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December 30, 2011 / Amy Bradney-George

On homeschooling

Education is one of those topics that everyone seems to have an opinion about. Whether it’s the syllabus, teaching, kids or personal experiences, education is a big part of peoples lives.

Then, every so often, you will get an opinion piece or article about homeschooling that brings up a huge debate about formal and non-formal education. I stumbled across such a piece earlier this week on Mamamia.

The writer, Kate Fridkis, was an “unschooler” all the way to college, and has a lot of positive things to say about her experience. The 300-plus comments, however, present the mixed reaction of horror, criticism, praise and uncertainty that most people who are homeschooled (or unschooled if you like) will be familiar with.

It makes me think of all the different conversations I’ve had about being homeschooled. My parents decided to homeschool (in a very non-religious way) their children right from the start, but they left it open to us so we could decide if and when we wanted to go to school. My older sister went when she was 10 (I think), my younger brother went when he was eight and I went for one term when I was nine but didn’t really like it.

I did like eating dirt though...

Instead, I went back to homeschooling and decided I would like high school better. But instead of waiting for the group of Grade Seveners I should have been with (the ones mostly turning 13 when they got there), I knuckled down with books of coursework and got through Grades Five and Six in one year, then went to high school with some friend a couple of years older than me (they were turning 13, I was just about to turn 11).

I’d always been very mature and took to high school just as well as the next person (save the one Judgmental Teacher who hated that I was younger and had been homeschooling). In fact, I loved it. I went from strength to strength, went to uni, got paid work as a writer, theatre facilitator and actor and haven’t looked back.

But I’ll never forget the great times I had homeschooling. We used to go to these great homeschooling camps at nearby cabins on the beach, where we’d meet other families and run around with our homeschooled peers while parents talked teaching, raising kids and life. They also treated us like people, which is probably one of the reasons I have always been able to talk to almost anyone.

The kinship with these people is amazing. I am still close friends with a lot of them, and my Mum actually met my Stepdad at these camps years before they got together. I had a full life from the start and it was wonderful for my creativity.

Not everyone has this experience though. I know homeschoolers who feel they have missed out on things or have trouble socialising (definitely not an issue with me), but I know people who have been to school and feel the same.

I think what helped me was that I grew up in a small, beautiful valley town that already had a strong sense of community. Bellingen is the best place I could have been because everyone knew everyone and there are so many artists, writers and performers in the area.

Who wouldn't love growing up here?!

I grew up playing with my neighbours once they got home from school, picking blackberries with their mum and making jam during the day, dancing at the local ballet school and acting as much as I possibly could. I think my Mum may even have some of the first stories I wrote as well. So for me, homeschooling doesn’t seem that different.

The judgement mostly comes from a question Kate brought up in her post – “which one of your parents taught you?” or in my case “who taught you?”

My parents separated when I was six and we moved with Mum from a bushland property into town. She was at work most of the time, so I either went to Day Care or (when I was a bit older) stayed at home by myself. Occasionally Dad would come in, and if I was sick or something happened I could go to my neighbours (who worked from home), but a lot of the time I just worked from textbooks. When I wanted a break I took one and if I wanted to do something different I could write stories, play the piano, sing or star in my own little plays (usually without an audience).

So “who taught you” is a tough question to answer simply. My fallback answer is “mostly I used textbooks”, but depending on the kind of reaction I want I could also say “me” or “no one”.

Did I miss out on vital education? I don’t think so. I was in the top classes at high school, except for maths, and even that has improved over the years (writing finance articles will do that for you). Most people I talk to remember experiences in primary school, more than the actual learning, and I was lucky enough to have a lot of experiences that enriched my childhood.

In the last year, homeschooling has started to mean even more to me. Moving to a new city and working at home as a freelancer has meant my social circle has changed a lot.

In the past I had a good mix of friends from school, uni and work, but this year I only knew a handful of people. I think I might have gone mad working from home if I wasn’t already familiar with it from childhood. And I don’t know how I would have made friends without the social skills and open-mindedness that I developed from a very young age.

For me, homeschooling is an experience that keeps on giving. Will I homeschool if I have kids? No idea. But that’s not really the point of writing this, right now I just want to share my own thoughts because I think our lives and stories can provide new perspectives and teach us in a way that no syllabus ever could.


One Comment

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  1. Stacey / Dec 31 2011 3:46 am

    Love it!!!
    Home schooling rocks –
    Our friendship could not of happened without it

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