Perhaps the most wonderful gift my parents gave me, after life itself, was the awareness of possibilities. One of the occasions when I was most acutely aware of this gift was the autumn morning in my eleventh year when my mother asked me in a conversational tone if I wanted to stay home from school. She did not add any limiting word such as “today.”
Up until then, I had attended public school. I had assumed that school was one of this world’s terrible inevitabilities. I had thought that I had no choice but to go and that my parents had no choice but to send me, because if I did not or they did not, I could be taken from them and they could be sent to prison. This was a child’s exaggeration, but in 1979, it was not so far fetched as it might seem today. My parents, however, found alternatives, and they offered them to me a period in which I attended a supportive alternative school, my parents taught me at home.
Our world became a richer place, and more our own. I discovered that I loved the stars and made it my business to study astronomy. I discovered that I enjoyed reading and went on to publish books. Since I was no longer immersed in the hierarchies and routines of public schools, I was able to encounter both the younger people that schoolchildren learn to bully and the adults that schoolchildren encounter as authoritarian caricatures as individuals. And so I made friends of many ages and from many backgrounds, most of whom I have to this day.
Since my parents had chosen to live in the college town of Farmington Maine, my life as a homeschooler blended seamlessly into my life as a university student. At university, the attitudes and knowledge my parents had given me served me well. When, as a graduate student, I found myself presented with another set of alleged inevitabilities, I followed my parents’ example and sought another way. This took me to England, where I earned my doctorate and found a position at a British university, where I have taught for eighteen years.
To conclude, I think I may in all modesty claim to have been well-educated. For that, I am grateful. I am more grateful yet for the example my parents set for me in initiative. Most of all, I am grateful for the fact that my parents took my happiness – as I experienced it from day to day at that time – seriously enough to question the conventional wisdom which presumes that children must be compelled to attend school for their own alleged good, and the bureaucratic structures which give that presumption force. This gave my parents and me a closeness which I observe to be rare even within happy families, and it has profoundly assisted me to achieve however much I may in this life achieve of my potential.
I understand that the legal status of home education has become clearer over the past three decades, and that this makes it simpler – if never easy – for other families to enjoy what mine was fortunate enough to enjoy. I also understand that there is – and perhaps shall always be – a movement to restrict home education more stringently. If my experience is the basis for an opinion on these matters, I would argue that the current freedom is worth preserving, both for the families which enjoy it, and for the society they contribute to. The price of liberty is said to be eternal vigilance, and this might seem to be a case in point.
Dr. Thomas M. Kane is a senior lecturer in international politics at the University of Hull and an occasional speaker for the Advanced Command and Staff Course of the British Defence Academy. He is the author of eight academic books and fourteen others written for a popular audience. His media appearances include interviews with the BBC, China Daily, The Diplomat and the Shanghai Oriental Morning Post.