Today is International Freedom in Education Day. FREEDOM in Education, doesn't that sound good? With the horrendous battle to keep hold of our right to educate our own children here in the UK still very fresh in our minds (and sadly a seemingly forever threat on the horizon), this day has been openly and passionately celebrated by home-educators across the nation and beyond.
I can't begin to explain to you oh wonderful reader, what a difference the option to home-educate has meant to my family. The closeness of my relationship with my children, the wonderful relationships my children have with their siblings, the fabulous friends we have made along our journey - both in real life and online, the growth of my children into caring, considerate, and articulate individuals. Not to mention the way my eldest son regained his lost confidence, took on a battle with speech dyspraxia, and now believes in himself once again. I could go on and on....
But I won't.
What I will say instead, is how passionate I feel about home-education. How I feel that home-education should be a 'real' choice for families. Home Education shouldn't be a last resort when all else fails. Parents shouldn't only find out about the home-education option whilst searching for solutions to problems caused by the school system. By that stage the damage is already done. I've lost count of the amount of times I've heard "Oh I wish I'd have known that home-ed was legal, my son/daughter would never have set foot in school!"
Home-education should be shouted about and made known to all. Parents should be able to make a proper informed choice regarding the educational provision of their child(ren). Parents shouldn't be expected to tick a box on a form regarding school placements without knowing the full list of options available to them. We shouldn't allow the system to just come along and take our children away if we feel that school isn't the right environment for them. We know our children best, we should be offered full information regarding the educational provision choices open to us, not just the bits that 'they" wish you to see. You don't see a "Have you thought about home-education?" leaflet provided during the school sign up period do you? And I'm not naive enough to think that we ever will. It's up to us, as people who believe in the freedom of choice so avidly, to spread the word about the alternative that has literally changed our lives.
7 and a half years ago, I didn't know that home-education was a legal option here in England. I didn't know that children didn't have to go to school. Not because I'm thick or stupid (although you may disagree...), but because I had been bought up to believe that all children must attend school. I clearly remember saying that I didn't want to go to school on more than one occasion as a child, and can still hear my mum telling me that I had to go as it was the law. That was ingrained within me, school was the norm.
I didn't know back then that as a parent, I actually had a choice. A legal, absolutely legitimate choice. I could take on the full responsibility of my children's education. I didn't have to just choose the school which I feel they should attend and hope that the teachers/system didn't fail them. Instead I could delay the time before they started school if I thought that 4/5 was too young if I wished to do so. Or I could just as easily decide that my children weren't suited to such an institution and never would be. But I had that all important choice - that freedom.
Wow, such an eye-opening, lifting weight-off-shoulder, fantastic moment.
Oh the relief!
I can't begin to describe the sheer exhilaration and excitement I felt when that penny-dropped. Joseph would never have to set foot in a school again - if he didn't want to. There was a viable alternative option.
Now those that know the story behind our decision to take Joseph out of school will understand these feelings of elation. Those that haven't yet read the story are welcome to pop over and check it out here: Why?
Imagine what it feels like as a mother (and I know that some of you that are reading this don't have to imagine, as you have experienced very similar circumstances and can fully empathise), to feel really helpless and confused as to why you were losing your child. To watch your happy-go-lucky child lose the bright sparkle from his eyes, and his zest for life become deeply hidden or mislaid. To witness behaviour regression beyond comprehension, and to only need the fingers on one hand to count how often a smile passes across your child's face in a whole week. The same child that was always laughing, always smiling, always ready with a cheeky response or a practical joke. The feeling of desperation, to want and need answers, the need to understand what's going on and why - but such questions going unanswered as no one can enlighten you despite your pleas.
Then imagine how it feels to be told it's ok. That you, as a parent, actually have a choice. That there is something that you can do to change things and make things better. That you can remove that one darn thing that is causing your child (and thus your family) so much heartache, grief and pain. That you have the ultimate power (and legal right) to say enough is enough and remove your child from that unhappy space.
I couldn't get my head around the fact that there were groups of home-educators, meeting locally, that I had never seen or heard of before I started an in-depth search. Home-Educating families were meeting up with each other - out and about, in village halls, in playgrounds and parks, in nature reserves...etc. But I had never been witness to their presence. I had never seen a poster or read an information leaflet spreading the word.
I understand that some people wish to stay under the radar, and I have no problem with that. But doesn't everyone have the right to know that they have alternatives available to them? It's hard striking that balance between the rights of privacy and getting information out there, but the thought of what might have been for Joseph had we not stumbled upon the H.E world petrifies me. How long would he have continued withdrawing into his own little bubble? How bad would things have gotten? Would we have ever been able to get him back again? I shudder to think.
So it will come as no surprise to know that I jump at any chance of providing a positive, public image for home-ed. When asked to help with the recent local Green Fair H.E table for example, I eagerly accepted. And when invited to attend a Not Back to School Picnic / Home-Education information event in a nearby town, well, I was hardly likely to decline was I? I spent a very pleasurable couple of hours amongst like-minded individuals today. I was made to feel incredibly welcome (thank you sincerely all involved) and I relished the chance to talk about something I feel so passionate about. A few people approached us to ask questions, and it was lovely to be able to pass on information for the local groups - with all of us working together to promote the Devon H.E network as a whole. I think we need to do more of such events :)
I was able to approach a few group leaders and discuss ideas for a central information website for Devon home-educators. The idea was welcomed by all I spoke to, with everyone seeing a need for such a site and eager to have their group information displayed upon it. It feels as if things are all coming together nicely, and that this will be the start of a better, more communicative H.E network around the region. It's great to know that group organisers are willing to work together and not 'compete' with each other. That our presence will be a positive group force, not individuals pulling in all directions as it has sometimes felt.
I'd love for there to be a day when home-education is seen as a *normal* choice for *normal* families. I know it isn't a choice that many people would make. I know that it isn't a lifestyle that would suit everyone. But it would be lovely to be able to tell people that we home-educate without receiving the "Is that really legal? They allow you to do that???" stunned reply...and heck, if spreading the word means that one child who would crumble within the school environment is saved from having to suffer such a battle, it's worth it - don't you think?
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 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)