Beware the homeschooling mentality

From the archives: First published in this form in Education Otherwise, August 1997

Excerpts of an article from the paper journal, Taking Children Seriously 23. For the full article, see: Objectifying education sabotages learning

One of the most important duties of parents is to help their children to discover and pursue new interests, retaining the love of learning that is almost universal in young children and almost universally extinct in conventionally educated adults. Standardised curricula, and the stultifying educational hoops that schoolchildren have to jump through, sabotage this aim. This can cause trouble for parents who have to satisfy other people (such as local education authorities, or grandparents) that they are educating their children properly. Under pressure, they may slide into a ‘homeschooling’ mentality that distorts and damages their children’s education.

For instance, they may keep diaries of educational activities or portfolios of their children’s work. This may sound innocuous, but in making themselves continually aware of their children’s education as education, parents are likely to convey this to the children who are then likely to start thinking about their ‘education’ at the expense of their own interests. Education then becomes performance. Children’s creativity is diverted into the problem of how to be seen to be meeting the external standards implicit in the curriculum and to produce ‘evidence’ of ‘progress’, instead of solving problems that arise naturally out of their own personalities and experiences.

The more important the parents consider this ‘evidence’ to be, the more likely they are to exert subtle pressure on their children to perform. For many children, this will be enough to change the focus of their endeavours from genuine learning to performance. One educationalist recently objected, when I made this point: “But children like to see the progress they have made. If parents don’t keep their work, they won’t be able to see how far they have come.” Yes. Children in school may indeed “like to see the progress they have made”, but that is likely to be no more than a sad reflection of the focus upon performance that is the raison d’êtreof their whole ‘education’.

The carrot of ‘good progress’ is, by logical necessity, backed by the stick of ‘poor progress.’ Being motivated by either is equally harmful. Children’s work should remain their own private property, not to be seen by anyone unless they want to show it. If they do want to show it, are they excited about having solved a problem they were working on? Are they seeking criticism and help solving a problem? Or is the purpose to get affection and attention from their parents? In that case, the parents are manipulating their children by the implicit threat of withholding that affection or attention.

If you are keeping your children’s work it might be worth asking yourself whether you are defining your children by who they once were. If so, they too may start to define themselves by moments in their pasts, and so be less able to grow and learn. Avoid encouraging children to look back at the history of their learning. For that matter, don’t encourage them to look at their learning at all. Learning is one thing. Looking at one’s learning is something quite different.

For the full article from which the above excerpts were taken, see: Objectifying education sabotages learning.

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, 1997, ‘Beware the curriculum mentality’, Education Otherwise August 1997, https://www.takingchildrenseriously.com/beware-the-curriculum-mentality/