Are schools just for preparing kids for a corporate world, and should home education be the norm in a future, non-corporate society?

Blog home
10
Posted Apr 7 2015 by Paul Jennings of Criafolen

There was a time when it was much easier for me to stumble into an argument over the choice to home educate than almost any other subject. People who would hesitate to call me a fool for being an anarchist or a vegetarian would wade in with all kinds of no doubt well-meaning half thought through and ill-founded stuff about not putting my kids in school.

I have the sense that times have changed, that there is a wider acceptance of the idea that parents might want something other than school for their kids.

It’s understandable that this is a sensitive subject. Parents want to do the best thing for their kids and it’s hard coming across folks who’ve made different choices to yours and are convinced that their kids are all the happier for it. That cuts both ways of course, and those in the majority have behind them a vast weight of received wisdom about the benefits of schooling. It is no exaggeration to say that full-time schooling, or what is commonly called “education” is widely seen as one of the pillars of our “advanced” society, a hallmark of progress.

Home educators are a diverse bunch these days. Not only that, but there are as many approaches to home education as there are families involved in it. Some home schooling is much like school, but at home, and at the other end of the spectrum there is complete unschooling with nothing like recognisable lessons or syllabuses in sight.

Variations in method reflect the diversity of reasons why people take or keep their kids out of schools. Some parents, a tiny minority in my experience, want to “hothouse” their little and not so little ones; some have religious reasons for steering clear of state schools; some have children who have suffered bullying or who haven’t coped with the approach that schools take to learning; and still others simply do not subscribe to the idea that the school classroom is the best place for young people to be.

socialise

Perhaps the best known critic of schooling is Ivan Illich who wrote the seminal Deschooling Society (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deschooling_Society) , but there have been many other critics of schooling going back as far as William Morris and including the co-founder of Permaculture David Holmgren.

Broadly speaking then, if we are to seriously consider home education, we need to question common assumptions about learning, about what it is for, and how it is best achieved. This stuff only seems obvious if we fail to examine our working assumptions.

We could turn this around. I could refuse any longer to engage with people who look at me doubtfully and demand why my kids have never been to school. I could say to them instead, well, why have your kids been sent to school?

Why do we school?

Here is a home education hand grenade for you. Catch!
School is not primarily about learning academic skills, literacy or numeracy. School is primarily about discipline. School is about instilling in our children the dominant ideology of our times; it is about the reproduction of the society we live in, a society being smashed on the rocks of greed, individualism and consumption.

If the suggestion that all those teachers, professionals we are taught to admire from our earliest days, are actually a sort of priesthood, ideological servants of the status quo, is not enough for you, then how about this: schools are a child-minding service for workers so that adults can all work long hours whilst strangers take care of the next generation. In entirely artificial peer groups of kids of the same age, our children learn the habits of the crowd, of mass society, on one level or another, of the factory.

2

Seen in this light, the “opportunities” that in common discourse are most often associated with schooling amount to willingly preparing our kids to fit as well as they can into a machine that is killing the Earth and destroying our communities.

This can easily be seen as something of an extreme position, but let’s look at why someone like David Holmgren might be in favour of home education. What might be the basic social unit of a “permanent culture”? If it is the multi-generational household or family as a building block of a village, as part of a world of a million villages, then schools as we know them begin to make less sense.

Do we want to teach our children to look outside of the family and “the village” for the satisfaction of their long term needs, or does our future lie nearer to our own hearths and homes?

The really interesting aspect of this subject is how it cuts so close to very widely held assumptions about progress and mobility, social and geographical.

Well, I wouldn’t want for one minute to suggest that all home educators feel the same way or think the same things, but home education by definition, whatever the kids are doing when they’re not at school, brings the focus back from a life mediated by the state and its appointed officers, to one which is about family and friends, about grassroots organisations and community building.

These days if you can even make the choice to home educate you can consider yourself lucky. In some countries it’s not legal. In Germany the right of the state to try to stop home education rests on a law which dates back to 1938 when Hitler was in power in that country. In the UK, for now, the law is much more liberal, which is not to say that there are not politicians, mostly of the centre left, who are opposed to home education.

3

Home education is not an easy choice though. Most families manage to scrape by with two incomes. Home education effectively rules out both mum and dad having full time jobs in usual working hours. Most home educators make the choice to have a lower income than they might otherwise, and the state in no way financially supports the decision to home educate. Contemporary society being what it is, there may well be hundreds of thousands of families interested in home education but unable to do it because of money and long working hours.

Home education can be seen as prefiguring a society in which we would all have more time for our children; in which lifelong learning would be seen as the norm in place of seeing youth as a time for high pressure schooling in preparation for the relentless challenges of the employment market. Learning in a tightly knit community of the future might involve extended families, neighbours and friends; it would almost certainly involve the transmission of crafts and knowledge organically. Schools could then be buildings which would act as free access community resources for all ages, and teachers might only ever have to teach rooms full of people who had chosen to be there, who were under no compulsion whatsoever.