I’ve been considered crazy at times! Crazy to home educate that is. And I still get people looking at me, when it comes up in conversation, as if I wasn’t quite in my right mind.
In response to that I’m reminded of this little story I did a while back:
There he stands all smart and sparkling in his new too-big uniform, looking too small for school but with a sparkle of enthusiasm in his eye.
He’s excited; everyone’s told him what an exciting place school is with lots of nice people and great activities he’ll love doing. He’s very keen – everyone’s been so nice each time he’s visited…
A few lessons in and the sparkle goes out his eyes even faster than it goes off the uniform.
His first lesson is that not everyone is so nice, not even some of the people who smiled before. They’re too busy. Too concerned with having to do other things like keep control and make kids do things they’re not really interested in doing.
His next lesson is that you rarely get exciting things to do. In fact, you never learn about things you want to learn about because you have to learn what the learning objective says. He doesn’t get what a learning objective is but writes it down in his book like he’s told to do.
And the third lesson he learns is that, despite the fact his mum shouts and gets cross sometimes, it’s nothing compared to being humiliated by the teacher. And the worst thing of all is that at least he knew what mum was cross about. The teacher just seems cross all the time and about things he doesn’t understand.
And he begins to learn that he doesn’t actually like school that much but that doesn’t seem to matter.
Over the years he learns a lot more about school but only a little about the world outside.
He learns that test results and grades are more important than learning about the world outside. In fact, they are so terribly important that if you don’t get the right ones, he’s been told, you won’t have a life. They are so important it makes him and some of the other kids ill trying to get what the teachers want them to get. They try so hard but still some of them don’t manage it. Those kids are disregarded. Or worse.
And the grade getting does something to the teachers too. Where once there was a glimmer of something warm in their eye, this is wiped out by tests and by the word Ofsted.
Ofsted makes the teachers very impatient, very tense and very stressed. Except the day when someone sits in the classroom and watches them. Then they behave differently. They’re not impatient or humiliating that day.
As time goes on and the sparkle is long erased something else becomes erased too; parts of his personality.
He no longer has a personality truly his own. He has a school persona, one that enables him to fit in. Fitting in means not being who you want to be but being the same as everyone else.
Not fitting in means braving an emotional and physical pain far, far worse than falling off your bike or Gran dying. This pain is intensified every day by the group you don’t fit into sticking knives in the wound of who you are and twisting them. Telling the teachers makes it worse because some kids have control over the teachers too.
Even human kindness is secondary to fitting in.
Fitting in is the only way to survive. Fitting in with the teachers. Fitting in with peer groups. Fitting in with what you’re supposed to learn however irrelevant it is to your normal life. And fitting into the big institution that is school which to him, now he’s studied Aldous Huxley is worryingly similar to ‘Brave New World’ where everything is manufactured, even people.
You have to fit in with that. If you don’t, you won’t get an education.
But finally he realises that even fitting in doesn’t guarantee an education because, on the whim of an adult who sometimes abuses their position of power, you could easily fall out of favour and fail to get the scores. He’s seen that happen to his friend. His friend’s done for. He won’t have a life – he’s been told.
So he doesn’t think about being an individual. In fact he doesn’t think at all. No one wants him to. They just want him to do the work, fit in and get the grades, whatever the cost…
Crazy to home educate?
Well, everything is relative, and compared to the insanity described above – exaggerated though it might be in places, home education seems to me to be a relatively sane, natural and appropriate way to educate our kids.
And maybe we’re contributing to creating a brave new way of doing so!