A DIY Education

November 14, 2008

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If I said that I wanted to pull my child out of school because I believe schools are ‘contaminated’ with hedonists and, instead, want to indoctrinate him with superstitious beliefs, you would call in the social workers on me asap. But this is an increasing phenomenon in Singapore. Some months ago, The Straits Times (18 Apr 08) reported that there were 280 children being home-schooled in Singapore. Of this 280, 60 were seven year olds, double the number in 2003. Clearly, the number of children being home-schooled is fast increasing. Parents who home-school their children share several social characteristics. They are generally well-educated, middle income, and fervent Christians.

 

[http://www.straitstimes.com/Free/Story/STIStory_228371.html]

 

I believe that parents who home-school generally do so for three reasons: necessity; curiosity, and religiosity.

 

Necessity: You home-school because you have to. This usually means that your child has behavioural, learning or emotional issues. Given these issues, you realise that your child is miserable at a conventional school. He may be ostracized, repeatedly reprimanded for being ‘naughty’ or hyper-active or distracted. You come to the conclusion that he would excel at home, in a familiar environment with a custom-tailored syllabus, rather than in a one-size-fits-all mass education system.

 

Curiosity: Here, there are two types of curiosity. Firstly, your child may show either extraordinary curiosity or aptitude for certain subjects, say botany, physics or art. You want your child to develop this core aptitude and have the rest of his education syllabus tailored around this core aptitude. You can envisage your child establishing a career in his subject and perhaps even entering university at an earlier age to specialize in it.

 

Secondly, you want to give your child space to simply be curious. Here you are more interested in allowing him space and time to explore subjects at his own pace. If he shows interest in dinosaurs, you spent the next week or so, depending on how long his curiosity lasts, exploring projects that involve fossil structure, geological studies, carbon-dating techniques and reptilian herd behaviour. The next week you could be doing projects on ships and boats, and so on.

 

Religiosity: You want your child to be brought up according to biblical teachings. You believe that the bible is a life manual and that the answers to all of society’s challenges, dilemmas, issues and complexities can be found in the bible. Morality and values are top priorities for you, and not just any brand of morality or values but those of the Judeo-Christian variety. Prayer and faith form an integral part of your syllabus.

 

As far as I am concerned, only the first two reasons are valid. The last one should not be entertained by the Ministry of Education (MOE). Unfortunately, this is difficult to police. In order to home-school your child you need permission from MOE. You need to submit your CV and the syllabus you intend for your child to MOE. Many Christian parents submit well established home-schooling syllabi, typically available in the US but draw up their own syllabus, sharing tips, lessons and programmes with other fellow Christian home-schoolers.  

 

There are several reasons why I think religion-based home-schooling should be disallowed. The first is deeply personal in that I think all religions are mere superstitions. I think the idea of pulling your child out of school in order to teach him how to live life according to ancient Jewish fairy tales is as reasonable as pulling your child out of school in order to teach him how to live life according to the ways of Zeus, Apollo, Neptune and the other Greek half-naked gods residing on Mount Olympus. But there are also other socio-cultural reasons for disallowing it.

 

For one, many Christian home-schooling parents are not cut out to home-school in the first place. It’s an insult to home-schooling parents to believe that all you need to do is to quit your job and stay home with the kids. In addition to being a care-giver, you’re now an educator and not everyone has the aptitude for it. That is why, if you visit local home-schooling forums or blogs you often read of Christian parents exhorting everyone to pray for God to give them patience, stamina and wisdom to educate their child. They refuse to acknowledge the simple fact that teaching is a calling and requires a certain personality that even many formal teachers today lack. These Christian parents, in effect, take on a job that they are not qualified or cut out for, and do long-term damage to their child.  

 

Secondly, Christian home-schoolers are breeding a generation of children who are sheltered from other faiths, or values. This may sow the seeds of intolerance and societal maladjustment. Now, at this point, many Christian parents would say that socialization is a key part of their home-schooling syllabus. They bring their children out on excursions with other children in order to nurture inter-relational skills. But these excursions are usually with children of the same faith. And even if such excursions are with children of different faiths and backgrounds, they are ad hoc. In other words, you have the option of pulling out of these excursions if your child does not mix well. In a school environment, your child does not have this option and has to find solutions to challenges.

 

Thirdly, irony of ironies, many of these Christian home-schoolers end up replicating classroom conditions. It is not uncommon for home-schoolers to gather at someone’s home for group lessons, be it math, science or morality. Many see this as part of the socialization process. Not only do they fail to see that they have pulled their child out of the classroom only to put him in another one, they also fail to see they are unwittingly trying to create a culturally homogenous environment.

 

Fourthly, and most worrying of all, there is an underlying fear of “contamination” and obsession with purity. Christian home-schoolers believe that a secular education or mass education will somehow “contaminate” their child and destroy his purity. You think I’m overreacting? Checkout the post below from someone who calls him/herself ‘Hallelujah’ in response to the above Straits Times article:

 

I really regret I did not home-school my son. He has been “contaminated” quite badly after the 6 yrs of compulsory education. He is in sec 1 now and i am thinking of pulling him out. Wonder if anyone could share some experience on home schooling secondary level in preparation of the O level?

Posted by: Hallelujah at Tue Apr 22 20:36:08 SGT 2008

 

The intolerance and bigotry entrenched in the comment is scary isn’t it? But this is typical of the Charismatic movement. Let’s face it, if a Christian environment was all the parent wants, there are numerous missionary schools in Singapore to choose from. Such missionary schools have all the accoutrements of religion – priests, prayer time, bible study and so on. But even this is not good enough for Charismatic Christian home-schoolers. The fact that they would actually pull their child out of schools shows that notions of contamination and purity dominate their thinking. Such ideas are not healthy in a multicultural society.

 

Lastly, in a related point, I would wager that the majority of Christian home-schooling parents are not Catholics or Anglicans that have a doctrinal authority like the Vatican or Church of England to answer to. I wager that the majority are Charismatic Christians. Unlike Catholicism or Anglicanism where there are strong traditions of scholarship, Charismatic Christianity has no such history of rational inquiry. It is primarily based on a strong charismatic leadership, with emphasis on praise and worship to heighten emotions, and evangelism. These fundamentals are not good for home-schooling.

 

 

The sociological literature on the home-schooling phenomenon in Singapore is scarce. Not much research has been done on this growing phenomenon. However, it’s an educated guess to assume that the first generation of home-schoolers in the 1960s and 1970s did so for non-religious reasons. This group was probably very small and comprised of extremely well educated and bohemian-like Singaporeans and expatriates. Today, with the expansion of the middle class and the growth of Christianity as a Chinese middle class religion, it’s an equally educated guess that Charismatic Christian home-schoolers will only increase in size. Today we have about 280, still a small number. But one should never underestimate the appeal of irrationality, morality and purity.

 

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2 Responses to “A DIY Education”

  1. dec16 Says:

    The number of home-schooled children may be increasing, but what about the percentage of the population? Is this increase statistically significant? In the absence of yearly trends (number and percentage of each cohort’s population who are home schooled) it isn’t “clear” that this fast-increasing number is statistically significant, and therefore of special concern.

  2. susie Says:

    I hope people do think more about child being ‘contaminated’ rather than socialization problem with homeschooling.


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