Tag Archive | education

Home education – can you only live it to understand?

Learning about the elements of the world

Whenever another researcher rings me up to talk about home education I face the same dilemma; how to explain the complexity and diversity of this approach to education when their thinking is so conditioned by the concept of schooling they cannot identify with the fact that schooling and education are different things.

The caller was doing some initial research for a potential informative programme about homeschooling. That would be nice!

“A programme to dispel the misconceptions” he said. That would be nice too.

But when the questions came I realise how far removed he and I are in the way we think about education as opposed to schooling.

Education, to my mind, is the ongoing personal development of the individual, a building of skills and knowledge, as much personal as academic as one’s no use without the other, that will enable a person to understand the world, find their way to fit into it and contribute to it, alongside others, in meaningful ways. Ongoing – as in its progression continues throughout life.

Yet education to most people seems to be the grooming of children towards a finite qualification, by any means, the measurement of which being the only important outcome.

Where to begin to open the mind of researchers to education as something broader? How to describe an approach that has the interest of the individual at its heart, rather than the commercial and political perpetuation of the establishment? Where to begin to describe the natural and organic way in which most home educated youngsters learn through the unmeasured interactions and experiences they have? And how this often unstructured, unprescribed, unpredetermined, child-led, approach leads in many cases to conventional results in the end, usually decided by the youngsters and not enforced by adults.

Enthusiastically, I tackle some explanations. Then realise, when I stop suddenly fearing I was gabbing on too much, that he wasn’t really listening anyway because there’s an embarrassing gap of silence before he responds. I sense he was busy reading a screen instead.

He wasn’t interested in explanations – he was just filtering everything out whilst looking for the right answers to his prescribed questions, as no doubt his own education had told him to do.

Maddeningly, being too busy answering the questions pumped at me, I didn’t get the chance to talk about the best bits of home education; the sheer wonder of seeing your kids blossom and grow, of seeing their confidence and their knowledge and their skills develop beyond what you might have taught them, or your delight in their social competence which seems to exceed your own, or their general wisdom about the world which they’ve acquired without you. Neither did I get the chance to talk about the joy home education brings to the household – not sure school ever did that when ours were in it.

But I suppose the researcher wouldn’t be able to take that on board really. And I remember that this is telly we’re talking about. And few people want to make a programme without salacious nuggets of drama in them how ever informative they promise to be.

And, just as happened last time, they ring off with profuse thanks that really doesn’t mask the fact that they’ve no idea what I’m on about and I didn’t give them the right answers.

Like with most things, home education is something you have to live to understand. But the more we do talk about it, the more you record all your adventures and approaches and ideas like some of you do with your great blogs and posts, the more that will hopefully change.

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Uniform oppression and gender choices

I was at school in the late sixties and seventies where the rules about the uniform were like the head; totally dated and oppressive!

Our skirts had to be no more than an inch off the floor when we knelt; none of this mini-skirt nonsense. and you had to have five buttons on your cardigans. Not six or four. Did the staff have time to count in those days I wonder?

I adhered to the rules, even though I abhored uniform. I was the classic Miss Mouse. Miss Average Mouse. I hated attention – was scared stiff of everyone – and being an average mouse was the best way to avoid being noticed.

But it came to the day in the sixth form when I just felt too oppressed to wear it any more and I had a lightbulb moment – why was I doing this? So I just stuck my jeans on.

I got into a lot of trouble. Obvs! I had heated discussions with the head when I got sent to her office. We had rousing discussions in class when all the others wanted to do the same. And I created such a furore because they didn’t know what to do with this good little mouse they hadn’t even noticed before. I think the word expulsion was threatened but didn’t come.

Eventually, when I turned up for school day after day still with my jeans on (and still the only one despite what friends had promised – but I guess their parents were horrified), and after many school debates about uniform, the rules were changed. Sixth formers were allowed to wear their own clothes from that day forward and I never wore a uniform again. Even one female member of staff thanked me as women staff had formerly not been allowed to wear trousers either. Can you imagine that now?

Boys who weren’t allowed to wear shorts!

However, I find it very alarming that gender inequality still goes on in schools (did you see these programmes?) and affects our kids achievement.

And I find it equally distressing that it is still women who mostly have to fight it. Despite this recent article about boys (girls are rarely as newsworthy – have you noticed?)

That it is women and even young school age girls who are criticised for their looks, style, weight, sex, when it is irrelevant to their education and profession, and those kinds of references are rarely used about men. Even more saddening that this starts right back in schools, as the remarks about girls in this article about gender neutral uniforms recently showed.

I thought we’d moved on from the day when, doing some supply teaching, I was taken aside by the male head to be asked if I’d wear skirts to work instead of trousers, without any professional reason.

“Think of it as humoring my male preference,” he said.

Doesn’t that make your skin crawl?

As a young vulnerable teacher needing a job what could I say? Children are even more vulnerable when people and attitudes like his persist.

So we need to raise and educate our youngsters to understand the true meaning of equality, of gender equality particularly, to be bold and make sure they know their right to choose, to open conversations about it regularly, and make sure we parents are not perpetuating the wrong attitude to each other, whatever gender

And a final ironic note; home educated kids still manage to become educated even with uniform! Funny that!

Bringing on the tears

It’s not my intention to make people cry! But this seems to be what’s happening.

Many parents have told me that they read ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ and ended up in tears.

Not in a bad way I hasten to add. And not usually because of a tragic event that happens in the story.

They are instead mostly tears of relief and emotion to discover that someone has felt the way they do, tears of joy to find their own feelings about children and their learning are empathised with, tears on discovering they are not the only one!

Two little home edders volunteering as part of their education

Here’s a message I received recently:

“We have just started out on our home ed journey and we knew in our hearts that it was the right decision – but reading a Funny Kind of Education just hit home so much with us. I cried when I read the first couple of chapters because I finally had something to relate to – this is what we were going through. My two were being crushed by the system and I have been wholly disgusted that many children so young are experiencing so much stress, and their self-esteem taking a dramatic nose dive because they NEVER feel good enough, and never ever will at school. My son who is nearly ten practically got on his knees and begged me every night and morning not to send him into school – repeating over and over again I have had enough mummy no more please. Now only after two weeks of our journey his face and his sister’s light up with the thought of what we are going to be learning about on a new day. That sense of wonderment with the world is back big time already (it came back in the holidays but left pretty soon after the start of a term) – they are questioning everything and are coming up with all sorts of ideas of their own – and I don’t care that my kitchen is a tip or the dog keeps eating the science experiments or cooking ingredients that drip on to the floor -hahaha – they are happy little bunnies and we are just going with the flow. I know I will have my wobbles too I know and moments of needing to calm down when we are having ‘one of those days’ (dipping in and out of your Home Ed Notebook also) – but we are already starting to feel part of a lovely home ed local community online and in person”.

I can’t tell you how overjoyed I was to receive that wonderful message and I thought it worth sharing here for ongoing encouragement!

When I shared our story I hoped that people would find comfort and support from the fact that they are not the only parent to have a child who is not thriving in school. So I’m delighted to know it’s doing it’s job. And that the ‘Home education Notebook’ is also doing its job of supporting those wobbly moments.

I say so many times that schools work well for many families. But they don’t work for all. And that’s not the fault of the child.

If there is one over-riding message I’d like to get out there among the mainstream community it is that one.

Some children need something different. And it’s about time home education was respected for providing a doable and successful alternative for those children. About time it was not looked down upon as a second rate education just because it didn’t happen in a school. And about time people stopped being so scared of it!

Doing the human race a favour!

Charley sat picturesquely on the bridge with the dog! 

It seems ages since she was small enough to wade through the tunnel without bending over! And ages now since the adventures she had doing so, described in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ when we’d take off into the countryside for the afternoon, with picnics and usually granma too.

She and I were revisiting one of the favourite places for our homeschool adventures recently when I snapped this.

They always learnt so much wherever we went, especially when they had the opportunity to explore, talk about, investigate and discover. The simple experience of the afternoon was educative enough – it doesn’t always have to be formal.

That’s something missing from a formal education which takes place in institutions day after day, keeping the kids busy with a predetermined curriculum. It leaves no room for imagination or personal discovery. It masks the fact that informal activities can be just as educative. More so perhaps because along with their own investigations comes the opportunity to think for oneself, making a far more independent learner than one that is regularly spoon fed and who is constantly led to believe their own ideas are invalid.

A more investigative approach keeps the children’s curiosity alive – their wonder at the world intact – and this keeps them motivated to go on learning because it is far more engaging. I’m not saying there’s no room for formal activities sometimes – when they serve a purpose. But many school activities don’t – other than ticking political boxes.

Schools have to keep kids busy. But keeping them busy within formal prescribed structures does not guarantee learning is taking place. Equally the reverse is true. Informal activities do not mean there’s no learning taking place.

And I wish people would understand that just because the children may be learning informally, it doesn’t mean the parents are not taking it seriously. We took the children’s education very seriously, as all home educators do, whatever approach they adopt. Would anyone ever take this decision lightly? Doubt it.

People are conditioned to think that a school style approach to education is the ‘real’ one and the one that matters because that’s all they know. Their own education has failed to show them that there are all sorts of ways to learn! They fail to comprehend anything different.

But random learning, however diverse, promotes the ability to learn randomly – or diversely. And the ability to think diversely. We could certainly do with more of those types of people. Diversity is essential for the perpetuation of the species so Darwin said!

So getting out like we did, and giving your kids a range of experiences as you educate, will actually be doing the human race a favour. And even though it may be informal, don’t be fooled into thinking that there is no serious education going on!

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)

What are your objectives for your kids?

I came across some interesting writing about education recently, ironically on the TES site. Ironic because it’s from a head teacher and quite often their ideas don’t tally with ours as home educators! But he seems to have a more enlightened view of education generally and how, in many cases, schools are getting it so wrong.

Colin Harris writing in the TES

Author Colin Harris has posted quite a few articles that many of you may be interested to read, whether you home educate or not.

It’s good to hear concerns about the schooling system by one who works in it yet who remains big enough to recognise its failings. As we are all in the business of educating – a business which can embrace many different approaches, as most home schooling families do.

I was particularly drawn to his comments about having fun in education and that schools should ‘ring with laughter’. So true. Years ago – pre the ruination by the National Curriculum – I can remember my classroom ringing with laughter. And this house did when we were home educating.

The post that particularly caught my eye this time was this one about kids just being numbers in a giant machine. How often have I made that comment on this blog and about them being cloned – as he says! But he also talks about a set of outcomes for education that are not based in test results (amazing, coming from someone in the system!) Instead, competencies necessary for adulthood and I thought they were so relevant to home education I’d copy them here:

  1. Being able to think for oneself.
  2. Being able to use language appropriately.
  3. Being numerate.
  4. Being able to manage and control oneself.
  5. Being able to forge relationships with others.

Whilst we were home educating we had certain objectives in mind. These were nothing to do with qualifications (although they became part of them as the children reached that stage, through mutual decision-making about the path they wanted to follow as they grew), but were instead based around personal development. We wanted the kids to know who they were, what strengths and weaknesses they had, how to get the best from themselves, how to integrate their best into life, and to have confidence. With confidence they can go forward a get what they need for where they need to go. And confidence is built through achieving; failure being a necessary educative part of that achievement and how to overcome it. It’s built from having no shame attached to failure, from feeling worthy and of value, from good relationships with others based in respect, and from knowing your own mind (number one above).

These are the things we wanted to develop in our children. I think they’d probably agree they’re getting there, for they’d also probably agree that you are never finished, never finish learning and growing and changing and the chance to do that is life-long.

Whatever you work towards through your home educating or through school, consider carefully what you want in the broadest most personal sense, and beware the danger of cloned thinking!

Open eyes to the school establishment

Looking forward to reading this

I try my hardest not to resort to school bashing. But I still get accused of it. Just because I won’t stay silent about all the things wrong with the school system.

And if that’s school bashing then I’m sorry for it. It’s just that parents need to have their eyes and minds opened beyond the conditioning the establishment perpetuates, especially the idea that school is right for all.

It isn’t.

Take testing for a start. Kids don’t really gain anything from being tested. They’re just being used as pawns in the game of one-upmanship played by politicians, institutions of education, between professionals and commercial enterprise. Test results are not what education is about. Few home schooled kids are tested throughout their learning lives yet still go onto to achieve qualifications when the time comes.

Take the idea that all kids have to achieve the same thing, at the same time, in the same way, or they’ll be failures. This is a form of emotional blackmail that is totally untrue. Kids doing things in this way is for adult convenience and has nothing to do with personal success or failure. Thousands of home educated kids learn in different time frames, their needs and competence at the time dictate when, what and how. And generally end up in the same place as school contemporaries.

Take a look at the curriculum. A school curriculum is not designed to be educatively enlightening. It’s designed to be measured. Thus increasingly neglecting essential subjects like the arts, the practical and sports. At the same time negating skills in these areas and a huge percentage of children who would be good at them.

Take the idea of going to school for the socialization. What a joke! Nowhere post school is the social model inside one replicated. The model where you’re clustered together in groups of same age, with people who are as social inept as you are, where friendships are enforced and where there is a hierarchy of respect rather than a mutually earned one. Thousands of home educated kids go onto Uni, interviews, work with a such high standard of social ability, conversation and initiative, it’s often what wins them the place.

Take the idea that school dynamics, bullying, crowds, unhealthy competition, and the shame of failure makes you stronger. Complete balderdash! Most kids are weakened by those experiences and often made desperate. Home educated kids who don’t have to endure such indignities – for that’s what they are – become strong, confident, competent and motivated people.

And finally, take the idea that the children need to be told what to learn, when to learn it, and how good at it they are, in order to become an educated person, which is an idea the school establishment imposes. Another load of tosh. Thousands of home schooled children take charge of their own education and are motivated to go on learning throughout their life which sets them up effectively for the diversity of the working culture this generation will be facing.

School is one way of doing things. A way sold to thousands by the establishment. But it’s also political. And politicians wants us to be obedient to the establishment for it makes their life easier.

But the establishment doesn’t have the monopoly on education.

Schools and teachers do the best they can with the job they’ve got. Schools and teachers work well for thousands of families. Many children achieve and are happy there. But that doesn’t mean all will or can. This isn’t about school bashing. It’s just about opening parents’ eyes to an alternative ideas.

Do what works for you. But don’t do it with your eyes shut!