Tag Archive | schools

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!

Room to learn?

When school term starts again there’s always a flurry of new interest in home education. As well as the usual questions about exams or socialisation (read this) there’s another one that always gets asked:

“But where are the kids going to learn?”

The thought of learning without a classroom seems to make people anxious, as if without this ‘school’ room the children wouldn’t be able to learn at all.

It’s based, of course, on the familiar view we have of learning only ever taking place in a classroom in a school. But just because that’s the way it’s done in the system, it doesn’t mean to say that it is necessary, or the only place a child can learn, or that learning can’t happen effectively without it.

Like any studying we’ve ever done at home, any space can be adapted to fit a purpose, we just have to get creative with it. We can use whatever is available from the kitchen table, bed, living room floor, sofa.

Most home educating families live in a family house and use general family spaces for learning activities. Some start out with a routine that involves grouping round the kitchen table for example, but soon find that in reality, learning can take place anywhere.

For children learn best when they are stimulated, interested and comfortable. That could just as easily be on the floor or in the garden, as in a more formal setting with table/desk and chairs involved. Reading together on the sofa is as effective as upright at the table – probably more so because the child associates it with a pleasurable experience and pleasurable experiences are usually ones that they remember and want to repeat. E.g. maths is just as effective whether it’s on the sofa, on the floor, or chanting or doing quizzes in the back of a car.

In some ways, different settings and experiences can aid learning, stimulating memory. A more formal setting that’s repeated day after day can become boring and easily forgotten.

Many home educating families who have seen their children learning in a variety of settings would go so far as to say that the world is their classroom, finding that they learn as much when they’re out, wherever it is, as they do at home. Valuable learning can happen incidentally from an everyday outing, field trip or visit, stimulating conversation, inquiry and investigation. Even a trip to the park can provoke that. Travel or new stimulating experiences are more examples and offer subjects to research further.

But it’s also the case that formal learning can be conducted outside or in different settings as much as incidental learning can. Just because it’s more formal learning doesn’t mean it needs a more formal space. You can take study anywhere you’re prepared to do it – a library for example, or cafe. One of the essays with the highest marks I ever attained was put together sitting in a field where I was undisturbed and enjoying the quiet surroundings.

Dedicated learning spaces are not a guarantee that effective learning will result. So don’t always stick with formal learning spaces and routines. Get creative – the more stimulating they are the better. It is often the most unlikely situations that stimulate the most lasting results.

And do let me know if you’ve had some unusual and crazy ones – I’d love to know!

Wish we could get the heart back into learning

I miss having children around. I miss being able to show them things and take them places and those quiet little cuddles at any time.

The former village school – now a nursery

It was wonderful watching their amazement as they learn and enjoy the world and grow. In fact, I’ve even missed them so much I’ve thought of returning to teaching.

Then I come to my senses when I remember.

I remember all the reasons why I left. Like my unhappiness at having to force kids to do stuff that didn’t seem appropriate or relevant or worth anything. Like having to drive and pressurise and push until they got the required points. Like having to teach stuff in certain ways when I could clearly see it wasn’t what the child needed. Having to implement stupid policies devised by  some idiot who knew little about the needs of kids. And worst of all, watching their keen little faces glaze over with apathy as another boring objective is confronted; practices that just made kids feel bad and switch off. And worse still, giving them the blame for their failure instead of acknowledging that the fault lay with the approach not the kids.

And that was years ago – it’s ten times worse than that now.

I used to think I was just a cynic. But current remarks from parents and colleagues and recently one new young teacher who was so unhappy because what she felt she was required to do to kids wasn’t really ethical, let alone valuable, make me think I have a cause to be so. And some of the articles on the Secret Teacher site support that cynicism. They make for grim reading.

I used to teach in a small village school, where we all knew all the kids, where everyone functioned for the good of everyone else, where the climate in a school was one of care and nurture directed at the children And their happiness and enjoyment was important.

I don’t sense that about schools any more. I only have to walk in one and something in me shrivels. But thankfully I feel it among the home educating community.

The home educating community seem to base their educational provision on something that all educational provision should be based on: a love of learning. They at least are putting the heart back into learning.

Kids come into the world already programmed to learn – it’s as natural as survival and part of it. But schools change learning into something else – into point scoring, usually for the good of the school.

Keep a child’s love of learning intact and education follows naturally. It’s so sad that the educational system has completely lost sight of the pleasure of learning as they turn it into big political business.

So I’m sure glad to know so many wonderful parents who are brave enough to follow their hearts to learning, rather than the politics!

Playing to the system – or not!

If you’re a regular reader you’ll know I’m often on about the need for education to develop creative skills (read this blog and you’ll see why it’s important)

20170112_093050And it’s come back to mind again as I’m reading Grayson Perry’s book ‘Playing to the Gallery’. He is of course talking about art – but what he asks about art is exactly true of education; how do we tell if something’s good or not? Is it in financial terms – it’s potential to earn or have monitory value? Do we judge by mass popular opinion, or whether it works for us or not? Does tradition have a part to play in our assessment? Or do we judge by aesthetic qualities – whether we like it – which is of course tied up in all these things?

It struck me that those questions about artwork, equally apply to education.

When you home educate, out of the system of expected outcomes and assessment, you really have to consider answers to those questions. But whether you home educate or not – you should still be asking them.

Consider the financial aspect for a start. Business politics are now having a huge influence on schools and consequently education. Funding was always an issue. But in blinding us with budgets a valuable fact is being masked. The fact that you don’t have to throw money at learning to make it good – it’s the quality of the people involved that’s important and the time they have to inspire individuals. Home educators on very tight budgets are providing an alternative learning experience which leads to intelligent, social and qualified young people.

Our popular acceptance of schooling as the only means to education serves the political economy by looking after kids whilst both parents work – this is what many parents want. Whether it is an education that serves the children well is another matter!

Mass popular opinion also governs what goes on in schools, but being popular isn’t a sign that it is good, as Grayson says of art. We have been conditioned to think that the education children receive in school is going to be a good one because that’s the popular opinion and that’s the only one most of us know. But the politics of it has influenced the quality through demanding constant measurement and measurement has been interpreted as constant testing, which is neglecting true education in the broader sense.

There is also the matter of whether the kids like it or not. Do they have to like it? Certainly do – that’s if you want them to reach their potential, rather than just be child-minded. Deterioration in a child’s achievement, because of their unhappiness in school, has driven many a family to home educate where they can provide a better learning climate, where the child is comfortable and enjoys their learning, that doesn’t cost enormous amounts and can take any form you want it to take to make it good.

So how do we judge whether our home education is good or not?

To answer that you have to ask what education is for.

We had many a discussion about this over all our days of home educating and discovered that the answer lies more in the broader view.

The broader reason we all educate, both schools and home schoolers, is not necessarily for qualification as most traditionalists see it. But so that the children can take their place, independently, in the society in which we live. So they can contribute to it in their own way, be a productive, pleasant and caring member of the human race who is considerate and thoughtful and ever learning and developing their wider understanding of themselves, others and the wider world.

They may use qualifications to do that. They may not. But the archaic, dull and pressurised testing criteria schools use certainly does not have to play a part in it.

The approach you use  as a home educator will be determined by your circumstances, your own beliefs, your child and their needs and the interactions you make. But be assured that the system’s way is just one way to educate and one that’s not doing many children a lot of good. There’s a myriad of ways to learn – some you might not consider learning at all, like having a conversation for example, but which are equally valuable. You don’t have to play by the system’s rules just because of mass popularity and you get more Likes on Facebook!

As Grayson says of art; we’ve all come to it influenced by the system which got us there in the first place. Same with education; we’ve all come to accept the education system because it leads us to do so.

Doesn’t mean we have to play to it, though, to achieve educational success for our children.

All for a pound!

When I decided to stop teaching in schools (way back in the dark ages) I planned ahead how I was going to manage without income and a mortgage to pay. Of course, that’s a lot easier as a single person without family.

But I got a job waitressing on weekend evenings and gave riding lessons in the day. I worked every day in order to save.

I remember thinking as I served suppers in a posh restaurant that, even with the stress of getting hot meals out on time, even with customers who treated waitresses like dirt, it was amazing to earn money doing a job that seemed so easy compared to the same hours in a classroom!

There was an occasional embarrassing moment like when I served the parents of the kids who were in my class. But dad just laughed it off saying ‘Blimey – I didn’t realise teachers were so badly paid’.

‘Well, now you know,’ I said plonking his plate down and scurrying off.

How we have any teachers at all putting themselves through they crap they endure for the pittance they’re paid is what amazes me now. According to the news, they increasingly leave.

But I miss the teaching and the children. So am hoping to involve myself in some tutoring soon, maybe helping those who struggle through a system which neglects their learning differences, or those who don’t fit into schools’ narrow little targets.

However, it’s also because writers, like teachers, are so poorly paid. You wouldn’t think so because it’s only ever the high-earning writers that you get to hear about like Dan Brown or Stephen King for example, who earn thousands. For lesser writers like me, every book I sell makes me less than a pound. And with the pirating of e-books, I don’t get paid at all.

Back to the bookshop!

Obviously books get passed around. And I’m very happy that they do. But when you next stand in a book shop and think you’ll get the book in ‘other ways’ perhaps you’d spare a thought that if you’re not paying for it, the writer won’t get paid for their hours of hard work either! And it is hard work. Hard as teaching – I should know – I’ve done both full time.

Hence I find myself back working in the book shop for Christmas, mostly so I can treat the girls, turn the heating up (I’m writing this with mitts on!) and maybe have something a little sumptuous for us all too.

I admit it also does me good in other ways; it can be very reclusive writing all the time. And although I revel in your delightful appreciative messages (thank you – do keep them coming, it keeps me going), real human connection is also needed and I get to see what people are reading and chat about books.

So, if you didn’t know that ordinary writers like me were so poorly paid, now you do!

And now you also know why we are so grateful when you buy our books rather than getting them in ‘other ways’.

THANK YOU!

Surely not grammar schools again?

I’ve got a heavy heart this morning. This is because of the recent news about the government’s desire to take us back into the darker ages of divisive education again, via the grammar school system.

Pupils at Altrincham grammar school for boys.

Can Grammars ever be inclusive? Click on the pic for article.

If ever there was anything so segregating then this is it. I cannot see how it is of any benefit to learners. Only of benefit to those who would be elite – feeding the adult snobbery surrounding education that I’d hoped we were moving away from.

Read the articles here; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-37311023

For children to learn and succeed they need to be comfortable, encouraged and inspired. That should be happening in all schools. All schools should offer the opportunity for children to flourish whatever background they come from, whatever home, street, cultural climate. Anyone at any time should be able to facilitate the learning they need in order to achieve the ‘social mobility’ they desire, whatever school they are in, whatever part of the country.

Some children are academically able. Some are not – they have other skills and attributes. But are no less intelligent. This is harping back to the days where we didn’t acknowledge these differences and will widen the divide between the academically elite and those whose strengths lie in other skills. I see this as no better than clustering all those with skateboarding skills together in elite schools, just because they have skateboarding skills, and disregarding all those with other skills – it’s as narrowing as that. Put like that you can see how stupid it is. Academic skills are just one set of skills and not the only ones necessary for leading a successful and happy life. We need a range of skills – particularly practical skills – and all skills should be equally appreciated.

All schools should be equal. That should be a given. Area, wealth and circumstance are already vastly unequal – we all know that. Surely, surely, all institutions of education should be places where that’s not relevant, where children will all be treated to the same opportunities for growth.

I see the elitist politicians, living in their elitist enclaves, untouched by the challenges the majority of the rest of us face and I recoil in the face of their ignorance and oblivion and their decisions based in their elitism.

This is just another blatant example of that.

Sad, sad times!

Important message!

No one wants to read long blogs right now. I’m not that keen on writing them whilst everyone’s holidaying. So have created another way of leaving you with an important message:

DSC06124

Feel free to pass it on!