How risky is home education really?

As people who have chosen to go against modern-day norms, home educators are often regarded as risk-takers. However, given all the research and evidence around how learning happens for children (and indeed just for humans in general), is it really taking a risk when we have armed ourselves with information that supports that home education is, in most cases, a positive and realistic approach to raising our children?

This article by Peter Gray on the Psychology Today website, tells of kindergarten teachers from Brookline, Massachusetts, who presented a letter to the school committee to protest the approach to teaching children in kindergarten.

“Therefore, we are here tonight to share with you our concerns about a new kind of gap that is emerging in Brookline Kindergarten. It is a “reality gap”—a gap between the way research shows that young children learn best and the curriculum the district requires us to teach. It is a reality gap between Brookline educational values and what is actually happening to children in our classrooms.”

It is this “reality gap” which causes us as home educators the most trouble as we encounter it in interactions with authorities, family, friends and even complete strangers! It is this gap which teachers with a conscience are grappling with, as instructions come from “the top” – from politicians and policy-makers – setting out expectations which are often at odds with what research and experience have proven. Despite all the books, articles, TED talks, and protests by hands-on educators, despite all the research done over decades, involving thousands of children, despite all we know about child development, benefits of parental involvement (particularly in the early years), attachment, about how children engage with the world, we are still dealing with educational policies that entirely ignore all the evidence and continue to demand structured, content-heavy curricula which is measured by testing and exams, and a steady push to include even younger children in this approach, even when there is little evidence to support that this is beneficial to them in the long term.

View our downloadable table here to compare the  delusion with what common-sense and research are telling us.

A good place to start unpacking delusional thinking is to ask this question of adults:

“On reflection, would you say you learnt more at school, or learnt more after leaving school?”

In my experience, without fail, the answer has been that the person has learnt far more since leaving school than they ever did in school.

I then follow up with a second question: “Why do you think that is? What do you think helped you learn more as an adult?”

The person will then generally respond with statements like: “Well, I was learning about something that I was actually interested in!” “I was able to learn about things because I wanted to!” “I found it easier to learn when I was able to apply everything as I learned it!

I love to watch the lightbulb turn on as I then ask: “Why do you think it’s any different for a child?”

Factor into that conversation things like negative school experiences (bullying, anxiety, stress, inability to perform, etc), and the fact that many adults carry the burden of those well into their adult years, some never recovering at all. It is worth delving a little deeper to help others realise that the traditional school model not only has flawed foundational thinking behind it, but can actually be an obstacle to our growth and development as human beings born with the ability to learn.

“Learning is like breathing. It is a natural, human activity: it is part of being alive. A person who is active, curious, who explores the world using all his or her senses, who meets life with energy and enthusiasm – as all babies do – is learning. Our ability to learn, like our ability to breathe, does not need to be improved or tampered with. It is utter nonsense, not to mention deeply insulting, to say that people need to be taught how to learn and how to think. We are born knowing how to do these things. All that is needed is an interesting, accessible, intellible world, and a chance to play a meaningful part in it.”  Aaron Falbel

In spite of all that has been written, researched, and proven, it seems that we will continue to find ourselves up against faulty stereotypes and misinformed rhetoric that politicians and policy makers cling to and stubbornly perpetuate, simply because it is politically expedient to do so.

As home educating parents, we can only patiently educate those around us, give them a peek into our world, and gently help them to question the basis of their (dare I say delusional?) beliefs. Hopefully, bit-by-bit, we can gradually evidence that the path of alternative education, which sets children free to learn as they were designed to, is not such a huge risk after all!

To find out more, check out these resources:

RSA ANIMATE: Changing Education Paradigms – Sir Ken Robinson

“This is your brain when you are playing”. A neuroscience perspective on play

“How Children Learn” and “How Children Fail” – John Holt

“Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling” – John Taylor Gatto

“Free to Learn” – Peter Gray (as well as his many articles on the Psychology Today website)

“Changing Our Minds: How children can take control of their own learning” – Dr Naomi Fisher

“How Children Learn at Home” – Alan Thomas and Harriet Pattison

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