Recently, we have had the chance to talk to an Israeli homeschooling family. Needless to say, we were very excited about that, because even though we knew there are some homeschoolers in Israel, they are rare like unicorns and it's not every day you get to actually talk to one. Also, because homeschooling, on the whole, has a semi-legal status in Israel, people who practice it often choose to keep their head down, reasoning that the quieter they are the more chances they have to be left alone by legal authorities.
Here's a part of our conversation for you, along with some comments from me.
Q: Why do you homeschool?
Why not? Tell me one good reason to send my child to school. Let's face it, the main purpose of schools is to serve as babysitters. I have no need for that.
Q: What about socialization? (I'm sure all homeschoolers who are reading this are rolling their eyes, because this is such a common question)
Well, we are not the only homeschooling family around here, so my children have friends to play with, apart from their siblings. But you know, it all starts with one family in every area. (Side note: throughout the course of history, many children grew up in areas where they had little to no contact with people who were not family, such as on isolated farms for example. Were they scarred for life? Traumatized? Grew up to be socially inept? I think it's more of a myth now that we are so used to having children locked up in a classroom all day long)
Q: Do you follow any sort of academic program?
I have no wish to start a school-at-home. I think that with their rigid programs, schools stamp out the healthy and natural desire for learning. We make sure we have plenty of learning materials and good books at home. My children are on the same level academically, if not ahead, of children their age. My daughter, who is first grade age, can do third-grade math. Anyway, I believe that the most important thing is to help a child acquire learning skills. Once they have the skills, they can learn anything or almost anything on their own. (Side note: we spoke with a family whose children are young. Perhaps in older ages, and in certain subjects, there is need for more structured learning; but when we talk about lower grades – which means reading, writing and basic math – it makes even less sense to me to lock children up in classrooms all day long and pretend something terrible will happen to them if they don't get that sort of "education")
Q: How do you settle the legal issues?
We don't. When my daughter was three, I received a booklet inviting me to enroll her in kindergarten. Because I knew I was not legally obligated to do that, I just chucked it in the garbage. A few years passed since then, and the authorities seem to have forgotten about us, perhaps because we live in such an out-of-the-way location. I'm perfectly happy with this arrangement, and hope it goes on for as long as possible. Essentially, I've been homeschooling illegally for a couple of years already.
Q: But if the authorities discover you, you might end up in serious trouble. Wouldn't it be wiser to apply for authorization to homeschool?
We choose not to do that for now, because from experience of other families, we know it can be a real drag. And often, they deny families the right to homeschool their children for the most ridiculous reasons. For example, one family was denied the authorization to homeschool because the children "don't speak Hebrew". Well of course, as the family's native language is not Hebrew, they don't speak Hebrew among themselves – they speak it well enough with outsiders, but the person who made the inquiry didn't hang around long enough to hear them! Another family was forced to send their children to school because they "don't have any books in the house." Turns out that the government worker reached this amazing conclusion because she didn't see any books displayed on shelves, and didn't bother to inquire further. If she had, she would have known that they keep their books in closed bookcases, but once her report was handed in, it was next to impossible to reverse the damage.
Q: Homeschooling essentially means that you cannot work outside the home, how do you feel about that?
Yes, homeschooling my children is a full-time job, which I find very rewarding, even though I get no paycheck at the end of the month. With no work-related and school-related expenses, it's possible to live modestly on one average income.
Q: How long do you think you will be homeschooling?
I don't know (smiling). The sky is the limit!
… The legal status of this family is the reason I choose not to reveal any details about them, such as their name, location and the number and ages of their children. To be frank, I'm not sure what happens if a government official unexpectedly knocks on the door of parents who have been homeschooling for several years. It's bound to be more difficult to get authorization to homeschool then, I think. But when the government puts so many obstacles in front of each homeschooling family, I'm not surprised some people try to avoid them in the first place.