I was already aware that eating meat is having a detrimental impact on the health of the planet.
But I was totally uneducated as to why or the scale of it until I saw this programme: ‘Meat: A Threat To Our Planet?’ on BBC1.
This amazing and disturbing programme has put me right and probably should be part of everyone’s education. Well worth a watch.
We know our eating habits have a huge impact on our individual health. But perhaps we’ve all been less aware how those habits impact on our planetary health and our CHILDREN’S FUTURE because of it.
Encouraging the youngsters to learn about and know themselves should be part of any education and understanding where their food comes from and how it affects them is part of this. This is the only way they – and you – can make informed choices about enjoying food and nutrition in ways that are SUSTAINABLE and of least threat to the planet, as all of our lifestyle habits need to be. So help them learn what this really means.
After all, it is the children who will be living on it when we are gone. So it is nothing less than our duty to establish habits and understanding as families now, that protect the planet from growing threats. There cannot surely be any part of education more important than how to sustain life; theirs, all others, and the planet on which they all depend.
We’re all making important changes, like reducing our use of plastic for example, but this is a change that receives less coverage and the programme helps us see other valuable changes we can make to help keep the planet going for our children.
My youngest is on holiday from work and pays a visit. As a working girl now, she doesn’t get many of these.
She’s also ‘on-call’ to beeps on her phone as work messages come in all the time we’re together, on outings, even during a leisurely breakfast.
I raise my eyebrows.
We have a natural habit of respect in this house; of paying attention to the person you’re with, rather than the person on social media. She notices my quizical grin.
“It’s work!” she says indignantly, knowing what I’m thinking. “And it’s part of what being a good manager is. I want to look after my staff and help the business run smoothly.”
“But even while you’re on holiday? Surely even managers need time off,” I said.
But what I’m also thinking is; how on earth did she get to be so hardworking and conscientious about it?
There were times home educating – plenty of times, in fact, especially in her teens – when she couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. Sometimes most of the day. There were times when it was hell trying to get her to do anything that resembled ‘work’ of any sort. There was a time when she didn’t read – right into her teen years. There were times when she spent more energy procrastinating than accomplishing a task in hand. There were plenty of times when people made comments like; ‘If she’s not in school being made to do things, how will she ever know what real work is?’ Or; ‘If she doesn’t get up in the morning how will she learn how to get up for work?’ Or ‘She’s never going to be able to hold down a job if she doesn’t have a routine of work’. Or ‘How’s she going to cope with a proper working life?’
But I just kept faith. I knew my daughter. I knew she had an active mind and was building skills, even if not in a recognisable routine way; building life skills, not school skills. And I held onto the strong belief that it is NOT necessary to give youngsters ‘practice’ at a schoolish kind of ‘work’ in order to practice for a working life, because school life is totally unlike a real working life, for all sorts of reasons (choice being among them), although most people don’t own up to that. But the youngsters know!
Young people are not stupid. They know what they see for real and what others are doing. Young people work out what they need and why they need it, and with some adult support they’ll build the skills they need and want because they naturally want to get into the real world of earning and working at fulfilling work. With a little guidance they’ll find out how to do so.
My youngest, in her twenties, lives independently now. She goes to work – far earlier than her scheduled hours – like her home schooled contemporaries. She is a conscientious, skilled, competent and empathetic manager, after only a few working years, who works so hard, even during her holiday, that I’m now telling her to slow down rather than get up and get on!
Who’d have thought it?
And what’s particularly satisfying is that those ignorant and insulting commentators all turned out to be completely WRONG!
So what did we do? We had faith (as well as the encouragement and – ok – maybe a bit of nagging which didn’t work). And we stuck to our belief in the fact that young people do not need coercing into work, they’ll do it when they see the reality. And we kept faith in the abilities of our young people.
Hope this little story gives you the courage to do the same.
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!
It doesn’t matter who you are, how long you’ve been a parent or home educator, beginner or seasoned, whether you’ve been in teaching or not, this will no doubt be a question that lurks menacingly in the back of your subconscious like an unwelcome zombie!
I asked it too, not only when we started home educating but throughout.
Being a very pragmatic person I eventually evolved an answer, so I thought I’d share it here in case you need some reassurance.
But let’s start with something bizarre; bizarre, isn’t it, that parents generally don’t ask the same question – will I fail the children? – when sending the them to school! Perhaps we should.
Of course, with schooling, there are more guarantees – supposedly! Thousands go to school, it’s got to be okay hasn’t it? And for thousands it works. So that’s become an accepted guarantee.
But other thousands are questioning it now; questioning its outmoded approach, it’s lack of attention to the needs of contemporary young people, it’s damaging testing and regimentation of what is supposed to be a broadening and inspiring life experience (that’s education I’m talking about!) So school definitely isn’t as much a guarantee of a successful education as once supposed.
Anyway, how could it be? Kids grow and change constantly – there are in reality no guarantees with any of it. So don’t think that just because you home educate there’s more likelihood of failure than with school. There isn’t.
But the basic reasons you won’t fail your child if you home educate are because:
If you’re considering home education, or already embarked upon it, you’re probably a thinking, conscientious, engaged parent – you wouldn’t be reading this otherwise. A thinking, engaged and conscientious parent can easily make a success of home education by the very nature of being so and by parenting in the intelligently thoughtful way you no doubt do, so in this way you cannot fail.
The thinking, engaged and conscientious parent you are makes a success of it by remaining open, learning yourself, trial and error, facilitating what’s needed at the time, revising often and embracing new challenges. You don’t need to know it all – no one does!
A thinking, engaged and conscientious parent is able to build respectful and engaged relationships with their children and it is these relationships which facilitate the development of an educated young person, as much as any other resources you may provide.
A thinking, engaged and conscientious parent is one who is intuitive to their child’s needs and yet is also able to see those needs within the context of the wider world, how the children fit into it and contribute and take a responsible place within it.
The thinking, engaged and conscientious parent you are researches, connects with others, discusses and considers, remains flexible and develops an approach that works because when it doesn’t you change it and make new decisions, until it does succeed.
And finally, failure is only a human label, not necessarily a ‘thing’. Failure only exists when something doesn’t work as expected which we fail to learn from or move forward from in new ways. Failure is part of an educational journey from which we grow and develop and which points the way to success. Therefore, failure is only failure when you stay there! You can make every ‘failure’ a step towards success when you don’t give up on it.
So, if you encourage, stimulate, provide a variety of experiences, remain flexible and conscious of young people’s needs and lives, in relation to the needs of the wider world, learn and grow yourself (as parents we do that all the time anyway), and above all LOVE and RESPECT your kids as I’m sure you already do, YOU WILL NOT FAIL!
There is an accelerating drive to take more learning outside. Many schools are trying to practice this as much as they can, not always with the support of parents some of whom think that kids should have heads down at desks ‘getting on’ rather than mucking about outdoors, as they see it.
At the start of a home educating journey, when the only familiar approach to education is that heads-down indoors one, it’s difficult to imagine other ways. But home schooling gives you the perfect opportunity to get the learning out!
We found, very quickly, that the further you move away from the structured and oppressive approach to learning that schools adopt, the more you understand that the children learn just as much (more probably, because they’re enjoying it) outside of these restrictive structures. They learn by experiencing as much as by study.
But how do you get away from the studious, often workbook
and curriculum led, indoor, schooly type of learning that’s familiar?
By focusing on the experiencing first and letting the study be the follow up – if at all! And you can use facilities in your locality to do this, with a little imagination.
Experiences of science, literature, mathematics, history,
geography, all forms of the arts etc are around us all the time if we spot the
Take history, for example. A visit to your local church may start if off. Look at the dates on the gravestones, wonder (and later research) what life was like for those people, the age they died, the social history of the time, the type of headstone a clue to their wealth, ask questions, discuss and speculate with the kids. This often leads to some googling, documentaries, films, about the period, historical dramas as educational as a documentary if discussion is involved. Along with museums there will be other historical evidence in your neighbourhood among the architecture, industries, memorials, constructions like bridges, railways, tunnels etc all to be explored. So take your history out. Explore.
Science is another example. Science is around us everywhere, whether biological (gardens, parks, nature reserves, plant centres, woodlands, etc), chemical (from the make up of the food we eat to the fuels and substances we use etc.), the physics of the universe and atmosphere and climate science a major current issue that combines it all. Get out and explore the world from a scientific point of view – for real – even if you need the ideas in a curriculum related workbook to start you off!
Make use of what’s out there like: libraries not just for books but local resources, groups, clubs, activities and so on; galleries, art centres, exhibitions, buildings, riverbanks, estuaries, streams, ponds, lakes, local museums, theatres, community centres, sports halls, swimming pools, playgrounds, tourist information centres, all provide educational opportunities and physical activities, if you go out there with an investigative and questioning mind. Even the food shop brings learning opportunities; the weights, measures, costs, contents, countries of origin, transport and time, growing food, the labelling design and wording…the list goes on.
Basically your children learn all the time when out and about if you’re observant. So use imagination to take your learning out and have faith, they WILL be learning because they will be engaged.
Which cannot always be said for sitting passively at a table over a workbook!
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.
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.
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.
Most of us have been deeply schooled! And that’s not just through being at school. We are schooled by our parents, by communities, culture, social media. Schooled to think, feel, act in certain ways and it’s very hard not to stick to these default biases (see this post), even when they don’t work terribly well. Consequently we obediently accept the school model of learning.
And for some, even those who are familiar with home education, it can be hard to get our heads round the idea that children can learn and become educated adults without this schoolish approach, or fully understand the concept of unschooling. This is an approach to parenting and raising youngsters in a way that allows them to engage with purposeful educational activities without being ‘schooled’ at all.
The author, Kerry McDonald presents fresh and inspiring ideas about the way we see education and learning, how if we look beyond our traditional schooled biases and trust the learner, we can let go of the idea that they have to be schooled in order to learn and embrace the concept that learning is something that children naturally do. Like many of us, she questions how the one-size-fits-all style of schooling could possibly accommodate the diversity of the human experience, or work for all. And how, through looking at the way childhood and ‘schoolhood’ has changed, she has been led towards embracing an unschooling approach to learning and how this succeeds.
It is an inspiring and thought provoking book which will make you look at how the freedoms of past childhoods have been eroded and how this has impacted on children’s health, development, imagination and creativity – and learning abilities. And how schooling and adult-controlled learning environments have destroyed children’s natural and effective capacity for learning, creating learning and health issues in our teens – the group she believes is most let down by conventional schooling.
There are many first-hand examples of learning in the book, across subjects like literacy and numeracy, which are fascinating; eye-opening accounts of why and how unschooling works and why school-at-home doesn’t! And plenty of research and samples of other ‘non-school’ models and learning centres to be inspired by.
It also talks about how children are treated in coercive ways in our attempt ‘to educate’ them, which has always sat uneasily with me. Coercive practices destroy independence. The author shows how we build independent adults through self-directed education, in fact, we don’t need to educate young people at all – in the schooled sense of the word, they are completely able with our support to do that for themselves. If you’ve ever doubted that this is possible, this book may change your mind!
Although based in America, we can take much from it to apply to home education in the UK. It’s easy to read and each chapter is followed by a helpful summary of tips. If ever you’ve wanted to fully engage in child-directed learning, but never had the courage to go for it, this book will help you do it.
It’s an inspiring take on learning and education with thought provoking ideas on how we can rebuild a learning world for the future which abandons the out-of-date schooling system we have now.