Since I was musing on educational philosophy, a few weeks ago, I’ve moved to thinking more about the difference between home education and school education. And my Mum’s going to go white, again.
Schools have, I am given to understand, a legal obligation to provide what is described as “a broad and balanced curriculum”, and until quite recently I think I was assuming that I had some kind of moral responsibility to do the same. But then I started to think about WHY the school curriculum is described in those terms. It needs to be broad and balanced, because it’s trying to cater to the needs of a large number of very different children. It needs to offer the things a specific child can succeed at, without necessarily knowing what those things are. So they take the scattergun approach – all children will study all subjects, covering maths, english, science, languages, humanities, art, music, whatever cookery and needlework are called now, PE, woodwork et al, and, increasingly, PHSE-type subjects (sex ed for the infants, anyone? *).
My children are going to be educated at home, in a system personally tailored to their individual educational needs. You can do that with the sort of ratios you have at home. You don’t get thirty new bodies every September, to spend all year finding out what they’re good at, before you pass them on to someone else. You have one or two children whom you follow throughout their academic career. You know them intimately, and you know how to encourage what they’re good at. If they have no interest in or talent for drawing, or geography, they don’t have to do it. That was a light bulb moment for me. It’s OK treat them as individuals, with individual strengths and weaknesses.
Now, in the real world, that’s unlikely to mean much. I’m not about to decide one of them isn’t much good at counting, so we’ll never do maths with them again: partly because there are some life skills that are worth persevering over, and counting your own money is one of them; and partly because there’s no reason for them actually hate a “subject”, as long as they don’t feel like they’re being pushed harder than they can handle. At home, there’s no power on high insisting that they reach a specific level in a specific subject by a specific date. If maths is hard, then maths can be taken slowly. It’s OK if they get to sixteen without getting as far as quadratic equations. It’s OK if they get to sixteen without ever doing algebra at all – as long as they can weigh ingredients, measure for a carpet, count the money (both the real money in the purse, and the numbers on the bank statement), the rest of maths is for fun, really, isn’t it? It’s to pursue if you like that sort of thing, if you like maths, if you want maths qualifications, etc, etc. It doesn’t matter.
Home education is about finding their passions, their loves, their talents, and helping them to make the most of them. I suppose it comes down to what I’ve said before – there are a tiny handful of things that are important skills for life, and the rest of education is basically general knowledge. History, geography, literature, science – there are no real rules to which bits you should learn, or in which order. It’s OK to know about Tudors but not Romans. It’s OK to understand what a volcano is, but not know the capital of Uganda. It’s OK to have read Austen, but not Dickens – or Dickens, but not Austen, depending on your preference. They’re all about broadening your understanding of the world, through exposure to information and through understanding of that information.
So I have a responsibility to make a broad range of educational opportunities available. I have a responsibility to reintroduce things at periodic intervals, in case a child is suddenly ready for it, now. But I don’t have a responsibility to flog dead horses. Which is a relief.
* I don’t actually have an opinion on sex education in schools – well, I don’t mind it, so I suppose I do, just not a hostile one. I have grave reservations about schools taking responsibility for “relationship” education though, because how can they possibly undertake to teach about something that can’t be researched empirically? The idea of the govenment, at the top level, or some teacher I don’t know, and may or may not approve of morally, setting the “moral framework” with which to underpin sex education alarms me greatly. That’s not education. It’s indoctrination, and indoctrination is so my job!