Friday, 7 September 2012

Educating the Public

Well, I had my first PI today - and I think I passed!

PI?  Public Interrogation... y'know - that bit where a member of the public says (jovially enough in this case), "aren't you back in school yet?"  - and then the ensuing questions about home education.

My turn came today while we were in the barbers' shop.  The boys were desperately overdue a haircut, but I had deliberately been stalling during the school holidays until the start of term because I loathe waiting.  Actually it's not the waiting so much as the accompanying deterioration of behaviour (on the boys' behalf that is - I tend not to have tantrums in public myself)  Anyway, I digress... my cunning ploy paid off and my little mop-heads and I walked into the barbers' shop to find three barbers with empty chairs - hooray for no queues!

Well, no sooner had Youngest sat in his seat than up spoke our usually taciturn barber with the aforementioned conversation opener... I have had a version of this question posed to me before, and I always reply "No, we're home educating" - but this was the first time that that had ever been followed by anything other than a polite but vacant smile (you know the sort: the 'sounds-interesting-but-I'm-not-going-to-pursue-it-in-case-the-woman-turns-out-to-be-a-nutcase' smile).   Mr Barber did look slightly taken aback, but then announced that he had had about five customers this Monday who, when he asked if they were going back to school the next day, gave the reply 'no, we home educate'!  He was amazed how many of us there were!  (So if you're reading this and your child(ren) had their hair cut in Knebworth this week, well done on spreading the message! ;) )

So anyway, the interrogation went something like this:

Question 1: "how come state teachers have to train for years if you (the general 'you'' - not specifically me) can do it with no training?" To which I answered that much of the state's training goes into class control, lesson planning, assessments, national curriculum, trying to get children to listen etc etc - all of which is irrelevant when I'm at home with my children who I understand better than anyone else, and who are free to pursue the things that really matter to them.

Question 2: "so what about their friends?  Don't they get bored and lonely?" My answer to that was that he himself had just commented how many people were home educating in Hertfordshire - we have plenty of opportunity to meet up with people of all different ages, which provides great play (and learning) opportunities AND helps their confidence in more natural circumstances.

He'd obviously been thinking about it for a few days since his last batch of Home Ed'ors, because the next couple of questions were unexpected...

Question 3: "Do you get paid for doing it?" Me: "nope - no financial support at all".

Question 4: "So what about school trips then?  Don't they miss out?" My answer: home educators get discounts at some places, but we don't miss out at all. I mean, we always had to pay for school trips when the boys were in school anyway - this way we get to go to places off-peak - and we generally visit loads more places than the boys ever did in school (and many of those places are free or not too costly).

That made up most of our conversation.  I really felt good about having been interrogated and not feelinng like I didn't know what to say.  I could possibly think of better answers if I wasn't on the spot, but I was just happy that I didn't dry up or get defensive.  You could tell it was a bit out of his comfort zone, but even though some of his questions sounded a bit negative, I think it's always best to assume that people aren't trying to be offensive - it's just that having their assumptions challenged can throw people to the point where they forget social convention.  To be honest, I prefer a real conversation where someone feels welcomed to ask questions than the blank smiling (dismissive)nod.  Who knows who Mr Barber might speak to somewhere in the future who might then be encouraged to home educate.  After all, I know lots of parents are happy with the school system, and that's great for them - but what about the parents whose children are deeply unhappy at school but they don't know there's an alternative that they might want be able to choose!

So just in case anyone reading this hasn't seen it yet, I'm including a link that I've shared before - it's to the 'Home Ed Awareness Campaign" here that a few of us were involved in for this purpose: not to tell everyone they should home educate - that would be ridiculous (and I don't do "should"s anyway) - but to let people know it's an option, as many people clearly still don't know.  Please do share the link - and next time you get a PI, I hope you can just enjoy the conversation as much as I did today :)


  1. That barbers shop will be the local home ed hub soon! It's great that he is seeing business coming in from the home ed community too.