This question doesn’t come up nearly as much as the ‘socialization’ one, which I will address in due course, but it’s another question asked by voices full of opprobrium.
Well, what is our educational background? I attended some of the UK’s premier schools going on to study at Cambridge University. “Ah ha!” the anti-home educators say, “Well, you wouldn’t have got to Cambridge without those premier schools!” Actually, I got to Cambridge DESPITE my private, very expensive boarding school. I got to Cambridge because I left in the middle of my ‘A’ level course (the exams you take in the UK for University entrance) and attended a tutorial college in London instead which suited me much better. I may have had the ability to go to Cambridge whilst still at my boarding school but I was jaded and demoralized and don’t think I’d have got the grades. I had had enough of just being a number (it was a very large school). I had had enough of being told what to do exactly when.
The tutorial college gave lessons only a few hours a day and expected you to study alone the rest of the time, much as you do at University. The teachers were passionate about their subjects and engaged students in fascinating debate. Their main role was encouraging and supporting us in our studies. Although we all knew we had big exams looming, we learned as if it was just for the love of it. We were treated like adults which encouraged me, at least, to work harder than I ever had before. At last I felt in charge of my destiny. I believe I ultimately did well in my exams because I really enjoyed the learning and, in terms of passing the exams, I remembered it!
I got a terrible report from my old school (and a glowing one from the unheard of tutorial college) and when it came to applying for Cambridge, they were fascinated by this. It is really unusual for someone to leave school in the middle of their ‘A’ level course, especially such a ‘good’ school. In fact it had probably never happened before and never would again (at least not for this unenforced reason). And I’d also changed subjects and taken the exams after only one year of study. I was given full credit for this and, after rigorous interviews, offered a place. At school I had been demoralized and intellectually bored, a year later I was enthused and excited about learning my subjects. The difference, in large part, was teachers as mentors and facilitators who didn’t spoon feed us the subjects.
And my husband? His educational story, in fact his whole background, could not be more different to mine and I have enormous respect for him because of it. I think his financially challenged background will really help when people question our home educating decision. People might feel that, coming from the privileged background that I do, I don’t understand the value of education. Well, I do, not only intellectually but through my husband’s experiences. Since he’s not writing this blog, I won’t go into much detail, but suffice it to say that he’s an exceptional human being who feels it’s unfortunate that it’s very unlikely that he’d be where he is today in his career without the qualifications he got, despite the fact that the real skills he brings to his job were never taught in school or university. In fact, he doesn’t feel that those qualifications taught him much at all. He certainly didn’t get his values from school or university. So instead of advocating that a lot of paper qualifications give you freedom, which is what you might expect from someone who would have struggled to be recognized for his exceptional abilities without them, he wants to free his children in a different way – by releasing them from the expectations both in developed and developing countries that the definition of success is financial and corporate.
We want our children to get a good education and we want them to have choices. This may mean that they choose to get the same sort of qualifications as us and even perhaps to pursue highly corporate careers as we did. But the way we’ll educate them will mean that they will be equipped to do and enjoy all sorts of other things and that hopefully they’ll make a satisfying living following their passions either because their passions turn out to be lucrative or because they feel satisfied doing something they enjoy whilst living a more modest lifestyle. Our home education goal won’t solely be to pass exams. Who knows, maybe they’ll be able to achieve what they want without ever having to take any, or at least not for years. Our aspiration is to instill a lifelong love of learning that will equip them for a happy, successful life.
We understand where traditional qualifications can get you. It’s where it got us. One day we might even pursue our PhDs, given that it’s learning that we can self-direct. But it’s not ideally where we’d like to have been. We hope we can give our kids a different perceptive, better, broader opportunities, culled from two very, very different backgrounds and experiences.
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