- An alternative way to look at education, an alternative way to educate



Education articles by Gary John Ilines about home educating children


I started as a teacher in 1987. I began as a high school Maths teacher in Jamaica, then worked as an EFL instructor to teenagers and adults in Poland, South Korea and Thailand. I trained as a primary class teacher in the UK and France, taught primary from Year 4-6 in the UK, France, Thailand and China, and then home-schooled my own children through IGCSEs and A-Levels.

Gary John Ilines
BA Honours, CTEFLA, PGCE Modern Languages, MA International Education




I would never go back to sending my children to a school. Even if we received scholarships to the most prestigious international school in Asia, I would still prefer to keep home schooling - it has come to mean that much to me to be able to teach my own children in my own home.

But that's just me. My closest friends and family members who have children of their own, who are intelligent and educated people, continue to send their children to a school and so far I am not winning the argument with any of them. And I don't want to become a home school Facist: educating your child, as part of raising your child, is a personal choice - or should be - and every case should be a unique experience. So I don't want to sound like I am right and all you school-schoolers are wrong, because that is not my point. That is why this case which I will now present for home educating children is my case, my personal case, and is unashamedly anecdotal and based on personal experience. However, I hope to make a pretty convincing argument.


There are three types of people involved in an education. Sir Ken Robinson analogises education with the theatre: you can take everything away except the actor and the member of the audience; with education, there is the teacher and the student. I would add a third essential player: the parent. I will examine the case in favour of home educating from the perspective of all three participants in the drama, starting with the parent.


Three words: you know everything.

I am having conversations with my children at dinner, as we pass, and a great deal by email too which we never use to have when they were at school, because it wasn't possible. What they know they have been doing, I also know they have been doing and we both know that we both know. As a parent you get drip fed information by a school and if you demand more than that you are labelled 'pushy'. Termly reports, perhaps a monthly newsletter, a fifteen-minute parent conference twice yearly. Compare that to being present at everything. For the first time since my children started school twelve years ago, for the first time I am not worried at all about anything. Not worried at all. Why? Because I know everything. My anxiety came from ignorance, I now realise, and dependence on others. I know what my children know, I know what they don't know and need to know and I can go about fixing the problems, teaching the skills, making the connections and filling the gaps rather than being weighed down by a cocktail of ignorant fear, and anxious hope as I was before, waiting for that envelope to arrive, and then feeling slightly disappointed and let down. I know that my children are wonderful, unique, creative and intelligent people and no one can now tell me otherwise with the stroke of a keyboard.

Leaving it all to someone else now seems so silly to me.


Three words again: you know everything.

This is not so applicable to primary, where teachers generally teach most subjects and ideally teach the 'whole child' (although for many primary schools this is not true) but if you have a child in secondary then try asking your child's maths teacher what texts they are studying in literature? They won't know (or care). Everything is connected to everything else, Lenin said, and when a word or a topic comes up in Literature which we have seen in our reading in History then I can tie it together. The kids probably won't do it for you or won't even remember, but once you remind them, the connection is made and the knowledge becomes more robust. I can make crossword puzzles for my kids which include words we have come across right across the curriculum. If we are looking at Arthur Miller's All My Sons, for example, I can focus our study of History on WWII and McCarthyism because that links into the play. Then in Economics and Maths I can use 'production of engine parts' as an example. It's all tied together. Learning is about making connections in the synapses of the brain. The disconnection of learning into separate subjects taught by disparate teachers who don't know what each other is doing is most counter-productive. Ridiculous, in fact.

As a home educating teacher, I can focus on quality learning events and quality resources rather than having to fill a space of time. Anyone who has worked in a school knows that teachers are haring around because there is the never-ending pressure of time: the time that you have to be in a place ready to teach and the class time that must be filled. As a home educator, I honestly cannot ever imagine myself telling my children to design a poster - it would be an insult. If I have to spend two hours preparing my knowledge and resources to a high standard and then spend just ten minutes delivering the material, then I will. Once they've got it, we move on. There is no time pressure at all. My only objective as a home teacher is to facilitate the learning, not to occupy the student's time. This makes the teaching experience enormously relaxed and rewarding. I feel pride in everything I do as a home teacher because everything is done to a high standard. I know I am not alone in this, either. I once attended an excellent training session. The leader of the session put forward the proposition that a teacher should ideally only teach forty-five minutes a week, but it would be an incredibly well-presented and targeted 45 minutes. I am only spending around two to three hours a day Monday to Friday formally teaching my children but the progress is better than anything I have ever seen at school either as a parent or a teacher.

One of the greatest feelings to me as a home teacher, having worked in schools for twenty-five years, is being the complete master of my domain. I am completely in charge. Actually, as much as possible, I am trying to make our home education democratic and encourage my children to be independent and self-motivated, but nevertheless as the educator I can make day-to-day decisions which are grounded in the best pedagogical reasoning. For example, if I think that eight-week terms separated by one week breaks are optimal, which I currently do (and my view might change) then I can do just that. If I think that an eight-week break in the summer followed a ridiculously long 16-week Christmas term is absurd - which it obviously is - then I reject it. If I think my kids need more Maths, I can just do Maths. If Maths is going well, we can take a week off and focus on Literature. I can give them a day off any time they need it. If I think 10 a.m. is a civilised time to start teaching, then that's when I start teaching. I can read to them at bed time and send them emails at any time of day.


It is a great advantage also to the student that the adults in his or her life have all the facts. My children now want to talk to me about the subjects we have been studying as they never did before because I have been part of that learning process and they know that I know what they have been doing. I am now part of their learning experience as I never was before.

Just as for the teacher, time pressures are off for the student and long boring periods of being stuck in a room where you are not learning anything are eliminated. You don't have to carry a big bag of books around, wear a uniform, follow someone else's rules. And what on earth are assemblies all about? You can have your own comfortable, fully equipped learning station and comfortable chair which is where you do all your work, no time wasted sitting on the school bus, moving from class to class, hanging around in the school yard waiting for the bell. You feel like a proper person, not just a number in a factory.

You don't get told to make posters, shut up and complete the word search, measure the length of the corridor for the fifth time, make Christmas cards, talk to a partner, or copy down a passage of text. There's no homework - evenings and weekends are your free time. Your teacher doesn't show you pointless movies to kill time. (So many times I have heard teachers say: "We don't do much in the first/last week of term." So why have it, then?) You don't have to line up to get your lunch, line up to enter a room, line up to sing a national anthem or ask permission to use the toilet. In short, you get treated like an intelligent and independent adult, which hopefully empowers you to become one.


Only the parent of the child is in the best position to make decisions about how to raise that child. I don't care how educated or uneducated, how rich or how poor that parent it, it is their decision to make and their choice should be respected. If you are reading this and you are a parent of school-age children, there is an extraordinarily high statistical likelihood that you have chosen to send your child to a school. Assuming home schooling is legal in your country, then it is indeed a choice. That's your choice, you are the best person to make that choice and I respect your choice. School works out well for many people and for many people it doesn't destroy their love of learning. But, in my opinion with considerable experience, when there is so much wrong with school and so much wonderful about home educating that, well, sorry to say this, but with around 98% of you choosing to school-school, some of you must be making a mistake.

© Copyright Gary John Ilines.