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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of months, you’ll have noticed a lot of discussion around the BELA Bill and, more recently, the home education policy draft. There have been several rather biased radio interviews – the gist of which has been “homeschooling bad, breeds antisocial monsters” – to which the homeschooling community has, understandably, taken offense. Last night there was this interview on Question Time that featured a biased, patronising and downright dismissive interviewer. (By the way, all comments on the Youtube upload have been removed, probably because they’re too pro-homeschool.)
I consider myself a placid, easygoing person. It takes a lot to get me riled up. But reading through the threads of comments, my blood has started boiling. There was a lot of deep breathing and reminders to myself not to react in anger, but in the end I had to comment because it was abundantly clear that people really don’t understand what home education is. The truly saddening thing is it was also clear how few of those shouting so loudly that homeschooling is “poisoning” children are actually prepared to listen to opposing arguments. Watching the interview pretty much pushed me over the edge of debating whether or not to publish this post that has been languishing in my drafts folder for weeks.
You want us to convince you home education is the better option? Challenge accepted.
As parents, it is our obligation to act in the best interests of our children, which means choosing the best possible education for them. How do we define what the best possible education is?
Get comfortable. This may take a while.
A Safe Education
It goes without saying that children should have the right to learn in a safe environment. Children do better when they feel safe and secure, when they can trust that someone is looking after them. There is not a single school that does not have bullying in some form or another, either child on child, or teacher on child. In September, a 13-year-old boy died from injuries sustained after being bullied. Suicide rates have gone up – children in primary schools are killing themselves because they are being bullied. A few months ago, 12 pupils were suspended after videos emerged of fighting.
South Africa has a shocking number of schoolgirls falling pregnant. Recently, teachers were implicated in the pregnancies of 30 girls from one school. Why is it those responsible for guarding their innocence are the very ones taking advantage of them? It wasn’t too long ago that a video went viral – on it was the gang rape of a girl while others stood around and cheered. Recently three teachers gang-raped a girl. Last month a primary school security guard was arrested and charged with sexual assault against 87 children.
Drug use is also on the increase, legally and illegally. How many children are being prescribed medication because their teachers can’t cope? Yes, some children need medication, but not all of them.
Recently, an incident made the news when a grade two boy brought a loaded gun to school – with the intention of using it on a classmate. Grade two.
The Department of Basic Education is concerned about homes not being a conducive learning environment with a dedicated learning space. My children do their work at the dining room table, or on the couch, or on the floor. Sometimes we – gasp! – work outside. How is this less conducive to learning than, say, being crammed into a stuffy classroom with 60 other kids?
A Quality Education
South Africa is ranked 75th out of 76 countries when it comes to education. The National Senior Certificate is not worth the paper it’s printed on. Our matric pass rate may have increased, but does it count when the pass requirements keep dropping? And what about the fact that 40% of those who start school drop out before matric? Can we really say a young person has been educated properly when they are pushed through year after year and matriculate barely able to read?
Just this week it was revealed that 78% of grade four learners cannot read for comprehension. Seventy. Eight. Percent. But, hey, not a problem. Children can only be held back once per phase so it won’t be too long before they’re out of school and not the DBE’s concern anymore.
The CAPS system currently in use isn’t working. It is so content-heavy that children can’t possible know everything required of them. There is no time for consolidation because it moves from one thing to the next to the next. It is too rigid. There are too many assessments. It does not encourage critical thinking.
Children spend hours behind a desk, then go home to more work. One of the grade three children I tutor had an hour of homework each day until the parents of that grade complained and it was shortened to half an hour. By the time I arrive at his house for our lesson, he’s exhausted. He suffers from frequent headaches.
In contrast, home education allows parents the freedom to tailor their child’s education to suit that child’s particular gifts or needs. There’s no rigid schedule that has to be followed in order to complete a curriculum in a specific time frame – unless that’s what the parents choose.
I belong to several homeschooling groups on Facebook. In one of them, a recent thread developed around the topic of sex education in schools, and what the new curriculum plans are. (Warning for disturbing content.)
Children need to be educated about sex, but this is not the way. There are ways to inform them while still protecting their innocence. Just as children develop and mature at different rates, so they should be given information when they are ready – not just because someone somewhere has assigned ages to specific information.
My girls know the basic facts around reproduction and sex. We used these books, which frame the information in the context of God’s creation and plan for the family.
A lot of what is taught in schools is against what we as Christians believe. Evolution, for example. The family unit as one mother, one father, and children. Jesus as the only way to God. Last time I checked, freedom of religion is our constitutional right and thus we have the right to raise up our children in our faith.
Next year we will be following Ambleside Online, a Charlotte Mason programme. I’ll save my love for Charlotte Mason’s methodology for another time, but in a nutshell: it’s a literature-based, arts-rich, Christ-focused education that teaches my children to love learning instead of feeding them facts to pass tests. Tell me that doesn’t sound more appealing than CAPS?
We’ll be doing picture study (Winslow Homer) and composer study (Aaron Copland). We’ll be reading Walter de la Mare and Pilgrim’s Progress and Two Gentlemen of Verona. We’ll be doing nature study and learning folksongs and hymns. For maths we use Maths U See, which works on mastery and not a spiral approach. What do grade twos in public schools learn that would tempt me to adopt CAPS instead?
There is no evidence that children whose parents have tertiary qualifications or teachers’ degrees perform better than children whose parents do not. And if someone can become president without a matric certificate then why is it an issue for someone with a similar lack of qualifications chooses to homeschool their children? Often, home educating parents learn alongside their children.
You do not need to be rich to homeschool. Many homeschooling families have actually sacrificed a second income in order for one parent to stay home with the children.
We do not choose American or British curricula in order to avoid teaching our children about South Africa. We choose the curriculum that we think is the best quality and works best for our family, and we adapt it. In my family’s case, I have substituted books on American history with books on South African history. We’re going to be learning Zulu as a third language.
Our children do not sit and watch the Muvhango, Generations or 7de Laan omnibus while other children are at school. Even if our TV antenna was connected, there’s no way the content on any of those shows is suitable for young children. My children aren’t allowed to watch anything until our schoolwork for the day is completed – and they have fulfilled all the other conditions of our screen time rules. (Chores, outside time, creative time, reading time.)
We don’t homeschool to isolate our children from the world. Between extramurals (kung fu twice a week, ballet twice a week), church (homecell, Sunday school) and family functions (dozens of cousins), they get plenty of social time.
I have to bite my tongue every time someone asks, “But what about socialisation?” (Forced peer association is not socialisation. Socialisation is something you do to dogs, not children.) My children interact comfortably with people of all ages in all situations – at the post office, in the queue at the shops, at the library.
I’m going to stop here. My head is sore and I’m tired. The DBE dumped two complex documents on us, one after the other, and gave us very little time to respond to them, and I need to step back from this issue for a while, at least until the New Year when it’s time for round two.
If you haven’t already commented on the BELA Bill, please do so as soon as possible. The deadline has been extended to the 10th of January.