Monday, March 05, 2007

"A logical, structured course of study."

From the transcript on Carlotta's blog of Tony Mooney's interview with Radio London:
EN: You know what did scare me about the report that Anna brought us, it did sound as if the children were in that wrong of me?

TM: The children are in control, yes. That's my experience. They are dictating how their education should go and what they want to do and what they don't want to do.

EN: That's not a child's place though is it?

TM: I don't think it is. I think when youngsters get out of the primary stage [they] should be following a logical, structured course of study and it's not the case in many of the families I go to.

I'd like to ask Mr Mooney why he thinks secondary school-aged students "should be following a logical, structured course of study", but not primary school-aged pupils. And how exactly does he envisage the transition taking place from one educational method to the other?

Here I think Mr Mooney demonstrates his complete lack of full-time home-educating parenting experience which might, if he had it, qualify him to publicly express such sweeping statements.

In order to impose "a logical, structured course of study" on a young person of secondary school age, one would have to have first established a relationship of 'power-over' authority with the person. This would be impossible, in other words, if the child had spent its early years in educational freedom.

Not only impossible - it would be highly undesirable and I'd be quite nonplussed to come across a parent who wished to suddenly impose "a logical, structured course of study" on their secondary school-aged child after years of autonomy, because it would be a major step backwards in terms of the child's educational development.

By the time my three teens reached secondary school age they were undergoing their own child-led logical, structured courses of study as, indeed, they still are. I had a chat with them about it today and one of them just pointed out that it would be impossible to learn in an illogical, unstructured way because the act of learning always requires logic and structure.

The point at issue, then, is whether it's the adult or the child who creates the logic and the structure of the child's learning. Authoritarian, school-type learning - the only kind of which Mr Mooney seems to have real experience or knowledge - calls for the adult to create the structure and logic, and for the child to follow obediently, being led by the nose through a maze of information. An autonomously educated child, of course, learns to create his own logic and structure. Indeed, he has no choice. In this way, he becomes able to find his own way through any maze of information he chooses, any time, without needing to be given constant direction.

I can't see this as being anything other than a great advantage of autonomous learning over schooling - unless, of course, you are a government or a large employer in need of an obedient and unquestioning, docile workforce. But from the child's point of view with regard to the depth and scope of the learning that takes place, it's undoubtedly the best way.
"They are dictating how their education should go and what they want to do and what they don't want to do."

And this is bad for a young person because...? I just can't see how it could be. Learning is only truly effective when it takes place as a result of curiosity or student-led necessity. Faced with a compulsion to absorb information they neither need nor want to know, most people (young or old) would quite naturally close their mind and refuse to absorb it. My Mooney has been a headmaster, a teacher and a private tutor, as well as a home education 'inspector'. I'm amazed that he has failed to realise this and I'd love to hear a detailed rationale of his viewpoint.

I've been reading some of his articles today on various education-related issues and found the following quotes contained within:
" Apparently there are no critical brain periods for learning. There are no windows of opportunity that slam shut for learning the culturally transmitted skills that children learn at school. So although children in our culture normally learn to read, write and become numerate by certain ages, there is no reason to believe that there is the existence of critical periods for these skills. What is culturally normal is not biologically determined, a principle that ought to silence the critics of Summerhill School."

"Parents should realise that children thrive in a wide variety of physical and cultural environments and that the best thing they can do for their children is to be highly sceptical of any claims to the contrary."

"As a secondary school headteacher, I watched with concern during the 1980s and 90s as the demands of politicians for better measurable school results raised the stakes for teenagers at GCSE. I saw at first hand just how important these examinations became in terms of self-identity and self-worth and I now believe that they are a hindrance to the academic development of our young people."

Hmmm. Am I alone in thinking the above quotes don't exactly square with the opinions he's been expressing on the radio over the weekend?


Blogger Tim said...

"Parents should realise that children thrive in a wide variety of physical and cultural environments and that the best thing they can do for their children is to be highly sceptical of any claims to the contrary."

Now that is highly quotable, just the sort of thing you would expect from Gatto, or an EO hand out.

You are being so unfair, the guy is probably being paid several hundred pounds an hour as a DfES consultant, so of course he will say whatever they want. I'm on his side on this Gill, but then I've always been a bit of a tart too. :)

7:08 pm, March 05, 2007  
Blogger Allie said...

Goodness! Something must have happened to change his mind. What could that be?

7:09 pm, March 05, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

I think he wrote those articles before he became a HE inspector. I do wonder whether some HErs don't do themselves, their offspring and the rest of us many favours in the process of being 'inspected'.

By this I mean that many of us are conditioned by a school-induced image of what learning should look like, so we don't necessarily recognise other kinds of learning when they take place in our HEd children.

Often it does seem like they're 'not learning much' when they're taking time to process information or skills, and parents then convey their concerns to the 'inspector', which results in the kind of official view that TM portrays.

Autonomous learning IS effective and it DOES work, but it rarely looks like school-type learning so goes unrecognised by people who haven't done the necessary research.

But surely a HE 'inspector' would do the research...?

You'd think so anyway.

7:25 pm, March 05, 2007  
Anonymous Annie said...

This is from an article he wrote for the Times in 1988:

Too many classrooms are based upon the dictum that teacher knows best and that the only relevant knowledge is that which teacher passes on. Research shows that 70% of talk in class is teacher-talk. Pupils are being talked at every day for five days a week. It sounds boring and it is, especially for pupils of low ability. If truancy is to be beaten, pupils must be given a chance to talk and plan their own work.

7:46 pm, March 05, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Annie, that's a brilliant find :-)

8:28 pm, March 05, 2007  
Blogger Ruth said...

From my experience of HE inspectors and autonomy they admit it works but still wish we wouldn't do it. It makes them nervous:)

"I do wonder whether some HErs don't do themselves, their offspring and the rest of us many favours in the process of being 'inspected'."

Well I am glad you brought that up and not me lol but it is true. Some don't. I think it is them he is hanging his whole argument on. He dos seem open to other views tho - seems he has ahuge conflict of interest in his own mind.

8:44 pm, March 05, 2007  
Anonymous Clare said...

I just wanted to say that your blog is so interesting - wonderfully informative and you seem to parent along totally the same lines as we do, although we're several years behind you! It's so reassuring to see autonomous living working through the older years of childhood. Thank you!



12:18 pm, March 06, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Hmmm yes, you're probably onto something there Ruth. I wonder if he's open to persuasion then? Or at least discreditation, given his conflicting statements.

Hi Clare, well thanks! I'm glad you found something to interest you here :-)

7:20 pm, March 06, 2007  
Anonymous Cyberevolution said...

Um....From what I have read here, this guy needs to do his homework, on himself - That or maybe he should consider becoming a driving instructor, with U-Turns like this, he'd be a natural!

9:36 am, March 07, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi gill!
I'm not wanting to debate the issue you have raised against the fellow in question, rather I'd like to support your aproach to home schooling.
It is so rare in this day and age to see parents taking an active, interested role in their childs education. I intend to home shcool my son also. Love reading your thoughts.

Zoe xxx

9:49 am, March 07, 2007  
Blogger Allie said...

I think that new home edders can make the mistake of thinking that the nice person who comes round from the LEA is actually there to help them. They then share all their worries in a rather trusting fashion.
If you try to warn people off from doing this you tend to come across as paranoid. But I know that people can unwittingly open the door to a lot of intrusion - and end up really undermined. They also become the 'horror stories' that LEA staff like to mention...

11:11 am, March 07, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Cyber - agreed!

Hi Zoe - that's nice of you, and lucky for your son!

Allie, I think you hit the nail on the head there. When new HErs ask my advice after deregistering from school, I usually recommend they ask the LEA for a settling-in period of at least 6 months before they start providing information about their provision. Hopefully by then, the parent will have gained enough confidence to be able to put themselves across in the right way. It is sometimes difficult for them to see the LEA as being anything other than a kind of benevolent caring parent, initially.

Also, if its a deregistering family, they'll typically have had months if not years of dealing with the school's ed welfare team in an attempt to try to resolve the problems, so the tendency is to continue seeing Ed Welfare people in the same 'school police' light, even though legally and practically the relationship (and often the people involved too) have completely changed upon deregistration.

It can be hard going to put all this across in a way the person understands along with all the necessary reassurance, information, etc. - but well worth the trouble I think.

The local Ed Welfare team gives families my contact details as a very 'last resort' if issues can't be resolved, before the parent is prosecuted for truancy, which is good, but I wish they'd do it earlier. I think they are obliged to inform parents of their right to home educate but they rarely do until all efforts to keep the child in school have failed.

In that respect, TM is quite right to say that some parents HE just to avoid truancy prosecutions, BUT I don't think this is a bad thing, and I blame the school system for not being able to accommodate some children, the government for maintaining draconian education and truancy laws, and the LEAs for not promoting HE more. The implication that lower income parents can't home educate well is preposterous. Income is not a factor. The parent only needs to be interested in their child's development and to care for the child.

Whew, that was a long comment!

3:55 pm, March 07, 2007  

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