You’ve heard about them of course, those rather odd people who educate their children at home. Now and then you read an article about them and their strange ideas and you feel sorry for the kids. How on earth will the kids turn out? Misfits, you might conclude - uneducated, unemployable and socially inept.
Katharina Russell Head, a teacher, was one such parent. Before becoming a parent, she began to wonder why, at the age of five or six, children suddenly lost their inner drive to discover and learn what they must (a drive which all small children have) and suddenly needed to be driven and directed by a school. She began to wonder what would happen if children continued to have the freedom of toddlers after the age of five. As her three daughters were born she decided to find out.
Reflecting on their education, Katharina says now, “In the eyes of the world, therefore, my children were neglected, and isolated. They were exploited, as the subjects of an educational experiment. They followed no curriculum, and were allowed to do pretty well what they liked.”
Dindy Vaughan came to home education from a different angle. Her daughter started school as a bubbly child and keen learner who separated easily. Within months she was quiet, withdrawn and reluctant to let mum out of her sight. Dindy acted swiftly and withdrew her child from school.
The Sing, Loxton and Snow families all home educated their children also. None of these parents followed the state curriculum and each of them had what might be viewed as fairly casual approaches to educating at home. Their children have now grown up. So how did they turn out? Did they grow up uneducated, poorly socialised, ignorant, and useless?
Katharina’s daughters are now aged 27, 25 and 21. They are independent, thoughtful, responsible, considerate, interesting, and actively involved in the community. Less importantly, each is also well educated in a formal sense. The eldest has two university degrees and is about to begin a third. The second has an honours degree and is now working for a further qualification. And the third is a university undergraduate, presently looking to expand her field of study at a second institution.
In 1999 at 18-years of age, Joel Sing was the youngest student ever to graduate from LaTrobe University, Bendigo and achieved the best academic performance of a final year student. He graduated as a Bachelor of Computing with Distinction. He then went on to do Honours, won several awards and was nominated for Young Australian of the Year in the Science and Technology category in 1999 and 2000. Now 24-years-old, Joel is married, undertaking a Doctorate in Computer Science and is in partnership in a computer technology business. He has lectured and tutored at La Trobe University, and at 18-years of age became their youngest academic staff member.
He says that through home education, he “learnt to love to learn”. It also gave him opportunities that he would never otherwise have had. “There is pretty much no other way that I could have graduated at 18 nor could I have spent as much time focusing on the things that I was interested in.”
But maybe they do not all turn out as well as Joel and the Russell-Head girls? Surely the risks of no curriculum just cannot be justified.
Levina and Geoff Snow chose to home educate their two children after the kindergarten experience for the oldest was a disaster - bullying and being excluded by the other children and being overlooked by the teacher. The choice initially was to home educate for a few years - then for primary school - then for lower secondary. As it turned out their children each only attended full time school for one year - Year 12.
The Snow family used their own method of learning that did not involve a rigid timetable. They used copies of blank report cards for each year level to construct expected levels of progress similar to state schools and as long as their girls were up to that standard they were happy. “Neither of us has teacher training - just common sense.”
The Snow girls have grown up. They are well mannered, responsible and productive citizens. They value honesty, trust and compassion and are caring individuals. They look out for each other and take care of young and old. They have social networks that include both home-educated and traditionally-schooled young people of all ages. Levina and Geoff Snow comment:
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