Tag Archive | education system

Curriculum doesn’t constitute education – it can even choke it!

Parents who are fairly new to home educating often worry about curriculum. It’s a common mistake to think that without it there will be no education.

But a curriculum doesn’t constitute an education. It is equally possible to become an intelligent and educated person without following one at all – as many home schooling families are proving.

For curriculum is nothing more than a set list of subjects or course of study. And whereas it can be a useful tool guiding a learner towards prescribed outcomes (exams for example) which most find valuable, a curriculum can also have a detrimental effect.

This has been highlighted in an enlightened piece of writing by a sixteen year old pupil who recently described curriculum as having a ‘chokehold on the throats of the nation’s children’.

This was Harriet Sweatman, who won the Scottish schools young writer of the year award with her piece about going to school.

Harriet Sweatman pictured in the TES

It is absolutely astounding and reflects what many of us feel about the system, including I suspect many parents who are not home educating! She goes on to say that she’s ‘been flattened by a concrete curriculum, so structured and unforgiving that I have forgotten how to function without it’. She feels that schooling has made her grow backwards, knowing less about herself now than when she started.

Can’t we just imagine that!

If you ever forget just why you ended up home educating this incredibly honest piece will remind you. I’ve copied it below for you to read.

And it also might remind you not to get hung up about which curriculum to use, whether you should be using one or not. Curriculum is a tool which can be extremely valuable, but do remember it doesn’t necessarily guarantee becoming educated – just as school doesn’t!

Here’s Harriet’s piece borrowed from the TES; 

The horde of hunchbacks slouch on, dragging their feet up the school drive. Hearts heavy and school bags even heavier, but what can you do? Lockers are expensive and always wind up graffitied or smeared with Vaseline anyway. The path is lined with overflowing bins, padded with empty coffee cups from the new Costa in the village (the place that, for the bargain price of £2, will sell me the sweet elixir that promises to make up for the fact that I only got four hours’ sleep last night).

Once inside, the scuffed yet shiny linoleum floors are covered in curious stains – blood or food? We may never know. The corridor walls are painted a jarring blue and covered in stickers and posters saying that mistakes are just part of the journey. And oh, the places you’ll go! This children’s hospital aesthetic is fooling nobody. We’re too old for that.

The abrasive B-flat bell sounds and so we traipse from room to room, ankles shackled with our stresses. CCTV watches all, waiting for one wrong move. The hallways are lit only by harsh fluorescent lighting, each door leads to a new prison cell complete with wired windows, to stop us breaking them, or breaking out of them.

In reality, school is not a place where you are imprisoned. In here, you are manufactured. You move along the conveyor belt of exam seasons, hoping for the grades you need, so you can be packaged up with a pretty label saying you got straight As and shipped off somewhere else. Capitalism tells us that if we are not fit to work, then we are worthless. There is no love in learning any more. Every student has given up or is about to. We envy the people that have left already, but we have no plans for what to do if we did.

By now I am the ripe old age of 16. Apparently, by now I am supposed to have a plan. By now I should know what I want to do for the rest of my life. I am supposed to already have experience in the field. We have lost the middle ground between child and adult. I am stuck in what remains. At the age of 12, I was asked what I was going to be when I grew up. I soon learned that “I want to be a wizard” was not an acceptable answer. I still don’t have an answer.

Fear not! There is help out there. If you want to study medicine or law that is.Advice on how to get the top grades, workshops where they cut things open and show you how they work, what oozes and what snaps. Meanwhile, the painter sits taut in front of their still life, ticking off a checklist of techniques they must display. The musician doesn’t dare push the boundaries, exchanging originality for safety in the hope it will be to the examiner’s taste. The historian memorises essay structures down to the word, the linguist knows how to write an essay not hold a conversation, and the writer wades through Shakespeare trying to pick out an essay from a play that was made to be performed not studied. Whatever happened to expanding your horizons? Now we must all ensure our tunnel vision is pinpoint thin.

Well then, perhaps the real adventure is the friends you make along the way. The cast of lively characters who go on adventures: the love interest, the comedy relief, the antagonist and their schemes. Until the seating plan in the classroom changes and you never talk to them again. You may see them on your way to or from school, at breaks and lunch, but at the weekends not a whisper. These are not the friendships that novels are written about. These are barely friendships at all. After we leave, when the battles are over and the war is won, most of us will never see each other again.

When we leave, will we even survive? Yes, I can do differentiation and also integration, but can I do taxes? I don’t know how insurance works or how to buy a house. I barely know basic first aid, so let’s all hope nobody starts choking to death anywhere near me. I can talk for days about condoms, but birth control is another story. We just learn by the book everything we need to get us through exams, competing with peers for the most approval.

Primary school was better and I still miss show-and-tell. Posters about the ancient Egyptian god of the underworld, a presentation about the Wombles of Wimbledon, projects on anything that captured my imagination. At high school there is little time for such fanciful feats. Assignments where you can research what you want count for almost nothing, and even then there are strict rules. Finding out who I am and what I care about has been deemed unimportant. I have been flattened by a concrete curriculum, so structured and unforgiving that I have forgotten how to function without it. With no bell throbbing at even intervals and no marking scheme to build our lives around, how will we cope?

They say high school is the best years of your life – but not in this world, where qualifications matter more than personal qualities. I feel like I have grown backwards, as if I now know less about myself and who or what I could be than when I started. We can pretend that we are happy all we want, that our lives look just like the teen movies we used to idolise (it is true that we often burst into song, a chorus of “kill me now”, and only half of us are joking). Yes, we may be the next generation of leaders and scientists but we are also the next to be shoved on to the production line known as the world of work.

There is still time to change things. The curriculum can release its chokehold on the throats of this nation’s children and let them breathe. We can still save our siblings or maybe even our children. But for us, it is too late. For now, we just have to wait until the final bell rings and we walk out of the school door forever.

Congratulations and thanks to Harriet (and the TES for publishing it)

And if you want to learn more about using the curriculum – or not – I’ve written about it in my book ‘Learning Without School Home Education’. 

See My Books page for more.

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The hypocrisy of educational discrimination

I’m a fairly tolerant person. And – yep – even the kids agree after all those years of home education!

But discrimination is one thing I have no tolerance of. Particularly the discrimination in the education system.

Most people don’t spot it. But it’s there.

I don’t mean the usual kind of discrimination between things like ethnicity, or gender, or disability perhaps. The things that get talked about in the press regularly.

I mean the kind of discrimination that remains conveniently hidden but is practiced to make sure things like stats or league tables don’t get lowered by those children who don’t ‘perform’ to the system.

I’m talking about the discrimination towards those who learn differently. 

The hypocrisy of it is shocking.

There are heads, teachers, establishments and centres for learning, writing their policies that state they are inclusive, yet those same establishments discriminate against those who don’t fit into their preferred way of learning.

They group and label children through academic test results only, consequently creating an academic hierarchy some children will have no hope of climbing – because they need a different learning framework. They label these children as ‘failures’ or as having ‘learning difficulties’, or ‘slow learners’ which is discriminatory in itself.

However, as many home educating families are proving, give these kids a different learning approach and time frame and they can achieve the same later outcomes as many of their peers. So does that not prove that if we stopped discriminating against those children with different learning needs many would achieve more in school? And does that not count as discriminating against some whilst championing those who make the school look good?

I know that some schools will squeeze kids out of their establishment, often by subtle means of suggestion that the child would achieve more elsewhere for example. Whereas the reality is that they don’t want these children in their establishment lowering their statistics.

This is blatant discrimination in my book however it is accounted for. It has even been known for some schools to suggest home education as a way of getting ‘failing’ or often absent children off their register.

How is this not discrimination? Makes me sick to think of it going on. And it’s in total disrespect of those hard working schools and teachers who refuse to follow this practice.

A system of education has evolved that does NOT suit all kids and subtle practices have developed that discriminate against those who do not fit into it. How is that different from setting up an establishment for fair haired children, for example, and discriminating against those who are dark haired?

I may be tolerant for the most part. But I am not tolerant of this hidden discrimination against those bright, able, active, and diverse children who may be less academic than others but who have intelligences that exceed many of their academic contemporaries who cannot think outside the box.

Academics is a skill. Swimming is a skill. But we don’t discriminate against those who can’t swim.

Schools need to practice what they preach about less discrimination! And instead of blinding us with their policies of popular political correctness, make sure that a policy of no-discrimination applies throughout their learning provision.

Home Ed in a few words – really?

It’s always so difficult to narrow an explanation of home education down into a few minutes.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer who is over indulgent with words!

Or maybe it’s because home education is so varied and diverse, so beyond most people’s understanding of how learning works without conventional classrooms, teachers, structures, etc., it’s an impossible task.

Anyway I said I’d give it a go when Radio Humberside rang me to speak on the breakfast show with Lizzie and Carl about home schooling as it’s always referred to these days.

Lizzie and Carl from Radio Humberside

It’s not my thing really. Like most home educating families I just like to get on in my own quiet way. But conversely I also feel it’s also important to raise awareness and respect for this valid and successful approach to children’s education. Especially as I continue to read of more and more mental health issues among kids, school refusals and phobia, and ‘learning difficulties’. For I strongly believe that these issues are not the fault of the kids – they’re the fault of a failure to acknowledge that all kids are different and may need different environments/approaches in which to achieve their potential.

So I grit my teeth and do my bit in the hope it’ll help other families find and pursue this approach to education if they need the option.

I don’t do the public bit very well and often end up being rather defensive than informative, which is what happened this morning.

It’s just that I often feel we’re still justifying the position and combatting myths and age-old conditioned thinking. A hard task sometimes and I come away kicking myself for not handling it better. But if it ignites a gem of hope to a family whose child is suffering in the system then I’ll be happy.

Anything to help folks understand that the problem lies not with their child – as the professionals would like us to believe, but with the system we’re forcing them into.

Home educated children, who were ‘failing’ in school and who achieved out of it, are testimony to that fact!

You can listen here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05f8q4q around 1:10:28 if you wish and there’s more from others on home educating later in the programme.

(Browse through my books for more information and the story of how home education worked for us)

Is this all that matters to parents?

So schools are doing their best to get punters before the term starts again.

I’ve just seen this banner hanging outside a school on my travels.

I found it incredibly sickening.

Are exam results the only thing kids go to school for? Are they the only thing that is the measure of an education or an educational establishment? Are results the only things that parents care about so the only thing that will ‘sell’ the school to them?

Is this all there is to sell?

Where does it say what EXPERIENCE the young people are going to have there? Does that not matter at all? Would you not as a parent want to know about your child’s LIFE in school while they are learning?

Okay I’ll stop ranting now and instead put my brain to answering the question; what would I like to know about a school that would induce me to consider it?

Here’s the five things that I came up with to put on a banner:

  • the widest range of inspiring activities your child will ever experience with a high proportion of adults to help them
  • encouragement of individualism, independence in learning, and choice making, irrespective of age
  • development of respectful relationships between ALL, regardless of age, stage or hierarchy
  • equal importance placed on ALL subjects including the practical, physical and creative and the freedom to choose between them
  • NO testing or publication of any results, emphasis instead on personal development

If schools don’t want to be considered as factories, as some are accusing them of being, then they should stop measuring themselves on a factory style output. Education is about developing young PEOPLE. Not producing commodities. Or percentages!

Tell me; what would your five most important things be?

Take back learning from the bureaucrats!

Education is important. I guess all parents would agree.

But how many of you, I wonder, have really thought what education is? How many are not thinking about education at all, but are thinking instead about schooling and qualification. About the systematic and mechanical process in schools that bureaucrats tell us education is.

The majority of people I suspect. But this is not true education and it’s having a disastrous effect on the children. It’s also making education, which should be a broadening, developmental, personal experience, into a tightly mechanised priming of kids for outcomes outside the personal – like school league tables for example.

We can never truly predict the outcome anyway, for kids are never finished – and isn’t education about the kids! And without the development of personable skills, test results and qualifications are useless. Useless to the learner. A bane to teachers. And are stunting our children’s wellbeing, as more and more are heaped upon them. 

Listen to some of Ken Robinson’s talks on Youtube. Here’s one. He doesn’t want reform of the old model we already have – he wants something completely different – something more personal – as our kids need. As our world needs.

And it’s time we demanded things to be different, time to make the bureaucrats listen.

Parents could make different decisions about their child’s education.

Not every parent can home educate, but every parent can vote and make their feelings known about the things that concern them in the system.

You could demand that all this testing should stop, for a start, or boycott them. Like this brave head teacher who decided not to do the SATs. Knowing as she does that SATs have little benefit to a child long term, but can be damaging to their generic educational experience.

You could think about what kind of educational experience is important and what you want the outcome to be – in your child, not in terms of qualifications. But in terms of their talent. Speak out at schools. Speak with other parents.

You could tackle your local MP and raise your concerns. Go talk to them at one of their surgeries. Write to the education minister. Join a petition for change.

And you could take a look at your political party’s educational manifestos before you vote.

Stop being so desperate about qualification and ask what qualifies you for a happy life?

Parents have an extremely powerful collective voice. Make your concerns known and take your child’s education and wellbeing back from the bureaucrats.

For most of them don’t understand children’s – or families’ – needs at all.

Something to consider when we vote!

I’ve been looking back at some blogs written a while ago now – wondering if I’d changed my mind about schooling!

But when I spotted this I realised that, as more and more parents turn to home education seeking an alternative to what’s described here, I sadly feel just as cynical. It was written when I went back into school for a little while as I missed contact with kids. And also wanted to see the workings of a classroom again after all these years; maybe revise my rather cynical view. Did that happen?

Sadly not – this is what I see: –  we take immature little beings who are still developing a delight in their world and are keen to learn about it in explorative and experiential ways. We remove them from their self motivated investigations and tell them that way of learning is invalid. We stick them in a structured institution which disregards their desire to learn about the things that interest them and tell them what we adults want them to learn which we misguidedly think will make them cleverer. We enforce learning tasks upon them in such a way it takes away all the delight they had in learning thus destroying their motivation. We heap far too much over complicated, prescriptive and academic stuff on them far too soon, when they are far too underdeveloped to get anything from it. And we do this in the confines of such a rigid timetable that they don’t have time to formulate understanding, reinforce knowledge, or develop skills. Thus setting many of them up to fail.

Then, when they do fail, which in these circumstances many of them are bound to do, we tell them it’s their fault because they are stupid since they seem to have a difficulty with learning.

Cynic? Moi?

Now I know schooling works well for many, but for others not only does this too-much-too-soon scenario destroy our children’s potential for learning, it also destroys things that are much more precious and life damaging; their faith in education, their self belief and their aspirations. There is nothing to be gained except for a select few who can cope. But it’s at the expense of many.

Of course, the politicians gain. Forcing too-much-too-soon and winning a few academic points for the more able kids wins votes for the politicians. They can say they’re making children cleverer. But they’re not; as they sit in their elitist little empires making policies for people whose lives they know as little about as I do the queen’s, they’re switching many kids off to learning anything.

Meanwhile in schools teachers despair of not only having the finger of blame for academic failure pointed at them, but also at having to deliver an inappropriate curriculum and force inappropriate learning targets on the children in their class. And parents despair with worry as to why their child is not ‘achieving’.

So as I try and help some poor little eight year old understand a grammatical concept that’s so hard it used to be on a GCSE paper I wonder what is to be done. The only way I can see it changing is for both politicians and parents to put a stop to this enforced, dull, academic hothousing, and start demanding a more personal and developmental education for the sake of the individual and not for the sake of the politics.

Here’s a piece that sets you thinking about how that might be achieved; https://www.self-directed.org/tp/what-does-it-mean-to-be-educated/  by Blake Boles the author of ‘The Art of Self-Directed Learning’

And a little clip from it to watch – I’m not advocating summer camps – aren’t they just another institution? But this holds some valid ideas for education. And some things to think about when we vote!

How the education system dishonours our young people

Click the picture for a link to a discount copy

My latest book; ‘A Home Education Notebook’ is not just about home education! It has important messages for all educators – and parents – shows another side to educating.

Here’s one of them in this extract:

It is when we become parents that we perhaps truly realise an important purpose.

I would never have said that before I was a parent. But the further into parenting I got the further I understood the human purpose to procreate, to perpetuate the species and to educate.

It truly is an honour to have a child. And I am truly lucky to have had this honour bestowed upon me, to have experienced the magical event of bringing a tiny being into the world and to have the chance to raise it. And thereafter celebrating every birthday, commemorating that honour.

When I say honour I do not mean that we indulge every whim or fancy, or ply them with material gifts, buy their love and affection, answer every indulgent demand or craving. That is not honouring them.

When I say honour, I mean honour the very spirit of having them. Honour the responsibility of looking after this new custodian of our planet and our race. For that’s what our children are, valuable custodians, as we all are, although many fail to see that or act as if they were.

This new being is an important part of a whole; a whole planet, a whole race, as well as being an individual. And we honour this new being by helping him to learn to integrate into the world, to learn about that world and the humanity he is part of, the environment he is responsible for. How he can join others to perpetuate this honour for himself. How to recognise what gifts and strengths he can contribute to that responsibility, contributions he can make to the world and others.

This is what honouring the child is. Seeing him not only as your child, but also as a valuable part of a race and a planet. A human race – a humane race. And a human who can make a difference.

Everyone makes a difference.

That is why we need to honour all that is human about our child to help him learn how his humanness can in turn be passed onto others. Learn that he is not the egocentric little animal in a tiny egocentric little world of ‘me’ that he thought he was, but part of a much bigger human race that he can contribute to.

And education fits into this. And is often where it seems to go so dreadfully wrong.

Education must honour that human being too and be a means to facilitate the development of both that individual human being, what he can offer, and his position in relation to other human beings.

Education surely must therefore be about being human.

Looking at our education system it seems to be as detached as possible from being about humans. And at times removed even from being humane.

Our education system seems to me to be concerned with honouring the system, and obsessing about a set of outcomes that have little relevance to being human or enhancing humane qualities at all. This is clear in the way the system focuses more on ‘taking over’ a child and making them fit into it, than on developing an individual in ways that will help them discover their unique potential, individual attributes, gifts, skills, and personal strengths that could make a humane contribution. Attributes which are not of the academic kind are generally disregarded

In disregarding these individualities I believe it also disregards the spirit, leaving these lovely young people unfulfilled and believing that their personal strengths are irrelevant and don’t actually matter. To me this is the same as saying that the people themselves don’t matter. I sense this feeling in some of the children I see in schools.

But in some of the home educated children I know, I see the opposite.

These are children who’ve been listened to, conversed with, had their preferences, interests, strengths and individualities incorporated into the process of them becoming educated. They have been respected for what they bring to the process. This in turn makes them respect others, respect those who support them and facilitate opportunities. Others they are united with rather than distanced from.

Respect has been part of the way they’ve been honoured and educated. And I believe this is what encourages them to develop a positive attitude to themselves, to education, to what they could achieve, and to others. Some young people I see come away from schooling with a negative attitude because they have not been honoured in this way.

I believe children in school need something more akin to what the home educated kids get.

There is much to be learned from observing other home educating families, the way they facilitate their children’s learning and the way they respect what the individuals bring to it. How they integrate that learning into everyday life experiences and how they learn from those everyday life experiences. You only have to browse round the many home educators’ blogs to see this illustrated first hand.

These records can teach us much. It’s clear that being out of school educating around daily life teaches the children much about human interaction, what the real world’s like as opposed to a school world, what they need to live in it, as well as building the skills to study academic subjects.

I believe this is just the type of education all children need and thankfully many home educators are providing proof. Proof that something less prescriptive and more humane, which honours an individual rather than squashes an individual, works just as well as school – if not better for some.

In our progressed world, as we’ve progressed so far into replacing mankind with machines and technology, it is almost as if we’ve forgotten what mankind is.

In chasing prescriptive curricular outcomes there’s a danger of forgetting that we need to encourage the intelligence to be human, not simply the intelligence required to perform academic tricks. We need to develop human skills, not only academic and technological skills – they came after being human.

We need to know how to live fully alongside other human beings, not only alongside a computer or a system.

The education system is in danger of creating mere androids. Filled up with qualifications; empty of human souls. And in doing so dishonours our young people.

Home education is an example of how to redress the balance.