As human beings, we are amazingly created. Unlike any other kind of living being, humans are somehow able to assess problems, use our environment, create solutions, and invent things that improve and enrich our lives. Our brains are designed to learn through our experiences, through our senses, and without anyone telling us to. It is in our nature to learn, to explore, to investigate, to test, to push boundaries. And for centuries, and millennia, humans were doing this, in spite of the fact that schools only existed for a small percentage of privileged individuals. Somehow, today, we’ve been led to believe that learning can only happen under certain conditions. As home educators, it is sometimes really hard to resist the efforts of society to control our thinking, to get us to conform to its agenda.
What are some of the things which may hold us captive, as home educators? Here are some of the things which can enslave us:
Pressure from friends and family
We’ve all had to deal with this at some point, especially when our nearest and dearest disagree with our decision to home educate. Sometimes this manifests in subtle ways, but we know it’s happening because we are reluctant to share our home educating challenges, for fear of the well-meaning friend/relative offering advice that is neither helpful nor encouraging. Other times, said friend/relative may go so far as to interrogate our child/ren about their education, or whether they’d prefer to be in school. You might find yourself adapting your home educating approach just to keep these individuals happy, which means you are NOT FREE. It’s important to note that other home educators can put pressure on you as well, which is normally well intentioned, but should be recognised for what it is. I had a friend who had a way of always making me feel like I’d missed the “greatest experience ever” when I opted out of certain events. She didn’t mean to make me feel bad, and it took me a while to recognise that I was feeling pressurised into doing things that weren’t really of my choosing.
Fear of failure
Sometimes this fear is connected to the previous point, because you really, really don’t want to give your family or friends anything to use as ammunition against your choice to home educate. And yes, this can be a very real fear for you as parents. No parent wants their child to fail. Yet, in order to understand true failure, we need to define success for ourselves. And success may mean different things to different children! My personal definition of success is for my children to be serving the Lord, able to support themselves (and hopefully a family too), doing something they enjoy (ideally), and for them to be well-adjusted, contributing members of society. As your children become adults, it is more important that they set their own goals for themselves – if you try and force them to aspire to a goal which you cherish, you are very likely to be disappointed. Of course, it would be lovely if you were all in agreement on the goals you set, and there’s more chance of this if you work towards supporting and facilitating your child to accomplish their goals, about which you’ve hopefully had many constructive conversations.
You know that friend you’ve known for years? The one who got married around the same time as you, and whose children age with yours? All was fine, until you decided to home educate. And now, every conversation with your friend seems to be about how well their “little Johnny” is doing at school, got the “Student of the Week” award, how many friends he has…. Your friend might suggest that your child is somehow missing out, because he didn’t get to be the tree in the school play. If your child is slightly late in starting to read, you dare not even mention it to your friend, because you know it will set your friend off on how much more advanced “little Johnny” is, because he is in school. You may find yourself trying to push your child harder in order to keep up, even when it’s clear that your child doesn’t respond well to that. Your educational approach is now being defined by “little Johnny”, and not by what works for you and your child. It’s really important to hold to what you know in your heart to be true. Every child is different. Every child develops at their own pace – what was true in the womb, in their first, second, third year, will still be true throughout their whole life. You might find it helpful to take a little break from your “friend” for a while, or to have a little heart-to-heart with him/her if the relationship is important to you.
Whether we like it or not, most of us carry emotional “baggage” around with us. Our experiences in our families, at school, university, the workplace – all of these things can define how we approach educating our child. It is very important to remember that our child is not us. We might have been driven to achieve certain things because of our fears, problems and experiences – and that might be the very reason we chose to home educate – now we need to be careful to recognise how our own past experiences might be limiting us, and holding us captive in our educational philosophy.
Fear of authorities
Home education in the UK is legal, and the parameters of the law are quite generous. Yet we might allow ourselves to feel intimidated by over-zealous bureaucrats who might try and take advantage of our ignorance of the laws on home education. Knowing our legal rights as home educators protects us and our children from being brow-beaten by empty threats. “Knowledge is power” in this case – the more familiar you are with the law, the more confident you can be in your home education choices.
Feelings of inadequacy
I think most of us experience some sort of feelings of inadequacy. This kind of comes along with the emotional “baggage” spoken of earlier. For me, some of it goes back to my siblings teasing me as a child, some goes back to mistakes I made as a young person, which were badly handled at the time – but I do worry a lot about whether I am equipped as a parent to cope with all the demands and challenges of raising a family. We may find that these feelings cause us to try and compensate, which might lead to bad decisions at times. Sometimes it’s important to understand where our feelings of inadequacy stem from, and to make peace with them, so that we can exercise wisdom in our home educating decisions, and not be reactionary.
Desire to please others
Desiring to please others links in very much with the previous points of pressure from friends and family, as well as trying to compensate for our feelings of inadequacy. The funny thing about succumbing to a desire to please, is that our efforts seldom satisfy the very person we’re trying to gratify. If the love and care of others is dependent on our efforts, we are doomed to failure, as all they need to do is shift the goal posts to get us scurrying again. Where our children are concerned, we are accountable only to God. Sadly, we cannot make everyone happy, and indeed, for the sake of our children, we need to avoid getting caught in this trap.
What does God’s word say?
So, what does the Bible tell us about freedom?
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Cor 3:17
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36
“I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.” Psalm 119:45
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
Freedom is about not HAVING TO DO something. Freedom is about doing something without external constraint or compulsion. According to scripture, that freedom is not an imposed obedience, but is about obeying voluntarily, out of love for Christ, out of gratitude for what He has done for us. It should never become drudgery, or a reluctant, soulless conformity. We know that God’s love for us is unconditional, that He will not love us less if we make a mistake, or don’t “make the grade”. Therefore, we can willingly submit in obedience, which paradoxically brings true freedom. It’s an intrinsic freedom borne out of the security of knowing that we function within the love of Christ, and not out of fear of judgment, or shame or condemnation.
In Part 2, we will be looking at how we can apply what we know about freedom to our home educating journey.