Tag Archive | politics

Letters to move the mind….

The Sunday papers are great for lighting the fire. There’s plenty of it, although the magazines aren’t that flammable with their shiny perspectives and shiny paper; they’re better for lining the dustbins.

It’s rare we buy them as I generally don’t read them; far too much ego stroking claptrap to make the good bits worthwhile. But The Sunday Times found its way into the house this last weekend and I had a flick through it.

I stopped at the Editor’s letter in one of the shiny bits, not sure why. It must have been the word ‘creative’ on the first line. Her piece was a good little take on being creative which, as anyone who visits here regularly knows, is one of my mini obsessions in education: that it is not education without it!

Tiffanie asks what we do to be creative?

And there’s a lovely bit where she even describes shopping as creative; it’s a ‘way of curating your life’ she says. Fabulous phrase – I’m sure my eldest will be glad to read that!

But she also goes on to quote Richard Wurman of TED fame who says that most of us don’t know how to question and that the foundation of the word question is quest and so few have a quest in life. He says that creativity comes from a quest.

I would add that creativity also comes from questioning. And that questioning is not only the foundation of creativity, it is the foundation of scientific progress and discovery and the foundation of education.

Education is surely a creative and scientific quest to fulfil our innate curiosity and thirst to know about life and create the best lives we can.

I also believe that school is increasingly disabling youngsters from doing that.

I’m backed up in thinking that by the artist Bob and Roberta Smith. An old friend who popped up on The Culture show like a blast from disconnected pasts. Our connections are linked to childhoods, and although not well maintained, do sometimes cross the tangle of life and ignite shared values. And I rediscovered his fantastic piece of work directed at Michael Gove, a man who understands children’s educational needs as much as I understand infant heart surgery. Bob explains why creativity is important and says that it is beaten out of children by the stagnant system, even by taking away their control of their own art.

Their insatiable curiosity, inherent from being born, also disappears along with their desire to question and discover. It takes away control of their own life too and their own quests. Without a quest they have no motivation, or direction when finally spewed out of institutionalisation with little understanding of the world outside.

This is what results from lack of creativity, lack of questioning, lack of life-lust. No education should result in that.

So we should perhaps all be writing our own letters to papers, to ministers, online, to try and get them to see there is another approach to life and education through creative, questioning thinking. The approach most home educators tend to use.

One that creates ideas that do more than just line dustbins.

Treasure at the library

library 004Have you ever taken your child to the library? Have you ever listened to the absorbed silence as little ones suddenly find themselves surrounded by hundreds of picture books to open and investigate and drool over?

It’s enthralling! Far better than bookshops; it’s less embarrassing when they drool!

We had a wonderful service when we home educating. We had a visiting library van trundling down our rural road every two weeks. Don’t know how it managed it, mounting the bank that the lane weaves over and turning round in a farm yard.

This fabulous service meant that we didn’t always have to make the twenty mile round trip for the children to enjoy the revelation of being among loads of books. And it was almost like a special delivery service for me as I could order my books online from the catalogue, books that probably wouldn’t be in our local library anyway, and have them brought out on the van. So both me and the children were in heaven.

Of course that disappeared with all the other cuts to public spending. And I’m not surprised – it was rather lavish. But it will be utterly tragic if our smaller libraries get closed. Or funding to get the library van out the remote villages is stopped.

Because however small we sometimes find these local libraries, they are a lifeline to worlds not otherwise available. Worlds that are seen through encounters with books and computers that some can only access through libraries.

The trouble is with the politicians who make the decisions about cuts is that they have little experience of what it’s like to be poor. Most come from a position of having everything they need to be able to go where they want and the money to pay for it. Most of the rest of us don’t. Many people will never know the world beyond their own lane end or city street. Except for the unrealistic junk on television and the gross idolisation of celebrity, often breeding envy and idleness and even the hopelessness of ever attaining those riches.

So libraries promote another culture. A culture of access and worldliness, knowledge and wordiness, for those without other means.

For despite the middle classes all clustered together in their exclusive enclaves we have other clusters of cultural poverty where people may never get the flavour of aspiration that can change their lives.

Maybe it suits the politicians to keep us down that way, for it fuels their luxurious lifestyles. And closing down these small but vital public services is a way of also closing down those aspirations.

We mustn’t let them get away with it.

But I didn’t mean to get political. I just meant to say that it is an important part of our parenting to take our kids to libraries, to show them what a worth of both opportunity and immense pleasure there can be in books and stories and technological tales from a wider world than the one they inhabit. We need to fight for them.

For the most irreplaceable impact of regular library visits is that when children are surrounded by beautiful books they are inevitably inspired to read.

Catching up with what Home Educators already know…

Goodness gracious me! Are schools going to finally catch up with the thinking of home educators?

Here’s a report on the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-26118581 making statements about children’s education and schooling which are amazingly similar to the beliefs of many home educating parents that; ‘there’s more to good education than exam results’.

Yay! At last – people are beginning to catch on to an idea that many home schooling parents have known for years!

The main point of the report suggests that educational focus should move away from concentration purely on academic results and include ‘personal development’.

Surely, this was always what education was about anyway!

The snag is that they want to build ‘character and resilience’ into the educational system which sounds decidedly worrying. What are they going to do? Start testing character? Will there then be a GCSE in character building?

Goodness gracious me!

That worry aside it looks like thinking is going in the right direction. Christine Blower, secretary of the National Union of Teachers also quoted in the article says that; education was “about skills and knowledge transmission, but also about personal development all round”.

“It remains the case, however, that the present curriculum and high-stakes testing are far too rigid,” she said.

“The personal development of pupils is very important. This will not be achieved unless the obsession with testing and targets ends.”

I think if there’s one overall reason why increasing numbers of parents are turning to home education it’s because they are concerned for personal development and worried about the destructive obsession with tests and silly objectives.

Because the most important point is that if you take care of the personal development of a child, high achievement is often what follows – naturally.

It works like this; if a person is taken care of, if they feel they matter, if they are given the respect of choice, if they are encouraged, stimulated and inspired, if they have the chance to explore and investigate life, to learn about and experiment in life, then they begin to see how achievement has value and begin to take it on for themselves.

Most children want to be grown up, want the skills grown ups have, want to follow their grown up mentors out into the world of work and pay and play and achievement. That’s all the motivation they need to develop and achieve. Just give them a good example and they’ll normally follow. As long as they are developed enough personally, in character, socially, intellectually (and that doesn’t have to mean academically).

It’s the personal bit that comes first.

Home educating parents pay attention to that personal development through the care, respect, stimulation and interaction they have with their children. That’s all it takes really. And they are breaking new ground in approaching the education of their young through this personalised approach and creating educational successes.

I wonder if one day the schools (or rather the politicians) will turn to them to understand better just how this is achieved!

Imagine mums running the country!

What would you do if you ran the country?

This is the premise of the novel ‘The Mummyfesto’ written by Linda Green. It’s a story about three mums who, despite challenging family dramas, decide to form their own new political party based around what mums think and need.

Couldn’t we just do with that!

It’s a great story and one that certainly gets you thinking – those books are the best!

They propose policies that are in the best interests of mums and children. Our politicians think that they do that now, but they are men, they are out of touch with real family lives lived at minimum wage level and as far removed from the needs of young people as I am from living in Number Ten.

These ladies propose a government not based in Westminster, where ministers’ elite existence is cushioned from reality, but spread out around the country and living in places the rest of us live in on a daily basis.

They propose prioritising those who are most vulnerable like children, the elderly, disabled, ill and invisible and taking better care of them.

And they want to create a fairer distribution of wealth. Is there anyone (apart from rich politicians) who wouldn’t want that?

Mums are really such a powerful force, we have incredible insight and intelligence, we work far harder than someone who just has a normal job all day, yet we are also some of the most invisible and unheard because we are also vulnerable in our mumhood, often financially, emotionally and circumstantially.

For example, it often happens that mums daren’t exercise their right to respect because they are dependent. They daren’t speak up about abuse in case it gets worse. They daren’t challenge school for fear of reciprocation on the child – we are vulnerable through our children as much as for ourselves. And mums often daren’t speak up about injustice because some would use it as an opportunity to call them weak or accuse them of nagging.

Yet mums are absolutely vital.

We are the ones who are in charge of raising the next member of society who could contribute something magnificent, maybe the next prime minister, maybe the next scientist who finds the cure for cancer or answer to climate change. Because it is mostly mums who do the raising!

Yet in our vulnerability we have to take what’s dealt us because men can manipulate us through that vulnerability and through a lack of women in power.

If I ran the country I would make sure there were as many women in power, making political decisions, as men.

If I ran the country I would make policies that respected mums’ work, instead of demeaning it, you only have to consider the attitude to breast feeding in public to see how little it’s respected.

I would make sure women were catered for in the workplace if they have children.

And I would see that mums are financially independent, with fiercer rules about fathers contributing to the keep of their own children. There are so many absent fathers and single mums struggling to feed their kids.

But what would you do if you ran the country?

(Look out for more writing on the value of ‘Mumhood’ in my new book coming soon)

Weeping for change…

Back in 2010, when I first wrote about this, I thought things would improve. But with the constant education shambles I’m still weeping.

Weeping for the young people who have been let down. Weeping for the kids who started life as bright, motivated, interested children, who become disengaged and apathetic because of schooling.

That’s what I see happen to so many youngsters after spending their youth shut up in institutions.

That’s what I see happen to so many youngsters in areas where you cannot buy the kind of stimulating education you get in fabulous private schools and where the large proportion of kids who disrupt learning, probably because they’re bored, taints the experience of the rest. Where the enthusiastic teachers leave or become sullied by the challenges of pupil behaviour. Where the problem of building the right educational experience for these young people still has not been overcome.

When we started home educating right back in 1999 we doubted we were doing the right thing – course we did. And many of the parents around us did too suggesting that our kids needed to be in school where they would get decent teaching, revel in the relationships there, gain the grades. We lost friends over it.

Now, some of those parents see it differently as they see the damage to their bright young sparks school has made. They see that our kids didn’t need to be in school to learn. They see that the relationships in schools are not always good ones.  They see a system that doesn’t work for many of them, that fails to accommodate the needs of many and makes them into failures. And even in some cases treats them like criminals.

If there is anything criminal here it lies at the door of system that fails to do what they are supposed to do; support young people’s educational development.

I know teenagers are not without their blemishes. Children are not angels or perfect. And other circumstances play a major part. But given all that, given that circumstances are as they are, I would have thought that the first duty of any school was to provide what a kid needed to successfully learn. To provide for the child’s learning, whatever the circumstances or difficulties may be.

But the ethos of schooling seems to be to manipulate the child into acceptance regardless of what’s been offered. To make kids learn what adults want them to learn however dull. To make them learn it in a systematic way that suits the institution however deadly boring that is or what children’s needs require. And it doesn’t matter how disrespectfully staff behave, some humiliating learners who don’t ‘fit’, the kids are supposed to take it passively.

Really?

All these years later the comments made to us about kids needing schools for an education are being retracted by those parents who used to have unquestioning faith in the system and the professionals in it. That faith has now been dashed.

All those years ago these parents had bright eager and motivated kids. That changed as they struggled to just exist in the system, let alone be motivated by it.

And these families no longer believe that schools do the best for the child. They know that schools do the best for the politics; they have to, to survive. I hear damning examples of that scenario from both parents and professionals.

Some of these parents now believe something different after their children have experienced schooling. They believe many schools have no interest in kids who won’t get them the good grades that improve their league table position. They believe politicians make policies that will win votes, not enhance a child’s educational experience. And like me, they see masses of disenchanted teenagers who have no interest in learning because the learning on offer is as far removed from their lives as eating cow poo is from mine.

You may think this is a cynical picture. Perhaps unbelievable to those of you for whom the system works well, whose kids achieve well because they happen to tick the right boxes. But whilst we home educated, and our children and the other home educated children around us have retained their lust for learning whilst some of those other families went through schools who failed their kids miserably, we see how it is more truth than imaginary.

It is a true picture for thousands of families in less well off areas, tucked away out of sight as far removed from Westminster as the afore mentioned cow poo is from politicians shoes!

It’s not only youngsters who are disengaged; it is the politicians from reality.

Sad days of sheet ticking

DSC_0592 My blood pressure was high but I could see the nurse’s rising like red mercury in her face as she turned to the computer.

“We’ll let your pressure settle a bit and do another check in a minute,” she said. “I’m sorry but I have to ask you all these questions now when you come for your BP check”. She gave me a kind of sideways look; the sort you give to indicate hypocrisy.

She squinted at her form on the computer, sighed, and read me a load of drivel asking on a scale of hours how much running, skipping, aerobics, etc, did I do per week?

She looked at me. I looked at her rising red face.

“None,” I said, “I do other things”.

“But I haven’t got to that yet” – I wasn’t on her sheet. I was never one for fitting into statistics.

After another deep breath she went on; “On a scale of ….. how much …..”

It took ages to get it all read. We pressed on patiently. We both felt it was becoming farcical. Then she broke away from her form in a little rebellion.

“The thing is,” she said holding her hands out in agitation, “I’m spending all this time looking at this computer, filling in forms about your fitness instead of looking at you. By looking and listening to the patients I can soon assess how they’re doing.”

Sounded exactly like teachers and pupils to me. I totally sympathised.

More questions; “Now, about your work, on average do you sit….”

My work’s changed recently. I used to be on my feet with kids all day doing crazy things like searching for creepy crawlies in the undergrowth or going on adventures. Now I tend to sit and write about it.

I told her this. She silently went on filling in her statistics.

I thumb twiddled until she came to the end – ages later.

“Well … according to this you’re only moderately fit.” She made ‘moderately’ sound like an irresponsibility and I should be doing more to take care of myself.

“But I do yoga at least three times a week.”

“That’s not on my sheet.”

“So despite the fact that I walk for at least 30 minutes every day, cycle regularly, and do yoga your statistics suggest I’m not really fit?”

She looked miserable.

“Yes, according to this. And I know that’s stupid because from looking at you I can see you’re fine but that’s what the government is doing to health care. It’s preventing us from doing the real work of caring by keeping us busy collecting data that’s inaccurate and totally useless.”

But no doubt useful for the government to be able to quote for political purposes, I thought. Definitely like education. It seems it’s not only the teachers’ time that’s being wasted by sheet ticking.

And after all that, when she took my BP again it was even higher. Goodness knows what hers was with all this frustration.

I got on my bike and cycled home so stewed up I could feel my pressure rising all the time.

Is this what our caring professions are being reduced to? Nurses and teachers so busy taking care of sheet ticking they don’t have the time to care for the people!

Sad days!

Curriculum, corsets and a vintage education

Is it just me or does anyone else think that we have a bit of a vintage approach to our kids learning?

Have you read recently what they’re doing to curriculum now? Read it here.

We stopped using slates in schools for the kids to chalk on, graduated from pen and inkwell to Gels, but some still think it’s more important that kids can write than use a keyboard, when almost everything they do in life beyond school requires keyboard skills.

We might have stopped using an abacus yet we’re still teaching the laborious and lengthy approach to long multiplication by hand and now fractions to four year olds, according to the new curriculum plans, when in employment we need to be able to use all kinds of electronic devices to do quick calculations. And out in the real world we need to know how to handle our mortgages, understand percentages, phone contracts and loan repayments. Far more important than algebra or fractions, unless you’re specifically heading in a direction that requires that sort of maths.

The curriculum also suggests teaching all kinds of ridiculous English grammar which is as useful to kids as corsets, yet we have children who cannot string a sentence together for an application or a personal statement. Or talk to one another without “yea but…no but…yea but…like…” in the style of a certain caricature we all know and love – but laugh at!

We are coaching kids in test passing skills but they don’t seem to have the skills of conversation, opinion, deliberation, personal presentation and assertiveness needed for interviews and in the workplace. Neither do many seem able to form judgements about what’s appropriate, be adaptable and flexible within an ever changing working and living climate.

They have the skills required to survive in a school culture where everyone in their group’s the same age as them and has the same underdeveloped social skills, but seem to have no idea how to interact with adults on a professional and personal level with the confidence required to be outside their own age group. Like in work.

What use is this?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be able to write longhand or understand the concept and application of number or use language effectively. But you can use language and maths effectively without knowing grammatical rules and all that other outdated rubbish which is putting kids off because of its irrelevance.

We need to face it – life is progressing! Schooling and curriculum seem stuck in those antiquated corsets.

We don’t need a curriculum that delivers this kind of stuff any more. We need an educative experience that develops skills and understanding, increases a broader intelligence and confidence and sense of self discovery.

We don’t need a style of learning that so suppresses our kids they never get the chance to develop the ability to think personally, to grow as a person and find their real strengths. We need an approach that allows kids opportunities to make decisions, blossom and develop character and individuality. Individuality will win jobs over others who are all the same. Strength of character will find other forms of purposeful work when jobs are scarce.

We need a learning environment, not a curricula imprisonment. We need an educative process which reignites children’s natural passion for learning, experimenting and discovery rather than kills it with rules. We need kids to practise talking and questioning not be told to shut up and sit still. We need teachers who are free from the rack of Ofsted to inspire kids to want to know more and go further, not train them to stay in the education-numbing confines of curricula outcomes.

We need to move on.

Vintage may be fashionable in some walks of life. But surely this vintage style curriculum is suffocating our children’s potential for progression into this progressive world.

(If you want more on curriculum check out another post I did on the Tutorhub blog; http://blog.tutorhub.com/2013/07/09/another-view-of-curriculum-do-we-need-it-anyway/)