Tag Archive | teaching

I admit it; I’m ‘one of those’!


Other books from the LitFest

“Are you a home educator, then?” asked a portly lady who’d picked up my latest book ‘Who’s Not In School?’ and was flicking through it at a recent Literary Event. She sat down at the display table rather regally as if establishing her right to rest.

My feet were killing me and could do with a rest too. I’d been on them chatting to people all day. But I wasn’t going to hog the chair.

“Yes, that’s right,” I smiled. But not without a sneaking suspicion that she was making more of an accusation than asking a question!

I was right.

“Yes, you look like one of those,” she replied.

And before I could think of a suitable response she went on; “I’ve just retired from forty years teaching in the classroom and I think it’s wrong parents keeping their children away from school. I mean, all the opportunities and people they meet in there, they miss out on all that.”

Try not to bristle before opening your mouth, Ross, I’m thinking. I managed to respond ever so gently.

“Or you could look at it the other way round. You could say that there are thousands of experiences and people outside the school in the real world that home educated children are getting the chance to engage with, which all those kids stuck in school day after day are missing out on.” I smiled the most intelligent smile I could muster.

She looked away not quite so sure of her righteous opinion now! “Hmmm, yes…Oh I think it’s time for the workshop to start,” and she heaved herself up and waddled off.

Teaching for forty years? How many children does that make who have been through her unchanging view of the world? Forty years of it and she still omitted to see how it doesn’t work for all and it’s not just the kids’ fault.  Sometimes I feel defeated by people’s closed attitude.

Later, a chap with three young children came to talk to me. He was one of those, a home educating dad with a happy open attitude to learning who talked to me a little of their approach, how there were so many other families they knew home schooling, and so many groups, they could go to something every day if they wished. He was enthused and energised by their inspired learning life and keen to tell me about it. And open to everything. A pleasure to talk to, restoring my faith.

Here was someone who was as keen to learn himself, and embrace new ideas, as the other lady was determined not to!

What a contrast. I know who I would consider to be the most educated!

Are we schooling kids out of education?

It’s the time of year when many are facing the return to school – and many are not! Many are rejoicing in not returning to school and continuing with their home education…

…I couldn’t resist reblogging this story from a while back as it explains why so many choose to do so;

There was a bright little pre-schooler running through the town the other day. She was on an adventure away from mum. She stopped suddenly, turned round and realised there was an awful lot of people who weren’t mum. Her face dropped.

Mum, watching, called out to her and she went running back happily. Despite that slight panic at mum being momentarily out of sight, she didn’t hesitate to go off and explore again. After all, there’s such an intriguing amount to learn – about everything, why would she not?

Twelve years later and learning doesn’t look so appealing. In fact most of her inclination to learn has been switched off, like for many young people.

What happened?

My theory is that schooling happens.

What happens is that we corral our wonderfully idiosyncratic and diverse children into institutions which enforce comparison and competition in their most destructive forms, judge them by a narrow set of outcomes only a particular few can excel at, lead them to believe that anything else they might be good at is unimportant, stress them witless by unnecessary testing, and expect them to develop emotionally, socially, intellectually and personally within that unfortunate climate.

It has always seemed a bit ludicrous to me.

This schooling of our children is putting them off education and learning. And neglecting the education of their whole being, of their diverse potential, individual talents, and original personalities, all of which are essential to the longevity of our world.

We are chiselling youngsters down to one set of talents, one way of thinking and performing, measurable by a narrow set of definitions, invented by politicians who are ignorant of education, out to impress those parents interested only in social stature or getting the kids off their hands.

Harsh words maybe, but how many politicians know about the world outside their elite existence – let alone what’s useful for survival in it? And I’ve come across many parents who only want scores and grades for their own adult pride, or their kids minded; there are relatively few who’ve actually thought it through and reached an understanding about what’s good for their individual developmentally.

Child-minding aside, the fallacy that most believe is that kids need teachers, tests and schools to learn, develop and progress towards a fulfilling and productive life.

But in reality they don’t, as many successfully home educating families are proving.

What they need instead is to be happy, confident, interested, curious and motivated like the little girl running through the precinct. With those traits kids move themselves forward into work and life successfully, but there’s only a relative few who come out of schooling with those personal attributes intact.

And you have to define success.

Some would define a successful education from a consumerist point of view as the getting of lots of ‘good’ grades.

I wouldn’t. In fact, it’s hard to define education at all because any definition would suggest it is finite and it isn’t, it is ongoing and doesn’t have an end.

My definition of a successful education would be so interlinked with what I consider a successful life to be which has nothing to do with getting anything, grades or otherwise.

It is more to do with a practice of living that is happy and mindful and content for the most part, full of warm loving relationships, fulfilled through purposeful work, independent and responsible and that continues to build and grow and improve as we learn and educate ourselves. It’s something with encouragement young people could do for themselves – if they haven’t been put off.

Education, like life, should not be something our children have to endure till it ends so they can get on with real life, as many feel it is.

It should be an integrated part of their real lives from day one, ongoing and always accessible. It should inspire. It should be something youngsters are gagging to involve themselves in not playing truant from. And something that serves our needs as humans to develop creatively, personally and emotionally as well as intellectually. And finally, something that we should be brave enough to accept is not actually measurable as such, yet is still wonderfully successful.

Roll on the day….

School doesn’t always equal education!

I recently met another teacher who is now home schooling.

She’s home schooling not because she knew about teaching and thought it would be easy – being a teacher doesn’t necessarily make it so! It’s because she’s seen what goes on in school and can understand why her child is unhappy there.

She won’t be ‘teaching’ her child because she knows it isn’t always required, she’ll just facilitate her further learning. But she’s yet another someone who agrees that school is not the answer to every young person’s learning needs.

We have been sold the schooling system as the norm for so long now it has become well entrenched in our thinking about educating children. In fact it’s created a commonly accepted equation: School = Education.

Now that equation may turn out to be true in some cases, with some youngsters. But it is certainly NOT true for all. And its monopoly of our thinking has masked the fact that other things are also true.

Things like:

Other approaches = Education

Learning outside school = Education

Life Experience = Education

And it is also true that children can learn without teachers and our commonly accepted notion that teaching is required for children to learn is misleading.

Children can learn from a multitude of other people who are not teachers, parents among them. They learn by themselves. They learn through experiences. They learn through their own investigation, exploration, experimentation and research. All equally effective, often more effective because if youngsters teach themselves they are often more interested, engaged, and absorb it more readily.

Teachers in schools have to adhere to prescriptive curriculum, deliver it to crowds of kids in specific, sometimes coercive ways, for the sake of narrow inhibiting outcomes.

This is not really an education. And not the most efficient or inspirational way to learn.

Every time I meet another home educating, former teacher, I see that the number of people who understand this about schools is increasing – even among these educational professionals. (See this blog here). If they are straying away from that system because of what they see happening there, then there certainly must be cause to question it. The more we question the more we might be able to convince the powers that be that there’s a need for it to change.

And the further we can spread the idea that there’s a workable, successful and inspirational alternative to school should anyone need it.

If you’re fairly new to home schooling and want to learn more check out some of my other pages. You’ll find a wealth of inspiration and tips among the other home educators’ blogs. My two books may also help; ‘Learning Without School’ is a guide and ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ is an easy to read story of our home educating life that will change the way you think about education for ever after!

Why are teachers home educating?

She used to be a head-teacher but my friend still came along to support my book event for ‘Who’s Not In School’. That’s because she supports the approaches we home educators use with our children out of school!

Much of what we do is what she’d have liked to do for the kids in the classroom; give them individual attention, free them from testing, inspire them with stimulating experiences, and ignite their passion to learn. But because of ridiculous educational bureaucracy it was impossible. You have to resign yourself to training kids to jump through hurdles, not be inspired. She did try, but like many teachers the frustration just makes you ill in the end.

So she’s left mainstream teaching now, along with thousands of others. She could no longer teach something she didn’t believe in. She’s now working in teacher training in the hope of showing the students other approaches to teaching rather than those conditioned reflexes they’ve learned as a result of their own schooling, still fresh in their experience log. We have to hope that their experiences of being taught were good enough to make them inspirational teachers. But as we all know, in the end they have to tick sheets and force kids through targets, irrespective of whether it’s doing them any good or not.

It’s quite frightening how many teachers do leave the profession. And it’s also very telling how many teacher/parents bring their children out of school to home educate. I’ve met some of them recently. And of course I’m among them.

And talking to these parents and former teachers I see we were prompted to home educate for the same reason, but not one you might be thinking.

I think many people assume teachers home educate because they know they can teach. But that’s not the reason at all and, as most of us come to understand, teaching isn’t really necessary anyway.

Most of the former teachers I meet home educate because they’ve seen what goes on in schools under the guise of education and they don’t want that happening to their children! They don’t want the children’s education inhibited by prescriptive curriculum, narrow approaches to learning, damaging and time wasting testing, and an experience akin to a conveyor belt. So they’ve left the profession and are bringing their kids with them.

So if the teachers don’t want their kids in the schooling system – what does that say about it? That would be an interesting question for the education minister to answer!

Winter days; great for story telling!

National Story Telling Week

This week is National Story Telling week and it’s ignited in me a memory of my youngest balanced on the arm of her grandma’s easy chair by the fire telling stories (she couldn’t sit on her knee because the cat was on it!).

They did this a lot, just talked stories to one another, taking it in turns to add bits and produce ideas. It was an absolute delight to listen to. When I was allowed, mostly I got commanded, by my youngest, to go out the way, but I’d sneakily carry on listening.

It also reminds me of one of the biggest mistakes I made whilst we were home educating.

Listening to her story telling, her vivid imagination, the intonation and expression, I thought what a good idea it would be to get her writing stories at home. She’d love it.

What an idiot, I was!

When I suggested it her face dropped. She sat there looking totally miserable, blank page in front of her, pen unused, ideas vanished.

I encouraged. I cajoled. I suggested starts. I prompted memories of the brilliant story she’d been making up with grandma.

Nothing. The blankness went from her page to her face. Her imagination vacated her like she’d never had them in the first place. If I hadn’t heard it with my own ears I would have thought that she had a blank imagination too.

But I knew different. And luckily I spotted my stupid mistake; she loved making up stories – not writing them down.

Many children hate writing. Many adults do too. Trying to capture and clarify what’s in your head – often just in picture form – into the letters and symbols we use for language can be enough to switch people’s minds and ideas off completely.

I’ve seen it happen in children. I’ve also seen it happen to adults as old as I am, who’ve been writing all their life, yet who still find this transformation process hard.

I may have wanted her to practice her writing skills. But I didn’t want to ruin her inventiveness whilst doing so. I backed off.

Besides, far too much emphasis is put on being able to write, far too young. Having to continually write can even hamper the development of valuable language skills. And we shouldn’t confuse the two.

Children develop language skills by talking and listening, being read to and sharing books together, by continual use of the spoken word, as in story telling.

Formalising it into writing doesn’t need to happen until much later.

My youngest didn’t do much writing at home during the time we were home educating. Occasionally she did a bit, maybe filling in an eye-catching workbook she’d spotted whilst out. Sometimes, in order to practice, I’d suggest writing up some event or making a diary/scrapbook. (Outings are a good one for this as you can stick anything you’ve collected in the book too). We also made a variety of other books, pop-ups, mini-books, lists, games; just bits and pieces of writing that kept it going. Otherwise, the most writing she ever did was about half a small page at any one time. We did loads of other stuff instead.

However, when she went to college at 16 she managed easily, with a bit of formal tidying and guidance. And this is how it was for several of our home educating friends who went onto Uni without having done much formal writing earlier on.

Thought I’d tell you because I didn’t want you making the mistake I did of ruining something that, as well as being a valuable educational activity in its own right, gave her – and her gran – immense pleasure!

Don’t feel you have to be writing every day with your children whilst they’re learning at home. They don’t need it. Enjoy books and a good story telling instead!

How a parent helped her child through school by knowing how home education works

Messages from readers are such a joy to receive – most of them anyway!

I had another recently from a parent telling me how useful my posts were in helping them keep a balanced view of their child’s education.

The interesting thing was that it came from a parent with a child in school; the posts about home education helped keep schooling in perspective too.

One of my best friends was delighted to hear this – she’s been telling me the same thing for years; how we helped her see education a bit differently and consequently support her child in school. So her words have been endorsed – she had the pleasure of saying ‘I told you so’ when I rang her today!

She had a dyslexic child who had the classic labels; ‘lazy’ ‘thick’ daubed onto him in class. But she had me in her other ear saying that they were wrong. Hers was a bright child who was just not having his learning needs met by a system which disregards individuals (and very often dyslexics), clumps everybody together within a narrow framework of measurement then, when the obvious happens and some don’t achieve, say it’s all the kids’ fault.

It’s not, but she, like most parents, assumed all teachers and schools knew what they were about.

Sadly, not always, they also have agendas other than the needs of an individual child. I’ve worked in them – that’s how I know – and that’s one of the things I told her.

I also know that there’s no magic training that makes a person a good teacher, no magic technique for teaching that makes teachers recognise children’s needs more intuitively than many parents, and most teachers have no training in dealing with children with special needs anyway.

If you’ve got a child who fits happily within the very narrow criteria schools use for measuring success, you’re very lucky.

Most children don’t actually fit, but that doesn’t mean they ‘fail’ either; instead they are failed by this system.

Anyway, thanks to her faith in her child, her intuition (and my words, she says) she enabled him to succeed against awful odds, go onto Uni and he’s now started his first job. So I asked her what were some of the things she did as a result of our conversations and her observation of our home education that supported them through the many challenges they faced within the school system.

These are some of the points she mentioned, which we’d talked about when we were homeschooling:

  • Stay on the side of the child (particularly when the child feels the school is not), listen to them, believe in them, rather than unquestioningly believing what the school wants you to believe.
  • Remain focussed on the needs of your child. Not on the needs of the institution. Basically we should remember that the school is there to serve the education of your child – your child is not there to serve the school! Challenge them!
  • Understand that children take different amounts of time to learn something, gain skills, to develop and mature. This is quite normal and they are not abnormal if they don’t fit into a prescribed and generalised timeframe. Just because a child hasn’t learnt something when the curriculum says they should, does not mean they’ll never learn it, or that they’re failures, so don’t panic or worry or pressurise. Try and keep it lightweight and be patient.
  • Listen to your guts and your intuition and your child. If you sense something is wrong then it probably is.
  • Don’t always assume that the school and the teachers are right, are professional, or are to be unwaveringly respected. We are trained in obedience to these institutions (banks, schools, health care centres spring to mind). That’s how celebs got away with abuse – no one could believe that these icons weren’t right or good. Basically we know and respect when someone’s doing a good job – and when they’re not. All professionals have to earn respect by their continued integrity and respectful behaviour. Question them if it’s not.

Home educators are told that they have to by law provide an education suitable to a child’s age, ability and aptitude and any special educational needs they may have. I often wonder just how many schools really do that!

Another approach to learning

There was a little piece about Home Education on Radio Five Live the other morning and an interview with the Meek family.

They’re taking a year to travel with their children to enrich their education. It’s fascinating reading their blog ‘Do try this at home’.

But the presenter came out with some rather daft questions, seeming not to understand a great deal about home education and how children learn from life.

It illustrated the huge difference in thinking between those who can only define education by what happens in schools, compartmentalised testable outcomes, its effectiveness measured by such, and those who know that education is far, far broader.

Education is to do with learning about life, an approach to living and learning, and about the qualities of an educated person rather than any finite outcome external to that individual.

The Meeks are living a learning life with their children (albeit for a year). As a result their children are having rich, varied and educative opportunities and experiences which develop many of the skills they need to transfer that education to real life.

In contrast a school education consists of unvaried experiences transferable only to test results and irrelevant to real life – certainly to children’s real lives.

For example, instead of sitting at a desk learning about water pollution the family is examining what happens for real. Instead of the ‘socialisation’ of a classroom, where people seem to think skills will develop from being in a confined institution, they are engaging with a range of people and their social skills are developing naturally and organically from those interactions. Instead of their learning being dully delivered by irrelevant others in uninspiring ways through a prescribed curriculum they are instead being excited and motivated by their experiences. Nothing teaches more profoundly than exciting experiences!

None of these are really testable experiences. But that’s the other misconception that many people have about education; that it’s only valuable and accomplished if it’s testable.

The truth is that education is only valuable and accomplished if it’s transferable to living in responsible ways.

Real valuable learning, that means something, will be transferable to tests and exams if and when necessary to the individual. But for now the Meeks are just living. They are educating their daughters through real living experiences from which they are learning.

Thousands and thousands of families now opt to do this, but not just for a year’s trip; for the majority of their children’s childhoods. Some home educating throughout their children’s entire ‘school’ age, until such time that they’re ready to move on.

And making a wonderful success of it too.

Living a learning life is such an inspirational way to raise and educate children quite different from the ‘school’ way. And the more the media – and presenters – understand what it is to be educated, rather than what it is to be schooled, the better it will be!

(Check out the page of home educators blogs on this site for a real illustration of how it works for each family)