Monday, November 19, 2007

Never again

We went to one of our local parks the other day, which contains a Tudor mansion, the gardens of which are undergoing renovation. We spent some time looking at this and chatting to the workers before walking through the woods to the play area. Walking through the trees, we were looking at what grows there at this time of year and discussing the reasons for this. We also discussed the history and development of the area and its current pattern of management. In the play park we talked about the evolution of the health and safety culture, how insurance works and how the two are connected. And we played, of course. There's an excellent little zip wire and a bird's nest swing there, amongst other equipment. We discussed the possibility of building our own zip wire and had a look at their one to get an idea of how we might construct one.

This is all quite a normal day in the life of a home educating family, of course. There was nothing particularly special about this park visit that made it extra-educational or enlightening. But next we went to Sainsbury's and the checkout person asked Lyddie the increasingly inevitable question: "No school today?"

Lyddie just answered "No." I kept quiet and should have remained so on reflection, I think. Her way of handling it was probably far better than mine turned out to be.

"Are you ill?" persisted the woman.

"No," answered Lyddie.

"Oh! Why no school then?"

This is what I shouldn't have said, but did: "She's home-educated." I'm not going to respond in this way again, because by answering her question I justified her right to ask it. She wasn't even asking me, so there was absolutely no reason for me to take it upon myself to wade in and get involved.

Her next question to Lyddie (ignoring me) was: "What have you been doing today then?"

And, even after everything we'd just done at the park Lyddie came out with her standard reply: "Just watching TV."

She always says this to the question of 'What have you been doing?' and it is a bit much to ask of a five year-old to expect them to sum up their day's activities. 'Watching TV' means she can reply without having to think about what she has done. It's an automatic answer and it also has the virtue of being usually true to a small extent, even though it excludes everything else she's been doing. Lyddie usually likes to have Cbeebies on in the background at home while she's doing other things, though it's usually ignored.

Checkout person made an audible intake of breath and we could almost hear her thoughts as well: "*Gasp!* They're truanting then!" So I laughed and said: "She always says that!" and went on to talk about the renovation project at the park. Our interrogator was somewhat mollified but still obviously felt quite confident and right to be in the position of an 'interested member of the community', checking out Lyddie's educational provision.

Well, I'm not going to validate this position any more. Why should I contribute to the insane self-policing of society that says: "Every child should be in school." ? Next time someone asks Lyddie why she's not in school, I'm going to ask them why they're asking and at least force them to admit their suspicions. Even after that I will not supply explanations and will simply see what happens next. A call to the Education Welfare Department? The Police? Bring it on. We did more *education* in the park in that two hours than many school children do in a year, anyway.

Someone just said on one of the home ed lists that the phenomena of spot checks by strangers is increasing and our experience does bear this out. When we deregistered 8 years ago we were hardly ever asked. Now it's almost a daily occurence when we're out. Sometimes we're asked several times in one day to justify our reasons for not being in school.

The sight of a child in the company of its parent in school hours is increasingly treated with hostile suspicion when in fact this should be the natural, default scenario.


Blogger Augustin Moga said...

When I ask my two-and-a-half year old what was she doing all day long (in the evenings; when I get back from work) she always answers: "I had a dream of..." and then continues with either some event that actually happened, or with something that she thinks I'd like to hear. (She's already good at guessing that :-).)

Anyway, I think one way of answering to the inquiries of the 'interested members of the community' is to simply reply by: "What were your kids doing today?". And if they answer I will just add: "Are you sure?".

10:14 am, November 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually we seem to get 'asked' more these days, had'nt really thought about it until now.

When Z& M were about 5 (at school) if I or anyone asked them what they had done that day they always said 'Nothing'!!!

10:19 am, November 19, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Yes I think most young children's minds probably aren't geared up to answer that question well, are they? I remember being five and the days seemed so long that I couldn't possibly remember what I'd done a few hours ago. And anyway, I was too busily immersed in whatever was happening *now* to be thinking about what had happened *then*. But many people forget what it's like to be five, don't they?

Augustin - good answer, if they've got children! I often do work the question of whether they have into the conversation and this invaribaly leads to them justifying their reasons for not home educating. *sigh..*

10:29 am, November 19, 2007  
Blogger Jenny said...

I'm also encountering this constant 'community policing' of my children when out and it infuriates me. I answer for mine because often they look at me as if to say" well go on then..." but sometimes they will say "we're home educated" and often the response is mainly positive( esp from the people in the sweet shop who offered them the opportunity to 'help'!) but as I blogged recently occasionally its been negative to the point of upsetting and slating our choice in front of the children which further upsets them.

I agree, "why are you asking?" is probably a good challenge to the questioners! Maybe we'll give it a try next time the kids look at me with a panicked face!

12:17 pm, November 19, 2007  
Blogger Lisa G said...

It's strange but I've only been asked that question twice since we started home edding in January, each time I've let the questioner make their own assumptions and refused to elaborate. However, my mother gets asked this every time she's out with my daughter during school hours, in this part of the world it must be even less acceptable for children to be in the company of a grandparent during school hours!

1:42 pm, November 19, 2007  
Blogger Mary said...

Although my son is now at school, when we were home-edding I found that questioning extremely intrusive and can understand why kids often don't answer, why should they, when we don't always want to answer strangers questions. And the fact that home-ed kids are accompanied by a parent makes it more silly to me, shouldn't they be worried about the unaccompanied kids? In my view the child is not truant if they are with their parent (of course maybe the law disagrees with that).

2:57 pm, November 19, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

I answer to protect the children from the questioning too Jenny, which I think I will continue to do - I'll just answer in a different way. Sorry to hear you've had a negative response. I'll go to your blog and read about that.

Twice in 10 months isn't bad is it, Lisa? Maybe you radiate some kind of magical question-repelling vibes! Lucky you, if so.

Mary, I quite agree! But in some of the media hype about truancy I seem to think there were 'shocking' figures repeated about the high proportion of children who were actually seen to be out with their parents in the daytime. Shock, horror. I think family life is now seen as being such a nefarious activity that it can only take place with impunity after the hours of darkness.

3:14 pm, November 19, 2007  
Blogger Allie said...

A friend of mine was 'truancy swept' today. She saw the police officer point at her child from the van and then it screeched to a halt and out they got, to question her. It reminds me of the child catcher in Chitty Bang Bang.

I think this govt sanctioned harrassment makes people feel justified in questioning others. Like they might get a 'good citizen' badge, or something.

3:47 pm, November 19, 2007  
Blogger Clare said...

I quite fancy replying with 'why do you think they're not in school?' just to see what they say! Hasn't happened to us yet - Flopsy is of an age and size where she can get away with being pre-school age quite easily.

4:04 pm, November 19, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Allie, that's horrible. Most alarming for your friend and the child(ren), I assume. So we've slipped straight from truancy being a crime, to any child being out of school being a crime now? Or at least treated as though it is, which amounts to the same thing. Aren't there any harrassment laws to protect us from this kind of behaviour? I agree with the link you make between that and the courage 'normal' people feel to question us now too.

Clare, you can see the person is usually trying to think of allowable reasons why the child might not be in school. That preamble of 'Are you ill? Is school closed today?' type questions is quite usual, before the: "So, why...?"

That's when I'm going to ask: "Why do you want to know, please?"

4:20 pm, November 19, 2007  
Blogger Elaine said...

I don't go it would stunt my intellectual growth and limit my opportunities for social interaction.

7:33 pm, November 19, 2007  
Blogger Elaine said...

oops punctuation

7:39 pm, November 19, 2007  
Blogger Daddybean said...

Odd, maybe I look scary or something but I can't remember the last time we were asked anything like that.It's a rare occurrence anyway.

Pretty much all people we contact regularly in the village know we home educate anyway - though not in the local towns, supermarkets etc.

Normally if we have been asked something then SB usually answers for herself 'I'm home educated', which seems to satisfy/flummox most people as they shut up after that.

10:18 pm, November 19, 2007  
Blogger Mieke said...

*big grin here*
My two older children don't get asked anymore, but my youngest (12) gets The Question regularly. And she does NOT want me to answer for me. We've been through all the 'they don't have the right to ask' and all that, but she insists to answer them. She's proud to be home educated, she says. Of course I do as I'm told and I gladly step back when The Question comes up (and feel sorry in advance for the poor person). She somehow always manages to pick up on the intention of the question, and her answers vary from "Do I look like I'm stupid" to "I don't have time to go to school, I'm learning all the time" to an extensive summing up of all the advantages of HE over school and the freedom to choose and all that. I don't know where she gets it from. But when she gets on her soap box, you'd better not stand in the cue at the same till :)).

12:05 am, November 20, 2007  
Blogger Mieke said...

uuhh, I meant to write: "She does NOT want me to answer for her". Of course.

12:08 am, November 20, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Hmmm. One of the problems is that although she's only 5-and-a-quarter, Lyddie's about as big as an average 7yo. So people talk to her as though she is one and expect 7yo answers. The assumptions people make!

Mieke, your youngest sounds great. Our Zara has done similar and is quite miffed now that she obviously looks to old to be challenged now, even though she's still 15.

9:39 am, November 20, 2007  
Blogger Mieke said...

:) One EO meeting people were warning each other about truancy patrols coming up and Myrna announced that she'd go into town especially, and challenge them, ask them questions. D'ya think Zara would like to join her? I think together they'd be unbeatable ;).
Erm, should I add here that she didn't go that time? Couldn't very well let her go on her own, I did not have that same craving, so I managed to persuade her to do something else... not very child-lead, I know. But I don't feel guilty about it :).

9:42 pm, November 20, 2007  
Blogger Mieke said...

aaargghh, child-led!

9:43 pm, November 20, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

LOL Mieke :-)

6:54 pm, November 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When Becs was in school she used to respond to my questions with "I had to do it! Do I have to speak about it as well!"

Lani is disappointed if people don't ask her 'The Question'. They don't often let her down (!) but when they do, you can be sure she'll pipe up with "I bet you are wondering why I'm not in school!" and then bore them rigid, in great detail, with how great it is to be home educated and what she gets up to, and how she teaches herself, and 'wouldn't they be surprised what a person can learn ...' etc. You cannot shut her up`!

I used to feel nervous when she was asked that question (cos no-one will ever ask the parent directly!!!) Now I feel more apologetic! LOL! ... with that sort of Wallace & Gromit woggly eyes, tense grin sort of expression. Mostly, I think it is really funny because they certainly bite off more than they can chew!


11:13 pm, November 24, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

That's a great attitude to have! :-)

11:17 am, November 25, 2007  
Blogger mamadillo said...

I'm a bit 'Devil's advocate' with this, cos isn't this the kind of community concern that we'd like to see? Just, yunno, misdirected because it's *unusual* to see children of Lyddie's apparent age out with their parent(s). So, yes, it's none of their business really, and it's a bit aggravating being asked, but in the big scheme of things, one more person knows home-ed is legal and one more person is caring about the welfare, educational or otherwise, of a child.

2:06 am, December 17, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

I'm happy to talk to people about home ed. It's the imposition of school hours on non-school living that irks me. It feels increasingly like a curfew. And making a negative assessment of a child's welfare because it's out with its parent in school hours is just bizarre, when you think about it. Probably because of stories like this, on one of which I would LOVE to see a mention of the parent's duties under section 7!

10:20 am, December 17, 2007  

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