picking minute saying that I love my children more than those parents whose children go to school.   Most (I'd like to say all, but cases reported by the media suggest otherwise) parents unconditionally love, worship, and adore their children and choose what they believe to be the best for them and their family unit.  I'm not anti-schools in any way and never have been.  I just believe in choices.  I believe in individuals.  I believe that the school system can't and won't suit every child, just as home-education wouldn't suit every family.  My children all have the choice to go to school if they wish to do so. I have made that clear from day one, if they want to try it, I will back them 100%.  They don't (as yet).

So why am I feeling backed into a corner?  Why do I feel like I'm fighting for survival?  Do you know what home-educators face on a day to day basis? (That question is obviously directed at any non-HErs that happen to cross paths with this blog).  We face nothing short of persecution.  We have complete strangers stop us in the street/in the library/in the supermarket/at the hairdressers/in the Doctors surgery to enquire why our children aren't in school.  I get nervous.  Not (as the media would have you believe) because I have something to hide, but because I worry about the reaction the mere mention of home-education will receive.  Admittedly, some people think that it's wonderful.  We will stand and chat about the state of the school system, how home-education works, answer questions about socialisation and the legal stand point.  I like those discussions.  I like talking about something I'm passionate about (can you tell?)  I like people to know that there is an alternative to traditional schooling - not to stir up trouble or to stand out from the crowd - but because the more people that know about it, the more normal it will be seen as.  This in turn may mean the less negativity we receive.  Let's talk about that.  Why do complete strangers who know nothing about myself or my family think that passing judgement on my life is acceptable?  Is it ok for somebody unknown to you to shout about it being "disgusting that you are allowed to do that!" or that "you are destroying your children's lives!" in the middle of the street?  Why?  Why is wanting what works for my children and my family wrong or disgusting?  Why is it so strange for people to comprehend that a mother (and/or a father) may actually enjoy spending time with their children?  Why am I deemed wierd/a saint/wonderful/just plain strange for doing something so incredibly natural?

I'll never understand it.

So why does it work for us?  We are your average family with average children (if there is such a thing).  They have their individual talents of course, but none are going to become an academic genius any time soon, and that's absolutely fine.  Throughout the 7 years of us home-educating, I have seen my children thrive in so many ways.  I have watched relationships between siblings grow closer, I have seen confidences grow and expectations excelled.  I have experienced how much the younger ones gain from having the older ones around.  I have been witness to Tiegan (now 8) teaching herself to read, and Callum (now 4) teaching himself how to spell his name, count to 100 and learn the letter names and sounds of the alphabet.  Joseph has been signed-off  from his speech therapy sessions - and home-education was credited for his success.  The speech-therapist actually said "I have no doubt that if Joe was still in school, I wouldn't be signing him off today.  The home-education has been his saviour".    I see my 4, well-rounded and fully adjusted children, progressing into becoming what I believe will be amazing adults.  At 14 years of age my daughter will hug me in the street and tell me she loves me.  We share in-depths chats, bake together, go shopping together, give each other fashion advice.  I haven't had to compete with her peers to fight to be heard and listened to.  Before this get misconstrued, I feel I should defend that last comment (see? Something is wrong when you feel you should defend something you write on your own blog...)  I don't keep my children wrapped up all safely and cosy in cotton wool away from the big bad world.  I don't squeeze us all into a little bubble (or into the cupboard under the stairs, or locked away in the cellar, or anywhere else the media might have you believe...) and keep my children away from the big bad rollercoaster that is life.  My children are out there, experiencing it in all it's glory.  Yes they have friends, yes they mix with people of their own age (as well as with those much younger and much older - just as in the real world!)  What better preparation for life is there than that?  Frankly,  I find it quite strange that it is perceived as normal to force children to spend their day enclosed within a room full of people because they share the same birth year.  I've never understood the lack of socialisation issue that is so often thrown at us HErs.  Friends come to visit, we go to others houses, we go to groups, my children go down to the park (yes, alone sometimes without me there to hold their hand, shock and horror!) and mix with the school children.  They can go to Brownies and Scouts (again socialising with school children, and without me with them!), they get invited to parties, go swimming, shopping with friends, play football, the list goes on and on.  Home-educated children are not shut away and hidden from society as some would have you believe.  They are not missing out on forming friendships.  They are not lacking in socialisation skills.  They are fully-fledged members of society, integrating within the community.  The world is their classroom, life is their learning tool.

So, *deep breath* back to the Radio 2 show with Fern Britton today that sparked this gut-spilling posting.  As I was already incensed by the totally inaccurate and clearly biased media coverage of the tragic Khyra Ishaq case in the past 2 days, where it was stated (wrongly) that Khyra was being home-educated, I guess I shouldn't have tuned in.  Fern Britton showed absolutely no understanding of what home-education is -  the legal aspect, the procedure to de-register, the powers for intevention currently in place, or even how it is done.  Nothing.  How can somebody earn money by spouting rubbish about a subject that they know nothing about?  Forget I asked that, I already know.  During the very short duration (cut short perhaps? Was certainly a great deal shorter than the other topics covered),  that home-education was the subject, let's see some of the misconceptions and generally ignorant assumptions and comments that were made by Fern and her guests.

"Do home-educators have to show the LA their schoolroom?"
"Oh, erm, home-educators have to show a little bit of work to prove education is taking place."
"Parents aren't qualified to teach."
"Home-Educated children lack socialisation with children of their own age."
"Home-Education children lack socialisation with adult professionals."
"But how, if there is no schoolroom, do you stop children running wild and daydreaming?"  (Oh, we tie them to the nearest chair and beat them into submission. - Noooooo of course we don't, but I wonder, given the misconceptions, if it would have come as a surprise if we did..)

Throughout the show the link between home-education and the Khyra Ishaq case was repeated.  There was no link.  There is no link.  Dear dear Khyra was failed by the system.  Failed by those that didn't intevene. The powers are already in place, the necessary child-safety checks can legally be made in such a case, but nothing was done. To use a child's death for political gain is wrong.  To insist on using the case against law-abiding citizens, and make all home-educators out to be possible child-abusers who are in need of regulation and assessment is just wrong.  Plain unadulterated wrong.  The phrase cracking a nut with a hammer has been used and suits the situation perfectly. 

There was more - but I can't bring myself to repeat it further.  But the bright light shining through the dull fog was that of Ann Newstead who battled bravely as a positive for Home-Education despite the surrounding negativity.

Of course, being a radio phone-in show, the listeners were encouraged to get in touch and have their say *rubs hands with glee.*  Glee soon turned to disappointment.
Message 1 - "Children should be together with those of their own age."
Message 2 - "Home-Education should only be for disabled children."

Then there was a caller - a home-educator who could talk about both sides of the argument as she had children in school and one at home.  She sang the praises of Home-ed and how it worked for her.  At least she sang as many praises that could be sung within the heavily exerted time restraint of the show.

Then caller two - a step-dad who hadn't agreed with his partner home-educating her son.  Apparently he should have been able to learn from his peers.  Apparently his step-son resents his home-education history (although said son wasn't there to speak for himself, so there may have been positives and negatives to his feelings, we don't know). 

And there you go.  That was it.

The world of the wonderful media in all it's unbiased and balanced glory. *Sigh*

Why are there so many people that just don't get it?  Why can't some people see that children can receive a perfectly well-rounded education outside the confines of a classroom?  Why is the whole teacher-pupils-classroom-school thing the only way that some people believe to be a good education?  Why am I constantly feeling like I'm banging my head against a brick wall....?

Listen.  I am happy with my life.  I am more than content with my role as mother, wife, learning facilitator and homemaker.   My children are happy (the most important thing to me), but more than that, they are kind, caring, considerate members of society.  They have lots of friends.  They do lots of "learning" including the usual maths, sciences, geography, history, art etc, even though we don't follow the curriculum or have structured learning, and I'm not a qualified teacher. 

Home-education can be wonderful, but wouldn't be a lifestyle choice that suits everyone.  Just please dear non-HErs and the powers that be, don't persecute those that have made that choice to be fully responsible for their children.  Please don't be swayed by the horror tales that the media are banding around at the moment without evidence, research or any knowledge of the subject.  Please don't let Ed Balls and the Labour Government persuade you that home-educators need to be watched, assessed, registered, and anything else he dreams up for us, despite no evidence deeming it necessary.  If we need watching to safeguard our children from abuse - what about those of not yet school age?  What about those off school for medical reasons?  What about the school holidays?  6 weeks is plenty long enough for abuse to occur, should they come and just check all is ok in your household too?

Rant over.

*Disclaimer*
These are my own personal thoughts and opinions.  My own experiences, my own (admittedly hot-headed) rants and distresses.  I will not apologise for voicing my opinion here on my own personal blog - but I do apologise if any distress or offence is caused to those that don't share my views.  If you don't like what I'm writing - don't read it, but I'd prefer it if you do :o)

15 comments:

  1. thank you for sharing some of your experiences, a lot rings true especially about the financial hardships, im so glad that things are working out so well with your family, i posted a comment on the lords blog today which sums up some of my feelings :-( xx

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  2. Inspiring to say the least, and so true, my eldest daughter was in a terrible way with bullying until i took her out to home ed her and now she is shining, getting more confident by the day and working towards her goals that she wants to achieve and almost 17yrs now is flourishing. My younger one unfortunatly is having many problems at school and is school phobic, i am working on what i should do about that right now as i work part time and she is 6yrs old i am on my own (have no partner) and financially not sure whether i can give up work to home ed her aswell, but to be totally honest i am heading that way as i cant bear to see her suffer anymore, like your son she is very quiet now and lost her sparkle she is constantly fighting with her emotions and it is heartbreaking, i will find a way round my finances as her well being is more important, it is so inspiring to see how well you have done with your children, well done xx

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  3. It was great to read this post as it pretty much sums up how I feel.
    My son started school last September and was there for 5 weeks before we de registered him. My Dad was desperate for us to take him out of school and kept telling his friends 'the life has been sucked out of my grandson'
    We were wondering if we should go for home ed then my husband just said, 'at school he is bored and really unhappy and the only thing he has learnt is how to swear so what's the point?' that did it for me and we haven't looked back.
    I don't know if he will return to school at any point (right now the mention of school makes him cry) we shall just wait and see what he wants to do. Right now we are just loving home ed.

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  4. I feel so much like this and I'm tired! I'm tired of fighting! You know, as a Christian HEder I feel hemmed in. Not only is this government trying to make sure it's as difficult as possible for us to do our job as parents in way other than the way that THEY think best, but they AND the opposition are also threatening to take away our freedom to educate our children according to our faith. The undertones of this whole clause run so much deeper than any of us even realise I'm sure. These are scary dictatorial times that we live in and I am tired of fighting every which way I turn :(

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  5. What a great post. You are far kinder on schools than me. I've long given up trying to be nice to people who send their children to school. Call be undiplomatic, if you like ;) I put off having kids for years because in the back of my mind I thought "poor buggers are going to have to go to school, what a shitter."
    Luckily, someone up above intervened and showed me a different path.
    Sorry for the swearing - I can't swear around the kids, so it spills out on the internet ;)
    Regarding Fern Britton et al, I must admit I thought it was better than I expected. They have discussed Home Ed before on that show, about a year ago I think, and it wasn't pretty. Programs like this end up being basic fact finding for the majority of people and the usual waive of people who think they have the right to tell everyone how to bring up their kids get the most coverage, as happened yesterday. I tend to tut and think how glad I am that I have the ability to think beyond the norm. One of the emails that read out was from someone in Watford, which is very very close to where I was brought up (I went to FE college in Watford). I found it kind of ironic, because most of the schools there are dreadful.
    I look on my discovering Home Ed as similar to the Red Pill/Blue Pill moment in the first Matrix film. All those ignorant people need to take the red pill like me and you. If they haven't yet - we need to offer it to them.
    I have also found it very interesting how there are lots of Home Edders who will be voting Conservative for the first time over this single issue. My parents warned me about Labour after the 1970's and I've never voted for them (can't blame this mess on me). But I have long realised that whilst helping people in need is the backbone of civilisation, that socialism tends to be a very bad thing (a bit of a sweeping statement, and it is more complicated that that). It does not let people live their life as they see fit. It despises people who do well for themselves, and is just an excuse for people to wield power over others. I'm no great fan of the Conservatives by the way - locally, I've been very disappointed with what they get up to. But MP's like Graham Stuart and Mark Field, Lord Lucas etc undo all the bad things I've seen.
    Sorry for the long rant! I really should start my own blog ;0)

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  6. Great post - I think we don't cop quite as much here in Aus.
    We all have our reasons to home educate and everyone needs to make the right decisions for their family.
    Thanks for sharing so much with us.

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  7. So eloquently put - you should *rant* more often ;-)
    I have the same experience of one of my sons being signed off by SALT who said that if he ever goes back to school, he'll need SALT support but being home educated, it took just 6 months for him to be signed off. I also made a "negative" choice to home educate - a knee jerk, this-can't-go-on-anymore decision - but it has become a positive, life affirming choice. Two kids taken out of school, two more who haven't - and never will (if I have to go to jail over it) go to school.
    It is good to remind ourselves in these dark days the daily pleasure home educating brings us and our children. I'm so proud to be part of this amazing, random, dissimilar, ragtag and bobtail bunch of people!

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  8. I've shouted at the radio this week. I've felt despair that we'll be allowed to keep home educating. I've felt such frustration and anger... you certainly haven't offended me with your post! My son too, became a shadow of himself when he was in school. He's FAR more sociable now than he was in school. He's actually happy - there's a shocker! Grrr. Grrr. Grrr. We keep plodding on and praying too.
    Sarah

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  9. I am with Jenna, I liken much of 'getting' home education to a Matrixian experience.

    There is so much about what you said that I can relate to. We have every day kids too. No child prodigies, musicians, chess player or budding child millionaires, just home grown kids whose character is slowly being formed and shaped to be great individuals.

    One of my big loves comes at not having to compete against peers. Not because they don't have friends- they do, but because those relationships are in correct order, family then friend, and some friends are like family.

    I watch my friends kids slowly slip away in a peer directed culture and I find it heart breaking.

    It is a burden Julia, that people don't understand until they carry the weight of responsibility that they have wrongly handed over to the State before.

    Thanks for sharing your heart and your thoughts, your heart beat is beautiful and the world you are creating is well worth the effort, even when the journey gets rough.

    Stand up and smile Mummy, you are doing an amazing job.

    x

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  10. hear hear!

    ((()))

    X

    :)

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  11. Fantastic post :D I dread being asked why the children aren't in school now, incase the person asking has read the awful things that have been written about us in the press this last year. I never used to feel like that, and we have started to go out less during the daytime as a result, something I said I would NEVER do.

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  12. I think you put it perfectly, I agree with everything you have said! In fact I wouldn't mind printin it off for my nan to read, as she has seriously negative views on home education and it drives me potty!
    Jaylie

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  13. Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog! I always love finding new blogs to follow :)

    I love this post--it always amazes me how people find HE so weird. To me it seems like such a natural next step for us--my daughter is only almost 2. But it seems so strange that we would send her away when she's learning so much here. Good luck with everything!

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  14. Bravo! What a great post. I have read a lot of HE blogs over the last year, but this is one of the most powerful pieces I have seen.
    Thank you so much for visiting me and the very kind and supportive comments. xxx

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  15. Just wanted to say thanks for sharing your thoughts. This is a really powerful post.

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