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HOME SCHOOLING

CREATING REAL ALTERNATIVES IN EDUCATION

By Troy Southgate

"Men had better be without education than be educated by their rulers; for this education is but the mere breaking in of the steer to the yoke; the mere discipline of the hunting dog, which by dint of severity is made to forego the strongest impulse of his nature, and instead of devouring his prey, to hasten with it to the feet of his master." - Thomas Hodgkins

"He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils." - Roger Bacon

ONE OF the main reasons poeople choose to become involved in political activity, is due to a growing concern towards the kind of world our children will be forced to inherit in the future. As opponents of private and State capitalism we would all like to see a new generation of young people become instilled with our own healthy values, but for a System which allows its moral and intellectual standards to be fixed by the mass society - so that individuality and non-participation are discouraged - this becomes a rather subversive demand. Are we fighting a losing battle or can we somehow ensure that our message of political, social and economic decentralisation is passed on to the youth of tomorrow?

It is my view that our political and economic objectives must be preceded by a Spiritual Revolution which begins in the hearts and minds of individuals and then spreads by example. If we cannot change ourselves, then we cannot ever expect to encourage others to share our worldview and thus help build alternatives to the present System. Furthermore, if we do not set an example to our children then we will inevitably lose them to the prevailing anti-culture of television gameshows, abortion-on-demand, gansta-rap, drug-addiction and conformist apathy. The only way that we can succeed, therefore, is by rejecting the System itself and making the education of our own youth a priority.

Ever since the second half of the nineteenth century and the gradual expansion of the proletariat, parents no longer have the task of educating their children and most are deposited into State-run or grant-maintained schools. But is it right that a mother who is opposed to wage-slavery and economic servitude should be thrust into the workplace whilst her children are indoctrinated by the very System she and her spouse vigorously oppose? Of course not. Picture the scene as a fifteen year-old child is taught by her parents that hunter-gatherer societies on the periphery are being undermined by the exploitative fatcats at the industrial core. Before long, the same child is being informed by her teacher in the classroom that the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution are responsible for the betterment of society as a whole and that she must write an essay on Adam Smith’s ‘Wealth of Nations’ by next Tuesday. Short of marching up to the school every two or three days to complain to the headmaster that a certain teacher is contradicting their beliefs, there is very little the child's parents can do in such a situation. The only alternative is for parents to take their children out of school completely and educate them at home.

According to Mark Halstead, "there are two broad groups of home educators: those with a philosophy and those with a problem." But whilst many children are constantly exposed to bullying and various other problems, we should be primarily interested in how our children are developing ideologically. With the gradual decline of academic standards in modern society, many parents are exploring the option of home-schooling as a means of securing a sound education for their children. This idea is becoming very popular amongst religious groups, particularly Pagan and Muslim parents who have come to realise that the safest way of ensuring that their children receive an education based around their respective traditional and ethnic values, is to teach them first-hand. Certain political groups are also actively involved in promoting the concept of home-schooling, and these range from Anarchist groups on the one hand, to Green and Marxist organisations on the other. We must ensure that those of us with children make full use of this vital option.

Home-schooling is certainly not a new concept. After all, before the advent of schools or educational systems it was considered perfectly natural for parents to educate and nurture their own children, with many of them viewing it as a sacred task. Nowadays. many parents are waking up to the fact that whilst people vary and have different needs, the National Curriculum merely demonstrates how a bureaucratic educational system is unable to cater for all tastes. Indeed, the present Curriculum is heavily steeped in propaganda and those parents who believe in independence and creativity are becoming anxious for their children to have an opportunity to explore an alternative set of political or spiritual issues. It is also a fact that the less we depend upon the institutions of the State, the more freedom we can have over our own lives. The State only continues to prosper whilst people give it their verbal or practical allegiance, once this comes to an end the State becomes irrelevant and can then be swept aside by the growing power of community.

The main organisation promoting home-schooling in England is Education Otherwise, which was formed by a small group of parents at Leamington Spa in Warwickshire at the beginning of 1977. The group soon evolved into an effective self-help organisation offering support, advice and information to families practising or contemplating home-based education as an alternative to mainstream schooling and takes its name from Section 36 of the 1944 Education Act, which states that parents must be responsible for their children's “efficient full time education, suitable to his age, ability and aptitude, and to any special educational needs he may have either by regular attendance at school or otherwise”. Although education is legally compulsory in this country, schooling is not. However, if parents cannot satisfy the Local Education Authority that their child is receiving a satisfactory education they could face prosecution and a summons to the magistrate's court. But if parents can prove that their child is being given a suitable education they will have a concrete defence. If children are taken out of school and 'deregistered', the authorities must give parents "reasonable time" to set up an education programme. After children have been withdrawn from school, the State's only requirement is that a Local Education Authority Officer visits your home on an annual basis to check that some form of education is actually taking place. The benefits of home schooling are endless, and children:

do not have to follow the National Curriculum.

do not have to take tests or exams.

do not have to have a timetable.

do not have to have a qualified tutor to teach them.

do not have to work during the usual school hours.

do not have to work any particular number of hours a week.

Education Otherwise also aims to offer an immediate service for its members, as well as to ensure that families have the freedom to make reasonable choices about the type of education best suited to them. The group has no source of funding apart from the subscriptions and donations drawn from its membership, which, by 1991 was estimated at over 2000 families, groups and individuals; a figure which includes over 600 trained teachers. In 1995, approximately 100 families a month joined Education Otherwise and one study now estimates that there are at least 12,000 families practising home-based education in England and Wales alone. Everything else it does relies upon the dedication and commitment of volunteer members. There is a network containing over 70 voluntary co-ordinators spread around the country, many of whom provide their members with specialised assistance in particular areas of education. There are also regular seminars and conferences, public meetings and children's workshops. In addition, the group also provides its members with a full contact list containing the names, addresses and birthdates of all affiliates. This process serves as a useful method of pooling the organisation's resources and of informing families about the special requirements and categories which can be made available to them. In other words, this functions in much the same way as a cooperative, with skills and experience being shared internally for the benefit of all members.

But Education Otherwise is keen to stress that it does not advocate a specific form of education for its members, but simply acts as a vehicle offering support and advice. Parents themselves are required to provide their own teaching syllabuses and materials, because the State refuses to give them any financial assistance. Whist this may suggest that home schooling is a costly business, especially for working class folk, teaching materials are not really that expensive. There are a wide range of preparatory textbooks which can be ordered from libraries or obtained from places like W.H.Smith, Early Learning Centre and John Menzies. Alternatively, secondhand bookshops can often enable you to pick up a variety of useful encyclopaedias and other basic study aids for very little cost. If several ‘alternatives’ in one area wish to organise a teaching environment for their children, books, stationary and other resources can even be shared. The proposed environment can simply be a room in an ‘alternative’ household, one which has been set aside for a blackboard, a small collection of educational literature and some painting, drawing and modelling materials.

In America, there are well over one million home-educators and, according to Dr. Roland Meighan, a senior lecturer at Birmingham University, "research has shown that many of the children are two years ahead of those educated in schools." He also asserts that State education alienates children from the learning process, whilst home-schooling makes them far more self-motivated. Parents are able to build up interesting programmes for their children using a wide range of sources, from selective school broadcasts on television to local museums and libraries. The choice extends to formal lessons, computer programmes, reading, playing, music, cooking, craftwork, sports and outdoor activities. Some parents may be concerned that home-schooling will result in their children being excluded from universities and colleges when they approach the official school-leaving age, due to the fact that it does not gear them towards tests and examinations. However, according to a university undergraduates admissions director: "Our university welcomes application forms from home-schooled students. We believe students educated primarily at home possess the passion for knowledge, the independence, and self-reliance that enables them to excel in our intellectually challenging programmes of study." So schools will undoubtedly fade into the background as the whole community becomes a network of learning centres with people themselves taking full control of their family's education.

One argument used by the liberal opponents of home-schooling is that children raised in such an environment will somehow grow up 'sheltered' or 'socially naive'. However, this accusation can easily be refuted by pointing out that home-schooling essentially protects the innocence of childhood from the ravages of the mass society in which we find ourselves. Indeed, why shouldn't parents seek to defend their offspring from the trappings of liberal-capitalism? Another favourite contention put forward by those who favour mass educational methods relates to the issue of socialisation. But whereas children do need to socialize with other children, this is not the reason why they attend schools anyway; schools should be there to educate children, not force them to adhere to a specific pattern of behaviour. Parents who home-school their children already ensure that their youngsters come into contact with other people through clubs, societies and associations. Home-schooling enables children to socialise within their own communities, rather than be subjected to the forced tyranny of the adolescent peer group. According to the March 1996 issue of Child Education magazine (p.68): "Several studies of home educated children have found that they have better social skills and are better socially adjusted than children of the same age who are educated at school. Home educated children tend to have more experience of relating to people who are both older and younger than themselves. In addition, they have had the particular benefit of learning through conversation and close personal contact. How often are children in a class of thirty or more listened to individually, talked to personally and praised and encouraged?" High praise indeed from a journal produced by the educational establishment!

If ‘alternative’ parents are able to introduce their children to like-minded families in the same area it is possible to prevent ‘outsiders’ from having any influence upon their lives whatsoever. Indee, by herding thirty or forty children of the same age group together in one room, schools inevitably create an artificial environment. This process hardly prepares young people for the harsh realities of life outside. In addition, the school is designed to turn youngsters into a ready-made workforce and far from acquainting them with their historical and cultural traditions, adopts a production-line approach in order to prepare them for the boring servility of the factory floor or the computer terminal.

Returning to J. Mark Halstead, parents who home school their children "feel that there is plenty of time to get to grips with the grim realities of boring, repetitive jobs. Indeed, they may choose home education because they do not want their children to accept such limitations. They may hope instead to foster resourcefulness and individuality which will prepare them for more adventurous, interesting lives."

Finally, many of us are already involved in such initiatives and, in the future, we hope to build an alternative home-education network in the same way that Education Otherwise has managed to do up to now. The growing distrust parents have towards the incompetence of State schooling is a crack in the Enemy's amour that is waiting to be exploited. Conscientious parents instinctively know that something is wrong with the System and are looking for a way out of it. Such people need our example and incentive, and there is no reason why Alternative Green or Beyond Left-Right cannot become one of the leading proponents of home education in England, especially as groups like Education Otherwise do not advocate a specific form of ideological and moral guidance. We must establish Practical Learning Centres, where tools and equipment will be available for those who wish to borrow them; we must install Alternative Libraries where children can gain access to alternative books, tapes, films and exhibitions; we must create Community Centres to involve local people in sports activities, music, drama and social events; and we must set up Family Advice Groups, where parents and children can meet up to discuss useful teaching methods and, if necessary, air potential problems or difficulties. There is no point waiting for a Revolution to happen, it is happening right here and now. In the meantime, if you are a parent who is unprepared to see your child force-fed a daily diet of 'political correctness' and 'positive discrimination', then you should seriously consider the educational alternatives which are gradually becoming available. We must never lose sight of the fact that our alternative future lies in its youth.