Tag Archive | schools

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:

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Feel free to pass it on!

The value of the Quiet Ones!

My treat for the weekend is to take a book outside and read. DSC06096

Doing it outside makes it less of a busman’s holiday for me. Since I’m concerned with words all day, it feels less workish to do it under birdsong, roses and the lullaby of the breeze, with the occasional annoying fly just keeping me from dozing off.

With some books I don’t doze off. ‘Quiet’ has been one of those.

It’s full title is ‘Quiet. The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ and it’s a fascinating observation of the valuable personality traits of Introverts. (TED talk here)

In fact, it’s a celebration of Introversion; of all it’s valuable attributes, and how it should never be seen as something wrong with us that needs to be corrected – as it is in many social climes, particularly with reference to children. The author Susan Cain talks about shyness (which I’ve blogged about before) and how it’s often tied up with Introversion yet is quite different.

We are all different, and we need that diversity for our species to survive, but it is often only the loudest that get revered, overlooking the quiet ones and the huge contributions they make to progress with their reflective and considered thinking and the fact they spend less time polishing their image and partying and more time in deep thought and invention. Whereas extroverts need a high stimulation environment, introverts feel most stimulated and do their best stuff in low key environments. The ‘key to maximising our talents is to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that works best for us’ says Susan in her TED talk. Sadly most school environments fail to provide a low key environment for those who need it. no wonder so many kids fail to thrive there.

The last chapter contains some important ideas with regard to raising and educating our children with respect to the fact that many children need smaller social environs in which to learn and grow. And this is okay. We do not have to force them ‘to get out there’ as some parents believe, in order to socialise or succeed, but respect their preferences and grow their confidence within that respect.

I have always believed, back from when I worked in classrooms and through the contact I’ve had with a diverse range of home educating families, that many children fail in school simply because the climate of crowd and buzz does not suit them. But this does NOT mean they have a character defect, any more than someone with blue eyes has a character defect, it’s just our inability to accept differences between us and provide for the needs of those quieter children.

In our image conscious, Facebook crazy, media driven culture we have to sometimes stand against it to be who we need to be and respect our personalities for what they are, rather than try and be all the same. That goes for our kids too. Particularly important is to recognise that they are not us, are different from us, and should be respected for who they are, even if they are quiet, require alone-time, prefer smaller interactions and dislike crowds.

That’s perfectly okay. Quiet people are just as successful and don’t need to be made into anything else.

I know it’s my quiet reflective times, often with my books (often in the garden), that has made me who I am; able to work, parent, home educate, write, and develop two reflective home educated beings who as adults still have a vibrant social life, loving friends, and a successful life out in the fray without ever being forced!

Home schooling in the spotlight?

A warm thank you to all those who came to our event at Waterstones last night to celebrate the new home education book. Lovely to have your support and to meet Home Educating friends from a while back. 20160705_191958

I know some home educators feel reluctant to put home schooling in the spotlight like this. They don’t want too much attention, especially from the Local Authorities and consequently the government, who might interfere with this successful and alternative approach to what’s on offer in schools.

Some of the contacts from authorities who visit home educating families has in the past ranged from less than helpful to downright ignorant and insulting at times. Their remit seemingly to bring us all in line. And the call for registration of all home educating families, and consequently monitoring, is a constant threat we want to avoid as long as possible. (See this post). So, many like home schooling to remain fairly hidden and to get on with it in the own quiet way uninterrupted.

But the trouble with that is; if it’s hidden, those who need it can’t access it. And I like to think optimistically that the authorities’ attitude is changing.

I spoke to a couple of people last night who’d had helpful and supportive visits from their LA. The LAs are becoming more enlightened and aware of what their role is, thanks to the work many home educating parents do to maintain a dialogue with them. And they’re more aware of the successes of home educating families as the numbers increase.

And although I understand that some like to home educate on the quiet, I look at the work I do to raise awareness from the point of view that many parents are so grateful to discover this as an option, to find the support they need, so they can choose an alternative for a child who is failing to thrive in school. Some are worse than that; school makes some of the kids ill and family life an utter misery. I get messages of gratitude quite frequently from people who were desperate and thankful to find my blog and books. And it’s only by home education becoming more widely understood that these families can choose something different for their kids, some who were almost suicidal.

So, perhaps we have to be brave – even braver than we already are in home educating. As the home educating community grows, perhaps we have to risk being noticed, club together to resist intervention when the time comes, confident in the knowledge that the growing number of home schooled children graduating successfully into the wider world, are living proof of how well it works – even though it’s not school! Education is our joined goal – educating by approaches that work for the child rather than the government, whether that’s in school or out of it.

And this is really what my work to raise awareness is for. To increase understanding of this workable and successful option. And show parents that children do not have to suffer for an education.

And in turn, I greatly appreciate those who support me in doing so. Thank you!