Life can be strange and ironic sometimes! If you really knew me, you would have thought that I'm the last person on Earth you could imagine would be against sending her kids to school. People close to me were expecting me to eagerly check out the local schools and to enthusiastically support my children in excelling at school as I had excelled as a child.
Part of the reason they thought that is because:
- I was blessed and fortunate to have grown up abroad in an advanced, caring, discerning school environment that did everything it could to cater to my unique capabilities, that even glorified me.
- Even when I left that ideal environment and returned home to a rather different school experience, I continued to excel at school and win rewards for doing so. I did extremely well all through my school life.
- I passed through the minefield of negative influences and peer pressure unswayed and true to the values and principles instilled into me by my mother, proving that being exposed to bad examples doesn't mean following those bad examples.
Why then, should I want to homeschool my kids? How did all those factors that I mentioned actually push me powerfully away from schools and into such an alternative model of education as home education?
The quick and summarised answer is that:
- Even with the best of intentions, the school system is inherently flawed simply because a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching can never draw out the individual strengths, cater to the unique interests or support the specific needs of each student.
- Regardless of how well some people do in the system, the system actually does significant damage or hinders not only the “academic misfits” but even those who excel in it.
- Frankly, my example of dodging the minefield of negative influences and peer pressure is more of an exception rather than the rule. Everywhere around me I could see my fellow students get into things that their parents would be absolutely dismayed to learn of. A question I often asked myself as a child and later as a teenager is why didn't other kids want to heed their parents as I did? Why did they dismissively disregard everything their family believed in? Why did many of them consistently turn a deaf ear to the very people who loved them the most and wanted the very best for them, whereas I and a minority like me, always put the image of our fathers and mothers before our eyes in everything we did? I naively thought then that it was just because they were "bad" and we were "good", but I realise now that actually the reason is very basic: they simply didn't enjoy the level of respect and attachment towards their families as I had for my own. And I realised that the reason for that wasn't because I was some paragon of virtue! Rather, is was due to my unique experience of having lived abroad with my family during my early, formative years in an extremely close-knit way resulting in a deep, abiding attachment to my parents and their values; where my mother was able to pour into me all her heart-held beliefs, principles and sense of morality. I wasn't homeschooled but nevertheless seeing ourselves as apart from the culture around us detached me from competing influences at that critical time in my development which resulted in that LOYALTY was formed: the Home, my Parents, my Family was established as my trusted source of right and wrong, which in turn made me disregard all other influences that opposed what my parents taught me.
Those were the quick answers. For those who would like to read more, in this newsletter, I will be focusing on part 1 of my experience: when I was in the 'States from kindergarten to third grade.
Now, everything you're about to learn about me will reveal that school and myself were a match made in heaven. It was as if the whole concept of school was designed for a child like me in mind: I was bright, interested, and eager to please. And like all young children, I had a thirst for knowledge and a natural curiosity about everything in the world, but, my home wasn’t especially equipped to feed the hunger of my mind and that’s why, although leaving my mother was always heart-wrenching, once I got into the daily grind of school I was alert and happy to have the chance to learn all the new things I was being exposed to. It turns out however that I wasn’t exactly typical. Whereas many other kids seemed to remain despondent, withdrawn and unengaged throughout the day, many even revolting against the requirements of the classroom (and often labelled with things like learning disabilities), I seemed to be ready from a very young age for “academic” activities.
TAKEAWAY: Not all kids are ready for the same things at the same time. Pushing children before they’re ready can set them on a path of believing for the rest of their life that learning and education is a hateful thing, to be undertaken only under duress, and to be avoided at all costs, certainly never to be pursued of their own volition. The only reason I loved learning within school and continued to do so is because I was developmentally ready for it from the start.
Anyway, one of the first indications of my precocious aptitude for schooling was when at about 4 years old, I surprised my parents with several foolscap pages of a story I had written about our recent move from Tampa to Miami (my mother and father who were there on scholarships were completing their degrees in post-graduate Physics and in Electrical Engineering, respectively). My parents, sensing that this was rather extraordinary for a four year old, showed some professors in their University my written story. One thing led to another and shortly thereafter they looked into admitting me into an elite private school in the area to better nurture my budding abilities. However, due to logistical factors, they finally decided that the public school would have to be good enough.
This felt unfortunate even though my parents at that time could only compare the schools that were in their immediate vicinity. Whereas nowadays, we have access to examples of the most advanced and successful school systems from across the globe! Seeing what's possible elsewhere- doesn't that further serve to deepen the discontent of having to settle for less? Shouldn't that discontent fuel our efforts into actually doing something about it rather than waiting for the best of what's out there to reach us on its own? And even if they became available, how many of our children could they accommodate?
TAKEAWAY: Just because "better" options are available, how many people today are forced to opt-out of their preferred school due to external factors such as limited space, distance or price? How does it feel when you can’t get your child into the school of your choice? What’s it like to feel that you are depriving your child of what in your estimation would have been the best fit for them- if only you had applied in time to get on the waiting list, or if only you could afford that school, or if only it was closer? Wouldn’t it be better to have more options to consider? Why settle for a school- or simply a teacher!- you might not feel great about, who your kids might not be thriving with, if you could be shown the way to provide your kids with everything that you would choose for them yourselves??
Not long afterwards, my parents were called in for a meeting where they nervously confronted a panel made up of my teachers, the principal and several specialists, who finally put my parents at ease by explaining to them that I was rather extraordinary and that they recommended I be sent to get "tested".
Based on the results of their tests and observations, I acquired a new label: "gifted", and it was decided that I be moved up a couple of grades to better accommodate my “gifted” mind. Suddenly, I wasn't just a regular kid anymore, I was told I was special and that frankly was amazing. Teachers looked at me differently, spoke to me differently and treated me differently. I can't describe how glorified it felt. Something I had no credit for (an innate ability) was treated with astonishment and appreciation and awe. That gave me immeasurable reserves of self-confidence and self-worth that I continue to benefit from to this day.
TAKEAWAY: On the flip side, what about those other students who didn't share my same aptitudes? Even as a young child I always saw them with just as much astonishment and awe at their own abilities, so why didn’t the system appreciate their unique talents as much as it did my own? The students who demonstrated remarkable capacity for compassion, or for strength? The ones bestowed with the precious gift of humor or bringing a smile to others? The daring child, the obstinate, the independent, the peace makers, the generous? What if each child was glorified for their own unique gifts and innate abilities as I was? If you think about it each one of those characteristics is a seed of greatness that could be the key to their own paths of engaged learning and self-discovery that is much more likely to lead to great results and success in their lives. However, in a system that prescribes only one path to success: in order for me and others like me to stand out, those who don't fit the mold must lose.
I still remember how forlorn I was in my new advanced grade, my little feet not even touching the floor while seated at one of those upper classmates’ desks. What made me lose it altogether was learning that I was never again to go back to my beloved teacher’s class. I was distraught. She was my mother-figure away from home, and I couldn’t bare to lose my “mother” twice.
TAKEAWAY: Unlike a homeschool environment that is flexible enough to move at the intellectual pace of each individual child while still remaining in the most nurturing environment for his emotional needs, it’s impossible for schools to accommodate both the specific academic level and the emotional needs of each child.
Being so young, my need for emotional security outweighed my need for academic fulfillment and mental challenge, and I begged them to let me go back to my class. Faced with my tears, they grudgingly acquiesced, and the compromise was that I was to be pulled from some “non-essential” subjects to attend a special class for the gifted. And so, it was with much heart-ache that I was pulled from my very favorite subject which was Art, in order to attend a class that the school thought was a worthier option.
TAKEAWAY: School simply can’t allow you to go deep in all you’re truly interested in, and they always get to choose what you study, when you study it, and how much you can study it. That is truly a shame because real learning, the best learning that actually lasts, always follows a person’s piqued interest.
You might be put off by my story so far, thinking “What a spoiled child! They were trying everything to accommodate her individuality, but she had to find something to complain about anyway”. Yes, thankfully I was in an advanced educational culture that made me aware that a child’s individuality was worthy of accommodating in order to draw out their utmost potential. Because I reaped the benefits I want to spread those benefits to all children. Yet I realize that even my experience has its limitations, and that factory-style schooling is not the answer. One answer is that schools could be radically redesigned. The question is do you have time to wait for that to happen? In the mean-time, the other answer is for parents to take on the responsibility of providing a quality education for their children themselves. After all, no-one could match the ability of an involved, observant, dedicated parent to discern and accommodate that unique aptitude in their child that could be the real ticket to their success in life, the key to finding their life's purpose and contribution plus have the flexibility to provide the targeted and specific education that can cater to their child’s individual needs.
This in a nutshell is why homeschooling can be so advantageous: no one knows the child better than the parents, no one cares for the child more than the parents, and no-one has as much motivation to see their child succeed than the parents!
In any case, soon enough I was to leave this environment for a very different one which led to my second conclusion regarding the damage and the hindrance done by the school system. Please stay tuned for Part Two of My Story in the next newsletter inshallah.