Forging a Path for Homeschooling

Back to Contents of Issue: September 2002

One family's example helps raise awareness of education options in a land obsessed with academic records.

by Takehiko Kambayashi

IN A COUNTRY WHERE public school systems dominate, educating a child at home is beyond most people's imagination. But Yoshiko Kubo, who has homeschooled her two daughters for eight years, says that home-based education has enriched their life.

"We enjoy everything. I mean everything," Kubo says. "Our life is filled with small excitements, which have been accumulated." Though the idea of homeschooling a child is still hard for many Japanese to accept, a growing number -- albeit still small -- of parents, educators and business leaders have embraced the idea, says Akiko Hara, director of Homeschool Support Association of Japan, a burgeoning Tokyo-based nonprofit organization.

Although the number of homeschoolers in Japan is difficult to grasp, it seems to be gradually increasing, Hara says. Those who educate a child at home have a variety of reasons, she adds, including religious beliefs, illnesses, truancy and just an interest in homeschooling.

Kubo, a graduate of University of Washington in Seattle, happened to learn about "the freedom not to go to school" from her friend in the US just one year before her oldest daughter Asuka went to kindergarten. The idea captured her interest. However, not surprisingly, there was very little information on homeschooling in Japan. She asked a circle of acquaintances overseas for information and comments like "homeschooling is absolutely wonderful" came back. That made her skeptical.

However, one small incident made Kubo realize that she was developing an unhealthy reliance on the education system. One day when Kubo and Asuka were trying to cross the street, Asuka was careless and Kubo scolded her. "Didn't you learn how to cross the street at kindergarten?" she asked. On reflection, she realized she was blaming the kindergarten for something the parents have responsibility for. The incident made her recognize the need to spend more time with her child.

Kubo listened once again to her friends' advice about homeschooling. She says her husband, who was living overseas on business, told her it was up to her. Her two daughters -- Asuka, 14, and Sakura, 11 -- are now homeschooled. They spend their time on books, sewing, computers, arithmetic, other subjects and family chores. They also actively visit places like libraries, swimming pools and museums. The family has a good relationship with a school in the district, Kubo says. The daughters occasionally participate in extracurricular activities and events, and at times the family also volunteers to help with school projects.

"We move forward while enjoying life," Kubo says. "Since the children are growing up, I see their new dramas played out everyday. I didn't expect to actually see such evolution of humans in front of me, how they gain wisdom and skills for their survival." The Japanese education system puts a lot of emphasis on having knowledge and it values rote memorization. Meanwhile, homeschooled children seem to have more wisdom, Kubo says. They know how to apply their knowledge.

But many wonder how homeschooled children become socialized. Kubo says, "Socialization is an issue not only for homeschooled children but all children. Neither going to school nor homeschooling makes a child socialized."

Kubo and other homeschooling parents have been building up a web of networks to create opportunities for homeschooled children to interact with one another. These children end up interacting with children of different ages and their parents, unlike their counterparts at school.

Kubo is probably the most visible homeschool parent in Japan -- publishing a book, appearing on TV and lecturing around the country. She says Japan has too little information about educational options, despite the fact that problems of truancy and dropouts have been around a long time and are only getting worse.

Many parents and teachers seem to be at a loss as to how to deal with the problems of today's youth, including bullying, violence, runaways and refusal to go to school. A string of highly sensational murders by teenagers especially shocked the nation, which had been well known for its safety. Kubo attributes many of these problems to a lack of communication between children and parents.

Homeschooling has given Kubo an opportunity to consider what education is all about and if it is so important to go to a good university. Looking back on what she studied from kindergarten to university, she wonders if that really has been useful in her life. Since children are forced to learn what they are not interested in or what they are not good at, they tend to develop inferiority complexes, she says.

As confident as she sounds, the Kubo family had to face big obstacles at the beginning. She had a six-month battle with her mother who adamantly opposed homeschooling. "Everyday we had stormy arguments in front of my two daughters, so everyone in my family was so stressed out and the house was an awful mess," she recalls. But the family somehow waded through it.

Kubo's mother, who is still against homeschooling, does not tell others about the home-based education of the two granddaughters and feels ashamed due to their lack of academic background, Kubo confesses.

Asuka has begun to show her maturity, talking like an adult, Kubo says. She is studying harder these days as she is going to take a high school entrance exam. She wants to play water polo on the school team. But since she has no official academic record, it's a big challenge.

Asked if she is worried that Asuka might fail the exam, Kubo says, "No. I would say that's their loss. And it's not the only thing in life. There are so many other options. I'm sure she will find one by herself." @

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