I often have people contacting me for support and advice as they enter the world of homeschooling and I love being able to help new homeschoolers. However, in recent years, my contact with new families has moved from discussing learning and education to just providing names of Distance Education providers. It truly saddens me to see this increase of families rejecting homeschooling and opting for Distance Education. It’s like opening the door to a whole new world of possibilities and choosing to sit barely on the threshold.
I’m torn about my role in directing these families to Distance Education. I justify it by acknowledging that it’s the information that they are seeking from me. Admittedly, I don’t have much to offer on the topic, as I’ve never used Distance Education, however, I’m aware of several providers and can point them in the general direction they want to go. But I do not like to do it and I often wonder whether I should do it at all.
Sometimes I feel the families are open to alternatives and I can discuss other options, but too often autonomous homeschooling is unequivocally not the path they want to take. Each time I hold onto the hope that perhaps in time they will step away from Distance Education, over that threshold to where the many benefits of homeschooling can finally be experienced. But experience tells me that most of the families I help into Distance Education will, in time, return to the school system, usually a relatively short time and almost definitely before the high school years. It’s depressing to know that people are seeking my help to find gold, but reject the effort and faith it requires to find more than fool’s gold.
I’m loathed to call Distance Education homeschooling, although it’s colloquially thought of as such, as it’s very different from autonomous homeschooling. In fact, by law, Distance Education is not homeschooling but rather defined as enrollment in a school. When families opt for Distance Education they are not taking their child’s education into their own hands and homeschooling, but are re-enrolling into the same school system they just left. Yes, in Distance Education schools, they are permitted to remain at home to complete the work, but in almost all other ways they are enrolling under the control of a school.
Admittedly, there are many families that desire what Distance Education offers, and have no desire to homeschool. Yes it saddens me, as it saddens me to see children in school, but each family needs to make their own choices regarding their child’s education. My concern is for those families who believe they are homeschooling when they choose Distance Education. These families read about homeschooling and its many benefits and freedoms and decide that they too want a part of that world and, then, thinking that’s its homeschooling, they choose Distance Education. Of course, Distance Education is a valid option, but it is not homeschooling and it does not come with the benefits of homeschooling. When families aren’t aware of the vast differences between the two, they are easily deceived.
There are many reasons people choose Distance Education rather than homeschooling. For families, who have no problem with the school system, but rather a problem with the school ‘environment’, Distance Education is a popular choice. When school isn’t working, for any number of reasons, families, who don’t have the time to take full responsibility of their child’s education, can find Distance Education helpful. Many families also choose Distance Education when they lack the confidence or interest in homeschool planning and preparations. Distance Education can even be useful for those families who feel they need the end of year twelve paperwork and the safety of a well beaten path to university entrance. Many families choose Distance Education for these reasons and value their choice.
However, there are also many reasons not to choose Distance Education. Distance Education allows a parent very little, if any, responsibility or choice about their child’s education. Distance Education is a school and parents are answerable to teachers and their school. If families are removing their children from school because they are unhappy with what is being taught and how it is being taught, Distance Education is a poor choice. In the law’s eyes, Distance Education is a school and they must follow the state’s guidelines for schools and most, if not all, comply with the Australian National Curriculum to ensure government funding. Within Distance Education, course options are restrictive, as are textbook choices, that is if you have any choice at all. Towards the later high school years, Distance Education becomes even more rigid and demanding. Essentially, there is very little difference between Distance Education and school, except the environment where the work is completed. Of course, the strength of these reasons vary according to families’ reasons for removing their children from school. However, if your intention is to move away from the school system, Distance Education will not achieve this goal.
Distance Education families simply do not have the same freedoms and flexibilities that homeschoolers enjoy. Homeschoolers are able to foster a child’s interests and passions by spending increased amounts of time in areas of passion and talent. They are also able to slow the pace of instruction when their children struggle or just need additional review. Illness, emergencies, commitments and other inevitable delays and hurdles are easily managed in the flexible homeschool environment. A family holiday in the middle of the school term is perfectly permissible (and often preferable) in homeschooling, as homeschooling families determine their own schedules. However, the curriculum, schedule and pace of Distance Education is set by their school. While there may be some room for catering to a child’s needs, interests, schedule and family, ultimately Distance Education deadlines and expectations are inflexible, and for good reason. They are catering to hundreds of families and also have to fit in with school terms. Yet this justification does not help the family who wants to join the homeschooling community at the park or on an excursion, but, who has a scheduled online lesson with their Distance Education teacher or who fears that a morning off from their heavy work load would set them too far behind their schedule. These are the realities of Distance Education. It is certainly not the ‘easier’ option.
Of course, there is a place for Distance Education in our society, just as there is a place for school. Not everyone desires, and is able, to take full responsibility for their child’s education. But for those who do wish to step over that homeschooling threshold, be wary of this seemingly easier option. Distance Education is not homeschooling. It is school and, therefore, does not come with the same benefits as homeschooling. Please do not be fooled.
Remember what Shakespeare said, “All that glisters is not gold.”