Educating our children: a privilege or a right?

In response to a homeschooling story that came out on Sunday Times (May 11,2008). The first piece by Nurin, Homeschool: In the comfort of their home, was okay about how we homeschool ­pretty positive. Then came the not so positive part, Homeschooling: More Patient and Less Competitive ­- the same old “socialization” issue! Blah blah. I was rather amused by the comment of the deputy director of education (I think) who claimed that “homeschooling is a privilege”. I have always considered it a parental right. Here are my thoughts.

Educating our children ­ a privilege or a right?
When has it become a “privilege” for parents to teach their own children, I wonder? Parents being the first teachers of their off spring, do they not have the right to educate their children? Do parents need to be certified teachers to teach their own kids? Should the government govern the way we choose to live and learn?

Let us examine some of the myths that cloud the minds of those who do not, or refuse to see the true nature of what home education truly is:
Myth #1: Parents have many options when it comes to schooling, so why opt to homeschool?

Yes. We have big and well equipped public schools, we have the not-so-big Chinese schools, and the smaller and poorer Tamil schools, and if we do not fancy those, there are many expensive private schools to choose from! However, the question we need to ask is: do they fulfill the needs of children? “Needs? What needs?” Our education officials may ask? Well, better-informed parents understand that children need a safe and loving environment to grow positively as an individual so as to contribute positively as a member of a community. Let us just take a look at what our schools have to offer:

  • Over crowded classrooms (especially in urban Chinese schools)
  • Excessive noise level (ever been to a school that is quiet?)
  • Bullying (this is a common occurrence when people are confined physically and mentally over a period of time ­ just look at how prisoners behave in prisons!)
  • Punishments (although the official stand is that a soft approach will be used on students, corporate punishments of all kinds are still being practiced)
  • Shortage of teachers (classes without a teacher over a period of months is not uncommon)
  • Teaching to cover syllabus ­ having to rush through lessons so as to finish a syllabus before a major exam, to a class of 40-50 kids, makes it virtually impossible to cater to individual students. Slower kids will drop behind, or drop out, faster kids will die of boredom.
  • A national obsession with getting straight A¹s (no further comments needed here)

Our schools do not reflect the multi-ethnicity of our people, nor do they respect the diversity of cultures and religious beliefs. One has to assimilate in order to fit in. The pressure to conform just to satisfy the
status quo is amazing. And it starts from Year One! Children are not taught to respect diversity or differences. Neither do adults practise them.

A child from a mixed-parentage background has to struggle tremendously to cope at school. From her choice of school uniform to the colour of her skin, she has had to struggle with daily pressures to conform. Recently, when she had to write the names of her parents out during class, she was told that only names of a particular ethnic race was allowed, even though she argued that one of her parents was not of the same race. But the teacher threw a deaf ear to her reasoning and insisted that she followed her instructions.
And the poor child was left with a deep conflict and confusion in her young mind!

Do parents really have many choices when it comes to schooling here? Perhaps the majority of them would willingly or unwillingly tolerate the kind of schooling being offered, just as they have tolerated the ruling party that ruled the country for so long. But as living history has shown in recent weeks, when the people feel that they are not getting a fair deal, they would exert their basic right in choosing who they want to run the country. Families looking for a more holistic approach to learning and living would naturally want a different approach to educating their young because they choose calmness over chaos, peace over punishment, real learning over artificial learning, and joy over fear.
Myth #2 ­ That homeschooled kids are left out of the socialization zone

Question No.1 ­ What kind of socialization are we talking about? Is it the “if you can¹t fit in, stay out” kind of group mentality, or the “if you can¹t beat me, pay me¹ kind of gangland society, or the “we seniors don¹t
mix with the juniors” kind of superiority? If that is the kind of socialization that kids are subjected to on a daily basis in schools, homeschoolers would be glad to do without!

Question No.2 ­ How can school socialization be healthy when everything is measured based on how well one does in school work and exams? High performers are given special attention, average kids get average attention, and slow learners get zero attention unless they excel in breaking school rules or perceived to be challenging the teachers.

Question No.3 ­ What can children of same aged groups learn from one another other than childish or negative behaviours? Are they going to learn a great deal of empathy, generosity, patience and care when most of the time, kids are busy competing against one another, and teachers make unjust comparisons?

The fact is, children need exposure to a varied kind of interactions, especially to adults or older kids who are respectful towards children. Children learn and absorb all the different experiences and tend to fare
better with good role models to emulate. Being exposed to a bigger and more varied world out there as compared to the limited exposure in schools, mean that homeschooled kids have greater opportunities to truly socialize in the real world! Unless the child is isolated from the outside world by being confined to the home for extended periods of time, which is an exception rather than the norm, most homeschooled kids are very cultured, matured and sociable. Controlled socialization does not make a sociable child!
Myth #3 ­ That homeschooled kids are spoilt and over-protected

The fact is, the issue about spoiling kids is an issue of parenting, not homeschooling! Parents can spoil their kids if they are over-permissive and lack the ability to say ³no² to excessive and unreasonable demands. And that can happen to any family, whether they are schooling or homeschooling! Let us examine what constitute protection and over-protection because the line seems to be getting blurred here.

If we look at how wild animals protect their young, we will learn that the mother usually plays a significant role in feeding and nurturing them during the early growing up period. A close bond is formed over the months and years and gradually mother would teach the young how to obtain or hunt for food, look out for danger signs, utilize skills in getting out of danger ­in short, pure survival skills. At the right time, the grown up young would leave the family to venture out on its own ­ time for the mother to let go. The time spent close to the family helps the young to be skilled and independent and eventually be able to survive on its own.

This is what every responsible parent does ­ to feed, nurture and guide the children so that they grow up strong and independent and eventually leave the comforts of the ³nest² to face the real world out there. By taking on the role of educating their young, homeschooling parents are doing just that ­ establishing a close relationship with their kids so that they are able to learn and grow with the values and skills that the parents possess and be independent individuals going out to the world to contribute to society at
the right time. No right-thinking parent would be willing to throw their kids out on the street on their own when they are not yet ready for it. So, that does not constitute being over-protective!

However, if the child is already way past the age of being independent to strike out on his or her own, yet, the parents insist on keeping a tight leash on the child, then this is another matter. Parents who over-protect their children by being unwilling to let them explore new experiences or take on responsibilities, are over-protecting their kids. But why pin it down on homeschoolers? This is yet another parenting issue that can happen to any parent who are not willing to let go at the right time!

So, should it be a privilege for parents to homeschool? Why not let parents decide!

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1 Response to Educating our children: a privilege or a right?

  1. Pingback: Homeschooling in the NST (May 2008) « Learning Beyond Schooling

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