It is going to be very hard for me to write this post, because as a home educator, and an adult who has been away from the "system" long enough to form my own opinions and philosophy on education, I now have to try to bring things back to the basics, and to what those who still hold to the education department's idea of education, know and understand to be the standard, so bare with me;
After the ever popular question of socialisation (which is answered here if you haven't had your mind set at ease yet), the question of qualification Is the second most common question raised when someone is trying to wrap their heads around the idea of home education.
"You homeschool? So do you need a teaching degree for that?"
When the answer is no (which is always), people usually smile grimly and don't push the issue, which really does not give me the opportunity to put their minds at ease. I'd rather be asked further questions to be honest, then you aren't left jumping to conclusions or thinking my children are going to turn out dumb and underprivileged.
There was this one time though, my boss, who happened to be a head mistress of an all girls school years ago (and I did not know that at the time) overheard me having a conversation with a co-worker about homeschooling. She went on a rather passionate rant against parents teaching without a degree. The look in her eyes screamed "Dare to challenge me on this and I will chew you up into teeny tiny pieces and spit you out" ... I was keen on keeping my job, so with clenched teeth I let her rant.
Boy was it a doozy. "How DARE they (parents) think they can educate children without a qualification! Teachers spend 4 years or more at university studying how to teach children, and these parents think they can just wing it? Kids are not test-models, they are ruining their kids lives! Disgusting." I'll save you the details on what else came out. Wow.
So here I am heels dug in, gleam in my eye, brow furrowed, ready to give an answer to those who have this mindset that one must have a university degree to educate children.
Firstly, let me just say I know about four Teachers and two students who are currently studying to be Teachers. I believe that if you are going to be teaching in an institution (aka school), especially a public school, you absolutely need to do the four year degree, and kudos to those who have chosen that career path to educate the future generations within the confinements of the institutions. It's a hard job! So this is not to put down or lessen the fact that qualified teachers worked hard to receive their qualification. That's a given.
However, for a parent to educate their own children they absolutely do NOT need this degree. Or any other kind for that matter. The two people I know who are currently at university doing teaching degrees (one early childhood and one high school) both are in their second year. They both can confirm that the first year did not teach them how to teach. It taught them how to organise a classroom, manage a large group of students, handle bad/crazy behavior and went into counselling quite a bit too. Because as one of them said "Heaps of parents just drop their kids off at school and pick them up but don't raise them or teach them life skills, so we have to be their parents too!" you got that right madam. So teachers in training need to learn some parenting/counselling skills before they even touch on actual teaching. Isn't that ironic?
Besides the fact that students earning a Bachelor of Education spend their entire first year dealing with classroom/student/behavior management and the like, they also spend a huge chunk of time in second and third year doing units which involve learning how to work with children of various backgrounds (special needs, indigenous, children with English as a second language) All of which are exceptionally important for a school teacher to learn. But not a parent. Parents already know how to work with their own Children.
Fourth year is basically completely practical work. So out of four years, about one and a half years are dedicated to actual teaching of subjects, which is of course in line with the national curriculum standards and includes strategies for basically getting the point across to students. Again important in a school environment but not so much when one is teaching their own children.
You see the difference between a parent and a teacher is this. The children are our own. We have known them from birth. We have spent just about every waking moment with them. We have actually educated them from the day they were born. It is we, who encouraged them to crawl and walk. We who read them their first books and taught them their first songs. We who showed them how to use a toilet and how to wash themselves and brush their teeth. We taught them their ABC's and 123's. We who showed them the world of shapes and colours, opposites and so on. We taught them how to speak the English language and helped them to express their feelings. We taught them basic morals and values. Before kindy even comes around, we have spent 4 - 5 years educating our children and have done a fantastic job at it too.
So homeschooling is simply a continuation of this learning journey for our children.
Of course the objection may arise "Well yeh but that's just basic stuff. Anyone knows that you don't need a degree to teach that." yes, true. But, we have just spent 4 or so years, establishing a solid relationship with our students. We have spent those years learning all about our students. We know their personalities/character, their strengths and weaknesses, their likes and dislikes, what "level" they are on in all areas of learning... we have covered all the ground that teachers don't get to, or have to cover at uni. We are our kids counsellors by default. We know how to handle them, how to help them, how to stimulate them, what kind of learning environment they thrive in and enjoy. We don't have to cater to 20-30 students of various backgrounds. We have to cater to our own children. Very different.
As far as the teaching of certain subjects go, well firstly, we have much more flexibility than teachers do. Catering to only our own children we have a much easier focus. We have less to deal with on pretty much all levels pertaining to education. We can cater our child's learning experience to meet their individual needs, and the only person we have to answer to is a government moderator who will come around and check progress.. We don't have a principal, NAPLAN tests, other parents and a myriad of other things or people dictating to us how it should be done. So instead of worrying about having to drill the answers to the NAPLAN test into our students heads, or taking into consideration what little Taliah's mumma said about our choice of timetable, we keep busy teaching our kids what they need to know along with what they want to know, in a way that suits them and them only. Kinda perfect teaching/learning environment really.
Then there is the question "But how do you know your teaching the kids the right thing? Or teaching them enough?" Simple. IF we want to keep up with the Joneses (or schools) we can very easily pick up a wretched NAPLAN test, or check the curriculum (you know we do actually have full access to the exact same national curriculum as teachers do, right?), have a chat with our moderator (the person from the education department who keeps dibs on us), ask our kids questions, write out a test (ugh no thanks) or any other number of ways you can possibly imagine. It's not a matter of quantity anyway. Its a matter of quality. Another benefit of home education. If little Andrew has trouble with his times tables, we don't have to then jump forward to the next thing, leaving him frustrated, confused and setting him up for mathematical failure. We can stop and sit on those times tables for as long as we darn well please, enabling that quality of education to override a schedule, expectation or quantity.
Teachers can only DREAM of the educational liberties, opportunities, innovation, creativity and rich, thick meaty learning-substance that we parents are able to share with our children.
And guess what? If we don't know the answer to a question, we can find out. Teachers do not know everything. 4 years at university does not make you a walking thesaurus, dictionary, atlas, calculator, encyclopedia and trivia master. But Teachers and Parents alike have all the resources in the world available to them. With books, endless curriculum choices, the Internet, online courses and so on, answers are literally at our fingertips in this day and age. Anything you could dream to know, is readily available to you.
Primary School is simple. Honestly it is. If you think that I cannot teach my child through the primary years, what does that say about my education? Which was through the public education system. Either the schools are sufficient or they are not. If I cannot teach my kids primary, then I don't have the knowledge I am supposed to have received from my public school teachers, and the system has failed me. It's a bit of a circular argument isn't it?
High school, sure, I'm happy to admit it, is a different story. It isn't as easy. It is not meant to be. But the point of high school in my opinion, is to begin zoning in on an individuals talents, interests and strengths more than ever before. The point of high school is to get to a place where you choose your career/direction. It launches you into your next phase of life. I say phase because for many, that is what it is. Many kids leave school and go on to jobs that they only have for 1 to 6 years, before deciding to try something different, or to study something else, or to travel, or to be a full-time stay at home parent or whatever else. High school education is not the be all and end all. Nor is university or TAFE. If a kid totally screws up high school, they can do the important parts again through a few institutions, or take a stat test, or choose a line of work that requires nothing on paper. The idea though, is to come out of high school with direction, a dream, a sense of achievement. The piece of paper you get is pretty much literally just a piece of paper. It means a lot to some employers. And a whole lot of nothing to others. So, high school then, ought to be about launching into the next phase of life. For some that's uni. So they can be doctors, scientists, lawyers and so on. For others its an apprenticeship to earn a trade. For others it's TAFE to become a beautician, childcare worker, personal trainer etc, and for others still it is to launch immediately into the workforce and work their way up from cashier to manager to perhaps owner. Others seek fame and fortune in the arts or freelancing of various kinds. Whatever it is, the fire is in their bellies and we as educators help to fan that fire. We aren't there to fill their heads with as much as we possibly can, but to direct, encourage and help them step into their futures.
If they are wanting to learn about something that Is completely over our heads? Their are tutors, other family members who may be able to teach it, online courses and more. The information is out there if it is needed. I am terrible at mathematics. Absolutely atrocious. Once high school hits for my kids, I will be passing the baton for that subject to my husband who is great at maths. If one of my kids decides they want a career in something that requires advanced knowledge in mathematics that neither my husband or I am able to offer teaching in, we will explore other avenues (and there are MANY).
That's what gets me when people ask about degrees and have concerns about homeschooled kids not knowing enough... don't you think that just maybe, if a parent finds that they are not able to teach a certain thing any more, because their child has advanced past them or something, that perhaps that parent might then totally encourage that advanced learning with textbooks, field trips, tutors, online courses or whatever is necessary? It is only common sense really.
Going right back to the basics; Ive heard it said that unless you know special methods you cant teach certain things. A few people have gone as far as to say that you cannot teach a child to read unless you know certain methods and strategies. What rubbish! Many children have taught THEMSELVES to read (in time, after ABC's and being read to all their little lives) let alone needing a special formula! Besides, all the methods, ideas, tricks and theories are available online and in books anyway. Plus not all teachers agree on the best way to teach reading. For example some love the phonics approach others hate it. What's right, is what works for the individual child. And mum and dad certainly have the ability to figure that one out.
I could go on and on and on, but once again I digress. Education is not limited to 12 years. or 16 years including uni. Education is a lifelong experience. It ought to be a lifestyle. You don't stop learning until you are dead. As a parent, I am learning all the time. Deliberately and accidentally. In fact, my most enjoyable years of education are right now. I did not like school at all. I found it boring, under-stimulating, confusing and lifeless. I know that is not everybodys experience but it was mine. Now as an adult I LOVE to learn. I love to read and write. I love to retain new knowledge or learn a new skill, it is enjoyable and fulfilling. I study for the joy of it, not for a piece of paper and a title. I know that if my daughter asks me a question that I dont know the answer to, I am about to go on a journey WITH her of which we learn together, something new and interesting.
The whole "you need to be qualified" argument doesn't have a leg to stand on. Since we as parents are in fact the ideal teachers for our children. We know them inside and out, we understand them, we are able to be fully attentive, focused on them and them alone, we have all the resources in the world available to us to inform and guide them in their learning. There is nothing at all we lack which is needed to educate our children.
Every single thing I've just said aside, education itself looks different to everyone. This is especially true with home educators. We aren't all the same nor do we need to be. There are so many different methods and ideas on education. So many philosophies, and a brilliant thing for home educating families is that each has the chance to develop their own "way". The goal is not to produce an effective cog in societys large industrial wheel. The goal is to raise well adjusted, mature, compassionate, intelligent, loving, giving, honest, humble, self-disciplined, confident adults who can make a difference in this world just by BEING. However each family reaches that goal is up to them. Montessouri, unschooling, Charlotte Masoning it, natural learning, state curriculum... whatever it is, the end result desired is not a mastermind who can spew up facts when prompted. It is much, much more than that. And I would hope, that teachers and parents alike would see that same goal when they look into the faces of their precious students.
Remember, "Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire".