Friday, November 17, 2006

Re-post: Our journey to autonomy - Apr 05

From Friday, April 01, 2005

It's just occurred to me, reading Jax's blog, that I've never explained here how we got to autonomous learning, so I'll do it now.

Tom was 10 when I deregistered him after a long battle with the school about his dyslexia. After they'd spent a year calling him stupid, lazy & rebellious for not doing copying work very quickly when he was obviously (verbally) a bright child they informed me he was being disruptive in class. My Tom, disruptive! Now if they'd said Ali...! But I knew something was very wrong for Tom to be accused of disruption. I told them I thought he was dyslexic and incapable of doing the work they were setting. They disagreed. Their Special Needs Co-ordinater 'tested' him and proclaimed him absolutely not dyslexic. I had him privately diagnosed at the Dyslexia Institute at Leeds by an Educational Psychologist who reported that he was indeed profoundly dyslexic and that it was only due to his high IQ that he'd managed to learn to read and write at all, but that both were very difficult for him. She said he needed vast amounts of 1:1 tuition to be able to stand any chance of keeping up in class with written work.

I passed the report onto the school, who repeatedly refused to read it and continued to treat him as before, labelling him obstructive and putting him on report. I had a stand-up row with one teacher in particular who memorably said "If you pay someone to find something wrong with your child, they will! I'm not reading that report. It's not worth the paper it's written on. So-called dyslexic children are just lazy and their parents are just trying to find excuses for it." Hmmm..... thought I. Maybe it's time to deregister. I'm banging my head against a wall, here, getting nowhere. And I'd spent 2 years since we'd moved house and registered at this particular (league table-heading) school watching his self-esteem crumble. It's a horrible thing to see in your own child.

I'd recently completed my teacher-training (adult ed) so had lots of exciting new teaching techniques to try. No 'chalk and talk' for us! We wrote out a detailed timetable and set to work for our first 'term'. Bless him, Tom was very patient with me and he was diligent. Not lazy at all! I spent all day, when the other two were at school, working with him on projects etc., and we produced reams of written work. It concerned me, though, that he never seemed overly *interested* in anything we did - no matter how dynamic I tried to make it. I asked him to choose some projects and he was stuck for answers. He couldn't think of anything he really wanted to learn. I was worried about this, but just assumed it was due to the hammering his confidence had taken at school and pressed on regardless.

Meanwhile, Ali and Zara were having difficulties with the school as well. Numeracy and Literacy Hours had just been nationally imposed by the Government and the teachers were (understandably) unhappy about it, but having no other recourse for their frustration, took it out on the pupils. Ali complained to me that much of the work was boring and that he was spending all of the Numeracy and Literacy Hours doing repetitive work that he could do already. He told me that when he had complained to the teachers about being bored by the work, they told him to blame the Government for forcing them to teach in that way. I offered to deregister him too, but he elected to stay. He wanted to try and beat the system! Typical Ali. I couldn't force him to deregister, so into school he went every day, face set with determination.

He went on strike and refused to pick up a pen during Numeracy and Literacy Hours until they gave him something more interesting to do. They declined his demands and countered by keeping him at his desk through break times and the lunch time period. He then declared he was on hunger strike and refused to eat his lunch (though he'd eat like a horse as soon as he got home). They then put him in solitary confinement in the library, with his lunch and his Numeracy and Literacy work on the desk, telling him he could only come out when he'd finished both. The school library had big, sliding windows that must have looked very tempting to him. He climbed out of one of them and set off for home.

Someone spotted him and the school phoned me. "You know you mentioned you were thinking about home-educating Ali as well as Tom? Umm... are you any closer to making a decision? Because we're having a few problems..." I'd been asking him all term to let me dereg him, as he'd kept me informed about his protest and I knew they couldn't let him win. But he's always been a boy who did things in his own time, his own way. I went to school to collect him. "Sounds like you'd rather be at home," I said to him, in front of 3 guarding teachers who had never looked more like anxious jailers. He agreed, and I took both him and Zara home with me there and then.

Zar had been enjoying school a little more than the boys. She'd always been a chatty, social sort of person and liked being surrounded by friends all day, but was showing dyslexic traits and finding the written work requirements increasingly difficult to comply with. I could see her going the same way as Tom. In the event, due to a few other incidents, she was more than happy to be deregistered.

The four of us sat down together to draw up timetables for term 2. These became increasingly flexible as I struggled in vain to see a glimmer of interest from any of the children, in anything we were learning. I spent weeks running through my huge repertoire of teaching methods. We played games, we role-played, we did puzzles, went on outings, did treasure-hunts, made models, had endless discussions and all the time they kept glancing at the clock, looking forward to the time they could knock off and do their own thing. I realised they needed more time off learning and cut the timetabled sessions down to half-days, so we only studied in the mornings. I gave them carte blanche over the timetable and said we could study anything they wanted to, as long as we were studying something, but the result was still the same. They worked reluctantly, without a hint of curiosity or any sign of enjoyment and slumped in front of the TV as soon as the clock allowed.

I didn't know what to do, but I knew that what we were doing didn't constitute an effective education. We were just going through the motions. The children weren't learning anything - they didn't want to know anything! They never asked spontaneous questions about things, never actively sought knowledge or information. They didn't even seem to take pride in their work. They just wanted to get it done with so they could switch off again. It was immensely frustrating and upsetting for me. I knew they were all bright kids, I'd given up my precious teaching and training to rescue their education. I'd run out of ideas. All I wanted to see was just one little spark of curiosity in any one of them and there was nothing. It was heart-breaking.

The UKHE mailing list saved me. I asked a question and people (Thanks, Sue in Cyprus! And Jan F-W. I'm forever in your debt.) patiently explained about autonomous learning and deschooling. I had lots of questions and anxieties and they answered them all. I explained the theory to the children and they were keen to try it, so we did. The deschooling period was really difficult for me. Someone recently explained it very well on Muddlepuddle: it was more of a learning curve for me than the children. I had to force myself to let go of all my preconceived ideas of what I thought the children should be doing, what constituted learning, and more.

I bit my tongue a thousand times, a million times. Instead of saying "You're watching TV AGAIN???" I started to look at what they were watching and talk to them about it. I could see the interest in their choices. Gradually, over the months, I really got to know them in their own right: as the people they really were, not with the personalities I'd been trying to stamp on them. I started to see that their choices had validity: of course they did! Far more than my choices for them. I also started to realise that they couldn't make proper choices while I'd been setting the parameters. I started to trust their intrinsic knowledge - the built-in blueprint that every child has and naturally works to when properly supported. I started to realise the full extent of the brutal abusiveness of compulsory education.

The boys were into Pokemon cards at the time, and they got hold of some Japanese ones, but couldn't read them, so Ali set about learning Japanese to solve the problem. Within 3 months he could read the cards and a whole lot more. He asked me to arrange some Japanese tuition, so I did. He had 12 lessons and then declared it to be enough. He was fluent in Japanese, verbal and written, by then. Tom became interested in taking things to bits: broken old TVs, computers, radios, anything he could get his hands on. Then he started building computers and could now earn a good living that way if he wanted to. Ali got into learning programming languages and others: German and Russian.

They've both learned things far in excess of anything I could have taught them. Much of the learning took place though the night - because along with deschooling came full autonomy over every aspect of their lives. I stopped setting bedtimes and for a while they were fully nocturnal, though this phase has now passed and they usually put themselves to bed at quite respectable times. I refused to give any other than an "Oh dear, what a pity," reply to complaints of boredom, though I always made sure they had plenty of books, TVs, PCs, offers of trips out etc., to choose from by way of activity. Slowly, they took charge of their own time, grew in confidence and relaxed into good health and happiness.

Zar's learning has been a little bit more difficult to track, but she does get curious, read books, ask questions and generally want to amass skills and find out about things, albeit in a less obvious way than the boys'.

Throughout the whole 6-year period, from full structure to full autonomy I've been submitting complete and honest reports to the LEA, as well as receiving annual visits from them. The local LEA home ed advisor had never heard of autonomous learning and read the books I was reading so as to keep abreast of what was happening. She's seen the results with her own eyes and the proof is there in the detailed reports. She's now fully approving and supportive of autonomous home ed, though I don't think she fully understands it, but I don't think anyone can who hasn't been through the process themselves. I knew visits weren't a legal requirement, nor even, particularly, supplying 'evidence' to LEAs of educational provision (though apparently it's always wise to answer their informal enquiries with some information) but I knew the children's father and his new wife were dead against home education - autonomous learning even more so, and I knew they planned court action as they'd been threatening it for some time. I rightly guessed that favourable annual LEA reports would be invaluable to me in court, so I acquiesced to the LEA's demands for visits and evidence.

If the UK Government and the LEAs have their way, and monitoring and registration of home educators becomes compulsory, I think 'LEA-approved' histories of autonomous provision will become valuable weapons in the armoury of UK home-educators, especially those practising autonomous learning. I also think autonomous home education is a vital movement for the future of our country, because as the school regime tightens up it produces less and less young adults who are capable of thinking for themselves effectively. We're going to need some people who can think and operate 'outside the box'.

posted by Gill at 8:32 AM 15 comments


Blogger funkyhan said...

Thankyou for this story.

What wonderful children you have!

I'm looking forward to autonomously educating my littlies, and this bolsters my confidence and reminds me why :)

3:36 pm, November 18, 2009  

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