To the homeschooling community…
“It is in fact, nothing short of a miracle, that the modern methods of instructions have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a great mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.” Albert Einstein (2008), “The essential Einstein, His greatest works.” Penguin Group (CA)
I found this quote in 2004 while graduating from a degree in Physical Education on Reunion Island… a volcanic rock (no wider than 80 kilometers!) crawling with life a few hundred kilometers east of Madagascar.
Written more than 70 years ago, these words have both haunted and inspired me ever since.
I thought I would write a few words to introduce myself, acknowledge and pay my respect to the homeschooling community of the Sunshine Coast and Gympie regions and to the Kabi Kabi/Gubi Gubi as well as the Butchulla people, to their wisdom and their land on which we live.
My name is Arnaud Coquillard. I grew up up in France, and did all my formal education in a state school, just like 98% of the French kids at that time. Very few were homeschooling in France back then, and there are even fewer today as France just passed a law rendering homeschooling illegal.
I finished my formal teaching degree in 2004 with a craving in starting real learning. After reading various books on education from Illich to Dewey, passing by Rousseau, Locke, Montessori and Neil, I was on a quest for an ideal education. Instead of starting teaching in a state highschool in Paris suburbia, I decided to explore what education could be with the hope of one day being part of such endeavours as an educator.
From my first few encounters it became clear that none of my formal training led me to be ready to teach. Of course after 4 years of intensive teacher training and placements, I was able to explain, show, demonstrate, organise activities, do unit plans, assess, measure, and all the rest of it, you know… But I was not able to be the person whom I hoped my students could become. A free individual, living a fully happy life, who understood oneself enough so that each action would lead to the enrichment of society and not be limited by emotional and mental confusion.
At that moment, it became clear that what was taught in school, and the way it was taught was not the main issue. The point was about gaining clarity as an educator. A clarity that would manifest in any circumstances for the benefit of the students I would have the fortune to spend time with. I was from then on in the search of wisdom.
For some unknown reason, after spending 19 years in educational institutions, I didn’t lose that little plant inside me that Einstein described. I feel blessed and incredibly lucky. My thirst for knowledge and the intensity of inquiry led me to leave comfort aside to devote myself to this task alone for the next decade.
My adventures from 2005 to 2018 would fill a book, for now, I can just say that I came out on the other side starting a Master of Teaching in Australia! Graduating from the University of the Sunshine Coast to become a registered teacher in Queensland in July 2020.
As our cohort was going through our last teaching placement in COVID-19 times, instead of spending time in the classroom, we were helping the Queensland government create resources for home learning. This program was named “Learning @ Home” (still accessible online). It was in my view very successful and offered an opportunity for collaboration amongst teachers and quality instruction to OZ kids and teens in such chaotic circumstances. Most families at the time had no choice but to take on homeschooling, so the program was able to bridge a real gap.
This situation brought home an opportunity to imagine an entirely new pathway for education. What if most parents chose not to let their children go to school again? What would they find in terms of educational opportunities for their children?
It is clear that for many parents the actual system of education does not deliver what they envision for their children. To be honest, most teachers I spent time with in deeper conversation share similar feelings about the structure of education. Afterall, teachers have spent years “learning how we learn best”, so they are fully aware of the limitations of school structures. However, it is important to know that these structures are necessary with our societal circumstances. Without schools, many children and teenagers would simply lose all opportunities for a sane life. But for parents who are able to give their time and energy to the education of their children, I strongly believe that homeschooling could be the best way forward.
To this day, I haven’t met as many homeschooling families in Australia as I wished I had. The few I met were all inspiring and supportive in my endeavour to offer some support. But let’s make it clear, my intention is not to control homeschoolers’ education nor to create another educational structure around homeschooling. The beauty of homeschooling is its freedom. There is no doubt about it. However many families are in need for support to make sure their children receive the best possible opportunities. And in fact many decide to join school again from this lack of opportunities.
It is exactly about creating more of these opportunities that led me to the path I am on now. Trained as an HPE and Science teacher, my strength and knowledge about Health Education could now become of some use to homeschoolers. This was my hope.
In 2020 I worked as a “homeschool mentor” for a Gympie student. It was for me a way to start this endeavour in an organic manner and to see what worked and what didn’t. Afterall, I didn’t know any other registered teacher who had decided to work in this way, so I felt like I needed to start from zero.
From positive experience with Project Based Learning I decided to use it as my main approach. I would use the student’s interest and craft a completely unique unit of work incorporating the Australian Curriculum in it. After a wonderful few months of learning together, made of bumps, hoops and achievements, that student finished year 7 successfully by mastering his project and ticking all the curriculum targets we set together. However, I saw that this approach was not going to be sustainable. Even though it was a wonderful way to go forward, it required an important financial contribution from the parents, due to the amount of time we needed for preparation and application. I didn’t have the wish to be elistist in that way. Furthermore, this one on one approach was missing the quality of learning that happens during group learning.
I therefore started to think on how I could bring that my expertise on ‘learning’ together with group work, freedom of choice and affordability. This led me to create a series of workshops that encompass my passion and strength as a teacher: Physical, Mental and Social Health. Encompassing both theoretical and practical knowledge, each topic is crafted to be directly useful in the lives of the students. The amazing aspect of offering workshops is that parents and students can choose the one they like to attend. There is no sense of coercion or curriculum to complete, but pure freedom to pick and choose according to the circumstances of the time. On a side note, each workshop incorporates aspects of the Australian Curriculum in some learning areas such as Mathematics, English, Science and HPE.
Being passionate about learning, I made sure that these workshops were filled with games, dialogues, collaboration, creativity and inquiry. In fact, I spend nearly no time teaching, but create the necessary environment for natural inquiry and research to take place. Mastery of each topic is assessed against a well crafted rubric that students use as a guideline across the workshop. Who best can check that mastery but the students themselves? Upon completion, if they are satisfied with their learning, students receive a diploma with a list of all curriculum links they made over these 4 hours.
My motto is simple: offering quality education while fostering an environment of freedom. Or in other words: educating with and for clarity and kindness.
My wish is not to fill all the educational gaps for homeschoolers. My wish is for the homeschool community to have a wide range of educational opportunities.
My wish is above all to work with the circumstances of the time. A time where homeschooling is becoming an incredible way forward in terms of education. A time where quality education can step out of educational institutions and support the homeschooling community. A time where freedom in education can replace the sense of duty. And a time where deep and true inquiry can foster clarity and kindness amongst us all.
I wish to finish this introduction by a quote of Ken Robinson, who was a fervent protagonist for homeschooling: “The Element is about discovering yourself, and you can’t do this if you are trapped in a compulsion to conform.” (2009, The Element: how finding your passion changes everything).
If you are interested in working together or simply to have a chat, just know that I would love to. Please contact me on either email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0478805221.