I am not sure how many of you realize this (hint: my spellings) but I am an American ex-pat who has lived for over a decade in the UK. First, in London and now more happily in Wales.
What you may not also know is that I have home educated five of my six children. Four in the US and now PanKwake here in the UK. So I am familiar with the laws and public perception in both cultures.
I have been thinking about that for a few weeks now. In light of less than favorable press coverage, especially of unschoolers, as well as local events surrounding the issue.
But today I saw two Tweets on the subject. One from an organization supporting parents of special needs children. They were congratulating home edders on (what they perceived as) surprisingly good GCSE results.
The other was from a friend whom home educates her autistic children. She boasted that this summer she had spoken to over 100 people about home ed. And my response was…
That is how public opinion changes. One person at a time.
Let me go back though and explain how different it can be home educating in the two countries.
The truth is that UK home education LAW is on average more favorable than the US. I say it that way because while each council in the UK may interpret the Education Act of 1996 (THE law) differently and England and Wales have differing laws than Scotland or North Ireland, the US has 50 different laws.
Back home, Home ed is considered one of those state’s rights issues. Each state has its own laws. And they vary wildly from a hands off approach to registration to reporting to requiring periodic standardized testing. So anytime a home ed family considers a move it is something they must factor in.
England and Wales are closest to the more lax states. While you must de-register your child IF they attend school, if your child has never been in school, you are under no obligation to register or report. In fact, the power balance in terms of what reporting and contact there is lies more with the home ed family than the council.
BUT councils can and often do attempt to use coercion, misinformation and deception to shift that balance and gain more power than the law entitles to them.
And that is where PUBLIC OPINION plays such a crucial role.
In the US, Joe Q. Public’s general attitude towards home education is much more open and favorable. Most people have heard of home ed, many know families who do, and the media has a generally positive spin on it. Much of this is due to…
- The surprising numbers of home educated young people who attend college. Often on full scholarships. And surprisingly well thought of institutions like Harvard, Yale and Princeton actually recruit home educated students.
- For the past decade at least, most national scholastic competitions have been won by home educated young people. The National Spelling Bee most certainly, but also many science and maths contests as well.
- A number of high profile cases where young people began college in their early teens or younger. This would not be possible in the education system as it no longer allows children to skip grades or years.
Overall, if you tell someone in the US that you home educate or homeschool your child/ren, the reaction is most often…
Wow, that’s amazing/wonderful. I admire you. Of course, I could never do that. I don’t have the patience/time/etc.
You see the general perception is that home education is superior for the child than schools. So other parents go so far as to feel that they need to justify their own decision to leave their children in schools.
Sadly, that is NOT the case in the UK.
If you tell someone…usually reluctantly…that you home ed, the most common responses are:
- Is that even legal?
- What about socialization?
- How are they ever going to get into uni? Find a job?
And woe be to you if you RadiCool Unschool your child.
Some people point to the more vocal and organized homeschool movement led in the US by the religious-right as the primary cause.
But I think it is far different. First of all, home ed is relatively newer in the UK than the US. And these things take time. The other key difference is the cultural attitudes towards individual rights and privacy. And shockingly the Freedom of the Press. I could spend hundreds of words explaining those…and probably will at some point. But not today.
Today I want to go back to the kudos that I gave my friend and even that organization. I believe that the greatest power for change comes through education. Not just educating our children but our neighbors, friends, and family too.
Of course, I am the first to admit that you are wasting your breath or as the bible says…casting your pearls before swine…with some people. It is important to know who and when that is the case. Change the subject or walk away. Yes, even if it is family, Especially when it is family.
Heck, technology adoption life cycle has a name of those types…laggers. And even when attitudes change there will still be those. Yes, even back home. Just that when public opinion is not in your favor…you tend to shut up.
Of course, home ed families in the UK today are among the early adopters (though not innovators).
The power though comes not through laws, politics, or even the media. The true paradigm change is when we begin to influence the majority. Whether they choose to home educate or not is less relevant than their understanding and views on our rights to do so.
THAT is the battlefield.
Not politics. Not the media. But the hearts and minds of man.
And my friend has the exact right approach…one person at a time. One small discussion.
It is something that all of us need to do more of. I commit to following in her footsteps this year. I hope my other home ed friends will too.
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