A year had gone by since my first meeting with 'the moderator' from the department of education. I started thinking about her in early April, and I was sort of dreading her call. In the last year, I have become more involved with the homeschooling community here in the South West. There's still only one other family in our town with whom we share similar views on education, but there are lots of home educators in Busselton, which is now a city, and it's only a thirty-minute drive from where we live. Some mothers are great at organising events. We are all in touch through a Facebook group and I try to go to most of the meet-ups. I do it mainly for the social aspect, for the kids to be friends with other children who don't go to school. We are not homeschoolers, but few people know the difference between homeschooling and unschooling. We home educators know and when we first meet a common question is, 'Are you a homeschooler or a natural learner?' I always say we are natural learners. Most of the others consider themselves homeschoolers. So, they do follow the curriculum and make the children sit down to do maths, reading and writing and so on. Maybe just one or two hours a day, and then they're free to go play.
This is not my approach, it has never been. My belief is that children are learning all the time through play and that they don't need me to force them. In fact, if they suspect that I'm trying to teach them something, they're not interested. Not unless they asked. A couple of mums told me once that this was the reason why they couldn't homeschool: because their kids did not want the mothers to be the teachers. I don't think anyone wants a teacher in that hovering sense, but it is always easier to rebel against the mother than anyone else. Some homeschooling mothers are very strict, I've observed. The children do as they're told because it is either two hours a day of homework or going back to school, whichever you choose. Also, most of them (the ones I know) are homeschooling as a result of a bad experience in school. So, the kids were schooled, deschooled, and now homeschooled. The parents still think they should learn what the other kids are learning in school.
But do they really? This is what I thought when I first met them. But soon I realised that some of them are doing what I've been doing this last year. Mainly, gathering evidence for the moderator. It's like we're playing a game. It's like we, the parents, are back in school! We do as we please, but we are so nervous about the moderator not being happy, that we get together and think of ways to work around the system. Here in Western Australia we have only one test a year, luckily, and that is the meeting with the moderator. And we talk about her a lot (in the South West we all have the same one). When we pass the test, we announce it to the others: I'm off the hook for another year, phew!
So my turn was coming up. Sure enough, she rang one day, and we arranged to meet two weeks later. Even though last year she told me that I had to follow the curriculum, I hadn't even looked at it once in the whole last twelve months. I finally did two days before we were due to meet. In a couple of hours I jotted down all the things we had done through the year that fitted naturally with the curriculum requirements.
She greeted me with a comment along the lines of 'Let's see if the children have progressed', to which I said, 'Of course they have progressed. The opposite is an impossibility, just as it is impossible for them to grow down physically.' It would have been nice if she had then said, 'Ok, I'll tick that off then, and see you next year!' but she just gave me a knowing smile and I, of course, invited her in.
Before I showed her my notes, we talked a lot. I thought she would be happy to know that the kids are now participating in some structured activities run by adults other than me, like the drama classes. I also told her about the activities we've done with the homeschooling families, which should cover all the Science and Arts. Sometimes she asked things like, 'Would you say that is science or technology?' My instinct reaction was to say, Who cares?, but obviously someone does, so I said, 'That's technology, tick, that's science, tick, that's maths, tick...' She asked me whether I thought my kids were ahead or behind their school year. Again I thought, Who cares?, but said, 'Ahead.'
And then we focused on reading, writing and maths, which seem to be our favourite subjects, because, like last year, we spent hours going on about the best methods to teach them. Brad wanted to be present in the interview this year, and he expressed his concerns about this. I pointed out that they were his concerns, not mine. I have no concerns at all because I have 100% trust in my kids' ability to learn with no pressure, at their own pace, and whatever they want. The moderator then talked about her experience with children and the methods she thinks are best to follow. We talked about the way we were taught maths, which I disliked as a kid, and I told her about the system I had figured out myself to do mental calculus, without the need to write down the numbers. She said that is what is recommended in schools now and it was a good thing that I had figured it out myself; I was obviously a natural learner. 'But... It is estimated that only 20% of children are natural learners,' she added. That's where we disagree, and she also said that we disagree in what it means to be a natural learner.
I told her about my whole philosophy last year, and she concluded that I was 'eclectic' in my methodology. This year she insisted that we are not natural learners because I use books. So, learning naturally to her means literally learning from nature. Ok, then we are not natural learners, because it is true that I read a lot of books with the kids (of which most are comic books or books with lots of illustrations). We also watch videos and movies and learn a lot from them. She said that going to the Scitech and Bunnings workshops disqualifies us as natural learners too because those are external aids. The only thing that we do differently from homeschoolers is that we don't use worksheets and I don't assess their progress. 'And I don't force them to learn anything they don't want to learn,' I said. So we are unschoolers, a term I'm not totally happy with because it is the negation of school, and my kids have never been to school, so there is nothing to negate.
She knows about my aversion to testing and I told her that I don't need to assess them. I live with them, and every single day they do or say things that blow me away. That's how I know they're brilliant (like all children are). Brad said he does as well. So the two of us know, but the problem seems to be that we need to let the rest of the world know too. At this point, I had to control my urge to exclaim, again, Who cares!? I don't want to have to prove anything. I don't want to brag about my children or show them off as if they were trophies. I was terribly embarrassed as a kid when an adult did that with me, and I'm not going to do it to my kids.
Another sore point was the curriculum. I told her I resented the fact that we had to follow it. If it is there as a guide for home educators who do need a guide, ok, fine, I have no problem with it. But I don't need a guide, so it makes me angry that we have to pay attention to what the state thinks my children should be learning, rather than paying attention to the children themselves. I have looked at the curriculum and some things are fun and interesting, and some others are boring and useless. So the kids only want to know about the fun stuff, obviously. She nodded in understanding but said, 'When you decide to educate your children yourself, you're totally on your own, so the curriculum is really there to help you. And this is the law. I'm just doing my job, and I want to see you succeed.' We both smiled, and I said, 'I am going to succeed, but the thought of having to follow the curriculum for another eight years is so dreadful.' She told me about things I could do different, and I had to listen even though I didn't agree and I insisted that I wanted the children to tell me how to help them, not her, not the department of education, and not the government.
This is the reason why so many home educators don't register as such: so they won't have to follow the curriculum or be told what to do. I did register because as a single parent home educator I am paid by the government and I get letters with such flattering comments as this: 'the amazing job you are doing as a home educator'. It makes me think that we are all still jumping through hoops, and I don't like it because I feel controlled. Yet, as confronting as I find this, I am enormously grateful. My children are a lot more free to learn than most children. After my interview with the moderator, I was tense for hours. I wish I didn't have to see her again, although she is nice enough and I do think she is necessary and a great help for other parents who believe in schooling. People like her are necessary also, unfortunately, because some parents neglect their children or deprive them of the right to an education for extremist religious reasons. But I told her I wish the law here was like in Victoria, where you only need to register and then you're free to teach whatever you please, or in our case, whatever the kids want to learn.