Anna Dusseau | 5th May 2020
I am watching my children play in the garden. I know, in these challenging times, we are lucky to have a garden at all. But what I notice right now is the total, undiluted freedom of my six year old daughter as she tears after her younger brothers, terrifying them both with blasts of imaginary flame from her dragon nostrils. She wouldn’t have done this a year ago. Unless your children have attended school, you can’t imagine the painful truth in the well-worn saying that gets bounced around: ‘school changes them’. You hear it and you don’t hear it. You probably think: not my child. But then school comes along and they do change, beyond belief. And, like me, you possibly accept this change as just what happens when children start school. I guess so. But I see her now, in her Star Wars tshirt and short-cropped hair, grinning unaffectedly at her dad as makes a dodge and I think: “this is who she always used to be.” I don’t regret taking her out of school for a second.
“Bullying builds character like nuclear waste creates superheroes. It’s a rare occurrence and often does much more damage than endowment.”Zack W. Van
Not that my child was bullied. Well, not really. We left the school, first and foremost, because it was poorly run. Homeschooling was a wonderful, unexpected outcome. And seeing our daughter gradually relax back into herself – dropping the spiteful talk she had picked up, respecting her little brothers again, stepping back from the gendered ‘boys do this, girls don’t do that’ nonsense – was quite a relief, really. I never liked school much, either. I was a tomboy as a child and, within about a week of starting school, I discovered this wasn’t a popular choice. I changed and am still, truth be told, in the process of trying to figure out who I once was. Aren’t we all? Because school shapes us. Not in a Demi Moore clay-wheel-scene kind of way, but with the same heat and intensity that metal is forged in fire. You have to survive. And if, in doing so, you relinquish aspects of your identity and distance yourself from what was once important to you, so be it; anything to fit in. This is no exaggeration, nor should it come as much of a surprise when we consider that school children spend all week in the company of a very narrowly defined peer group with limited adult supervision. Has anyone here read Lord of the Flies? I’m just saying..
One in five school children report having been bullied in the past year. I think the statistic is much higher and, from many years of secondary school teaching, I would be fairly confident in saying that a lot of children don’t report bullying because they know it won’t be properly dealt with and the situation will, ultimately, be worse for them if they ‘tell’. They are absolutely right. I can remember parents with children in my tutor group asking me candidly over the phone: “please tell us the truth, if we make our child come to you with the issue she is facing, will it be dealt with?” And my heart would skip a beat. Because I can make damn sure that doesn’t happen in the classroom again. But what about the walk to the next lesson? The playground? The bus ride home? Prison rules don’t even come close to it, because the staff ratio is higher and discipline is firmer. But look, I can see you don’t believe me, so I’ll tell you another story. In the first week of my new job as an NQT (newly qualified teacher) there was an incident in my form group. A Year 7 boy had told a girl sat next to him that he was going to smash her teeth with a bottle and make her suck his dick. The girl was brave enough to come forward the next day, accompanied by her mother who said she had been crying non stop and felt too terrified to come to school. By the time I began my second year at the same school, I wouldn’t even blink at a story like this; they were so frequent. And sometimes, rather worse. I understand and respect parents who simply don’t want their children exposed to this stuff.
“Children should be able to live a life free from bullying and harassment and it is time that we all took a stand against this.”Katherine Jenkins
Choosing to home educate in order to avoid bullying or sidestep the negative influences of school is not running away from reality. School is far from reality. It is a crucible in which most children are forced in some way to conform, either by remoulding themselves against the force of peer pressure, or simply by normalising unpleasant behaviour. In the adult world, that same Year 7 dick boy would find himself in court facing harassment charges. Whereas when I went to the Head of Year asking for support with this child, what he got served was a week of detentions and a ‘serious talk’. I’m not blasting the importance of rehabilitating offenders but I am saying, as a teacher, don’t kid yourself that your children are protected from bullying in schools. There are many reasons for home educating and bullying is just one of them. But I get it. One hundred percent.
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