Homeschooled in New Zealand: TheLemur’s Story, Part One

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Chris Preen.

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “TheLemur” is a pseudonym.

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In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

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When I happened across Homeschooler’s Anonymous, I immediately related to the stories presented. As the first generation of the homeschool movement in the States critically considers their past, I will endeavour to start the conversation for kiwis (and Aussie too – we’re two very similar countries).

Out of a population of some four millions, there are on average 5,000 homeschool students. I was a (male) part of that statistic from attaining school age in 1997 to 2009. My brother and I were homeschooled our entire school lives. Now we’re both completing tertiary studies.

Like in America, a sizable chunk rejects mainstream education out of religious and philosophical conviction.

Our Education Act permits what’s called an Exemption (from attending a recognized school) if a parent makes a written submission in which they demonstrate a child will be taught ‘as well and as regularly’ as in a public school. Once the exemption is granted at the Ministry of Education’s behest, the Education Review Office (ERO) can review the child’s curriculum and academic abilities commensurate with public school and age expectations. I was reviewed once before I was ten. Evidently, I satisfied their criteria; I have heard of other families who received check-up visits. Unlike the more laissez-faire United States, a basic regulatory framework exists. Spanking was also recently legislated against.

I’ll begin with my parents to give you a background on my home educated experience. My mother converted to a fundamentalist Christianity, specifically Reformed Theology, while she was a registered nurse. Whereas her’s was a typical evangelical conversion, my father adopted Christianity after seeking life answers from Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri apologetics ministry in Switzerland. Schaeffer’s discursive concept (something quite foreign to the average evangelical) so enamoured him he planned on replicating it on a smaller scale back in New Zealand. After meeting in an evangelical church, they married. The next significant event was there attendance of a hard-shell American Baptist’s missionary church. This joker was a legalist of the highest order, demanding congregationists sign a Church Constitution which he could then use for punitive purposes. For a reason that escapes me, my mother did something which in his mind violated the Constitution. Although my father had signed, she hadn’t. Thus, he could not ‘discipline’ her. Rendered impotent by his own rules, he became enraged, and in my mother’s words ‘stamped himself into the ground like Rumpelstiltskin.’ At this juncture, I believe, my parents’ long, fitful journey away from legalism and the excesses of fundamentalism began.

Not long after these events, I was born. Mum decided to home educate me. She was always the dominant force in the household, and excepting financial decisions, dad generally deferred to her. The matriarchal dynamic represents one difference from what I glean my American equivalents lived. Ironically, my mother enforced an explicitly patriarchal belief system without the slightest cognitive dissonance. Two drives, I believe, explained my mother selecting the homeschool option.

Firstly, fear.

Her family was rather screwed up. My maternal grandfather harboured guilt, stemming from leaving his mother to fare for herself in England while he immigrated to New Zealand in search of better economic prospects. His children developed their own various pathologies. Mum’s brother ran her off the road one time. She determined, by hook or by crook, she would eliminate the repeat of those patterns in her offspring. Turning a very focused attention on her children was one way of achieving that.

Second, a belief schools were the inferior pedagogic option.

Their secularism, unimpressive student performance, and what she perceived to be deleterious socialization and structure closed that possibility.

Growing up, I came to accept my mother’s great emphasis on discipline. I knew stepping out of line could easily warrant ‘six of the best’ (whacks, the equivalent of ‘spank’ in the NZ lexicon). I was whacked as far back as I can recall, and I know my brother was hit at little more than two years of age. These ‘we’re doing it because we love you and if we don’t the POLICE will have to’ sessions were generally administered with a wooden kitchen spoon; the hard, tubular rod for elongating the sucking hose of the vacuum cleaner; or a stick from a tree. On days I sensed ‘danger high’, I would wear two pairs of underpants, hoping in the event of a punishment my shorts would not be pulled down. After being ‘disciplined’, I would be banished to the other end of the house for an hour or so. Mum thought being sent to your bedroom rewarded ‘disobedience’, as toys were present there. Funnily enough, I can remember being whacked there. Mum took care to draw the curtains first lest any nosey neighbours should see.

You’ve probably picked up here mum was almost always the judge, jury, and executioner of punishment. Dad did it too to a lesser extent, and then usually at mum’s behest.

She had a strict, parochial view of what was ‘acceptable’ in a Christian household.

No ‘snivellers whiners, grumblers’ and so on, she would say. We didn’t have a TV or computer till I was 15. In fact, Dad hopping over to the neighbours occasionally to watch the Rugby enraged my mother. We were allowed little choice in what we wore, and shirts HAD TO BE TUCKED IN! (otherwise one would end up like the heathens). Peer pressure was a great evil, and thus socialization had to be curtailed.

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