By Lyn Saint
‘How can I give my child a high level of education when I didn’t do very well at school myself?” is not only one of the most asked questions, but many adults today assume that, just because they failed or dropped out of school themselves, that they are uneducated.
As a notorious school failure and drop-out, these were also my thoughts when I began home educating 17 years ago. I was fairly confident I could ‘teach’ through the primary years, but never through the secondary. I came into home education as many do, with my head filled with curriculum, grades and gold stars. I drew up a time-table and simple lesson plans that would cover all the basics. I was the font of all knowledge and my children would learn everything from me. I was very excited!
This lasted all of three weeks before they started objecting to these boring lessons, so I responded by dropping the morning lesson and trying to keep the hour in the afternoon going. I began to realise that they had no interest at all in what I was trying to teach but started instead to ask questions about things that interested them. They were also things that interested me so together we set off to find the answers or go visit other people or places that we could all learn from. If I didn’t know the answers, I became pretty resourceful in finding and producing the materials that would satisfy their needs at that time.
This experience began to remind me of when my first child was born. I had assumed that babies were very malleable little things that would respond to my chosen method of child-rearing and that I would be the one who taught them everything they needed to know when the time was right. I was instantly surprised that this baby took the lead immediately in his likes and dislikes and I fairly quickly had to adjust to follow his pattern of learning. His pattern was unique, quite different to the other two children that followed and each time I had to adjust to the new set of desires, likes and dislikes.
My realisation that home education was just a continuation of helping my children find their own answers to what interested them the most came after many years of quiet observations and reading all that I could find on the learning patterns of children. Even so, I still tried to push ‘school work’ every so often as I assumed that this was the primary form of education in this world and, without it, they were doomed as everyone said I was because I had failed school.
It is only with the hindsight of time and experience that I can now look back and clearly see that they always knew what was right for them at the right time – I was the only one who couldn’t see it, so caught up was I in the indoctrinated belief that the schools’ education was more important than their own in terms of socially accepted achievement.
It is only in the past two or three years that I have come to see education for what it truly is and it has nothing to do with ‘school work’. Education is life and children start living it from the moment they are born. They are born with their interests all ready in place and these interests and passions are evident as the young child starts to grow into his world.
What is it that lights up your child’s eyes and grabs his attention every time he hears or sees it? It could be music, animals, soccer balls, aircraft overhead, cars and trucks, sewing, numbers, dance, drawing, stories, bugs – any one of a million things but it will be there and gradually it will grow along with them, if given the chance.
It was these insights and life lessons that one day made me look at my own childhood once more but with very different eyes. Previously I had only been aware of the child who screamed every morning at the school gates and who, by the age of eight had started a downward trend that would end in teachers suggesting I leave school because there was no hope for me academically. Like many people in this situation, this experience had instilled in me the absolute knowledge that I was dumb and would never be able to achieve a decent education. I was maimed for life!
Now however, I began to see and remember another child, one who had always been there but had been overshadowed by the tormented school child. This child was an industrious self-learner. She was never without a book or a project and there was never enough time for everything she was interested in. She wrote her own books, designed and planted her own gardens, knitted, sewed, painted, read encyclopaedias from cover to cover especially the science ones which were her passion. As she grew, so did the thickness of her books. By the time she was thirteen she was studying astronomy with her own telescope and was drawing detailed maps of the moon, studying palaeontology and archaeology and knitting more exquisite clothing. Could this be the same child who was failing in school?
I realised in that pivotal moment that yes, I had failed school, but that I was far from being uneducated – in fact I was highly educated – more so that I would have ever been at school. There was no way that they would have ever taught young children to this depth in a classroom and, more to the point, I realised that I was not dumb. Had I had the freedom to take charge of my own learning and go where it led me, I would not have spent all these years feeling dumb, inadequate and with the low self-esteem that comes from being labelled as a school failure.
Home education for me has been the greatest learning experience of my life. It has opened my eyes to the true meaning of education. I thank my three children for their teaching and guidance in this subject. They have been self directed learners their whole lives, rejecting school ways early on to pursue their own learning paths. One’s love of flight has lead to his PhD in the study of aircraft design, the second’s love of stories and films has led him into the exciting world of film-making and my youngest’s love of animals and the natural world is leading her into different adventures on a daily basis. I too finally have embarked on the science degree I had always dreamed of studying – knowing full well that I will succeed because, like my children, I know most of it already from the years of self-directed study at home.
So to answer the question, ‘How can I give my child a high level of education when I didn’t do very well at school myself?” Most of us are capable of a much higher degree of education that we are given in schools. We all start life as self-directed learners and, in spite of school, most of us still manage to keep in tune with this other person and these other deeper interests – consciously or not. It is this experience that qualifies us to home educate our children.
We are simply giving them the opportunity to follow their own interests and passions freely and without hindrance. We are there to help them find the answers and the pathways until they are capable of finding their own way unassisted – whatever this may be. If your child wished to become a doctor or a lawyer – if they have a passion for this, then they will succeed. Schools and universities are tools – they are there for our kids should they decide that their pathway requires this type of learning. They are only two of many tools though in the bag of the self-directed learner.
Many of the most successful people in the world today are ‘school failures’ but, as children, were highly self directed learners in what interested them the most – David Suzuki, Dick Smith, Richard Branson, John Lennon, Steven Spielberg, Stephen Hawking – my list here could easily fill this page.
So yes – you are very qualified to give your children the very best education possible – their education. In fact you, and they, are the only ones who can.