A common frame of reference

I don't think that any home educating parent subscribes to the popular myth of the home educated child as a socially inept misfit, irrevocably harmed by his selfish parents' insistence on not allowing him to join a peer group and attend school like everybody else's kids. Certainly, the available research does not seem to bear out this widely held view. Both Rudner in Achievement and Demographics of Home School Students ( Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 7, No. 8 1999) and also Shyers in Comparison of Social Adjustment between Home and Traditionally School Students (University of Florida, Ph.D Dissertation 1992), found no evidence at all to show that the social skills of home educated children were inferior to those of children at school. Quite the opposite in fact! Both found that home educated children actually scored higher than the schooled. Their social skills tended to be better than those of children confined to classrooms.

There is one way, however, that the home educated child cannot help but be something of an outsider, both during childhood and also in later life. Everybody has been to school. Black or white, Muslim or Christian, rich or poor, male and female, young and old; it is practically the only thing that everybody in this country has in common. The experience of childhood is shaped and defined by school to such an extent that it becomes an integral and assumed part of the background of all the citizens of the United Kingdom. It is a great unifying factor.

Talk to anybody at random and they will have a fund of anecdotes about their childhood, all of them coloured by the background of school. Breaking up for the summer holidays, cold winter's days on the football pitch, school dinners, playtime, the experience of belonging to a close group of friends, even encountering bullying; for almost everybody you meet, this is common ground.
Not so of course for the child educated at home. True, her life might be happier than that of the schoolchild; at least that is what her parents tell themselves. But different, certainly. The children met once a week at a home education group are not the same as the closely knit bunch of friends seen every day for six hours or so at school. Better perhaps, but definitely not the same. Swimming regularly with a parent is not at all the same as changing for PE with your friends at school. Walking to and from school with friends is a different experience from walking to the library or museum with your mother.

Children educated at home by their parents are thus deprived of a common frame of reference shared by everybody else in the country. Even those who have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being home educated can feel a little wistful about this when all their contemporaries are chatting about school days. Because school still lingers on in the hearts of us, even forty or fifty years after we leave. A lot of adults still have a mental association with September as 'back to school'. It is impossible to see a bunch of schoolchildren without fleetingly remembering one's own school days.

Of course, for the home educating parent, these memories might be more likely to be painful than for most people. It is curious to note the number of high profile home educators whose time at school was unhappy. It may be coincidence, but it looks to me rather a leitmotif of the home educating parent; that they were often bullied or otherwise unhappy at school. Not all of them of course, but a remarkable number make throwaway remarks which reveal that whatever their ostensible motives for home education, the experience of their own school days is a factor in the decision to home educate.

Going to school is, as I observed above, the one thing which we all have in common. I have never met a man of my own age who hadn't been to school and I suspect that this is the case with all the other home educating parents who might be reading this. We all do what we feel to be best for our children, I take that as given, but we should think very carefully before setting our children apart in this way from everybody else in the country whom they are likely to meet!