I know that there are some people who are drawn to home-education who enjoy watching quietly from the sidelines, not yet ready to take the plunge themselves; some are fearful of “doing the wrong thing”, and many have concerns that they might fail their child be removing them from the school system. To these individuals and families, I have something to share with you. I sincerely hope that it won’t come across as self-indulgent; I certainly don’t intend for this to be all about me, per se, but rather for my experience to proffer some guidance or inspiration (or even permission) to trust your instincts and to hear what your child has to say.
When I was 10, I was sent away to boarding school – as was (and still is) common for military children. I hated it. It was an awful and oppressive experience, and I was incredibly sad. For years I regularly cried myself to sleep, and at just ten years of age I used to lie in bed at night trying to quantify my experience by listing in my head all the positive things about that day, and all the things that I was grateful for. I wasn’t physically abused or bullied in any way; I was a bright student, and a popular child, but I was painfully sad and longed to be at home with my parents. I longed for my own bedroom, my own space. I was a poet, and an artist, and I loved to sit and write, drawing little illustrations around my letters and poems. “Tamsin, go and run around in the hall with the other children”, they would chide after supper. I just needed some time for myself after being in a dormful of girls all night, and a schoolful of children all day. But there was no time nor space to simply ‘be’, but rather a constant din and never-ending timetable of activities and events. For the final week of a school holiday, I would grow sick with anxiety as the prospect of returning to school loomed over me; I would threaten to run away; I would beg them not to send me back, and I would cry sorrowfully on the 7-hour drive back to England from Scotland, or for the 8 hour flight back to England from Canada. It was awful. Honestly, awful falls horribly short. I remember having the proverbial carrot dangled before me, with lines like, “Let’s give it one more term, and then see how you feel.” My feelings never changed, but neither did the line I was fed.
It took me a good 20 years to really come to terms with that experience; I am 38 now, and there is still a frailty within me which sits just barely beneath the surface, though you’d never know it. My brother and my sister are the same way. But in our circles, boarding was the norm. It was to provide us with a “good and stable education” in the midst of a regularly-changing home-base. For us it was wrong. (I know other children who thrived but my siblings and I are not among them.) Would it have been so very bad to have withdrawn us from school and to have home-schooled us? Or to have allowed us to go to a new school (and perhaps a totally different education system) every couple of years? I know that hindsight is a wonderful thing, but even as a child I knew that, no, it would not have been bad at all. It would have saved us from years of anguish and pain and all-consuming sadness. The irony is that – and here’s the real kicker – I became ill at 14. Very ill. I did well with my GCSE’s, though goodness knows how I managed that, since at times I could barely hold a pen, but I was so ill by 16 that I could no longer walk, and was withdrawn from school a month into sixth form. I never completed my education. I never went to college, nor university. My life didn’t pan out the way anyone had hoped, least of all my parents. Sometimes now, when I lie in bed at night, I ask myself what the use was of all those years of suffering? It was all completely unnecessary and, worse, it all amounted to nothing. From my own experience, I have learned that you only have one childhood. One shot. But you have your entire lifetime to gain an education. If you know your child would be a happier child if you withdraw them from school, then please trust that knowledge, trust your child, and let them enjoy being a child right now. A happy child can learn and thrive. It doesn’t matter the route they take, or how long it takes them; what matters is that they enter adulthood unscanthed, or relatively so. Ultimately, I guess my parting advice would be not to trade your child’s happiness – their very childhood – for the hope and promise of certifications down the line. I wish someone had said this to my own parents.
I was 26 before I was well enough to work (and “well” is a relative term). I became a foster-carer, and enjoyed a very challenging yet rewarding vocation for many years thereafter. I knew how it felt to be alone, to be away from home, to yearn for family, to spend the days dreaming and the nights grieving; and I knew how it felt to love one’s parents but to understand them as humans who make mistakes. Whilst I am glad to have been able to use my experience for good, my main point here is that I am proof that the lack of a complete education did not prevent me from earning a living, making a difference or having a sense of purpose, so that may be a comfort to those who have concerns in that regard.
I hope this wasn’t too long! Gosh, it *is* very lengthy! But if by chance there is someone here who needed to hear this, then perhaps my story might save another child from missing out on their own childhood, and that is my goal!