Learning is not the result of teaching…

I had such a treat the other day; the opportunity to meet some fresh new home educators just starting out on their home education adventure.

They had two young children who’d only been at school a little since they’d started due to the pandemic. And it was this which had presented the parents with an opportunity to witness other approaches to learning. And see a change in their children’s health and wellbeing when out of school.

The biggest reason for them finally making the decision to take the children out of school now that they were attending again full time, they told me, was the deterioration in their children’s happiness and health again, both of which had dramatically improved in the months they’d been forced into doing school-at-home.

That was exactly what we witnessed in ours and a story that I hear so often from others.

It happens, I feel, because of something so many people fail to see or acknowledge: It’s not that children don’t like to learn – their curiosity and endless questions are proof that they do. It’s more because schools do not provide an environment in which all learners will thrive. That’s through no one’s fault. It’s just the way it is – although huge improvements could be made – but no one wants to acknowledge the needs of some children for something different.

Not every child’s personality is suited to the hubbub of school. And why should they be forced to endure it at the expense of their learning potential and wellbeing. These parents felt exactly the same about this and it’s what fuelled their decision.

Another interesting conversation I had with them stemmed from the fact that mum was a primary teacher. But she admitted she had an immense amount of un-learning to do herself, about the way children were taught, in relation to the way children learnt. And that these, in fact, are two very different things. She’d begun to see that now as she examined other approaches to educating, especially the more autonomous ones that she’d read about.

It put me in mind of an idea I came across very early on in our home educating days which was so helpful: That learning is not the result of teaching. It is the result of the activity of the learners.

During our early home educating days I thought a lot about what that actually means and kept the word ‘activity’ to the forefront of my approach to the children. It really helped.

Some valuable science going on here but sometimes the activities of my little learners seemed questionable. However, they all piece together to make a stimulating and successful education

This new home educating parent felt like I did about much of what went on in schools and what teachers were obliged to do to children under the guise of educating them. And how much of that was not only a waste of time, but also on occasion not doing the kids any good at all!

When you’re stuck in an institution you learn to do what the institution dictates. Schools are institutions which are at the mercy of decision makers and politicians who mostly have little knowledge of learning, education, children’s development and what is needed to become truly educated. Indeed what education truly is and what it’s for; in life beyond school and at a personal level. It’s not just about exams. (Read more on this in my educational philosophy by scrolling down the page ‘About Home Education) All politicians think about are the stats which tests and exams provide. But stats have nothing to do with the humanity of children and the way they learn and how to integrate into society.

These two little ones I met were happy, articulate, social, busy, engaged and had an actively developing intelligence.

This little family are clearly going to be okay as they find their way along the home educating road, making it up as they go along, as most of us do. Just like we do with parenting. And I’m confident it will all turn out okay as it does for most, despite the fact that it feels like a bit of a patchwork, DIY affair when you start out. It all works.

Of course, the big exams of the future question came up, even though these children were only at the primary stage. And I know it’s what a lot of parents worry about – politics has taught us to!

I told them that parents find their way with that at the time and not to look too far ahead. I always say that if you take care of the little learning moments, conversations, activities of your learners, and their well being each day, the future will take care of itself.

It was such a delight to be in the company of this little home educating family. And it made me feel again how I miss all those Home Ed times and the activities of my little learners!

After the Jubilee

Back to a ‘normal’ Monday then after all the jubilation!

Except it never has to be normal with home education. It’s what you make it. And there’s certainly been a lot of extraordinary fuss made over the weekend.

I’m not necessarily pro-royal, probably more of an agnostic when it comes to royalty and often cringe at the amount of money spent on events like these when there are so many people in such dire need.

But even I was seduced by the joy of so many smiling faces on the news after a pretty austere couple of years fraught with the anxieties and deprivations covid brought, not to mention war. It’s certainly been a spectacle, some of it a tad freaky like the projection of the queen’s smiling face on the carriage window! But all this expenditure – is it justified?

Who knows? That’s a good topic for discussion in your household and a golden opportunity – or should that be platinum opportunity – to do plenty of history and, pro-royal or not, examine the background leading up to the event and the unique concept of seventy years rule in relation to all the monarchs who have gone before.

Learning about history, or indeed learning about anything, is so much more effective, meaningful, likely to be retained, if it is relevant to a child’s life in the here and now. The jubilee is relevant now; the children have lived through a remarkable event unlikely to be repeated. And it presents an opportunity to look back and forward and examine the implications of it. How an understanding of history explains current events and shows us how to proceed without making the same mistakes, hopefully. As we’re trying to do with planetary concerns.

History in my childhood was as dull as ditch water. It was just a question of learning dusty unrelated dates and events and regurgitating them for exams, presented in such a way as to make me question what the heck was it all for. Just so I could be tested?

But today’s educational culture is so different. And even more wonderful with home educating in that you can move away from learning unrelated bites of knowledge learnt for testing and learn purposefully instead, for interest, for fascination, for relevance, for the enhancement of personal development and future life. The children have lived through a unique historical event. And all the discussions, questions, hypotheses, considerations, ideas, opinions, and conversations about what’s happening in the children’s lives now, jubilee or otherwise, promote skills that develop an educated mind. And an educated mind is far more important than test results, both personally, societally and culturally.

Whatever you thought about the jubilee I hope you enjoyed the general goodwill, smiles and celebratory atmosphere that seemed to flow over the long weekend. And you carry some of that jubilation forward into the forthcoming weeks, whatever you learn about and however you do it. For purposeful learning can be just as jubilant!

When all this home educating ceases to matter

You feel so conscious of it when you’re home educating, you can’t imagine that it ever would; cease to matter, that is.

It seems so blatantly obvious that your daily life is madly different from everyone else’s. When you’ve not got a school routine, or homework constraints, or uniform, or test results, or sometimes troublesome school dynamics, or bullying. Basically none of those things all the other parents constantly swap notes about. School is their life after all. As home educating is yours – a completely different lifestyle. And that’s okay. One day it’ll be forgotten. I bet you can’t imagine that now!

Here’s a conversation my eldest, Chelsea, had on a coach trip the other day.

She was aware suddenly that the folks behind her were talking about education. Then home education came into it and her ears pricked. She earwigged for a bit when she heard Parent 1 say;

“I home educate my two children; they’re almost teenagers now.”

Parent 2 brought up the inevitable in that defensive tone people adopt when they’re unsure; “Well I would worry about the social side of it.”

Chelsea couldn’t resist chipping in at this point.

She turned round. “Sorry to interrupt, but I couldn’t help hearing your conversation. I was home educated,” she told them.

They chatted on a bit, although parent 2 had less to say at this point. Then the lady had to get off the coach and parent 1 tapped Chelsea on the shoulder.

“Do you mind if we chat a bit more about home education? She asked. “It’s just so interesting to meet an adult who was home educated, you so rarely do.”

And she and Chelsea chatted on for a while about how it panned out for her, whether she ever got asked about it, etc. And of course the other inevitable; the GCSEs, what effect it all had on her future.

“It just ceases to be relevant after a while,” Chelsea told her. “They came up when I wanted to go to college, but I got in anyway and went onto Uni from there.”

The parent still asked about exams.

“Put it this way,” Chelsea went on. “I didn’t do GCSEs or A’ Levels, I still went to college and Uni, I did a foundation degree, I’ve been in work ever since and have my own business, I’ve never been asked about it recently, and now I’m doing a Masters. Does that answer your concerns?”

I think the parent was reassured.

So you see, however immersed in your home education you are now, there will come a time when it ceases to matter!

And your young ones may be at the point where they can reassure someone else coming along in their wake.

But before I go, this story does raise another point, as Chelsea pointed out to me, whether it’s fair that home educators should have to ‘justify’ their background in this way when I bet a schooled adult never does, never gets asked about their qualifications in later life by a member of the general public!

Maybe home educating will become so common that even that will change one day.

Chelsea letting off steam on a brief visit home recently away from the rigours of every day work!

A little bit sad…

It is absolutely wonderful that we have the opportunity to educate our kids independently. I thrilled at the chance to do so, to home educate, to de-systemise the educational experience of my children. And go on to support others who are doing the same through my writings.

I think of home education as I think of independent shops in comparison to supermarkets. Supermarkets and chain shops feel all the same whichever one you go into. They don’t cater for differing needs! Indie shops and home education can, and cater for a minority in doing so!

I also think of bookshops and publishing similarly.

You go into any Waterstones, whichever town they’re in, and you can expect all the same books, pretty much displayed in all the same way – as they’re paid to be. Most people don’t realise that in this way these book ‘supermarkets’ even control what you read by ignoring the more minority titles and staying with the big commercial ones. But go into the independent bookshops, like Heffers in Cambridge for example, or Foyles in London, plus all the smaller less well known ones, and you’ll see what I mean as you come across all kinds of books you never knew existed.

I understand that many smaller towns wouldn’t even have bookshops if it wasn’t for chains like Waterstones. And that businesses have to make money, so the bookshop chains have to stock what sells the most. But the downside is that we don’t get to see minority books, like home education books, on shelves very often.

And it’s also the reason why so many smaller independent publishers and bookshops eventually close down. They cannot compete with the mass market through the niche books they may want to publish.

Books about home schooling are niche. And I have been totally lucky to have had an Indie publisher to publish three of my books, in fact, I was there at its conception with ‘Who’s Not In School?’ I will be eternally grateful to the team at Eyrie Press who enabled me to get my books out to the people who needed them. Because of them, there’s been access to the support readers have told me they find so valuable during their home educating journey.

But sadly, as with so many other Indie businesses like them, they can no longer keep going and are having to close. This may mean that ‘A Home Education Notebook’ and the ‘Harry’ Stories for children which feature a home schooled child may no longer be available.

Through your messages I know that many home educating families have found these books a comfort, support and entertaining too. And it seems such a shame that the world of business and living is set up to always put the squeeze on the little people and it’s often the minority communities, like home schoolers, which suffer.

As a new edition of ‘A Home Education Notebook’ has just been published I’m looking at alternative ways of keeping it available for those who need it.

But just for now, this is an opportunity to say a great big THANK YOU to the team at Eyrie Press, and CONGRATULATIONS on all they have achieved. There are probably many more people than they’ll ever know who have found support because of them. And a great big THANK YOU to you too for the support you have shown in buying the books, which has kept us both going in different ways.

If you still want any of their books – and they have a much wider catalogue than just mine which is really worth an in depth look – then some are still available. Or you might even like to message them personally if you’ve found the books a help – I’m sure it’d bring cheer at such a difficult time for them. So if you have a moment in your hectic home educating days get onto their website or social media and tell them.

Meanwhile, I’ll let you know what’s happening next with my books when I can.

What are you doing out and about in school time?

I’m always intrigued to see kids out and about with their parents during school time.

Last week we were having a walk round a nature reserve when a woman and her two children came wandering into view along the footpath. They were looking and talking, stooping and investigating the little things at their feet, pointing and stopping and watching, in just the way we used to when everything was to be learnt about.

Home educators surely?

I was dying to go up and ask if they were. Except it would seem so nosy and rude. It was just I was so delighted to see them. It’s such a special thing to be doing and I wanted to ask them how they were getting on and show them some support as, if I remember right, you could often get the opposite.

People didn’t seem exactly supportive when we were out and about in school time during our home educating days. It was more likely we were challenged. It was fairly unusual then and we hadn’t been through the recent periods of school-at-home the lockdowns flung upon us, like we have now, making people more aware.

“Not at school today?” we’d be asked more accusationally than interested. And sometimes this was directed at the kids by bullies who were too cowardly to take it up with me.

Other times we were criticised for what we were doing: “Shopping on the curriculum is it?” one horrible bloke sneered when the children confidently declared they were home educators. (Read the full story here)

But just occasionally something nice was exchanged.

“Not at school today?” asked the cashier at the supermarket, who looked little more than a school kid herself.

“No, we’re home educated,” the eldest answered.

“Ooo-er! What’s that when it’s at ‘ome then?” she asked pleasantly as she scanned the groceries through.

The girls were totally bemused by her expression so I took over.

“It means they do their learning at home instead of going to school” I explained.

“Ooo-er! Are you allowed to do that then?” She looked at me whilst she scanned automatically, genuinely interested instead of one of those who made you wish you’d never brought the subject up in the first place.

“Yes, there are quite a few of us doing it now,” I replied.

“Do yer like it then?” she asked the girls, smiling at them and still scanning.

“Yes, it’s better than school,” the eldest said. The youngest added; “I hated school, I got bullied.”

“Wish I could have been learnt at ‘ome, I ‘ated school too.”

I smiled at her as she handed me the receipt, finished the packing and we picked up the bags.

“‘Ave a good ‘ome edicated day” she called to the girls. Other shoppers looked round at us obviously expecting to see something weird.

“Have a good day,” the girls called back to her.

“She was nice,” the youngest said as we walked back to the car.

“Yes, she was,” I agreed. And I was thinking how open minded a young woman she was, compared to the many who would actually be considered more educated than she was, but who behaved in a far less educated way to my mind. I don’t call rudeness and bullying an educated way of behaving.

Things have moved on since then. People are generally more familiar with home education now than pre-lockdown. Has it made a difference? I wonder what kind of comments you get when you’re out and about in school time. I’d be interested to hear.

And if one of these days some mad woman comes up and asks you, not what you’re doing out of school today, but if you’re home educators, do share. Because it’ll only be me and I’m genuinely interested.

I watched the family potter off into the woods and hoped they found the gorgeous little den we saw as we’d walked through earlier. It’s just exactly what we’d be playing in when mine were young and out and about in school time!

A den to stir imaginative play and consequently mental development and wellbeing!

Happy Easter and a reminder to be outside

I think of Easter as a time to celebrate the marvels of the earth through this season of rebirth, regrowth and the nature’s burgeoning vitality. When days of longer light can make my own sap rise along with that of the trees and plants as I suddenly feel more energised!

What better time than this to commit to more time outside, experiencing and learning about our essential connection to the earth first hand. Learn along with the kids how all species are connected to the lives of others and imperative for the longevity of the planet, for our own health and well being and that of our children.

Article here suggests children need at least two hours a day outside.

And this one goes into more detail about the benefits to both physical, mental and spiritual health and its impact on our immune systems.

So what better time to take a serious look at increasing your outdoor time than Spring, when it is so pretty and inviting and downright dramatic with its April showers!

The perfect time to educate for increased understanding of the planet, how to live upon it with more respect and less impact. The more the children know, the more their respect will grow.

Go out to witness and experience:

  • Birds – with bits in their mouths, either for nest building or for baby feeding, or singing their Springtime songs, migrants that have recently arrived
  • Emerging insects – from creepy crawlies in the crevices to the first bee or butterfly you’ve seen this year
  • Rain – appreciating the fact that it is essential for survival. How often do you consider that? And consider also ways in which you can economise with your water usage – waste less of this essential resource. In fact, there’s lots of varying weather to experience during Spring
  • Young – the best time for seeing newborns, especially lambs. There may be a farm or a centre nearby you can visit, a river for ducklings, or listen out for baby bird cheeps in roofs, trees and hedges
  • Plants, shrubs and trees that are beginning to leaf up or bloom. If you have a garden get the kids involved in growing things, in pots if you don’t, in order to learn about the vital elements needed in order to grow; nourishment, light, water – which we need too! Along with health giving contact with soil!

You may live in a concrete environment, but that is all the more reason you need to teach the children about the earth that lies underneath and to find ways to get them back in contact with it. Otherwise how will they know it’s there, grows our food, supports our lives, and that it needs our attention? Use the occasion to celebrate this earth and the abundance of life bursting around us, on which all ultimately depend, however city central we live.

Have a Happy Easter and springtime!

Spring amid the concrete

Bloody amazing!

So it’s out now! The new edition of ‘A Home Education Notebook’.

I don’t think many realise how scary it is writing a book and making it public. You suddenly feel so exposed. The fact that it’s possible for anyone to make any kind of comment or judgement about what you do is terrifying. Putting it out there is sometimes harder than the actual writing of it.

You’ll no doubt have felt the same about home educating.

It’s one thing having a germ of an idea, another thing taking the scary step of actually doing it. And thirdly, actually telling others you’re doing so. Doing differently to them. You can get all kinds of judgemental and sometimes downright offensive remarks, often from people who have had no experience of it, or the successful outcomes, or know anything about it anyway. You may have read about some of them in my books, especially ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ as well as ‘A Home Education Notebook’.

But the new edition is not the ‘bloody amazing’ thing I’m talking about here. I wouldn’t be so presumptuous!

This is leading up to me telling you something you deserve: You’re the ones who are bloody amazing for having the courage to conquer your fears and go for home education anyway.

It takes monumental courage to step away from mainstream, from what everyone else is doing. It incurs huge doubts and fears. But comfort yourself in the knowledge that there’d be as many doubts and fears through schooling, especially if it’s making your child unhappy. Also comfort yourself that although you’re not doing mainstream education, you will be doing mainstream life for the most part and giving your children other mainstream experiences and choices. You’re not isolating the kids, not causing them to become social misfits as some accuse (actually, home schooled kids are mostly more socially adept than many of their schooled contemporaries), you’re not separating them from ‘real life’ as the myths like to suggest.

You’re just doing the bloody amazing thing of living up to your convictions.

Like you, many, many parents are dubious about schooling, about so many of the elements of it, about the so-called educating that takes place there. But what’s special about you is that you have the courage to do something about it – most others don’t. And that’s why you’re bloody amazing. Congratulations for having the courage of your convictions. Thought I’d say it as it doesn’t always gets said.

Of course, I also sometimes got nice comments. And I am so grateful for your lovely messages throughout the media that have shown how much you appreciate the work I do here and through my books. I’m so moved to receive them. Thank you! (My head has actually swelled reading all those lovely reviews in the new edition)!

And I’m told that latterly, especially since lockdown and the school-at-home debacles, the public are generally more aware, understanding and even in awe sometimes, of you parents who home educate. More so than twenty years ago when we were at it. That’s good to know. May it continue to grow. May it get the same recognition and understanding afforded to all those other different communities, whether of – race, gender, sexuality, whatever – that we now acknowledge, accept and have compassion for.

We should be allowed to make diverse choices about our children’s education, as about other aspects of our lives. Because society has moved on from the culture of learning for which the out dated system was originally designed and we need something new.

And that’s another thing you home educating parents are doing; spear heading change.

It can’t be said too often; you are bloody amazing.

I applaud you!

Hope you’re inspired by the Epilogue in the new edition about what those home educated young people are doing now. And it gives you the courage and motivation to believe in yourselves and keep going.

The back and front covers of the new edition

Order your copies from the Bookshop at Eyrie Press or Amazon.

A New Edition

How does time slip by so sneakily without you noticing!

It’s classic isn’t it? One minute you’ve got babies, next you’re launching into home education and before you know it, you’ve got teenagers on your hands wanting their independence when you’re not ready. Such is parenting; dotted with the gut wrenching milestones of letting go.

If you’re anything like I was you won’t believe that can happen! The thought of your littlies being older and little people in their own right is almost unimaginable. But it will happen.

This is how it was with mine. I look back on it and wonder what all that knicker twisting angst was all about! Hence my desire to write and reassure you all that it all turns out okay.

It’s also what has happened with my book ‘The Home Education Notebook’ where I gathered those stories about home educating, and education per se, to share support and help you reimagine your children’s education. I can hardly believe the book is now over five years old.

So we’re celebrating with a new edition.

This has been a book that so many readers have told me has brought them support just when they were needing it most. When having their greatest wobbles, when those inevitable doubts about home schooling creep in.

Before you blame home education exclusively for those doubts I’d like to remind you that everything and anything you do whilst raising children will incur doubt and decision making – it’s NOT just because of home educating!

I’d also very much like to tell you that I know what it’s like to have those moments of insecurity and doubt – been there, done that, had the meltdowns too. And is why I wanted to share them through this book to help you navigate them.

It’s full of articles to reassure you about home education and covers all those aspects we all fret about; like timetables or testing, or curriculum, or how the kids learn anything. About different approaches or simply ordinary days. What education is and what it’s for anyway, and the always-crops-up issue of socialisation. I basically collected all those things everyone worried about and through the stories of our home educating days, contacts and experiences, attempt to lay those worries to rest and bring reassurance and confidence, calming those doubts down to manageable levels.

But what’s special about this new edition is that it has a new chapter about some of our home schooling contemporaries, what they’re doing now – most of them in their twenties – and how they got there. Something families who’ve graduated from home educating always get asked. After all, everyone wants to know how it all turns out!

Many lovely messages I’ve received have said what a comfort it’s been to have the book by their side, physically, even with all the online communities which are available for support now. It’s like having a consistent and calming voice, they say. And that’s lovely to hear. I always appreciate people taking the time to tell me.

With this new edition I’m hoping to bring that comfort to many, many more.

Available from 21st March. But you can pre-order your copy from Eyrie Press right now by going to this link.

Can you help with research into Home Education?

I’ve been contacted by the founder of ‘Suitable Education’; a site that offers information and support to others along the diverse and eclectic journey through home education. They are currently running a survey to collate material about home educators and their experience with local authorities, and gather evidence of varying approaches and practices.

They have asked if I might spread the word about their research.

This is what they say:

Are you a home educator living in England who is known to the local authority? Your help is needed. 

Dr Harriet Pattison, Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies at Liverpool Hope University and author of Rethinking Learning to Read and myself, home educator and founder of Suitable Education, are carrying out research into home educators’ experiences with local authorities. 

Home educators are a hugely varied group. Our reasons for choosing home education are varied, some of us are passionate about it, others forced into it, what home education looks like can be very different, we have very different styles, our lives and circumstances are different. And just as varied are our experiences of dealing with local authorities. Some people find it helpful to be reassured that they are doing well, others find the experience intrusive and difficult. Our research seeks to unpick these different factors and therefore to understand and amplify home educators’ voices. It is important that we have evidence of local authority practices and approaches which cause issues, those that are helpful and also to evidence what home educators are experiencing. 

Please help by doing the questionnaire below, sharing this on your local group, asking friends to complete

I hope you can find a few minutes to do the questionnaire and share this post as widely as possible.

The more that is known and understood about home education the better it will be. I look upon it as home educating the wider public, most particularly those in authority and especially those with bigoted blinkers on! 🙂

Home School Wobbles?

Home educating is a glorious experience.

But it’s also no picnic – well – not all the time anyway. Although most if it for us did feel like a joyful romp away from the restriction of mainstream, with an expanding horizon of liberated learning all the way.

Even so, that doesn’t mean to say we didn’t lose the plot on occasion; have wobbles and tantrums (mine mostly) and doubts and bad days.

We did.

They passed!

Someone messaged me recently to tell me that whenever that happened to them they just picked up my book ‘A Home Education Notebook’ and could find comfort and reassurance. That’s good to know. For that’s exactly why it came to be written.

Because I knew exactly what those moments, or days, felt like and I wanted to offer something to help. In fact a reader of another of my books (Learning Without School), which came before the Notebook, said that she kept it on her bedside table for just those occasions. And that nearly became its title; the home education bedside book!

Having been right through home education, and those little children in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ living and working independently now, it’s as if it never happened. It certainly isn’t really relevant to their days any more. You ‘couldn’t tell’ if they went to school or not – as someone once offered as a response to being told they were home educated. We did laugh over that! But it might reassure you to know that although it feels like an enormously unorthodox and controversial step to you now, come the future it will all even out into mainstream life.

So don’t panic.

When you’re panicking and wobbling and losing the plot – which is downright natural anyway, we’re only human – consider some of the following:

  • you would be worrying just as much about your child in school
  • bad days are natural – whatever you’re doing
  • remember all the wonderful opportunities it gives you and why you did it in the first place
  • you might just be tired – back off and trust
  • not every single moment of every day needs to be filled with work and learning. It wouldn’t be in school. You achieve things quicker at home with individual attention, so your kids have more free time which is equally valuable to their development
  • being a thinking and intelligent person as you must be to do this in the first place, you will not spoil your child. None of my contemporaries who’ve also come out the ‘other side’ have spoiled theirs – I don’t know a home educator who has
  • love and happiness are as important to educational development as academics
  • being social doesn’t come from being in school
  • test results don’t equate to being an educated person
  • learning ‘difficulties’ often disappear outside of school
  • everything is always easier when you get outdoors – use that opportunity you have
  • consider what you think an educated person is and aim for that, as much as ‘results’!
Just one of the chapters from A Home Education Notebook

All of these topics and more are covered in my ‘Home Education Notebook’ so it might help you to have one handy to dip into on such occasions as these when, like us, you lose the plot.

But always remember that whenever the plot is lost – you can always find it, or renew it, or recharge it, and get going again!

Meanwhile, enjoy your home education. It won’t be there forever!

Oh – and a little head’s up; keep your eye on this space – there’s a new edition of ‘A Home Education Notebook’ coming soon with a completely new chapter which revisits many of the young people we home educated with to see what they are doing now! Always a subject everyone wants to know about!