Journalist Janet Street-Porter’s recent op-ed denouncing the British homeschooling movement pretty much missed the point. Still, we have to agree that when it comes to deciding how to educate children, the most important thing to ask is “who knows best?”
Indeed, this is the question that legislators and social commentators in the United Kingdom are wrestling with as they try to determine why more and more parents are taking on the daunting task of teaching their children at home—and what to do about it.
Though still small compared to the movement in the United States, the number of students being homeschooled in the U.K. has increased by at least 40% in the last four years. This remarkable growth apparently unnerves critics such as Street-Porter who argue that raising children is simply too involved to be accomplished without the guidance of “experts.”
Our response is to invoke a truth we feel should be self-evident: Who has more expertise on what children need than their own parents?
In the Home School Legal Defense Association’s 30-plus years of advancing homeschool freedom, we’ve seen over and over again that loving, committed parents are in the best position to craft individualized educational programs for their children.
This is not (as Street-Porter characterizes it) about “helicopter parents” imposing “insidious control.” It’s about parents being sensitive, flexible, and creative for the good of their youngsters.
Street-Porter almost sees this, when she grudgingly admits the good that many homeschool parents in the U.K. have accomplished in caring for their children with special needs—especially those who struggle with mental health issues.
As one British homeschool mom told the BBC: “Actually home education is not the easy option. Home education is actually a hard option, and we have done this, and lots of other parents have done this, and are succeeding and are seeing their children blossom into fantastic human beings and succeeding in life.”
It reminds me of an American homeschool family we profiled a few years ago. To help their son Caleb cope with autism, these California parents tapped into a wide range of resources that aren’t necessarily available at state schools: individual therapy, special camps, vocational training. Their determination paid off when, as a young man, Caleb landed a job and began ministering at church.
Caleb’s success story also belies Street-Porter’s assertion that homeschool students are somehow shortchanged if they never experience certain hallmarks of traditional schooling: bullies, ironclad schedules, and being forced to socialize with complete strangers.
But avoiding a one-size-fits-all teaching method and hazards such as belligerent classmates are some of the primary reasons parents choose to homeschool. After all, home is supposed to be a sanctuary, the place where kids are most likely to feel safe, to be themselves—and to thrive.
As for socialization, if Street-Porter consulted her own country’s history she would see that homeschool parents often go to great lengths to ensure their children have ample opportunities to grow and learn through interactions outside the family.
England’s reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, was essentially homeschooled along with her sister (through the help of some very learned tutors). To aid in their girls’ development, the queen’s parents arranged for the equivalent of a girl scouting troop to be formed at Buckingham Palace.
Of course, few parents are blessed with the resources of the royal family, a reality Street-Porter alludes to when she disdains all private schooling on the grounds that it often excludes the poor.
But that doesn’t mean homeschooling is only for the middle and upper classes.
At HSLDA, we are quite aware that homeschooling is demanding—most things worth doing take effort. Nevertheless, most parents choose this mode of education not because it is a luxury they can afford, but because they are convinced it is best for their children. This includes low-income and single parents.
This is also why our advocacy involves so much more than lobbying and legal work.
We encourage members to seek out support and to be engaged in the broader community. To this end we connect families with state and local homeschool groups and offer an educational consultant team whom our members may contact for answers to a wide range of questions.
For parents who feel stretched and who are searching for solutions to overwhelming challenges, we offer financial assistance and other practical help through HSLDA Compassion, our charitable outreach.
Ultimately, we see homeschooling as a means of promoting freedom and benefiting families. We’ve seen the movement accomplish great things here in the United States, and we’re certain it can do the same in the U.K.
—Mike Donnelly, HSLDA Director of Global Outreach
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