I wrote the following a year or two ago, with the intention of posting it to the HS-Van mailing list. I never did, mostly because the group is so defensive and belligerent that real debate on the issues I raise here would have been difficult or impossible, and the ill will created would have made it even more difficult than it has been for my family. I post it here in the hope that anyone considering home schooling in Vancouver (or elsewhere) will be very careful to find out what is happening in their community before proceeding.
I have not been subscribed to this mailing list before; my wife has forwarded me relevant and interesting e-mails.Â We’re going through a difficult time with our daughter right now, and while I cannot solely attribute the situation to home schooling in general or the Vancouver home schooling group specifically, it’s prompted me to think a lot about our experiences since we moved back to the city in the fall of 1999.Â We have home schooled in Victoria, the UK, and California as well as in Vancouver, but never experienced anything like what I have seen here.
As a father I’ve been somewhat on the periphery, partly out of necessity as I am the “earner” in our family, and partly because this is something of a pattern, here and elsewhere, in home schooling communities. Us dads tend to be quiet and in the background much of the time. This doesn’t mean that we don’t support home schooling, at least in most cases and certainly in mine.
I’ve always considered our family to be in the “unschooling” category. We have tried to follow interests and topics as they arise and as our daughter expressed interest. However, I would have to class many of the families I’ve encountered in Vancouver asÂ non-schoolers. There seems to be strong resistance to pursuing sustained, in-depth work across a reasonable spectrum of subjects. One parent has even said, “we don’t learn from books”! From what I have seen there is a lack of rigour and depth in the approach to learning; a significant bias against any kind of co-operative study; and a particular prejudice againstâ€”or at least exclusion ofâ€”science.
More than this, there seems among some parents to be an encouragement of activity and experimentation that, in concert with academic activity, might be acceptable (depending on your bent); but in its absence I see as very unhealthy. There is nothing necessarily wrong with experiencing “altered states of consciousness,” as long as one has properly developed and secured the normal state.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that most of the home schooled children I know within a couple of years of my daughter’s age (16) could be considered dropouts. I mean that in the sense of learning and progress towards adult behaviour, responsibility, and independence. I sincerely doubt that any of them could pass a Grade 10 level general knowledge or standardized test. Before I’m attacked on that one, I will qualify it by saying that I believe the home schooling substitute for an arbitrarily imposed curriculum should be your own, and probably of higher standard, rather than virtually nothing at all.Â (It is also worth reflecting on how the Ministry of Education might change their stance on home schooling if they had a chance to assess some of these children.) The goal of home schooling has always been to doÂ betterÂ than school.Â And in fact, manyâ€”perhaps mostâ€”home schooling communities produce aÂ greaterÂ percentage of learners who continue their studies; they feed the post-secondary system with children who areÂ betterÂ prepared, more academically advanced and inclined, and more mature than those who have gone through the compulsory schooling system.
IfÂ any of these kids actually do get around to considering university study, it will likely require significant remedial work. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but the purpose of specifically choosing to start at a significant deficit is lost on me. One of the potential benefits of home schooling is to bypass the socially artificial “teenage” stage and get real experience pursuing a passionâ€”for instance, via an apprenticeship with a mentor in the community.
I perceive a strong “hands off” philosophy from many of the parents. However, allowing someone to figure out their own lifeÂ doesn’t preclude adult involvement and guidance. Guidance is not equivalent to control. “Doing what you feel like” without being aware of the consequences is not maturity.
Sometimes I wonder how many of the families we’ve encountered are familiar with the home schooling literature, such as John Holt. I have seen from some of theÂ adultsÂ in the community the kind of cliquish, mean-spirited, exclusionary behaviour I have encountered nowhere else in my life except during my own days at public school. One of the results appears to be a group of children who are anti-adult, peer-attached, and often dishonest.
All of this is just my perspective; I know there is a lot of variety and dedication out there. However, I see this as a serious crisis, and can’t help but wonder what has gone wrong. We have some work ahead to turn our daughter’s life around, and the social and educational context is going to make this quite challenging. If new parents were to ask me whether to home school in this city, I would strongly recommend that they find other like-minded people before committing.