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Guiding Principles Underlying Our Home Educating Lifestyle

© Gareth Lewis

One thing that has struck me over the past two years is that when Lin and I have spoken to members of the press or to teachers, they often seem surprised to hear that the choices we have made for our children's education have been guided by whether or not our children are happy.

In my turn, I was surprised to discover that something that I assumed to be completely natural should appear to them to be a slightly strange and unusual educational philosophy. To me, both as a teacher and as a parent, the happiness of the children under my care has always seemed to be the only guiding principle upon which I can safely rely - if children are happy, then everything is OK, if they are not, then something has to be changed. Abandoning this principle would be akin to cutting oneself adrift in a stormy ocean, on a dark night, with no charts, no rudder, and no light to see by, and yet this appears to be precisely what the modern education system has done.

My experience relates principally to the UK, and although other countries probably have similar problems, I recognise that I am not qualified to pass judgement on their systems of education. As regards the UK, however, it is clear that almost everyone involved in the world of education has forgotten that children have a basic right to be happy. Instead of being guided by whether or not children are leading fulfilled lives, adults have allowed themselves to be deluded into believing that it is acceptable to put children through a certain amount of trauma in the present, if, in the future, it might mean that they can get a qualification or a job.

This is a sure recipe for disaster, for who is to say how much trauma is acceptable? Everyone knows that it is wrong to mistreat children, but once it has been accepted that they can be mistreated, providing it is for their own eventual good, then all sense of direction is lost and, over the course of time, just about anything can happen - and can be justified. This is what is now happening in the school system; in any other place, or in any other time, everyone would accept that a mother is the person who knows their child best, who loves their child, and who can be relied upon to do what is best for their child, but we now have mothers being sent to prison simply because they will not force their children to go to school; repeated surveys show that children are experiencing stress and anxiety in their lives and that it is caused principally by school, exams, and school 'friendships' but instead of seeing this as something that has to be changed, it is regarded as being an unfortunate side effect of the necessity of going to school; schools are such miserable institutions that they share the same problems as prisons - bullying, drug abuse, violence, and intimidation - but instead of getting children out of such places, government ministers suggest introducing random drug testing of children. The situation continues to get worse, but because it does so incrementally, no one involved realises the extent to which they have become detached from reality. We are moving towards a situation in which schools may one day be patrolled by armed guards - the frightening thing is that if they are, and if then the staff start shooting the pupils, people will probably still think that it is the children who are to blame.

The ongoing review of school qualifications makes it clear that nothing has been gained by hardening our hearts to the well-being of children. Universities and employers have made it clear that as far as they are concerned, standards in both literacy and numeracy have been in decline for years; GCSEs and A levels are having to be abandoned; and schools have failed the 'non-academic' students so badly that it has had to be acknowledged that they would be better off if they were allowed to go to work.

The conclusion to be drawn from all this is that the only principle that parents can safely allow themselves to be guided by is whether or not their children are happy. Every parent knows that ensuring the happiness of their children is not an easy or straightforward task - there are many unforeseen circumstances that can disrupt the best-laid plans - but it is an ideal to which we can always aspire and which keeps us more or less on the right course.

By definition, happy children have a fulfilled childhood, and a fulfilled childhood is bound to be the best preparation for later life.

The education system as a whole is unlikely to be able to absorb the significance of this simple truth overnight, and it is unrealistic for parents to imagine that one day government-backed reforms will be introduced that suddenly transform schools into civilised places. It is clearly parents themselves who will have to take the initiative if a change for the better is ever to take place.

With this in mind, we are in the process of reorganising the freedom-in-education website, with a view to making it a more useful resource for parents and children who want help and support in the field of education. In particular, I would like to feature more groups, activities, events, etc. that would give people a sense that they are not alone in taking responsibility for their own children's education. Any contributions from subscribers to the newsletter would be gratefully received...

Please send comments and suggestions to: gareth.lewis@freedom-in-education.co.uk

Gareth Lewis writes books on maths and home education and continues to educate his teenage children with his wife Lin in France. Gareth's books 'One to One' and 'Unqualified Education' are available from Always Learning Books

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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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