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September 26, 2016

Through the Eyes of A Father

By Łukasz Wojtacha

I have been wondering for a long time in what way I should start the story of my family’s adventure with home education. It has been 12 years since I heard for the first time the word  “homeschooling” and asked the question (which has been repeatedly asked of me since then) “What about socialisation?!” It didn’t take long and my carefree paternity was painfully confronted with reality. It turned out that a child’s upbringing is much more than feeding and nursing or constant delight with him or her. Our first son, Jakub, was at that time 4 years old, and his younger sister, Zosia, was almost 1. That was a moment when I had to admit honestly that the behaviour of my first-born son evoked negative emotions in me, to put it politely, anger, over the fact that he is an enormous egocentric, who didn’t respect anybody. (In pure form, “King Julian” from the Madagascar movie!)

Illustration by Igor Myszkiewicz
Illustration by Igor Myszkiewicz        (click to enlarge)

While complaining to God, how it is possible to have such an unruly son—after all, I am a well-liked Sunday school and youth teacher—I came across a verse: “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (I John 3:18). What I experienced at that time is best illustrated by Igor Myszkiewicz. At that moment I realized what I now often tell other parents: a child is a litmus test of his or her family—particularly parents. I had to admit boldly that in Jakub’s behavior, I could see myself. While reading the Bible I used to find time and again verses showing the responsibility of a father/man for what is happening at his home. I now understood that no matter what help I might receive from any institutions, such as school, I cannot avoid responsibility for preparing my children to be adults.

Turning our whole life upside down took real courage. These changes were the result of taking the words “in deed and in truth” very seriously. I needed to find the answer for what is true inside me to convey it consciously to our children. The emergence of homeschooling at that time was the answer to our question: in what way can a parent take responsibility for nurturing and teaching of his own child—when I also need re-education and am still asking “who am I and where am I going?”

Homeschooling signaled continuous change in our family, staring with developing our parental competencies and essential skills. Foremost was the strenuous process of discovering our identity in God, which had a great influence on our perception of the role of a homeschooling parent.

My wife and I used to hear repeatedly questions of whether we were able to competently replace trained specialists, teachers of particular subjects. Or whether we were well-acquainted with science, history, biology, and computer science to be teachers of our own children.

Owing to the fact that mistakes and nurturing deficits—and not teaching issues—were our impetus to choose homeschooling, the objective I set was related more to consciously shaping our children’s character than school competencies. My wife and I acknowledged that more important for us is not what kind of profession our children will hold in future, but rather what people they will become. Additionally, for us as Christians, it was vital what place God would have in our children’s future lives.

As parents, this led us to identify not merely with the role of teacher, but instead with a role that I call moderator of our children’s educational process. Thus, our primary objectives became teaching but also giving them responsibility to learn. As a result of this approach, we consider every activity of our children in terms of shaping their character. We make our children aware that the process of learning takes place when one steps outside his or her comfort zone, and that more satisfaction comes from being a creator of one’s own reality than being a recipient imposed by somebody else.

Today when I hear again a question concerning socialization, I answer calmly that it is not the quantity but rather the quality of social interactions that prepares a child to function safely and with satisfaction in adulthood.

The results are recognizable in our children. Their constant development of responsibility and reflection, trust they place in us which is incomparable with their peers, and engagement in our family life are the best confirmation of the path we chose 11 years ago.

The second wave of homeschool growth

Yet the path we have chosen, both in terms of personal and social challenges, is very long. My wife and I simply started out on our own. What we didn’t know at the beginning of our homeschool journey was that we would become involved in shaping the social and legal changes regarding homeschooling in our country. When we began our adventure with homeschooling, a parent in Poland could learn about this form of education only through the blog of Natalia Dueholm and the book of Marek Budajczak (“Edukacja Domowa”). At that time, the number of homeschooling families in our country was not more than 20-30. Personally, I believe that one of the key breakthroughs for development of homeschooling in Poland was a 2006 meeting in Olesin, near Warsaw, organised by a missionary family. This meeting made it possible for a group of about 20 people interested in homeschooling to meet with current practicioners of homeschooling. Until this point, all of the burden of developing homeschooling in the Polish system of education had rested on only one family, Marek and Iza Budajczak.

I often call the meeting in Olesin the beginning of the second wave of home education in Poland. During the first few years, our meetings took place every half a year in different places of our country. It allowed many families to build mutual relationships, to share joy but also look for support in everyday struggles for the “battle on the front line.” The front line seemed to surround almost every family.

In 2006, one big obstacle to homeschooling were the legal regulations which required families to apply for permission from the director of the public school in the district where a child was registered. However, families did not have the flexibility or freedom to gain permission from directors of non-public schools, from friendly directors who supported educational options outside of school. As you can imagine, this led to situations when a director of a public school would not allow for education outside the school. Directors at times would require parents to provide their reasoning for homeschooling. This created uncertainty and inconsistency—some of the parents encountered great difficulty and went to court, while other parents (maybe in the same city but living on a different street so in the next district) obtained permission immediately.

Another difficulty was lack of knowledge. The issue of home education in Poland was so fledgling, so specialized, the general public wasn’t aware of it. If the issue happened to become public in mass media, it was more typically more sensational in nature and criticised by specialists and experts.

Because of this—lack of reliable knowledge in Poland about alternative educational systems outside of the traditional school environment—some of the early homeschool families were met with ostracism from their closest social groups: acquaintances, neighbours, relatives, or members of, for example, religious communities.

An anecdote I relate to illustrate this is when my son Jakub, at the age of 7, came from the playground crying and asking whether it is true that we (his parents) were going to be put into jail and him into orphanage (asking also what this orphanage is). When we finally managed to calm him down, we learnt that his older friends believed it was impossible not to attend school and that when one didn’t fulfill this duty, they would have to go to jail. As a consequence of this, we started to teach our son about Polish educational regulations so he could be able to educate his friends on the playground.

Association for Family Education

These diverse challenges contributed to the fact that our group of families needed not only mutual support but also an entity to partner with for discussions with government and media representatives. In 2008, the Association for Family Education (Stowarzyszenie Edukacji w Rodzinie) was created. Legal changes occurred in 2009 when we managed to support and lobby the Polish Parliament to change the regulations for schools to grant consent to homeschool. Now families can obtain permission from the director of any public or non-public school in Poland, regardless of which district they live in.

This development liberated the home education movement in Poland. Starting with 50 students in “home education” in 2006, we have currently reached an estimated 7,050 home educated students (according to the data of Educational Information System as of 31 March 2016). Nowadays, the statement that my children don’t attend school but instead learn at home comes as less and less a surprise to people.

However, new challenges occur. As the homeschool community in Poland grows, we are faced with needing to be mindful of actions and the impact they can have on the public perception of home education. The time for brave individuals is ending, in favour of networks of leaders who cooperate, representing a wide range of home education environment in Poland.

My family—more information

Łukasz and Magda Wojtacha and their children
Łukasz and Magda Wojtacha and their children

Łukasz, by profession, a trainer, consultant, educator, group therapist, coach. He specializes in development and using psycho-social skills in organizational structures. He is particularly interested in team cooperation and building partnerships, including cross-sectoral ones. He is the member of the working group for contacts of the home education community with the Polish Ministry of Education.

Magda, a teacher by profession and an English language translator. She specializes in supporting families in effective learning techniques and methods, as well as dissemination of Charlotte Mason’s pedagogy.

Our four children:

Jakub: currently a student in secondary school. He has been supporting his parents’ actions for a long time as a conference speaker and “living” promoter of the thesis that a home educated child doesn’t have any problems with socialization. WOPR lifeguard, the Youth Instructor of the Polish Red Cross, a member of the Youth Brass Orchestra. He bravely supports his parents in their everyday professional and social activities.

Zosia: a middle school student. For many years, she has been taking care beautiful pictures of “fleeting moments” to help us keep them in mind during homeschooling conventions and conferences. Her everyday passion is horse-riding and playing the piano.

Filip: a 4th grade primary school student. During meetings and homeschooling conventions he turns into an animator of children. Every day he develops his creativity, preferably making toys and mascots for his younger sister. Following in the footsteps of his older siblings, at the moment he is developing his musical talent learning to play the guitar.

Danusia: the youngest member of Wojtacha team. Demanding tester of sisterly and brotherly love and also of the competencies of older sibling and parents in terms of her assertiveness. In her free time between wake-up and bedtime (almost all the time) she pursues her greatest passion – eating :)

Łukasz and Magda Wojtacha have been engaged in development of home education in Poland for more than 10 years. They are co-founders and long-term members of the management board of the Association of Education in the Family (Stowarzyszenie Edukacji w Rodzinie). They actively promote parents’ conscious involvement in the educational and teaching process of their children—irrespective of where or how a child is educated. Contact them via the web, email, or phone at +48 793 641 142.
 Other resources

Learn more by visiting HSLDA’s Poland page.