I think I’ve discovered the reason I could never really get into gardening in my earlier life!
You’d think I would be. I love nature and plants. I love to be outside and look for any excuse to be so. I walk whatever the weather.
But I can walk briskly, I can cover ground, accomplish distance quickly and then tangibly see how far I’ve come.
Can’t do that with gardening; it takes too long for the outcomes to bloom. I’m just too impatient!
With that admission you’d be surprised I was able to home educate. Many parents say they haven’t the patience for it.
I like to think I had lots of patience with the kids. They tell me I did. Discounting the occasional tantrum which I describe in my book ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ and I think bad days come up in ‘A Home Education Notebook’ too!
But to home educate wisely you have to practice patience. Because education, like plants and gardening, is a slow growing process. Not that you’d guess that with schooling.
The trouble with institutional education i.e. schooling, is that they try to turn it into a fast forced process – if a process at all. It’s very much based around quick and instant results. About ticking objectives, neglecting time for deeper understanding, and rushing onto the next bit. In fact, our whole culture is increasingly like that; a driven culture that wants instant results, with little time for deeper, mindful development.
However, that isn’t how education works.
Educating is about the gradual development of real people, not just output. And that’s a long term, slow grown affair involving the maturation of skills and personal attributes that become whole through all manner of diverse ingredients and experiences over a long period of time. How those integral skills all influence each other is not something that is readily apparent or successfully forced.
Like plants; forced plants are never as healthy. And you have to wait a long time for a garden to mature into something wonderful and lasting. Patience and time are required.
Education is the same. It’s not something to be rushed, not if you want it to mature into something meaningful and sustainable and serviceable for life.
And, contrary to what the schooling system has us believe, you CAN give it time. The system promotes the idea that you have to accomplish certain objectives within certain time frames or you’ll fail. That’s balderdash!
You can take time with your home education. Step back regularly. Have patience. Stick with your own tailor made approaches however long they take. If they’re right for you, they’ll be successful – whenever!
Gardens, kids, education, need no rushing.
Maybe I’m a better gardener now because my patience quota isn’t being used up on home schooling any more – who knows. And maybe the small amount of growing and gardening that we did together taught the kids a good life lesson along with the science; that life isn’t about quick fixes and short term highs. Some elements of life require long term maturation to achieve their full potential!
Have you seen this brilliant and thought provoking video by Ken Robinson? (see below)
I have long been a fan of his ideas and I thought this one was definitely worth a special mention.
He talks about the way in which the Pandemic has shifted our concept of learning as everyone has had to do without schools and to confront learning – and life – without them.
Our way of life has certainly been disrupted by not having school in it, although some would argue that has been a good thing! Ken suggests that this blip Coronavirus has caused, has given us the chance to look at things a bit differently and decide what new normal we want with regard to learning and education.
First though, he takes us back to the development of industrialisation and how this demanded an emphasis on yield and output, which in turn hampered diversity, both environmentally and in lifestyle. This also gave rise to the development of monocultures which supported mass production. And this is where he draws the parallel with education.
The education system we have now focusses its attention on mass output, in the same way industrialisation does. It concerns itself only with test data, scores, grades and other pointless and unsustainable outcomes. As mass production is ruining the culture of the environment and the planet, mass education has ruined the culture of diversity among our young people. Yet it is diversity which will produce thinkers and movers, creative ideas and the broad intelligence needed for our species and planetary survival.
It’s a fascinating parallel.
Ken goes on to say that in order to have a successful learning system, it cannot disregard the things we need to flourish like diversity of culture and community. We need to recognise individuality, strengths and diversity among our children by creating a mixed culture of these things within schools, to replace the monoculture of the output-obsessed environment there. One that values science, arts, technology and individual talents. Which heralds collaboration, compassion, community, and depth – rather than output.
Perhaps it’s the Pandemic which has really shown us how essential these are for our well being, with isolation being the hardest thing to bear. Yet sometimes schools create a similar isolation and exclusivity when they are based upon glorifying result getting.
Joining together for collected projects creates a better community than having the exclusivity of high scores and beating the competition as sole goals.
Ken suggests that the most successful examples of learning without schools recently seems to be where parents have not felt the need to replicate school at home and he discusses the difference between learning, education and schooling, something parents may have come to understand better whilst their children’s learning has taken place at home.
The problem, he believes, is that many have come to recognise and accept school as something similar to the standardisation of factory life, as if that’s okay. But is this what we want to return to, for it hasn’t served our kids, our culture, or our planet, very well?
This is an opportunity Ken says, now we’ve started to question school and been shown another way of learning, to reinvent school, revitalise education, and reignite the creative potential of real communities, instead of going back to the way schooling was before.
He believes there is a comparison between what we need to do for the environment and what we need to do for education. Both require urgent change because our children are actually the grass roots of both, and real change comes from the ground up – the power lies with the people – both environmentally and educationally. With you who are involved in it.
Ken finishes by saying that human beings have always had boundless creative capacity, unlike the other creatures on the planet, which allows us to think about and change the world around us. This needs to be cultivated, not corrupted, and used to create a new kind of normal that is sustainable both environmentally and educationally. They are part of each other.
Hurrah for Ken for saying so. And grateful thanks to him for inspiring this blog. His ideas will be sorely missed. Watch below. Or here.
Since Lockdown put home schooling back in the spotlight I’ve heard of several parents thinking about making the change from school to home educating permanently. So I thought this would be a good time to re-share this post of old…
The leap to home schooling is always a big decision, but I often hear parents saying how uplifting it was to see their children returning to being the happy contented little people they were before they started school. One specifically reported that the many distressing flare-ups and tantrums which had become part of their everyday behaviour after starting school, but which were never part of their nature beforehand, had all but disappeared again.
Yet another conversation I had with a parent I’m connected to on social media also said that they had their ‘happy little child back’ now they’ve started home educating.
It’s something I hear frequently and they are not the only parents to experience this. It happened to us just the same as I described in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ (Scroll down the My Books page and you’ll find an extract)
So, why is that? I was asked recently.
Well, the most fundamental reason I feel is that school is just not good for some kids!
We are all different. And we all react differently to different situations according to our natures. Some of us like crowds and hubbub. Others of us don’t. Some of us can concentrate with distractions going on all around us all the time, others cannot. Some can sit still easily, others find it impossible. And these are not always easily recognisable needs; they are a spectrum of needs that are different for each individual. The class setting of hubbub, peer pressure, powerlessness, the claustrophobic and unnatural social clustering of kids all your own age, with minimal interaction, support or attachment from adults you’re involved with, is not a setting many children thrive in. Understandably – would you?
Add onto that the pressures of the curriculum, the pressures kids feel of meeting targets and test demands, the pressure of pressurised teachers having to fulfil these demands or risk their jobs, the uninspirational task of having to learn stuff you feel is totally pointless, far too complicated and of no interest to you, and being identified as ignorant if you don’t, are the ingredients of a potential meltdown in my view. I’m amazed how many kids survive this climate at all.
Even more worrying is that these pressures continue to build, and I cannot see how that will change, as long as politics and politicians are in charge of it. Politicians who are more interested in political gain than individual children, they have scant knowledge of education – or kids, some of them – and yet feel qualified to disregard the advice of professionals.
We continue to uphold a system of schooling that is long out of date. It no longer serves the needs of children who now have access to knowledge and learning without schools and teachers, and who are parented in a completely different way, and live in a completely different culture, to when the system was set up. It no longer serves the needs of a society that is completely different to way back then.
And as an educational approach its success rate is questionable, leaving many of our youngsters unfulfilled, disengaged, unmotivated to do anything and at worst; unwell.
Yet, I’ve never found a family who has not had these outcomes reversed once they decided to remove the child from school and home educate. The best thing of all is that they get their happy children back. And educating becomes a happy experience.
I readily admit that school works for many. But not all, so should you wish to make the switch permanently to home education be bold and go for it. It’s a great decision and one which we and others like us never once regretted!
So the school children have gone back to the classroom. But the home educators still can’t go out in the way they’re used to. That must be tough, as I know that home education is a misnomer – learning takes place out of it as much as in!
I guess it’s tough though for many school parents worrying about their children becoming infected with coronavirus, although the general overall vibe I’m sensing is one of relief!
School closures certainly turned a very different spotlight on home education, genuine home education that is, not school-at-home (blog here) which is what most have been doing and is completely different. I wonder if home educators will gain more respect and understanding of what they do after every parent has endured this time without the facility of school.
What is certain is that our culture of family life, of economy and working and how that operates with regard to parenting, is for the most part dependent on the school system being there to child mind, let alone educate. Whether that justifies what goes on in there is questionable!
The recent pandemic has raised many questions about education, economy, family life, culture – everything really. As parents are more involved in what their kids are learning many are coming face to face with the absurdity of some of the stuff on the curriculum. As this article in Prospect illustrates
School learning has become so far removed from learning about real life, living and surviving challenges like the pandemic – all important things we really need to know – it’s no wonder people are asking of their child’s work; ‘what’s the point of this?’
There must be better things to learn?
There certainly are, and maybe this is why so many parents now are turning to home education. Because most are beginning to see that home education is life education. Unlike school education. And true education is not the consumption of facts and tricks and strategies for the sole purpose of measurement and qualification, even though qualification may be part of it. True education needs to be about enabling people to live a life that is useful, fulfilling and non harming.
Education is after all about learning to understand life, how it works, how you work in it, how you find a place, make a place, make a social life, integrate, communicate, care, and do all this without harm to others or the environment.
Home educators seem to understand that to facilitate this requires a far more organic and life-led approach for most than the systematic drilling of useless grammar and mathematical processes that none of us will ever use again but is more likely to put us off the subjects if forced upon us too early.
This is what most enlightened parents have spotted about their children’s school-at-home stuff, that much of it is like that; beyond the kids, useless in a real world outside school, not even interesting!
A school world and school academics are not a true reflection of the world beyond it.
That’s why learning as a home schooler takes place as much out of the home as in it. And why most home educated youngsters graduate from it with a broad intelligence and range of skills, including those associated with socialisation, that equips them so well for real life.
They understand that learning is not just for schools! That it is a life-long tool and they can take it on themselves, any time, any age.
I’m wondering how many school youngsters understand that.
Whatever your youngsters are doing; school-at-home, home educating, further or higher education, or working, it’s worrying. For all of us. Everyone is suffering from anxiety over the unprecedented crisis the pandemic has caused.
So I kind of feel it’s unhelpful to suggest that one group, whether that’s the tiddlies or the teens, are suffering more than anyone else. It’s hard for all in different ways, adults included. Each group has their challenges. Everyone needs compassion right now whatever stage we’re at in parenting or education, work or family.
However, I do have particular compassion towards those parents who have dutifully invested in an education system via schooling, now taken away, that had become increasingly flawed. And that was before the pandemic and school closures even started. For those flaws are showing up now more than ever, the rigidity of it most of all.
Parents have been driven to believe that schooling is the best for their youngsters’ education. Urged to believe that a rigid structured approach to learning, with targets, tests and continual measurement is the only way to educate. In fact they’ve been hoodwinked into believing that, without it, their children will be failures with no hope of a successful future. Sold the idea that without endless grades their young people will never be employable.
Parents have been sold these ideas through powerful educational politics and emotional propaganda that keeps parents subservient to a system that suits the government. This is not because it’s best for the learners. But because a subservient population is easier to manage.
And currently parents are bombarded with statements about how this time without school will have a dire effect on their youngsters’ long term future, especially if they don’t do what the school wants.
None of this is helpful. And not actually true anyway.
Let’s face it; this crisis is going to have an effect on everyone’s future, not just the school kids. Whether it will be dire or not depends on how we respond to it. It will be different certainly, but different doesn’t necessarily mean dire.
However, I can understand parents’ anxiety about it.
Maybe what would help is to take a step back from this emotional bombardment from schools and see it from another perspective.
Firstly, success does not necessarily depend on grades. There are both employees and entrepreneurs out there who are proof of that, Richard Branson among them.
Secondly, education is not only about schooling, curricula, how many worksheets or work books you’ve filled, about targets, academic exercises, test passes, graded subject matter and the rest of the school strategies used to so-called educate. It is about developing a broad, cultured, inquiring mind that is curious and keen to develop the skills to learn. It requires far more personal skills than the academic – skills which are equally dependent on being learnt out of school, like motivation, communication, intuition, responsibility, independence, for example. (How can school kids develop independence when they’re constantly coerced into shutting up and doing as they’re told?)
And, thirdly, if you take a wider perspective, success is not confined to what happens between the ages of six and eighteen. Not confined to qualifications. It is a life-long, ongoing process that can be constantly developed and updated – independently of an institution – as much as in it. At any time.
Fourthly, youngsters are not necessarily going to be scarred for life by this disruption to their traditional, systematic schooling any more than any of us are. In fact, you could argue the opposite view, that they may benefit from it, as I hear on social media that some are.
We are all having to diversify, be inventive, manage our well being (particularly tricky with being so confined), whatever group we’re in, to get through this. But they’re good skills to practise!
So it may be wiser to adopt strategies to calm the worrying about how to prop up a system that is outdated, consumerist, blinkered and damagingly conservative anyway, ignore these horrible emotive threats from schools, keep in touch with other parents so that you can question and rebel against the abominable practise of fines against those parents not keeping in line. They can’t fine you all. And besides, how did threats and fines and bullying ever become an acceptable approach to education?
Be bold. Do what your intuition tells you is best for you and your family. Question why schools ask of you what they do. And develop a wider perspective on this out-of-school time, the most difficult of which, for the time being, is looking after your mental well-being.
Learn to look at education differently. Look up how experienced home educators have done it so successfully over many years, resulting in intelligent, productive, qualified and successfully working young people, who mostly ignored school practises and did it their way. Look at their approaches and philosophies (Read mine by scrolling down the ‘About Home Education’ page on this site) and develop a different perspective. Take charge of your children’s education for now. Your child doesn’t need to be fodder for school stats.
Try to encourage your youngsters to be busy with a wide range of activities which interest them, which they may never had time for before. Variety develops intelligence and skills far more than a narrow curriculum does. Hang in there until better times are here.
I very much doubt that in twenty years time anyone is going to look back and say I’m a total failure because I missed a year of schooling. Because by that time they won’t be total failures anyway, they will have adapted, updated, found other ways forward, made a different success. Your child’s success isn’t determined by their school years alone. Have faith. Success is a long term thing often based in an ability to diversify and be resourceful, just as we are doing now.
Then, maybe, as Spring approaches and parents question and demand changes, not only will you see bulbs blooming, but also the burgeoning of a better education system than the restrictive, inhibiting, coercive, political one we have now, a new one that is not just there to serve the politics, but that actually serves our learners well.
When I say ‘creative’ here I’m not necessarily talking about artworks; rather the creative thinking we all employ – and need – all the time, for living and surviving and being resourceful, one of the most important skills we can have. We’ve certainly had to do that lately! And I worry that the system is squeezing that out of our youngsters. (More on why creativity is so important in this blog here). It’s numbing them with endless irrelevant tests and targets and political objectives that have no use in personal development and are making failures of intelligent children.
Parents should pay attention.
You can build your own family education, aside from what schools do, by taking charge of what you do – randomly – whether you home educate or not. By encouraging learning of random things at random times, instead of succumbing to numbing media-festing or confining learning to the usual objective-led academic things. By paying less attention to academic results and more attention to ongoing personal development, creative thinking included. By learning stuff just for fun. This can happen whatever age you are.
A creative mind is the best tool to have for that. It helps develop resourcefulness and resilience – ever more needed in current climes! It’s likely to be creative minds who save the planet, find the Coronavirus cure. Minds who can think in diverse ways, rather than be squeezed into conventional boxes.
So have a think about what it says on the poster, about developing an ongoing and personal education through interests and activities. And don’t let traditional education condition you or your family out of your creativity.
Not forgetting that home education gives you the ultimate opportunity to do so!
There was a time I didn’t rate home education! Can you imagine?
And that’s simply because of ignorance!
Like many other parents, some who thought it was downright wrong, this was because; I had no experience of it; had been influenced by too many other people who also had no experience of it; had a rigid view of education indoctrinated by the prescriptive system I was familiar with.
But I changed. I learnt different. I overcame my ignorance, not because I met others successfully doing it and had direct and first hand experience of its success. The nucleus of change started long before that.
It began when working in the system.
I was changed by seeing too many children glazed over, failed and let down by schooling, by seeing the methods used to get those children to fit in, by seeing them ostracised when they couldn’t, and knowing in my heart as a teacher (well before Home educating) that schools just didn’t suit too many kids.
And it wasn’t about youngsters’ ability to learn or study or engage. It was as much about the environment of schools as anything and what that did to some kids.
Something needed to be different.
Think about parties. you’re either someone who enjoys crowds and socialising and parties or you’re not. That’s just the way you are.
Equally, some of us can learn with hubbub and noise and distraction all around. Some can’t – some prefer it quiet and still. I’m one of those. Children are also like that. Some enjoy and thrive in the buzz of a school environment. Some don’t. Some can’t bear it. Some to the point of becoming mentally and emotionally unwell.
That’s just the way they are. But some people are too ignorant to see that – or unwilling because they’d need to provide something different.
They’d need to see that children should not have to be exposed to the crazy crush and stress of school if it’s not the way they learn best. And acknowledge that we are failing them if we expect them to be able to learn in an environment that doesn’t suit – and we haven’t even touched on the sometimes debilitating approaches used to get kids to learn, the bizarre content of much of the curriculum, etc etc.
So is home educating the answer?
It can be the answer for some who are able to manage it.
But – it certainly isn’t the answer for all; many family circumstances would make it impossible anyway.
What we need instead is a different sort of school. And a different approach to learning and education.
What we need is to see education not as the mass grade-getting industry and political strategy it’s become, but as a treasured opportunity for kids to grow and develop. A return to this core value.
We need schools to be smaller intimate places, more of them, nearer homes, so they are less crowded and less threatening – and less generic.
We need fewer children to each teacher so there’s a better intimacy, so teachers can get to really know their pupils, and consequently create better interaction and respect.
We need to stop making education and learning about testing. Teachers who know kids and know how to teach don’t need it, the kids don’t need it, it gets in the way of learning. It’s in complete opposition to everything education should be.
We need to rid schools of an oppressive curriculum and approach to learning, most of which is based on outcomes designed to perpetuate the system rather than perpetuate the good of the youngsters themselves.
We need schools to be places of nurture and personal development, not places of measurement and competition. And before you argue that kids need to be exposed to that in order to stand it in the ‘real’ world, – they don’t. Kids who’ve been home educated and never been to school still manage to make their way in tough competitive working worlds when the time comes, when they choose to do so.
And that’s another point: choice. You choose your working world to some extent and the people you’re with. Children and young people in the system have no choices, or choices manipulated to suit the system. They have no choice about what or who they have to endure and this makes a difference to their success. Young people deserve more choice over their learning and their destiny. If we offered the right opportunities and facilities they would make the right choices – whatever ‘right’ is! To not offer that demonstrates an abhorrent lack of respect for them on our behalf.
This strange lock down time will make it blatantly clear that home schooling is not for all, course not. But schools as they are, are not for all either. And this is becoming very evident through parents reporting that during this time out of school their children have grown, are beginning to thrive and bloom and maintain good mental health and well being that they didn’t enjoy when on the schooling treadmill. Surely kids don’t have to suffer that for an education?
It’s about time we asked the questions too long in coming – what do we want of our schools? Is what we have out of date? Acknowledge that this prescriptive system is turning too many children into failures and even destroying the health and well being of some?
Parents should wake up to the fact we need changes – it’s in their hands – they are the consumers of it. We need humanity back in our schools and to make them more about people, not about politics. And vote for changes and practices that honour our children not disrespects them through such shameful and manipulative disregard.
I find it slightly bizarre that the questions people generally ask of home educating parents are not questions they’ve asked about schools, yet they happily send their children there! I know some who never give it a second thought, let alone question it.
Have you noticed the same?
For example, take the socialisation issue which is always raised. Namely the question; how will my children become used to a social world without going to school? That’s a common one. (Article on socialisation here)
But why is no one asking of schools; how will my children become used to a social world, used to mixing with all sorts of people of all ages, and form appropriate relationships with adults who are not only teachers and do not have a sole agenda obsessed with grades, if they’re confined with a bunch of kids all their own age who have no social skills themselves and when they sometimes have to endure some adults who are little better?
Makes you think when it’s put that way round!
Another question always asked of home educators; how will the children become educated if they’re not in school? I would ask; how do school children become properly educated about this wide, diverse world whilst shut away from its myriad of subject matter – social, scientific, geographical, philosophical, humanitarian, creative and sustainable – how will they develop all those personal aspects needed for empathy, inclusiveness etc – when they’re confined to an academically discriminative strait-jacket of a curriculum solely designed for fact-stacking for exams?
And the question that really makes me incredulous is this one; how will they be prepared for the real world if they don’t go to school?
In answer I repeat something I regularly say; school in no way replicates the real world I’ve experienced – I don’t know about you?
In the real world we are not restricted as to whom we mix and learn with (unless you’re racist, ageist, sexist or in some other way discriminative). You mix with a wide range of people who show you respect and probably move away from those who don’t, which you cannot do in school, and you mix with those whom you respect in return. You have choice – that makes a difference. You have opportunities to make informed and relevant choices – relevant to your real world that is, rather than choices made for you to suit an institutional agenda. And the real world I’ve inhabited over the years has enabled me to develop the skills to think for myself, not discouraged independent thinking in favour of training for mass obedience to establishment and corporate ideas alone.
I don’t want to persuade everyone to home educate. Of course not. It isn’t suitable for all and is not the answer.
But I would like to encourage people to ask the same questions of schooling that they ask of home schooling. Because we need something different now.
We should all be questioning an outdated institution – just like we’re questioning our outdated use of plastic now we know better. Questioning an institution that in many instances fails to equip children with the skills they need for the contemporary world, and support those with specific needs so all can have equal access to an equal education, and learn how to fit into and engage with a real world much changed from what it was when compulsory education began.
And perhaps the only way that can happen is to change the corporate model of education we now have, to develop diverse and indie thinkers and questioners, who will think up solutions and act out solutions (think Greta Thunberg) far better than those trained simply for mass institutional obedience!
Which raises another question; is that what schooling does?
I know; you’re sick of hearing about the climate crisis!
But this is full of real doable things we can all do, we must do, in order to help make changes. That responsibility lies with us all. It is part of our own life learning, part of being an educated intelligent person. Got to be part of any child’s education.
We like to think that education is an answer to the climate crisis. And of course it is; people need to become informed about the earth, what impact we’re making and how to minimise the damage we make.
But education, and the education system, are different things. And it’s the education system that’s contributing to the problem. Because we have a system that is educating people to be consumers.
It does this by making education big business. By training learners and their parents to be consumers of it; passive recipients. And by making education all about an end product, i.e. results, grades and qualifications and more is better, rather than an enlightening process of learning that develops educated people who see themselves as part of something much bigger – the planet. And more is not always better.
The system leads people to believe that education is about what you can get in a narrow, consumerist, grade-grabbing way, rather than education as part of understanding a world upon which we all have impact, qualified or not.
Youngsters are trained to believe through this system that they’re only worthy if they get the most and highest grades possible. Because this, they are told, will lead to higher salaries – in other words, getting more.
Rarely are job satisfaction, humane qualities like kindness, well being – personal or planetary – mentioned.
Or the fact that the higher your salary, the more likely you are to be buying stuff and wasting stuff and jetting off in a blaze of pollution. Let’s face it – it’s not the poor or the homeless who are doing this; a fact that doesn’t get much coverage!
And seldom is it mentioned that consumerism, materialism which is a political issue, and bog standard buying endless stuff is the real cause of the problem. Or that the businesses thriving on conning us into having stuff we don’t really need, contributes to it. And I believe that the education system perpetuates this by its immoral and discriminative, high stakes obsession with testing, getting exams and qualifications and teaching people to be consumers. Which, after all, furthers its corporate and political cause.
If we want to save the planet we must stop incessant and unnecessary consuming. We must stop educating people to be consumers within a system that subversively suggests you’re a better person for doing so. For that’s what this corporate education system dictates, although few seem to spot it.
I’ve heard said that the education system is broken. The planet is certainly breaking. Perhaps the two could be mended hand in hand.
It’s no good blaming the politicians and doing nothing, neither with regard to the planet nor the education system which is contributing to ruining it. We must change our consumerist habits and change what we expect of education.
What we need is not a system or a political game plan that ensures the rich get richer and the poor to stay where they are. Not an education to make more money but to educate us to use the money we do make to live more wisely. What we need are learning experiences not based around winning or getting or high stakes, but based around learning to live with each other and the planet without detriment to either. Something I see home educators do all the time.
There is no higher stake than the health of the planet. Don’t need a qualification to tell us that.
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
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
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
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!