Six myths about learning at home

(Tried to cover some of the lesser-known ones. I love debate/questions!)

1. Your education is limited to your parent(s)/guardian(s)’ knowledge.

There are as many ways to learn at home as there are to live, but even if you’re having lessons from your family in the traditional sense, it doesn’t have to stop there. Libraries, the Internet, external classes & courses, textbooks and flexi-schooling are some of the many resources available. The fear “but I don’t know how to teach maths or Spanish or geography, how will my child get the education s/he needs?” seems to be a persistent one, and it’s not really valid. Buy a book on maths. Enrol in a Spanish class (or better yet, find a native speaker to help you learn). Use the time and money that would otherwise have been spent on school gear/transport to travel to another country. 

"I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma." - Eartha Kitt

2. You have to follow a curriculum. 

This does depend on the state/country – in some places home education is banned or strictly regulated – but in the United Kingdom and in many parts of the U.S., home learning doesn’t necessarily equate to homeschooling. You can choose what you want to learn. You can be completely self-directed. You can be somewhere in between. A massive part of the home ed philosophy, for me, is acknowledging that one person’s way is not everyone’s way. Finding the best way for you to learn will probably make you happier and more productive. Life and learning are not so easily divided as the world seems to think. We insist on splitting up ‘work’ and ‘play’ time, but really, are you learning any more slogging through your homework than you are hiking through the woods on your summer break? Think about it for a second. Before school, you learn to talk, to walk, to do a million other things in the first five years of your life totally organically. You don’t sit down in a classroom to get that knowledge, and you don’t have to sit down in a classroom to get the rest of it, either.

3. People home educate because of [x] reason.

Just as there are many ways to home ed, there are many reasons why people do, from school bullying to incompatibility with lifestyle to philosophical or religious reasons. And please, please stop treating HE like it’s some kind of last resort, like the only reason someone learns at home is because they can’t access a school or because they have some kind of problem with school. This is true for some people and untrue for others. Home learning is just as much of a valid choice as school-based learning is, and implying it isn’t is just as insulting as saying something like “you’re only teaching creative writing because you can’t get a job as a published novelist”.

4. Home learning denies a child’s right to school-based education and is usually a decision made without their consent.

I always want to laugh when this one comes up, and I wouldn’t even have thought to include it if it hadn’t been an implied concern in a 2009 home education review by the UK government. I’m not saying there aren’t people out there who don’t have a say in their education and wish they could be at school… but every person I know who is home ed is home ed because they they wanted to be or because it was the best option for them. Stepping outside the world of conventional education is a big step to take and most parents are unlikely to do it unless they think there’s some benefit for their child, or unless their child is wildly unhappy at school.

The other reason it makes me want to laugh is… well, how many people who go to school are offered the choice not to go by their parents? And how come this is never even questioned or taken seriously?

5. Learning at home only happens while you’re of school age. Afterwards, you slide seamlessly back into the “real world” and go to college, university, etc.

"The social decision to allocate educational resources preferably to those citizens who have outgrown the extraordinary learning capacity of their first four years and have not arrived at the height of their self-motivated learning will, in retrospect, probably appear as bizarre." – Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society

This one seems to deeply perpetuate the home education community. I say this because I’m one of the only people of my age (late teens) I know who hasn’t opted to go to college or uni or take exams. There’s this massive pressure on 15-20 year-olds to show they’re doing something with their lives, and, more worryingly, a big part of the home ed community that seems to think getting into conventional education beyond school is a mark of how well you’ve been home educated. “Look how wonderful this lifestyle was for me! I got X number of A-levels and I got into Cambridge!” 

And I know college and uni is the right path for many, many people, including people who were home ed. But judging everyone by the “I have X number of grades” logic misses the whole point of alternative learning, and doesn’t consider the option that for some people, the home learning philosophy covers their whole lives and isn’t just something you pick up when you’re five and drop when you’re in your late teens. Not going to college or uni doesn’t make you any less worthy than people who do. It’s not necessary for a successful and happy life. Make the choices that work best for you, and please stop spreading the myth that Everyone Must Go To College, because I am so very tired of it.

6. Learning at home makes you special. If you learn at home you’re cleverer, more inventive, more original and more creative than any simple-minded sheep who’s been through the system.

I fell into this braintrap for years.

The thing is, if you’re in a minority, people persecute you so much you get defensive. It feels good to cite famous people who were home educated or point out how well home education works for you, your friend, this person, that person, and how much better you are because of it. There’s a massive pressure on HE kids to prove yourself and prove how great home ed is. Which, if it’s what works for you, it is. It is unbelievably so. And perhaps it makes you a little more likely to think about things, if only because your lifestyle is something out of the norm that most people don’t think about. But it doesn’t make you superior to anyone else. You’re you, and if you’re not as revered as Random Famous Home Educated Person, or don’t know as much about science as your friend who goes to school, there is nothing wrong with that. That’s what being alive is about.

"Because whether you like it or not, the minute you admit to being an unschooler everything you do becomes a reflection on all unschoolers.  I’ve felt the zeroing in of attention the second I mention, and then usually explain, unschooling […] it often feels like you’re being evaluated.  It’s like they’re examining a foreign specimen, wondering if you’ll prove to be a "normal" human or not" – Idzie D., Blame Unschooling

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