I thought I’d write you a letter because as a parent I know that you worry.
Being a parent seems to come packaged with worry. Add school and education into the parenting package and the worrying goes up a gear!
The sad thing about it is; education shouldn’t be worrying. It shouldn’t be complicated. It shouldn’t cause suffering, but unfortunately this is often what happens – usually because of schools.
The concept of school is great. The idea that our children can go off and be with inspirational people who like and support them, who’ll develop their intelligence and their potential, in a place where they’ll have good friends and a great opportunity to grow. Where they’ll spend the next part of their lives after infancy gaining all they need to move into adult lives. And for many children this is what happens.
Unfortunately, for many, many others it doesn’t work out anything like that at all.
Firstly, our children sometimes come up against people in schools who are not so great and not so supportive, both adults and children alike.
Secondly, many children don’t have their talents, their optimum learning styles, or their individual intelligence appreciated, acknowledged even, or developed in a way that suits them.
Thirdly, school – what goes on there, the stressful environment, the way learning is set up for masses of children rather than catering for the needs of the individual, the emphasis on academics and belittling of other skills – really does not suit many children. It can make some desperately unhappy, others fail to thrive, remain well or reach their potential, and others become school phobic or downright ill. It can create ‘learning difficulties’ where there are none. And many children suffer simply from being among the same group of people whom they may not get on with day after day for many years of their lives. This does not harden the children to adult life as some like to believe for it is nothing like adult life. In adult life we have choice. What it does instead is destroy confidence and self-esteem without which children will not develop a good adult life. The impact of this can be devastating.
No one can learn well or develop well in this kind of climate.
The silly thing is that learning is really quite simple. It’s just that schools, governments, strategies, testing, league tables, schemes, targets and an over loaded curriculum have complicated it. It has also become increasingly divided by the fact that parents have been made to feel they are not part of it and in some cases excluded from the partnership which their child’s education should really be.
Now, none of this is helpful to parents, or to children. And none of it is actually valid. Parents can help. Parents can be part of it. Parents are intelligent enough to help, as long as they are intelligent enough to care and get involved. And actually, many parents have more insight into their child than many teachers who have to concern themselves with masses of children and teaching them within the confines of a burdensome curriculum and the pressures of a school.
In fact some parents have got to the point now where rather than try and be part of the education that the government is providing, which seems to have so many unpleasant issues associated with it, they are removing their children from school and educating them themselves. In other words, home schooling.
Home schooling isn’t for everyone. You have to have the time and the energy to devote to it. But that’s the biggest hurdle – the educational bit is less of a mountain because, as I said, learning really is quite simple.
Most parents are unaware that children can learn in many different ways – not just the way they do it in school. Children can develop in many different ways – not just the way it happens in a throng of other school children. And children can grow into adulthood without ever having to suffer in the name of education. Many home educating families, whose children are moving onto university and work, are now proving that.
Now, I’m not necessarily advocating home education. But neither am I advocating school.
What I am advocating is that you stick up for your child’s right to a good education. One that suits them and makes them happy. And I’m advocating that you stick up for your children’s rights to have their individual needs respected and attended to whether they are in school or not. I’m encouraging you to make sure that your child’s educational experience is a happy one, which is also their right.
Many parents think that private schooling is the answer to failing state schools. This doesn’t really help, it just creates a divide. And many parents think that happiness isn’t the point.
But the real simple truth is that happy children learn well!
And it’s time to be demanding change, demanding that schools are happy places for our children to be, not academic hot-houses, before our children stop learning at all, as so many are doing.
Change can be accomplished by asking both more and less of our schools: More care, less stress; more emphasis on personal development, less curriculum pressure; more caring staff, less strategies; more importance attached to individual strengths, less importance attached to league tables; more humanity, less cloning of our kids through standardisation of their abilities.
Despite some brilliant schools and brilliant teachers some schools fail to provide for the most simplest of needs of our children. And sometimes we fail as parents to expect the simplest of things from schools. We should really expect of schools that:
- First and foremost they are happy places for our kids to be
- Children’s individual learning needs are met, their talents recognised and developed
- Children have choice and control over what happens to them
- They have good relationships
- They are shown respect in return for being respectful themselves
- They do not suffer in any way, are not bullied, humiliated, degraded, shamed or hurt
- They progress and develop and move towards successful outcomes that are relevant to them not just the school statistics
- They are treated as equals, not as inferior
- They are treated as an individual human being in a humane way.
These are not unrealistic expectations. They are just the kind of things adults would expect in the workplace. Sometimes though, just because children are children, they are not afforded this respect.
It might also surprise you that none of the above expectations appear to be about learning. Yet they are in fact vital to it.
Put these elements in place and children will learn. Home educators are proving that. They know that actually children want to learn, want to be adult, want to know things and want the qualifications that gain them entry into the adult world and workplace – and pay packet! By putting these elements in place home educating families have found that their children learn easily and move forward successfully into their working lives.
Learning is not difficult. With the internet all information is available. All you need to do is treat children well and give them opportunities. Is this really too much to ask of schools? Is it too much to ask of governmental policies?
Home educating has been a great journey and a great joy for our family. But I do know that home education is not ideal for all, but some of the schools are even less ideal. The real ideal is to give children an education which suits their individual needs. We can either do this by home educating or by demanding exactly that of state education.
Worrying, compulsive though it is, doesn’t get us anywhere! Taking action – even the smallest of steps – does. It really is time to face the fact that so many educational policies are not working at all for our children and teenagers. Even worse, these policies are deadening our children’s educational experience.
All of our children deserve no less than a happy and fulfilling experience with education. And it is exactly that, over and above everything else qualifications included, which will set them up for a happy and fulfilling life.
Which fundamentally is, after all, what education is for!