A letter met us on our return from London informing us that our eldest son had done well on the 11+ exam, achieving a mark which could mean an application to grammar school would be successful. (See my earlier post "11+") Of course, we will not know if we are offered a place until March, but based on his result, I put in an application. What to do with my eldest son through his secondary years, that is the question, and I confess I am in two minds.
If he was my only child, without a doubt, I would continue home educating him. But I worry that his eager mind requires more stimulation than I can provide - especially with the arrival of our youngest son, who takes so much of my time and attention. However, the role of the home educator is one of facilitator. With my husband and parents' input, and by bringing in others, as we do with the Chinese lessons, to discuss things with him, could we not meet his needs?
When I began home educating, it was with my eldest son foremost in my mind. By removing him from the educational box, I imagined he would fly. In my mind, I imagined him reading avidly and thereby becoming increasingly independent in his learning. What I failed to see then, and have now realised, is that he doesn't learn from books, but by asking questions and talking to people, seeing, doing and discussing. He will pepper visitors with questions, and remember what he learns, making wonderful natural connections between pieces of knowledge acquired from different sources over broad periods of time. Though I might feel my attempts to meet his needs are inadequate, how will these needs be met in a class of thirty, where a questioning child can so easily be seen as an annoyance and give up asking?
I have an idea that he would thrive in the academic environment of a grammar school - where it's alright to be bright. I imagine him being free to ask lots of questions and ideas being batted round the classroom by other eager learners and inspirational teachers. I imagine the mental stimulation of such an environment, along with a good dose of competition, suiting him. He is a sociable boy and, as he grows, I imagine the journey to and from school and the friendships he might form, being good for him. I imagine many things, but how will the reality match up? How easy is it to climb back into a box from which you have been set free?
I looked round our local secondary schools and I realise the appeal of the grammar school is partly because it is in our nearest city, is more ethnically mixed and takes him into a bigger world than this small corner. Since we lived in a large city in Turkey for some years, where he functioned in a second language, I realise this is more important to me than I had realised.
All these thoughts are positive and yet ....
I have ideas that maybe things could be different, that there must be better ways of raising people than our current system allows. I want to throw off my concerns about exam results and academia to consider the whole person, his character, his values, his self-esteem. I would like him to spend his formative adolescent years doing things so much more exciting than sitting in a classroom. I want him to plan and face challenges, to travel, to know himself, his gifts and passions. I want him to find work he loves, to be confident and not to be swayed by the crowd. I imagine him going off to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, or spending some months in another culture, learning another language. I imagine him growing and developing without the negative peer pressure which can be so pervasive in the secondary school environment. I imagine him growing with strong male mentors, always in conversation, doing life together. I imagine him outdoors a lot. I imagine a different way of raising men.
Why am I torn? As ever, it is myself I doubt. With home education, the buck stops with us and the question is, can we deliver? Maybe what I should be asking is, do we dare to try?