Saturday, 7 September 2013

They Mess You Up

Or, as Philip Larkin had it:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.   

    They may not mean to, but they do.   

They fill you with the faults they had

    And add some extra, just for you.
Do I believe this ?  Well, if you want to know, read on.  There is a reason though that this verse has been swirling round and round my chaotic thoughts the last few weeks - and the reason is that, somehow, for some reason, or perhaps at the whim of nothing more than those terrible twins, Randomness and Coincidence, I have been coming across a lot of people who seem to believe it with all their might.  And are not worried about who knows it.  In fact, they are positively evangelical about this belief.... And not at all shy about sharing their unshakeable conviction that, even should there be some exceptions to this rule (like, themselves), you  - the person they are conversing with - are not it, sunshine.
But let's backtrack a little.
My daughter has what is most commonly known as an Autism Spectrum Disorder. It is something that, in an ideal world, really should not matter, to herself or anyone else - but as that is not the world we live in, it does, to a great degree.  She is at what is commonly known as the "high functioning" end of the spectrum - meaning that, in the years prior to the inception of the DSM-V, her diagnosis would probably read "Asperger's Syndrome", as opposed to "ASD".  Same difference.   In practical terms, this means that she has always attended mainstream education and done extremely well academically - but very much at the cost of her mental health. 
Long story short, a few weeks into her final GCSE year she found herself unable to attend school any longer, and after a winter of hell trying to get the black dog of depression the hell away from her, she eventually caught up on her GCSE work, was kindly given the opportunity to sit her exams at home, and came away with two A*, two As and 3Bs - which she was desperately disappointed about at first, because. well, anything less than absolute perfection just isn't good enough, for her - but which everyone else jumped for joy about - and we have got her pretty much to see our point of view by now.
But she is not going back.  She  wants to continue with her education, and do A levels, and if she likes learning at that level, do a degree - but she has asked me to home educate her instead.
So this is what we're going to do.  It's not a decision taken lightly - especially as I am not a stay at home mother, but work part time in an academic library - but it's a decision that's been researched any which way possible, and the one that, hand on heart, I can say is the absolute best thing for my daughter.
You wouldn't think so from the conversations I've had over the last few months, though. Friends, family, strangers on the internet.  And here is where we come back to the start of the post - the overwhelming attitude of the overwhelming majority of people appears to be that home education - a hands-on approach by a loving, caring parent - is the one sure-fire way to mess your child up irretrievably.  Without farming your child out to an institution for a large part of every weekday during termtime, there is no way that they will ever amount to anything.  They will grow up without any social skills - because they are apparently learned from their peers (who by definition must be equally clueless), not their elders - their knowledge will be deficient and full of holes - frankly, they are for the skip.
And a parent who chooses this option ?  Either an abuser after cutting the object of abuse from possible detection, a religious freak, a general nutcase, or all of the above in one convenient package.
It quite takes my breath away - the amount of ill will and hostility directed at home education and home educators is truly something I have not been prepared for.
But the insult to injury part ?  When you introduce the fact of your child's autism.  Suddenly, your decision becomes valid.  A child - or in my case, a young adult - who needs extra care, extra help, and faces multiple extra challenges - apparently, I am deemed capable of looking after their needs without anyone else's help - but I would not be up to the challenges of looking after a neurotypical one.
So tell me then - how does that work ?  Is it because a person with autism is seen as someone destined for the scrapheap anyway, so the attentions of the "proper" educators are wasted in their direction ?  Or is it because they are seen as messed up enough that all my best efforts in that direction are unlikely to do more damage ?
Is it because people who are, in the eyes of the detractors, seen as "other" are also deemed not to matter ?
I don't know, and frankly, I'm too scared of finding out.
One of the people participating in the last online discussion I had on the subject, when conceding that, in my case, I might well not have another option but to home educate, maintained that education for people with ASDs should be a separate discussion altogether, and that any benefits conferred on an ASD person through home education can have no bearing on the benefits or otherwise of the conventional schooling for all the "run of the mill people".
Which is why, I guess, that this discussion could never get any further than a grudging agreement to disagree.  Because, you see, I do not believe in run of the mill people; which is why I will never be content with the run of the mill education.  I believe only in individuals, each one as unique and as special as the next, and each needing an approach slightly different to the rest on order to make the most of their potential.
I do not dispute that there are many schools that do everything in their power to meet the individual needs of each child entrusted into their care.  My daughter went to one of those, which is the one and the only reason that home education hasn't become a part of our lives much, much earlier on. This is not because the system is great, though - it is because some of the individuals working within them are.  What I do dispute is the assertion that no parent - unless their child is for the scrap heap anyway - can educate their child as well if not better than an institution can.
Because, you see, I do not believe that they will necessarily mess you up, your mum and dad, even though they do not mean to.  In fact, I firmly believe that the majority of parents do want what's best for their children - and if that turns out to be home education, that they will, just as I have done, put as much thought, effort and research into providing the best care and achieving the best result for their child as I have done when faced with the decision.  Trust me on this - no degree, no career, no paid job and no client has ever provided as much incentive to provide a five star service than the welfare of my own daughter.
And if that makes me a suffocating parent, then may I humbly offer my heartfelt belief that a few more "suffocating parents" would do the world in general and our society in particular the world of good.




  1. Well done you for taking the decision to home educate. Although my boys do go to school, I am huge fan of home education. I have heard it said that children spending all day with their peer is neither natural nor healthy, and I can well believe it, it seems very stressful for them at times. And that home education only takes a fraction of the time of schooling because of the large amount of wasted time in the school day. In fact I've heard so many positive things about home education. It is much more popular and more accepted in America I think. I'm sure you and your daughter will really enjoy learning together. And congratulations to her on her GCSE results, they are fantastic!

    1. Thanks :) The more people tell her that about the results, the more she's starting to believe it ;)

      I don't think that home education is necessarily perfection, or indeed that it's suitable for everyone - but I do think it's a valid option, and really, the immediate assumption that a parent is bound to mess it up - it does grate.

      I guess that, as with anything, the only way to shut up the detractors is to prove them wrong, and DD and I are intending to do our best !

  2. Allegra. I think that is an exceptionally brave decision to home school your daughter, but if you know it is the right thing for both you and her then good on you and good luck to you. Also many congratulations to your daughter on her great achievements so far, may she have many many more and I'm sure she will with you to support her.

    1. Thanks BB - it absolutely is the right thing to do for us at the moment; if that should ever change, we'd go back to the drawing board. I think I'm gonna have to write a post about improvements we've already seen in our lives since she stopped attending school. Might be another long one !