Homeschooling in Vancouver

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. 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. 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 as 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 against—or at least exclusion of—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. (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 do better than school. And in fact, many—perhaps most—home schooling communities produce a greater percentage of learners who continue their studies; they feed the post-secondary system with children who are better prepared, more academically advanced and inclined, and more mature than those who have gone through the compulsory schooling system.

If 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 passion—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 life 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 the adults 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.

9 thoughts on “Homeschooling in Vancouver

  1. Hi Chris

    I have met you before, I know your daughter through Gamelan.

    Having met her, it has always piqued my interest in home-schooling, as she is a very talented, bright and adult lady. Meeting other home-schoolers, I did notice what you mention in the article.

    Unfortunately, I have to say that your comment about Vancouver home-schooled parents “cliquish, mean-spirited, exclusionary behaviour” does not just apply to the home-schooling community. This applies in particular to the Vancouver community at large, and in particular to the Vancouver community that considers themselves enlightened in some way, for example Vancouverites into the arts or environmental or social issues, imho.


  2. I just stumbled across this post while searching for a homeschooling website and I felt moved to comment.

    I’m truly surprised to read of your experiences as they are so counter to everything I have experienced in this community over the past 3 years we’ve been involved. Mind you, my daughter is only six so we aren’t involved with the teen community much. Within the larger homelearning community here in Vancouver are various subgroups that come together because of shared interests and ages of children. I have met wonderful families within this community who are now good friends of ours. Our children play and learn together and, at least in our group, there is a heavy emphasis on science as many of the parents and kids are passionate about it (I’m a PhD scientist myself so I can attest to the quality of the experiences the children have).

    I can’t comment on the teens, but this young crop that I’m mostly involved with (3 to 9 year olds) are enjoying a wonderfully rich experience and I see a great deal of self-motivation and determination even in the younger ones. I am fully confident that their experience will only get better as they get older. But that’s because we parents will make it that way. If I found myself in a group as you describe then I would seek out the families who have the same interests and values and approach as I do and we would work together to provide great experiences for the kids.

    Part of what makes the homeschooling community unique is that it isn’t run and regulated by ministry appointees and “experts” who basically set the rules and then let the parents have some involvement. We homelearning parents ARE the homelearning community and it is nothing more or less than what we make of it for ourselves and our children. The best thing about homelearning is you are not forced to spend the majority of your time with people you may or may not like, whose values may not mesh with your own, etc. Here, you build your own community and have far more freedom to do so in ways that work for you and your family than in any institutionalized setting. I’m truly sorry that your experiences left such a bad taste in your mouth, and I hope that over the last little while you’ve been able to create a community for yourself that meets your needs.

    • Thanks for writing. I wrote that rant three or four years ago. Our daughter is older now (20), so is no longer actively homeschooling; she has moved away from home. (And she has maintained her aversion to any kind of learning, particularly from adults–a direct result, in my opinion, of our homeschooling experience.)

      It’s good to hear that you have had a better experience than we did. What you write about homeschooling in general I believe to be true, at least in theory. I bought into it all, and threw everything into it that I could as a parent. In retrospect, I see the “bad apples” as a kind of virus that infected the community. It is also worth observing that, while the homeschooling community isn’t run and regulated by Ministry appointees and experts, it was, at least in our time, dominated by a few ideologues who set the tone at least as strongly as the Ministry does in any school. It was pretty difficult to escape the effect of what I call “non-schoolers” pestering our daughter to stop working and go to the beach–all supported strongly by the parents.

      The overall tone in the “community” seemed to me to be one of negativity. There was much talk of how bad or evil school and the education system were, as if merely avoiding it were enough to ensure that their children would be OK. I think a lot of the homeschooling parents we encountered essentially marginalized themselves; for a variety of reasons, they appeared to feel uncomfortable with people, society in general, or the dread “mainstream,” in which they seemed to perceive no diversity, and found it easier to “drop out” in a very real sense.

      Don’t misunderstand me: I still think there are serious problems with the compulsory schooling system, and I believe I still feel adverse effects from my experience, which is approaching thirty years ago. My parents were both teachers, and for a couple of years I worked indirectly for the Ministry of Education; I have a fairly good picture of the challenges. But on balance, comparing the school system to what we encountered in Vancouver home schoolers, I have to say I’d go with the former if I had the chance to do it over again.

      Part of the problem for us, I believe, was that we moved back to Vancouver when our daughter was at a critical age (11). If you have had experiences with moving between cities or countries, you probably know how difficult it is to “break in” to a community with established groups and friendships. We did find ourselves excluded by the (apparently relatively few) “good” families. This attitude surprised me coming from home schoolers, as we had had just the opposite experience in the UK and in California. I do believe that Vancouver has become a harsher place since we first lived here in the early 1990s.

      I would advise vigilance when your daughter approaches the teenage years. I think it takes an additional and completely different kind of effort to homeschool teens, and I’m not sure that home schoolers have figured out how to do it. It may have been partly a result of our time and the people we encountered. But I think teens in general are more troubled now than they were when I was young. Combine this with the generally anti-science (and anti-learning) society we live in, and you have a recipe for disaster.

  3. I am considering home schooling 7 year old child.
    Can you give me some advice on what resources are available? ie. home schooling groups, support, etc..and any advice you might have on how to get
    started, would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you

  4. Hiyas! I just stumbled on your post while searching for information regarding home schooling. I just pulled my children out of school as an adult assaulted my (small) 9 year old son.

    All the kids were playing down below when I sent him to go fetch his sister. I was just talking to the parents about weather or not they wanted to fill time slots for an upcoming fundraiser before I put away the sheet. I went back inside and within that 5 minutes my son was chased and kicked several times by a group of boys who have been known to bully.

    In fact the school lost 6 families (they decided not to come back in September) because of these boys. My son landed a punch on 2 of them in his escape and ran about 50 feet plus the length of the stairs where the adult reached out and violently scratched his face! She then grabbed his collar and while shaking him around she flung him in the school.

    What I still do not understand is that she knew I was just right inside the door of the school so when she saw a problem with my son why did she not walk the 10 steps to get me rather than wait until he broke free then grab him?

    Well the answer is that he was coming in to get me and – yes – tell! That meant those boys would get into trouble.

    So she wanted to put a stop to that right away!

    I saw her with him and took him away from her. Got what happened out of him then went to her and let her know that she is to never place her hands on my children.

    I also called the police because that was assault.

    I bet at this point you are wondering why am I sharing this story with you.

    Well the boys who were chasing him, calling him names and kicking him are also the sons of the school pac excec.

    As am I – but the parent who grabbed my son does nothing for the school and community so she was not aware that I am as well.

    Be that as it may – the school has also very clicky, mean spirited and serious boundary issues parents who – to quote the custodian – have entitlement issues. Although I was on the pac exec I was not part of that group.

    The principle is very upset that I am leaving and I took my 2 children out. She brought in the boys who chased and kicked my son and their parents into the school – as well as the parent who assaulted my son and had a talk.

    Other than that no action was taken. This is due to the principle not wanting to upset the group of parents who volunteer so much – exception for the parent who assaulted my son as she does nothing for the school and – like me – is home all day. (just had to say)

    However my children are not safe there. I think that talk to the parents really ticked them off, so it would have made the school environment for my son and then my daugter even more hostile.

    I know that I am now one of 7 families who left because of them. That would mean these kids will be picking new targets very soon and more families will leave.

    The point is – whether it is a group of home schooling moms or a PAC who think they are entitled to run the school – clicky parent groups exist and often make life miserable for others.

    Your post is a good post to warn parents like myself that I/we may be escaping one hell and run right into another.

    I will keep what you said in mind and move forward carefully.


  5. This sounds like anti-homeschooling propaganda. I would be very sceptical. It is well documented that home schooling results in better academic performance. The powers that be want children to be under the care of Big Brother from cradle to grave. Think twice about who you believe. Your child’s wellbeing is at stake.

  6. Thanks for your comment, Jack. Unfortunately a lot of homeschoolers tend to think that anything or anyone that dare challenge homeschooling is “propaganda.” Everything should be up for debate.

    However, you missed the point of my post. I was writing about a particular set of “homeschoolers” (the term could be used loosely, in my opinion) in a certain city at a certain time. My message: check out the community before you commit; the community is vital, I think.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *