Dan was born and educated in the States by his British mother. An influential photographer he is now based in London, although his work takes him all over the world. He spoke at ‘Do Lectures’ about the ‘Path Less Travelled’. How all the fascinating things that have happened in his life – including most recently taking up close photos of an erupting volcano and giving the talk at Do – can each be traced back, ultimately, to being home educated. How being able to follow his interests gave him the ability to take, and ask for, all the opportunities he has benefitted from.
His mother Helen talks about home education for Dan and his brother Alex.
Do you have any advice to people thinking about home educating their children?
I am finding the state and private schools more frustrating than ever. There is no playtime to speak of here in schools – Dan had none in that one year of state school in the mid-80s.
I watched my children grow in the early years (not worth me working at menial jobs only to pay for mediocre day care – I knew I could do better!) and wanted to follow on with that so that each could go at their own pace. I consider my school years an utter waste and yet I went to a grammar school from 11. It has taken me many years to understand that I have a good brain and no one saw it. I hate to see good brains ‘abused/neglected’ by schools or parents – although I came from a kind family life.
We somehow managed on one quite low income for the US, a juggling act to be sure but I didn’t want it any other way and my husband was on board too.
I loved the bit in Dan’s talk about how his shared interest with a much older neighbour. How can home education help with making connections with lots of different people? Can it help with feeling able to ask for opportunities?
Living in a community, a town, a city, affords one lots of benefits. They were in Cubs and Scouts, no limit to the topics to be explored for merit badges in scouts plus finding mentors and travelling. Plus they joined the Barbershop Harmony Society when they were 12 and 9, giving them another community organisation. Both groups were rich with diverse people plus leadership and public speaking and performance opportunities, which I consider invaluable in life, way beyond academics.
With the benefit of hindsight – now your boys are grown up and successful – how do you feel about the education you were able to let them have?
The more time goes on the happier I am with the decision! Both boys were different learners. Dan had to endure a year of state school here, it was a rough year for him at age 5/6.
Dan became interested in WW2 planes when he was around 7 and asked if he could rebuild my brother’s old model aeroplanes. That and history, history in general, has always been a passion for him. Alex was interested in lawnmowers! Another neighbour became his buddy – a wonderful man. Both the boys’ adult friends sadly died – Dan’s when he was in his younger teens and Alex’s when he was 11. Very sad times for them both. However, all part of being home for one’s education. Real life.
How have you seen the benefits of letting children follow their own interests play out?
Their interests gave them passion and knowledge which others recognised when the wanted jobs. Alex started working at age 8 in our neighbourhood ironmongers owned by a husband and wife we knew. Only one hour a week but he wanted it so much he was very responsible. Eventually built up to one day a week until age 13. Dan got his first job as librarian for a women’s garden group here who had their own building. He wrote a proposal to buy a computer as I recall – I think he was 14. At 16 he began working for a friend we’d met through Scouts, doing Indian drumming, who was the curator for a Native American museum being built here in the Everglades on tribal land. A fantastic experience – he was given a large budget to plan several interactive computer stations.
What does your other son do? Did your sons have similar interests or were they quite different?
Through their singing in quartets they learned about recording CDs and also Dan designed the covers. Alex is more the marketing man. Since Dan left for the UK Alex has built up the business and developed his own reputation and also forged his own way in the barbershop harmony world, as a hobby.
As Dan mentioned, working together came about due to the devastation of their dad’s surgery and supporting his recovery. They did begin small side businesses which their dad worked on, but those were minor. They were always trying new ventures. The business is now thriving with Alex, so he can support his wife at home with their five-year-old and almost four-year-old, with another on the way. They are being educated at home by us all. Their world is rich with people from diverse backgrounds.
Dan is a designer, photographer, and founder / creative director of webgraph, a multi-disciplinary studio
All photos with kind permission from Helen Rubin. Not to be used without permission.