It’s been a week of travelling but we are finally here in Byron Bay – the most easterly point of Australia and the home of my mother.
It is a year since we were here in Australia, where all my family lives, but it has been a big year. Last October we dropped out of school and this trip has been everyone’s opportunity to question me about my latest unconventional decision. This is my family, and they have known me long enough to think I am completely mad anyway – watching my transition over the last 40 years from farmer to greenie to yuppie to hippy to Muslim living in Pakistan (the worst phase of all and unfortunately the longest lasting!) What they are all worried about is that I have now drawn my kids into my craziness.
Actually, to tell you the truth, nobody is particularly concerned about the short term of homeschooling for the kids because I think secretly everyone knows that school is a joke – that redeems itself by being a really good form of baby sitting. It is university they are worried about. Am I cutting off the options for my kids by not being part of conventional schooling? How will they do the HSC which is the prerequisite for getting a spot in the uni course of their dreams?
My answer is clearly not satisfying enough, because although I answer the question every time they ask, they invariably ask again a little while later. My answer is a bit complicated I must admit. Firstly, educational norms are changing so much that I think in the next five years passing standard exams will no longer be the only option for homeschooling kids to get into Uni….in fact it is already changing rapidly in the US. Secondly, what is to say that university is any better at promoting learning than schools? It is the same model of extreme specialisation and then rote learning for stressful exams that determine if you are ready to move on to the next level of learning. After homeschooling, I am not sure that this model is going to feel right to my kids.
Safiyah already says she is not going to University, and in my high-achieving family of very successful people, this does not go down well. Brainwashing – right? Every conversation ends with me saying that it is five years away and we have plenty of time to think about the best approach. But my sneaking suspicion is that technical colleges where kids learn practical skills are a much better option for learning. Look how many kids go through uni, take on tens of thousands of dollars of debt, but still end up waiting tables and feeling a sense of hopelessness.
I am deeply grateful that my mother is our biggest homeschooling supporter. She taught in state primary schools for 35 years, has tutored kids after school in maths and english for the last 15 years, and has always been the kind of teacher that kids remember as being responsible for the turning point in their learning lives. She teaches kids that anything is possible, that knowledge is amazing and that learning is the ultimate achievement.
My mother ‘gets’ the idea of homeschooling.
And she has never once asked what will happen when the kids get to university age.