Carleen lives in country Victoria and is a Mother of five children. My first contact with Carleen began with our mutual interest in alternative nutrition. During our many phone conversations I became curious about the way she and her family live: Carleen home educates her five children; two of her children were born at home; electricity is drawn from a generator or solar power; their food is mostly organically grown, some from their own garden. I wanted to learn more about what this means for everyday life, so decided to visit Carleen and her life.
After dropping my six year old off at school I continue on my way out of town. I think about what it is I really want to ask Carleen. Although I’ve sent my questions on ahead I want to know a little more. I want to know that I am not depriving my children by not offering them this life.
I turn off the main road and drive up the long dirt track that keeps to the wire fence line, stopping once to open the gate that allows me to drive into the next paddock, then continuing on to the mud brick house. The dogs announce our arrival barking and yapping around the car. There is work in progress on one side of the house. Later Carleen tells me her two eldest sons have decided to build another room there.
My two younger children are with me. I knock once on the open screen door, and at Carleen’s invitation we let ourselves in. My children are happy playing on the floor with Carleen’s younger children, Tali ten, Liam five, and Eric three. We settle in for a cup of tea and a chat.
Carleen has five sons. I imagine her up early lining up her children at the kitchen table, books out, doing their times tables. Not so. Rather than presenting her children with regular set school work Carleen helps the children learn about their interests by making information available, and answering questions as they arise. Carleen says,’I believe children learn in blocks of time, three to six months, working hard at something they are interested in, then dropping it and starting something new. Rather than twenty minutes per day or week as in school.’
J.I. Carleen you prefer to use the term ‘Home Education’ rather than ‘Home Schooling’.
C.S. Yes, I don’t like ‘Home Schooling’, it gives the idea of a school structure, and home being like school. I use the term ‘Home Education’, as I think of education, as being learning. I have come to believe that the whole of life is an education, you can’t just block education into sections and buildings.
J.P. Do you come across a lot of negativity about the way you choose to educate your children?
C.S. A lot of people have the attitude that we don’t learn anything until we step into a building — an education establishment. I think we learn by doing things, by getting involved in life. Basically what I have done, and worked toward as a parent and as a member of the family, is totally opposite to the majority, and people are always asking why.
It is something I have questioned all along, when you live outside the norm, you have to question, and other people do that on my behalf; everyone has had ideas and attitudes, particularly when the children were young.
Now I don’t care, and no-one argues anymore. I have a son who is eighteen and has finished his degree. He recently won an award in his field at LaTrobe University, and has also been nominated for Young Australian of The Year.
The person Joel has grown up to be, is everything that I wanted, envisaged. I still constantly try to point them in the right direction, trying to encourage them to have right actions, right beliefs.
A friend sent me a card recently, congratulating us as she understood what we had given and what we have had to go against, to do what we’ve done.
When people talk to our children they’re impressed with the kind of children they are, and it is really nice to hear that coming back from other people, that that is what they see — the end result that I have been aiming for all these years. Whereas when the children were young, it was only a belief.
J.P. What is ‘Home Education’ about for you, being true to yourself, being true to your ideas and thoughts?
C.S. Yes, and I could not, not do that. There isn’t a part of me that couldn’t. It would be like living a lie to try and do what somebody else thought I should do.
J.P. Is it about instilling a sense of independence?
C.S. Yes, and a sense of who they are, not what someone else thinks they should be. I have had to struggle hard with that one. I believe that people are who they are, they should be allowed to be who they are, and develop that. It is about, being, growing, bringing up my children how God wants me to. I will do whatever it takes for that to be the outcome.
J.P. Carleen you are involved with PACSA (Parents Association for Children of Special Abilities) how did you become involved with them?
C.S. When Joel, (now 18) was a child I began to go along to their meetings. I believe all children are talented. It is a matter of discovering each child’s special abilities.
J.P. Carleen do you feel schools can meet children’s educational needs?
C.S. They can’t. Smaller schools can perhaps, if any school can. In smaller schools children can think, they have the time to think, you can converse, even with the teacher, the teacher is not an out there, unapproachable person.
J.P. How do you provide your children with the information they ask for, or need?
C.S. When it comes to music we’re lucky as there are a variety of musicians in the house. We get books from the library, or
sometimes we find a person who is knowledgeable in a particular area. We go on excursions; recently we went to a dairy to learn about dairy farming.
When Joel was thirteen he was interested in welding, so I enrolled him in a Tafe course on welding, which lead to his interests in computers. Dion, who is sixteen, was interested in Bee Keeping so he spent a week at an apiary and began working there, and now he is working on a worm farm.
J.P. You mentioned you enrolled Joel in a Tafe course at age thirteen, have you set an age at which you feel your children can be educated out of the home?
C.S. Not really, but I suppose that is about the age that I would do that. We provide them with any information they need until they are old enough to make decisions for themselves about what they are interested in and know what they want to do.
J.P. Where does your strong belief in yourself and your ideas come from?
C.S. I can’t even answer for myself why I feel so strongly and believe, even despite the fact that I don’t think anybody has supported how I wanted to educate my children, how I wanted to parent my children.
My grandparents instilled in me the belief that I was fantastic, that the person who I was, was wonderful, and I can remember my Grandfather telling me that I would go a long way in life. My grandfather was also very politically aware, and he encouraged me to think about things and not just go along with people.
J.P. Can we talk a little about home birth? What benefits do you see in home birth?
C.S. Everything, being in your own environment, in total control, not being stressed out by everybody watching, able to climb into your own bed afterwards. It is just so uncomplicated. You don’t have to have somebody who decides to tell you what to do and when you can do it. ‘Stop pushing, stop breathing, push now, take this…’
When I was nine, I asked my Aunt what it was like to have a baby, she said, “it was like shelling peas”, and I thought, yes, exactly, it is natural, it is hard work yes, but it is just normal, having babies, that is what our bodies are meant to do. We can incorporate that into our lives.
J.P. Were you concerned about needing medical intervention for yourself or your baby?
C.S. When I asked the doctor who attended my births, if he would come, he looked me and said, “you could die at home”, and as my response was that if I was going to die I would rather die at home than in hospital, he didn’t hesitate to come.
J.P. Your third and fourth children were born at home, but your fifth child was born in hospital, why did you decide against a home birth for Eric?
C.S. We had Rhesus incompatibility.
J.P. So if you foresee a problem you would choose to have the baby in hospital.
J.P. Carleen can we talk a bit about your life style in general? When we spoke on the phone to arrange a time to meet, you had not changed to day-light-saving time. Are you ever accused of being out of touch with society, and does that concern you?
C.S. A friend’s Father was disgusted that I didn’t know anything about a particular war going on. The way I see it, yes, it would be important for me to know if I could do something about it, but I can’t, so there is no point worrying the children or myself.
Carleen is keen to show me her vegetable garden and I am keen to see it. We wander out the back door and the children hover about doing their own thing, playing with the puppies, riding bikes. Tali, ten, shows us his flower garden. His mother tells us he has recently taken an interest in plants and flowers. By the look of the healthy display he is obviously doing a great job.
Carleen takes hold of the wheelbarrow with a bucket and we wander down to the garden following a vague track in the worn brown grass. A dome shape chicken cage is in the vegetable garden, chickens included. The straw, food scraps, chickens eating, excreting, and scratching make a wonderful soil to grow the vegetables in. Carleen tells me that when the chicken’s work is done the dome is moved on to the next spot. I then become aware of a number of circular vegetable patches in the garden where the chickens have been.
After feeding the chickens, picking strawberries, and collecting the eggs we make our way back up the track. I say to Carleen that it seems like hard work, ‘well, no, not really, when you are loving every second of it,’ she answers.
Our visit is over and as I drive away I am lost in the thoughts I take home from my time with Carleen. I immediately want to go pick up my daughter from school and never again have the morning argument about why she must go to school.
As I reach home, although I am inspired to live a healthier lifestyle, and I want chickens in my back yard, I decide that I am doing the right thing for my children. It is about choice and what we choose for our children and ourselves within our own lives, our own capabilities, and our own beliefs. It is as individual as the people we are and what is best for some might not be best for others. I’m pleased that I’m content with the life I provide for my children and myself.