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Trying High School

© Beverley Paine

first published in August/September issue of Homeschool Australia magazine

I was asked recently what I thought about allowing children to try high school, if they asked to go. I said that I would not have denied April, or Roger or Thomas the opportunity to go to school, or try it out, if that's what they really wanted.

Because I had personally had been out of the school system so long I felt I was not equipped to judge whether or not school was/would be suitable for my children... I'm one of those folk that all too often gave in to the concept of "benefit of doubt".

When my children did go to school, during the primary school years, I found a school that I could attend with them. We basically homeschooled at school and the other children in the class copped the benefit of that!

High school was different. I enrolled for one subject at year 12 level and attended classes all year - that was an eye opener and if more parents were to head back to high school and give it a go most would be pulling their kids out quick smart! I wasn't happy that my children opted for part time high school but I didn't actively discourage it - to begin with.

I saw high school as a waste of their time and energy. I could see that the gains didn't outweigh the losses. My children saw that too... April was happy to cop that and continued but Roger dropped out after a year. Ultimately, by the time April was attending full time, we worked out that she was learning stuff at school (that had nothing to do with the school curriculum) that she couldn't learn at home, mostly because I wasn't willing to put the effort in... I wouldn't ever do that again and advise people to try their hardest to source materials and resources outside of the school system. School looks like an easy road to travel, but the excess baggage you pick up on the way isn't worth it!

I didn't like to say 'no' to my kids often. I was forever telling them 'don't say no, have a go' - the idea was that they couldn't refuse an activity (or piece of food on their plate!) without trying it first... I didn't push things on them very often. I maintained that as parent I had the power of 'veto' but that I liked to be argued with because I'm not always right and don't always have the best perspective on things, and I definitely don't know everything...

The drive or need to try high school seems to be an issue with homeschooled girls when they reach puberty. Their need to define their identity in social settings seems more acute than it does for boys and they reach this stage much sooner. I think that as homeschooling parents we need to guard against the urge to accept school as an option - because of the fact that they really are quite young... They may seem ready to handle that kind of socialisation process, but most aren't.

I get questions from parents torn between supporting their child's declared 'need' to go to school, and their conviction as parents that they should say "no". We didn't face this until April had been attending for some time. We spent a year - the first full-time year - where I ranted and raved and was totally non-supportive of school, mostly because she'd come home and whinge incessantly about school. She was 16... I think that made a difference. The whole thing almost ruined our close relationship... When she turned 17 I realised that 'school' was the thing she was studying - how people are managed, how bureaucracies are run, how people systems work... She needed to be part of a large organisation because she was learning to be a manager (she now manages a small shop). At the same time she was working up to 30 hours a week at the supermarket, so her appetite for learning this stuff was huge. We could have found another way to satisfy this need in April if we'd become more involved in our local community earlier.

I think that if the parent and child can talk about all the aspects of going to school or not going to school with openness and honesty - let each other know what you each really fear, what you think, what you hope for - then ultimately whatever happens will be for the best for both of you. Thomas and I have huge blues but we stick at it, teasing out all aspects of whatever it is we aren't agreeing on, sometimes storming off into our corners to cool off, then apologising for any 'meanness' and getting stuck into the issue again... We want to understand each other so we can work effectively together to help each other reach whatever goals we've set. I often have to back down from my position, even though I think that I know best. He demands to learn on his own terms, in his own way, and is annoyed that I work my butt off to 'protect' him... I have - very slowly - learned to trust my children, to let them make their own learning journeys - which they will, anyway, with or without me! That's the hard bit - trusting that, no matter what, all will turn out for the best, one way or another.

The thing about my children trying high school was that, unlike all the other kids there they were free to come home, whenever they wants. I made it clear to April that she didn't have to 'perform' for 'good grades' or do work that didn't make sense, although I did insist that she honour her commitments and negotiate with her teachers if she disagreed with the curriculum they had set for her. This freedom (and responsibility) made all the difference to April. She was able to quit a class because the teacher was incompetent (a judgement she made and I supported). She didn't have to do assignments or obey rules that didn't make sense, so long as she protested in an appropriate manner. Her assertiveness impressed classmates and teachers alike and the establishment didn't really know what to make of it... April didn't feel pressed to perform, get grades, or do anything that didn't feel 'right' or comfortable... We gave her the support to be herself within that environment. We talked about all this stuff a LOT at home, but then again, that was because April was intensely interested in how and why people do what they do...

I was always buoyed up by the positive family experiences of some of my best friends whose children did go to school and who were doing fine... It's not easy to get the best from school, but it doesn't have to a totally negative experience either.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

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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