Tag Archive | education system

Are we really crazy to home educate?

I’ve been considered crazy at times! Crazy to home educate that is. And I still get people looking at me, when it comes up in conversation, as if I wasn’t quite in my right mind.

In response to that I’m reminded of this little story I did a while back:

There he stands all smart and sparkling in his new too-big uniform, looking too small for school but with a sparkle of enthusiasm in his eye.

He’s excited; everyone’s told him what an exciting place school is with lots of nice people and great activities he’ll love doing. He’s very keen – everyone’s been so nice each time he’s visited…

A few lessons in and the sparkle goes out his eyes even faster than it goes off the uniform.

His first lesson is that not everyone is so nice, not even some of the people who smiled before. They’re too busy. Too concerned with having to do other things like keep control and make kids do things they’re not really interested in doing.

His next lesson is that you rarely get exciting things to do. In fact, you never learn about things you want to learn about because you have to learn what the learning objective says. He doesn’t get what a learning objective is but writes it down in his book like he’s told to do.

And the third lesson he learns is that, despite the fact his mum shouts and gets cross sometimes, it’s nothing compared to being humiliated by the teacher. And the worst thing of all is that at least he knew what mum was cross about. The teacher just seems cross all the time and about things he doesn’t understand.

And he begins to learn that he doesn’t actually like school that much but that doesn’t seem to matter.

Over the years he learns a lot more about school but only a little about the world outside.

He learns that test results and grades are more important than learning about the world outside. In fact, they are so terribly important that if you don’t get the right ones, he’s been told, you won’t have a life. They are so important it makes him and some of the other kids ill trying to get what the teachers want them to get. They try so hard but still some of them don’t manage it. Those kids are disregarded. Or worse.

And the grade getting does something to the teachers too. Where once there was a glimmer of something warm in their eye, this is wiped out by tests and by the word Ofsted.

Ofsted makes the teachers very impatient, very tense and very stressed. Except the day when someone sits in the classroom and watches them. Then they behave differently. They’re not impatient or humiliating that day.

As time goes on and the sparkle is long erased something else becomes erased too; parts of his personality.

He no longer has a personality truly his own. He has a school persona, one that enables him to fit in. Fitting in means not being who you want to be but being the same as everyone else.

Not fitting in means braving an emotional and physical pain far, far worse than falling off your bike or Gran dying. This pain is intensified every day by the group you don’t fit into sticking knives in the wound of who you are and twisting them. Telling the teachers makes it worse because some kids have control over the teachers too.

Even human kindness is secondary to fitting in.

I sensed similarities to the education system in this novel!

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!

Qualifications don’t automatically make you educated.

Or put it this way;

I don’t call someone educated if they behave in an irresponsible, pollutive, offensive, inconsiderate, uncaring, selfish, discriminative, bigoted or racist manner, however qualified or titled they may be.

Do you?

I know to most people education just means qualification – the more you have the better educated you are. That’s what the system conditions us to believe.

But it’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with what you’ve got that is the test of a truly educated person.

An educated person is far more than their grades. And we must guard against a dated and deteriorating system making us judge our youngsters by what scores they get.

This can be done by lessening the importance attached to grades and increasing the importance placed on other skills in life. Make sure our youngsters know they are more than a score and that we’re proud of what they do, (inside and out of the system – whatever you’re doing). Particularly what they do independently of formal education, things like making films, gaming, martial arts, volunteering, sports, campaigning, whatever interests them. These activities grow life skills that develop an educated connected person far more than qualifications do.

And we should be aware that the government has developed this system of incessant testing and qualification because it suits the government. Not because it’s good for young people’s development. Governments use this constant measurement for their own political gain, consequently the youngsters become voting fodder to feed that system. Parents and young people should kick back against it.

And also guard against the systemic propaganda that threatens there’s no decent life without decent grades. That’s false. The truth is, as many successful people without them prove, home educators among them, how you behave brings you a decent life because it makes you decent people who can connect in a humane way with other decent people – who don’t give a s*** what qualifications you hold. And it’s relationships with other people which brings us happiness, not tramping on them to get to the top.

Our youngsters need to be decent people with compassion, inclusion, care and broad mindedness, among other personal skills, in order to be truly educated, even if a sprinkling of qualifications become part of that.

But there are far too many bigoted, small minded, unimaginative and discriminative people who’d like to think they’re educated simply because they hold a bunch of qualifications.

They’re not!

Read more of what I mean in this post about my educational philosophy here.

And make up your own mind about what makes a person educated and resist automatic and conditioned thinking on the subject. Be more proud of who your youngsters are, how they behave and what they contribute, rather than what grades they’ve got!

And do all young people a favour; pass the thinking on! And share the poster wherever you like.

Educating without testing

Feel free to share, borrow, post elsewhere and help change minds!

It was among the most commonly asked questions when we were home educating. Two most commonly asked questions actually.

Firstly, do you test them?

Secondly, how do you know they’re learning if you don’t?

I have two questions in response: have parents ever really thought about the value of the tests kids do in school and what they show? And, don’t we know our children anyway?

It’s so sad that parents have been so conditioned by political propaganda to believe that education cannot progress without testing.

It CAN. It DOES!

This is continually being proven by home educated children who become educated people without ever having been tested in the conventional, schooly way at home. Who still go on into higher education. Who still go on to sit exams – often their first taste of formal education. And who still go on to get the grades they want.

Okay, any wise parent would perhaps suggest some kind of practice papers first. But all other forms of testing, especially standardised ones (no child is standard) are usually a complete waste of a learner’s time, are not valuable developmentally, and can even be extremely damaging in that they label, create self-fulfilling (inaccurate) prophecies, often degrade and are in no way a fair representation of a person’s capabilities, knowledge or aptitudes.

But another insulting aspect of the practice of continually testing children as conventional schooling does, is the assumption that a) children don’t know themselves well (how would they in school – they never get an opportunity to really find out) b) the teachers don’t know the children (how could they when so much time is wasted on box ticking rather than truly getting to know the kids in their classes) c) the parents don’t either because they are so excluded from the educational process and treated as if they are ignorant.

The educational and testing system, that has been devised by politicians wanting to make themselves popular, has taken learning away from the learners and created one for an adult agenda. The adult agenda of needing to measure, or needing to satisfy social one-up-man-ship, of needing to prove something to someone else. The kids are used as pawns in adult games and testing has been the means by which this happens.

Many parents home educate just to get away from this harmful practice that furthers a youngsters education not at all.

And, as many home educators find out or already believe, becoming educated is a continuous, ongoing, personal process that doesn’t need measurement, is up to the individual, albeit facilitated by others helping that individual understand how to make their place in the world through their education and how to contribute. It therefore should be owned by the individual and not by the state. And consequently should not be constantly tested – purely for state purposes – which is the way it is.

Many home schooling families facilitate their young people in becoming competent, social, intelligent, productive, educated and qualified (those who want to) without testing ever having been part of their learning experience.

It’s such a pity that schools can’t stop this political game playing and do the same. The only way for that to happen is to keep testing and politics out of it. The youngsters (and teachers) would be a lot happier, have time to learn and discover a lot more, understand themselves better, and possibly the numbers of those with dwindling mental wellness would begin to drop!

There are many parents who believe that children are more than a score, who want to let kids be kids, and end the testing regime. But it needs many many more, especially those not involved in home education, to demand that this ludicrous testing system be stopped.

And be bold enough to believe in and practice education without testing.

Education involves the heart…

Why?

The short answer lies in the fact that without the heart to bring a balance to what the head knows we cannot live with care and compassion. And that’s important isn’t it? (See the links in last week’s blog post)

The longer answer has to do with what education is for. Education has traditionally been associated with academics only. With improving society through the learning of reading and writing and numbers and knowledge. That was back in the day, before everyone had access to learning. But since learning is accessible to us all now through new technologies, perhaps we need something different for our contemporary society and culture. What’s education for now? To help build societies that are inclusive, compassionate responsible and caring? That goes beyond reading and writing and scores and ticksheets.

We need human qualities as well as knowledge and academic skills. We need more personal skills. We need to know ourselves, what makes us happy, and most importantly how to live sustainably alongside each other and the planet. How to take responsibility. That requires a far bigger emphasis on care and compassion and understanding; heart skills as much as head skills, than is currently present in the education system.

There’s a longer version on why happiness is essential for education and why we should educate the heart as well as the head in this post here.

Meanwhile as your children are educated, however they are educated, listen to all your hearts as well as your heads. And be brave enough to educate the whole person, not just grade the head!

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.

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)