Wednesday, January 31, 2007

State reformation

The State is apparently undergoing a major reformation. Did you notice? Well, I think we all did, in increments. But here's a lovely 'presentation pack' from the Cabinet Office website explaining the whole thing, at last.

Perhaps this is what Tony Blair meant when he described his recent time in office as 'the most productive so far' in his interview last week with Jon Sopel on the BBC's Politics Show. ("I think in many ways actually, the last eighteen months has been our most radical, most bold on the domestic agenda.") And on Yesterday's Today show on Radio 4, he told John Humphrys that Labour 'still had to do more to address the growing wealth gap and improve "social mobility," particularly for the "10% at the bottom".'

(In the same interview he also said it would "not be very democratic" to stand down earlier than he had planned. Hold the front page! TB cares about democracy? *Drums fingers, waiting for referendum on Iraq...*)

So, back to the state reformation. It's a fascinating document and sets out clearly the changing role of the state over the past century. I was especially interested in the importance given to 'changing social attitudes': the document certainly gives more weight to public opinion than I thought mattered to the Powers That Be, 'decreasing deference' being a term used several times throughout.

So the state recognises very well that the nature of power and authority is changing and seeks to re-position itself accordingly. How? By sticks and carrots, of course. The only way it knows how; the only way it can, given that it is a body of power, in a position of authority. The old way, that it admits hasn't been working recently. ("We are increasing autonomy for good providers." Someone show them a dictionary: autonomy isn't something that can be bestowed by increments, with conditions attached.) They're just planning to get more determined and devious about it.

More public consultations... "The citizen is beginning to be viewed as a partner in decision making." Beginning? Erm.. isn't democracy supposed to mean that we always were? And the state is apparently going to be an enabling rather than a providing state.

But the most interesting phrase in the whole presentation is this one: "Growing awareness of the socio-economic consequences of parenting". The socio-economic consequences of parenting. What are these and who has a growing awareness of them and why? And hands up, those parents who felt a chill run down their spine when they read that phrase? I certainly did.

And we apparently have an 'HMT Parenting Fund [which] is managed by the Third sector and gives grants to frontline parenting support organisations'. The use of battle terminology like 'frontline' gives the game away, in my opinion. This is war: a strong state needs weakened family structures. Strong family structures make for a weakened state. This document, and countless others, outline the future incursions and invasions into our territory. 'Interventions', as they're diplomatically known.

Blogs even get a page to themselves:

- though I couldn't help noticing they missed out the sentence beginning "At their worst.." ;-)

So with voter 'apathy' at its height, could concerns about public engagement in debate in the form of the lack of a real mandate for power be the new 'enabling' state's Achilles' Heel? Or, as Richard Littlejohn observed in Tuesday's Daily Mail, talking about the new website set up by the Law Commission to find out which laws the public would like to be changed, would "any idea that the public could have a say in framing laws [be] anathema to those in power"?

This all makes me think, yet again, about the nature of power and how it really works. Hopefully I'll be back with more on this when it occurs to me. I'm certainly planning a powerpoint presentation along the lines of 'The Family Fights Back.' Because it's about time it did.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"Graduates lacking the skills for work"

According to this news story, "Britain is awash with vacancies for graduates, yet employers are struggling to find university leavers with the right skills - or the right attitude - for the job.

"The main challenge for employers in filling positions, said the AGR, was finding applicants with the right combination of skills, particularly those with "soft" skills such as team-working or leadership."

And Laura Clark's coverage of the same story here, reports that "Many have such poor communication skills that bosses are worried about allowing them to answer the phone, sit in meetings or give presentations. One graduate going for a job at an investment bank began his interview saying: 'You alright mate?' "

I've mentioned this elsewhere in the past few days, but the local builder who employs my sons when they need some spare cash, says they're the first young people he's worked with who haven't needed constant nannying supervision in all the decades he's been in business. They're also the only home educated children he's ever employed, and I don't think that two facts are at all unconnected.

In fact I think this is one of the great unsung benefits of home education and one of the great problems with mass schooling. A family-centred, home-based, autonomous education allows for regular discussion and debate in small groups and 1:1, which is a vital aspect of learning to be an adult, to work with other people, to understand and follow instructions and to be able to communicate well.

To be really useful in many jobs an employee needs to engage with the work being done and see the larger picture. He has to want to be there and be in the habit of using his brain during his waking hours. My teens have spent their home education working on their own projects in a self-directed way, on their own and with other people. They're used to collaborating, negotiating and problem-solving. They haven't had a textbook, pre-written curriculum or syllabus to follow, so they've had to work out the direction of their learning and activities for themselves and they do so without question.

But these aren't special abilities. These are skills most young people would develop if they underwent the same education. What full-time compulsory schooling does, in my opinion, is to thwart the development of independent intellect. A school-life full of "Copy this down from the board," "Turn to page 546.." and other instructions of the kind teachers of large classes need to make does not help students to develop the necessary skills they need for adult life.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Of *course* we do maths! ;-)

Lyddie: Mum! Guess what! I know how old my hands are!

Me: Oh! How old are your hands?

Lyddie: My hands are... *pause for dramatic effect* ... 2 years old!

Me: Oh are they? How do you know they're 2 years old?

Lyddie: Because I'm 4, so they must both be 2! Look! 2 *points at one hand*.. and 2 *points at the other hand... is 4! *points at her face*.

Me: Oh! Ok.

I mean, how can you argue with that kind of logic?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Parenting strategies?

The local councils in England and Wales all appear to have developed, or be in the process of developing, a 'parenting strategy'. (Something I read on the NYHEC list brought this to my attention.)

Am I the only person who wonders why? Local councils are local councils, not parents, so why do they all suddenly need a parenting strategy?

Googling the term produces the following info:

"The aim of our parenting strategy is to make sure that every parent in Manchester has the confidence and skills they need to give their child the best possible start in life," says Manchester City Council.

"The strategy identifies support for parents as a key preventative theme. The challenging task of parenting is recognised as everyone’s business," says Leicester County Council. [My emphasis.]

"The Parenting Strategy for Sheffield, currently being developed for the city’s 0-19+ Partnership Board, was the subject of a conference this morning where professionals working with children and families across the city will consider how they support parents to look after their children," says Sheffield City Council.

... and lots more, along the same lines.

I wonder what the government itself has to say about parenting strategies, if anything publicly accessible.

Hmm, well firstly Alan Johnson (previously Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Competitiveness, I see. Oh, the irony! ^^ ) is in charge of it.

I lost the trail then. He's working with someone called Parmjit Dhanda on Parenting Strategy, but I can't find anything else about it that doesn't lead to specific, guidance about things like school exclusions. I don't think that's what this is about.

Here's Manchester's glossy colour brochure of their parenting strategy. Is this the end result of the Climbie inquiry then, and Every Child Matters?

Well, nothing much wrong with that, except (maybe it's just me being picky) but it does seem to unnecessarily state the obvious and entirely overlook parental instincts. Not too keen on the early weaning bit, but possibly I'm reading it wrongly.

It's this bit that worries me more...

And there we have it. Good parenting is primarily about making sure children go to school and imposing discipline.

So, the parenting strategy initiative isn't so much a strategy for parenting, as a strategy for redefining parenthood.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I think it's this:

Organic learning.

organic adj. 5 a structural, inherent. b constitutional, fundamental. 6 organised, systematic, coordinated (an organic whole)

Hmm, maybe not then.

*Gets thesaurus out*

Synergistic learning!

synergism n. (also synergy) the combined effects of drugs, organs, etc., that exceeds the sum of their individual effects. synergistic adj. [Gk sunergos working together (as SYN-, ergon work)]

Could be that. I'll go with it until something better comes up.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Interactive home ed

Not sure whether interactive is the right word. Intermeshing, maybe. Networked. Hmmm. No, none of them are the right words, but here's the thing:

Lyddie is playing on a Tigger PC game which has stages that she gets stuck on sometimes. I can't help her: I'm no good at those kinds of games, so she goes to fetch an older sibling who immediately breaks off from what they're doing and comes to do that bit of the game for her.

I'm not sure what Ali is doing re: his own work, but he's currently in the basement teaching his older brother Tom how to do a tricky bit of 'coding' at Tom's request. I don't even know for sure what 'coding' is. Something to do with programming. For the Internet? I don't know.

Earlier Tom tried to explain it to me but we got sidetracked into discussing the merits of Windows OS (none, according to Tom) compared to the rapidly evolving shareware and also the Apple system. The conversation got very deep on his part, about the international financial and political repercussions of Microsoft's stranglehold on the market, and the effects on programming development in general, including the difficulties software developers face in writing programmes that can be compatable with the various operating systems.

I have to say that my contribution to the above discussion amounted to nothing more than asking a couple of questions and it was definitely I, not Tom, who came out of it the more enlightened.

Zara is communicating with someone online this afternoon using her new graphics tablet. This involves games like chess and mah-jong, somehow. I'm not sure quite how, but it's obviously compelling and important to her because she's been at it for hours.

And I'm blogging, doing some housework, some reading, some facilitating, some discussing. Just whatever needs doing.

I love the fact that our home ed doesn't involve someone being in charge, or setting the pace, activities or goals for other people, or people being too proud to ask for help or to admit they don't know something. Sometimes debates can get heated. But that's ok, it's soon peaceful again and heated debates are fun and exciting. Sometimes people get frustrated. But someone else helps them or they work out how to do the thing in the end.

As a family we keep coming back, this week, to one theme of discussion: is it good or bad to contribute to a state you might not agree with? Is a better system than our current political one even possible? If so, what would it be and how would it work? Every day this rolls on to another stage, with Tom, Ali and me taking slightly different lines and Zara throwing in the odd challenging question or pearl of wisdom.

Teaching and learning works best in this organic way, in my experience. Better than restricting it to a linear, ageist structure. And the learning that's taking place is rapid, exciting and 100% relevant.

I just wish I could think of a better name for it. Suggestions, anyone?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

With apologies to Manda...

... I hope she won't mind, but I thought I'd borrow a quote from her great blog and bring it over here for discussion, instead of writing a great long blog-post comment over there!

"Well I have been thinking and thinking. I love the idea of autonomy- but what I don't get, but really admire in those who have done it. is the ability to let go and trust that your children will learn. You see I wonder if in part it really means you don't actually care about what your child learns. That you don't care if they feel it is important to learn all about Spongebob Squarepants. I don't know if i will ever reach the point of just letting go."

Well yes, for me it was a pure leap of faith. A very scary thing to do, but I didn't have much choice. School obviously, after 5 years of trying (in Tom's case. 4 in Ali's and 2 in Zara's) hadn't done enough to interest them in learning. On the contrary: it had actively put them off learning. Six months of every possible kind of educational stimulation at home after deregistration hadn't worked either. I was still looking at three glassy-eyed, bored, unself-motivated children who only wanted to get to the end of learning time so they could go do their own thing. Yes, it probably was Spongebob Squarepants or the equivalent.

I wanted my curious, motivated, interested-in-the-world preschool brightsparks back! What I'd got in exchange, after a few years of schooling, was intellectual shutdown. They'd gone on brain-strike. Knowing what I do now about educational motivation I can well understand why.

So it was sheer desperation that made me study educational theory and led me to the theory of autonomous learning, and we'd tried absolutely everything else I knew about, so we didn't have much to lose.

And it worked - very slowly and definitely. Well, they watched rubbish TV nonstop for about 3 months, then one by one they got bored with that and started looking for other things to interest them. At first they were very careful to avoid anything even vaguely schooly or educational, but when they realised they could do learning stuff without me getting visibly excited about it and starting to take control, they got more confident and now they spend most of their time working and learning in easily as academic a sense as school, but without the coercion. And they're interested again! The vital spark of curiosity came back: that was the thing the schooling had extinguished, which I knew was necessary to get back in order for them to be able to lead fun, interesting, real lives.

Allowing my children to become autonomous learners was possibly the most frightening and yet, with hindsight, the best thing I ever did for them.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Getting a little head around the concept of death

"You see, Mum, when things die, they have to go and live underground."

This is where Lyddie is currently at regarding her understanding of death. Our rabbit gave us cause to worry yesterday (though he's ok now) and we got to talking, between we older people, about how old he was and we couldn't expect him to live for ever.

We talked about whereabouts in the field we'll bury him when he dies, how deep the hole will have to be, what kind of marking stone we'll make and whether we'll plant a tree on top or not. Lyddie was just quietly doing her thing in the room: it never occured to any of us to offer her any special explanations.

Later in the evening she came to offer me her own explanation, as above.

I did briefly consider the possibility of explaining to her that a thing can't *live* anywhere after it's dead but quickly dismissed it, because I don't even know if that's true in every sense. Also I suspect the understanding of such a concept needs to happen naturally, in its own time.

Meanwhile the rabbit is hopping around again, chewing carrots :-) He's eight-and-a-half years old! Not bad for a rabbit.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Govt agrees: we don't need no education

The government is apparently "planning to publish a 21st-century songbook for all schools - made up of 30 children's songs. Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for Education has encouraged all schools to get pupils to vote for the songs they would like to see included in the songbook. He is keen that the songbook reflect the UK's diverse ethnic communities and the gamut of musical genres."

I'm sure I just heard the very same Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, telling Mark Lawson on this evening's Front Row, when asked, that it would be perfectly fine by him if Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall was included in the songbook.

Here's the voting page for the songbook, and here are the glorious lyrics to the song, in case anyone needed their memory refreshing :-)

We dont need no education.
We dont need no thought control.
No dark sarcasm in the classroom.
Teacher, leave those kids alone.
Hey, teacher, leave those kids alone!
All in all its just another brick in the wall.
All in all you're just another brick in the wall.

They don't actually need any other songs in this book, do they?

Just that one.

Monday, January 15, 2007

New wonderdrug, promotional video

Gah, it won't load for me. Here's the link if you need it.

Highly recommended viewing, anyway.

In praise of autonomous home ed ( - again!)

I've just spent the most delicious 20 mins back in bed with Lyddie after she woke, having a story 'read' to me: Mr Clumsy. She 'reads' them to me by memory, after I've read them to her, and she gets all the words mixed up in the most adorable way, e.g. "'Whoops!' said a wuffled voice from inside the laundry basket." I don't know how a muffled voice becomes a wuffled voice in her mind, but it always does!

Then she stretches languidly - at 10.30am, and declares that she feels like getting up. I've been up since about 8ish today, pottering around while they slept. Ali just got up, removed a caught mouse from a humane trap and fixed his sister's PC. He's gone off with the camera now. I don't know what he's planning to photograph but he asked me some technical details about how it worked that I didn't know the answer to, so I gave him the manual as well.

I haven't seen the other teens yet, but I guess Tom will have worked late into the night on his graphic design project and Zara just seems to need a lot of sleep at the moment. They go in phases with their sleep patterns and are very healthy and relaxed for being allowed to do so. Zar's latest craze is knitting, so we're off to buy more wool soon as well as other things.

I love this way of living and can't imagine ever going back to living by the clock and the timetable. Especially in respect of sleeping and waking: it seems, with hindsight, barbaric to wake a child in order to get them to school or to start lessons, though I imagine a person's sleep-cycle can be successfully manipulated to fit requirements. This always seemed difficult though in the few years my teens were at school as young children. We were invariably the last to arrive and mornings were definitely not pleasant. Maybe there's some knack to the-bit-before-school/work that I never quite grasped, even though I am a morning person and am often up by choice from 5 or 6am.

This brings to mind the recent publication of Neuroscience research by Prof Russell Foster, a "chronobiologist" at Oxford University, about which he says: "The teenage brain is a "work in progress" and needs extra sleep," but I would contend that a brain - and indeed a body - of any age is a "work in progress" and needs as much sleep as it happens to need, whenever it needs it.

It also needs, ideally, to be free to follow its interests and natural curiosity and to learn what, when and how it wants to learn at the perfect time in its unique development. This is surely the most "efficient full-time education suitable to age, ability and aptitude, and to any special educational needs," from which a person could possibly benefit.

Friday, January 12, 2007

And now for something controversial

The Commission for Social Care Inspection has just published their State of Social Care report, in which it claims that "Individuals and families are increasingly having to find and pay for their own care."

Well, here's a new idea: Instead of putting your children into full-time state-funded daycare from as early an age as possible, so that you can go out to work and buy things you might not actually need, thereby becoming less familiar with and more isolated from them as they grow up so that by the time they're adults you're all essentially strangers; instead of spending your children's childbearing years reclaiming your own youth, working for more stuff you might not need, going off on holidays you really, if you're honest, might not even enjoy that much and becoming even more distanced from your family so that by the time you really need them they barely know you and anyway are following your example and busy having 'lives of their own'; Instead of putting off having children because they're expensive or not convenient or you never quite 'met the right person'... try doing the opposite!

If everyone lived a more natural family life instead of thoughtlessly living by state-imposed, state-serving (by 'state' I really mean corporate business interests) mantras like 'every child must go to school', 'relative poverty is a serious problem' and so on, the numbers of elderly people left reliant on care from stangers would be drastically reduced. In fact, strong, home-based family networks tend to look out for their neighbours too, so the reliance on state care would be virtually eliminated. In fact, reliance on the state would be virtually eliminated! And then where would we be? ;-)

In a much better place than we are now, in my opinion, with far fewer problems.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Is it me? Or is BT now stark staring bonkers?

The following phone call has just ensued between me and a BT operative. Honestly. Not one word of a lie.

"Could I interest you in a new deal that will save you £3 a quarter on your BT line rental?"

"Erm.. maybe, if you're quick. What does it involve?"

"Well, you were paying us by direct debit, but then you stopped. If you go back to paying by direct debit I can arrange the deduction."

"Yeah well I did plan to go back to paying by direct debit after I got my next bill."

"I can send you that bill now. You have £55 outstanding. If you pay that by direct debit within 14 days we can negotiate the discount."

"£55 outstanding? How can that be? I cancelled the direct debit because I was in credit to you. You sent a cheque for the credit you owed me and now we're square."

"Ah yes, you're still £55 in credit to us. So if you send us the £55 within 14 days we can negotiate the discount.."

"Wait a minute. I owe you £55, and you owe me £55?"

"Yes thats right."

"So actually neither of us owes each other anything?"

"Well your credit amount and your debit amount are two different things."

"Yes but they do cancel each other out."

"But we can't just do that so easily. If you send us £55 within the 14 days.."

"Why would I send you £55, when you owe me £55?"

"Well I can arrange to first release the £55 credit balance to you if necessary. It will reach your bank account within the next 5 says. You will then be able to pay the £55 outstanding on your bill within 14 days and we can..."

"This is silly, isn't it?"

"Er.. pardon?"

"It doesn't make sense and no matter how much commission you're on to negotiate this deal, it isn't going to make sense. You send me £55 so I can send you £55 back? It's just silly!" I was audibly laughing by this point.

"If I can just explain.."

"No thanks, just send me my normal quarterly bill when it's due. I'll make my own arrangements to pay then."


I put the phone down. I would have listened to more, but I was worried it might be contagious.

That tricky concept of time

I've been fascinated in recent weeks with the way Lyddie's mind is developing. I always am, but she's been especially interesting lately in getting to grips with her understanding of how time works.

I don't mean time on a clock, although she's making progress there too, but in the past-present-future sense.

A few weeks ago she was saying things like "When I was your age, Mummy, I used to drive the car and you used to sit in the back," and I didn't argue with her because - well, who's to say she's wrong? I'm still not 100% convinced that time always flows in the way we conventionally assume it does. She might have been having some kind of future-memory of me being very old and her being grown up. She might have been being imaginative and just confusing it with memory. I really don't know.

But something - I'm trying to think what - got her thinking about the ageing process. Oh, she asked me what I would look like when I was an old lady, I think. Something like that.

"Much like I do now I think, but more wrinkly and with white hair," I said, - and she burst into tears!

"I don't want you to have white hair! I'll miss your black hair!"

"Well it will happen very slowly - you'll hardly notice. And I have some white hairs already: look! They're ok, aren't they?"

"Yes but I don't want you to get any more. And will your hair stay long or be short and curly?"

Ahhh of course, old ladies mostly have short curly hair, don't they? Dear me.

"No, it will stay long. Just like it is now. Maybe even longer."

She was happy about that, but has asked similar questions since, just to check. The thing is, she's suddenly realised things and people do change with time, but she worried that it might be a sudden change and that everything might suddenly become different and unrecognisable. Quite a reasonable concern, for a four year old IMO.

The fact that she's wondering how the progress of time works is a big shift for her. This is the best thing about home ed, I think. Being there and having those conversations and watching the mental developments happen never stops fascinating me. The human mind is the most amazing, wonderful thing - far too precious to be locked in a classroom and subjected to a national curriculum.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

But why is nobody asking why?

I’ve read and seen the news story, reported in various quarters, about David Milliband asserting this week that “There is no evidence organic food is better for you than conventional food,” and seen the standard replies from the Soil Association et al, predictably saying well actually they think it probably is..

BUT it seems very strange to me that nobody is asking why our Secretary of State for the Environment has suddenly popped up to share his opinion on this matter, seemingly out of the blue. I didn’t notice a recent clamour of people questioning whether there was any evidence that organic food was better than conventionally grown produce – did you? So isn’t it slightly suspicious that Mr Milliband should decide to try to convince us that there isn’t?

I think so.

If I was a cynical person, I’d be looking out for more bizarre, seemingly random ‘public service’ announcements of this nature in the next few months, quickly followed by yet another public consultation pantomime on the subject of GM foods – courtesy of Her Majesty’s Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - sponsored by Monsanto.


Tim said...

I think there are two issues.

1) Is organic food better for you, i.e. objectively healthier? As far as I know, no-one has done a twenty or thirty year blind trial with a group fed only organic/fed only non-organic. I could see that, if they did, there may be no discernable health benefit to organic, in fact, bearing in mind the effort non-organic farmers go to control diseases and pests, it is possible that non-organic might even be better for you. (I seem to remember reading somewhere about a widespread outbreak of madness in Central Europe in the Middle Ages which is ascribed to LSD growing in a mould on grain.)

2) Is organic food better? I would say definitely yes, I think it tends to be better in flavour and texture and for my money, that is a good enough reason to prefer it.

I don't know what provoked Milliband to pipe up but the man keeps bad company, so I have no problems doubting his honesty or motives.

But today of all days, following Blair's latest on global warming, I think we should be glad that we live in a country which has some of the world's most expert industrial farmers, because we are going to bloody well need their skills if we are all going to be hope for science and technology to fix global warming.
12:09 AM, January 10, 2007

Tim said...

I think there are two issues.

1) Is organic food better for you, i.e. objectively healthier? As far as I know, no-one has done a twenty or thirty year blind trial with a group fed only organic/fed only non-organic. I could see that, if they did, there may be no discernable health benefit to organic, in fact, bearing in mind the effort non-organic farmers go to control diseases and pests, it is possible that non-organic might even be better for you. (I seem to remember reading somewhere about a widespread outbreak of madness in Central Europe in the Middle Ages which is ascribed to LSD growing in a mould on grain.)

2) Is organic food better? I would say definitely yes, I think it tends to be better in flavour and texture and for my money, that is a good enough reason to prefer it.

I don't know what provoked Milliband to pipe up but the man keeps bad company, so I have no problems doubting his honesty or motives.

But today of all days, following Blair's latest on global warming, I think we should be glad that we live in a country which has some of the world's most expert industrial farmers, because we are going to bloody well need their skills if we are all going to be hope for science and technology to fix global warming.
12:12 AM, January 10, 2007
Tim said...

Why do I keep repeating myself?

I said, why do I keep repeating myself?
1:06 AM, January 10, 2007

Gill said...

LOL, I dunno, but I do know that Blogger is playing up this week. I couldn't post to it for most of yesterday and it was refusing to load much at all last night.

I might, if I get chance, have a comb through the DEFRA site today and see if I can glean more clues as to what was behind Milliband's statement. I must admit, the Monsanto link was just a wild guess. Maybe the pressure came from elsewhere.

Either way, it's sure to be about money and it gets my goat that global big business dictates politics to this extent, then they have the nerve to tax UK people for silly Milliband's huge salary, and all the rest. Never was the 'render unto Caesar' sentiment more necessary.

As for the rights or wrongs of the argument, well personally I'd rather, on balance and given an affordable choice, eat something that's been grown as naturally as possible because I do think it makes a difference. And you can get 'science' to back up whichever argument you want to make, so that wouldn't affect my decision I don't think.

But *if* we're on the brink of an ecological disaster (and I still have my doubts about that which I might blog later) and *if* food around here gets as scarce as threatened, I don't think anyone will care whether they're eating organic or not, as long as they're eating - intensively farmed food being infinitely better than no food at all.

So I can't see Milliband's bizarre statement being based on fears of future food scarcity. Nope, it'll be about the moolah. It's just that the sneaky, devious so&sos don't have the front to tell us that and the journalists are as bad for not asking. I mean, is it just me, or is it the first question that springs to mind? And yet it was totally overlooked by them, cos they've all got their noses in the same trough and they think (maybe rightly) that the dumbed down British public is stupid enough not to wonder why.

Ranty ranty rant.. ;-)
9:49 AM, January 10, 2007

Paula said...

You might like to listen to physicist and environmental activist Vandana Shiva
3:56 PM, January 10, 2007

Gill said...

Brilliant, thanks Paula. What a woman. I especially love what she says about water and the enclosure of commons and so many other things. Also globalisation. "Nothing can be produced locally under a globalised economy." And she brings the issues of medicine and agriculture together.. very good listening. "Freedom is the oxygen we humans breathe and I can feel it becoming depleted."
9:25 PM, January 10, 2007
Gill said...

"The most terrorised person in today's world is the American farmer."

Blimey, that's a shock.
9:38 PM, January 10, 2007

Six weird things meme

I've been tagged by Qalballah! (Thanks - I think!) Here's what I have to do, apparently:

Each player of this game starts with the "six weird things about you" blog post. People who get tagged need to write their own six weird things post and state the rules clearly. At the end of the post tag six more people and don’t forget to leave a comment on their blog to tell them they have been tagged and tell them to read your blog.

1. This isn't so weird nowadays but as regular readers will know I try to avoid doctors, medical staff, medical premises and proprietary medicines like the plague. It was very weird 20 years ago when I started doing it.

2. When I was about 15 I was diagnosed with a degenerative spine condition which apparently would 'put me in a wheelchair by the time I was 30, so I shouldn't have children, just in case'. Lies, all lies, hence weird thing number one.

3. Regular readers will also know (Sorry guys, this is soo boring for you! I'll try to think of something you didn't know for the last two! Oh blow it, I can't.) that I have an 'interesting' relationship with money: I don't need much, don't want much, and believe its flow can be controlled magically. Oooooh.

4. I knew as a child I'd live in this house, where we've been for nearly ten years now. My dad and his brother were brought up in the neighbourhood and they both wanted it too. It's not huge or anything but it does stand out, being right on the top of the hill.

5. I was quite a spooky kid actually, and had flashes of 'future memory' about how my life would pan out, which I didn't take too seriously but now know were accurate. I still get them and sometimes see myself as an old hermit woman still struggling to grow veg in our windy field at the top of the hill! I hope that one's right too. I couldn't think of a better way to see out my days. Yeah, that's probably fairly weird ;-)

Now to find six others to tag:

Gotta say Tech even though she's passworded
Baz (Get blogging, you!)
and my lovely Zara. (You too!)

Monday, January 08, 2007

"They were questioned"

On my other blog I mentioned a grilling the older children received from a relative this weekend about their career plans and choices. It occurs to me that it might be useful from a home ed point of view to blog some more about their answers and opinions here, because I know that this is one of the big fears about the decision to 'go autonomous'.

My three teens have had a good seven years of complete autonomy in education (and everything else) and are at the stage, at 17, 16 and 14, of working out how to earn a living. Two of them have already started, to some extent. The conversations they had this weekend with one of our elderly, very conventional relatives on this subject were fascinating, I thought.

"So what are you going to do with your life?" Ali was asked.

He looked puzzled before answering: "Oh, you mean for money? More of the same, probably. I do some web design and some internet coding. It pays well enough when I put the work in."

"Oh! And have you done a course in the subject?"

"No, I looked into courses a couple of years ago thinking I might, but I couldn't find any course tutors who were willing or able to teach me anything I couldn't already do. I've learned through trial and error and reading online manuals instead."

"So how do you get work if you don't have qualifications?"

"Well it's been reputation and word of mouth, so far. I haven't had to advertise. People see what you can do by looking at what you've done and they employ you to do more of the same for them."

"Oh! Well! I suppose that's the way of the world nowadays."

"It certainly is in that field, yes."

"So do you think you'll ever go to university and get a degree in the subject?"

"If I thought it would be useful I might. But so far I'm managing fine without it."

She turned to Tom and asked him what his plans were.

"Not sure yet. I helped someone with their shop for a while and they wanted to take me on one of those apprenticeship business management schemes but I didn't fancy it to be honest."

"Oh, why not?"

"Well I worked for them for over a year and having seen what was involved in doing that for a living I decided it wasn't for me."

"Oh! So what will you do instead?"

"Well I think I'll probably travel a bit at first and just take bits of work to earn what I need to fund it."

"Can you get work like that?"

"Yes, I already do, for a local builder. He offers me odd days and if I need the money I take the work. He wants me full time but I don't fancy doing that permanently either. It's quite fun just now and again though and it pays well for the hours I do."

"You don't want to settle into a specific career then?"

"No, not until something really interests me enough to want to do it all the time. I'd rather be sure about that before I get stuck in a rut with something I might not enjoy."

"Oh! Well, I suppose that's good thinking.."

She turned to Zara and said: "And do you still want to be an electrician, Zara?"

"No, I'm into philosophy now instead."

"Oh! Well! That's a bit different! And will you go on a course to study that?"

"I might do if I'm still into the idea when I'm 16. I'm just reading books about it at the moment to learn more, and online forums and websites."

"Well! You can't learn much about philosophy just from reading books, can you?"

Ali was heard to loudly snort at this, and Zara diplomatically changed the subject before things got too embarrassing!

It was very interesting for me to listen to all this, because of course I never question the children like that. I love their attitude towards working and money though: that they'll do things they enjoy and things that interest them, and they're quite confident and able to earn enough money in that way when they want to.

I suppose it's no surprise after the kind of upbringing they've had, but none of them sees the need to earn a lot of money, only enough to facilitate the things they want to do. I can't, at this stage, imagine any of them ever becoming unhappy wage slaves although I guess that might change if they make bad decisions along the way. But I *think* (hope) they're fairly clued up in that respect too.

I'm not complacent because of course life can throw anything up at any time, but from what I knew already and heard them confirm this weekend, I'm very happy with the way things are going and the worries other family members expressed to me about our decision to go autonomous 7 years ago look set to be proven unfounded, if they haven't already been.

In the car on the way home Ali asked, "Why does C think you can only learn things at college?"

"I dunno," was my nonplussed reply. "I guess she's never had chance to consider the alternative."

"That's really narrow-minded of her."

"Um, yes. I suppose it is! But structured education has been her whole life, so she probably didn't have much choice. Very strict parents."



Sunday, January 07, 2007

My current thoughts about EO and AHEd

EO should have dropped its political activities at some point in the last few years when it transpired that individual HErs outside of EO wished also to be politically active in defence of HEing rights. Those people within EO who want to be politically active should have joined forces with the others and hammered out a joint agreement to present to government, or approached govt as individuals only. Using what is essentially a support org to further one's personal political views is not acceptable in my opinion.

The situation that should be avoided at all costs is rival orgs approaching government with varying messages and agenda, so that divisions can be exploited and manipulated by govt, as they have in other areas.

HErs need to work towards achieving a united front in the face of govt threats and while ever we have closed-shop orgs like EO and AHEd, which I gather has been set up in the face of EO's dogmatic refusal to stop its representations to govt 'on behalf of' its members, this main object will be defeated.

Neither org can 'win' but govt will use all its guile, experience and position to ensure that both expend all their energy on trying to defeat each other instead of itself, the original enemy, and when it has succeeded in so many other NPO fields, why should it fail in ours?

I will not become a member of an org who 'represents' me whilst making behind-closed-doors political decisions and uses my membership (as a number) to add weight to its political clout without actually consulting each member and gaining agreement from all about the exact nature of its representations.

We're all home educators ( - I hope). To varying degrees we have lives, children, jobs, complications etc. We are not full-time salaried officers with desks, computers and no other distractions. Sometimes you might ask members for feedback and people can't or don't reply, for whatever reason. We can't all be politically active and aware all the time. But a lack of reply does not tacitly imply agreement and blithely assuming it does has been EO's biggest mistake. If most of your members are saying nothing politically then you do not have the right to represent them politically, unless they've specifically agreed to allow you to do this.

EO does a very good job at supporting new HErs, individual HErs and groups in their fights against LEAs. The helpline, the contact list and the local contacts system are all good and this is a vital job in HE which needs doing. I don't understand why EO couldn't contain itself to that very considerable business instead of insisting on politically representing ALL its members, whether they liked it or not.

I didn't agree with a lot of the political representations EO made to govt in my time as a member, even in my time as an active member, but I was never directly asked for my opinions. Instead it was assumed that as a member I was happy to delegate this activity to the committee or whatever working party had been selected to make decisions about that. I wasn't. If I'd have been prepared to put the time into all the dubious networking, ingratiating and back-scratching that was necessary to become part of the inner sanctum of EO I could perhaps have affected some decisions to some extent, but I wasn't, so I left the org for that and other reasons.

EO's political arm should be stopped. It has no mandate to do what it does and it does not have the support or agreement of the rest of the HEing community. Setting up a rival org to do things in a similar way but present the views of some other people might stop EO, but I doubt it. I don't know what would, since it seems many things were tried that failed.

Why do we need orgs to represent our interests? Govt would like us to have them so it can exert more control over us, but why should we succumb to govt's preferences? Fighting a many-headed hydra beast is surely harder work for them. Or a loose-knit less specific co-ordinated effort like HE Consult. Let me be clear that I put the blame for the failure of this plan at EO's door for refusing to abandon its own political agenda.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. How could we, who have been at the mercy of this maxim, and made fundamental decisions and lifestyle changes in our families to avoid it, ever have forgotten it?

I do agree with the stated aims of AHEd on their holding page but then again I agree with EO's stated aims also, which are very similar. EO has proven that there's a world of difference between an org's stated aims and its activities in practice. There is an element within EO - less powerful than before but nevertheless still existent, which believes that the only people who should be allowed to HE are those who decided to from the start, are middle-class and are themselves suitably educated or intelligent, that schooling for most children and education for all children should be compulsory and that HE should not be used to avoid truancy from school. In this those few influential people are in agreement with government and not, I strongly suspect, with the main body of their membership.

Most HErs probably believe, like myself, that any and every parent should be allowed to HE at any time, unfettered by govt or LEA interference unless there are specific and very strong reasons to suspect the child's physical welfare is threatened. Even then this is not an educational concern, but purely a welfare concern in which education officers should not involve themselves. The Education Act itself is fundamentally flawed and what ostensibly began as something to prevent children being abused in the workplace has evolved unhealthily into a form of abuse in itself: that of seeking to control what, when and how a child learns. I suspect most of the key members of AHEd, now that I've found out who they are, would agree with me on this so if it comes to taking sides my affiliations would probably lie with them.

I do understand, from talking to Tech about it on the phone this morning, what has led those people who are setting up AHEd to do so. I sympathise with their ongoing battles against the arrogant long-established EO political machine. I respect their right to set up a rival org. But I'm worried about the effects of this on the position of HErs generally and I'm wondering what I personally want to do about it, if anything.

EO should be stopped from claiming to represent its members to government, for sure. But I'm not sure whether tackling them head-on with a similarly-structured rival org is the best way of doing this. I guess, as just an ordinary flotsam and jetsam non-org-member - not party to any particular in-crowd or committee - home educator, I need to either put up with what's going on, keep my mouth shut and quietly get on with living my life, or get involved and try to do something.

Well first I'll think a lot more about what I'd want to do if I was going to do something because right now I don't know.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The annual festive motherly whinge starts again

Daily Mail columnist Jill Parkin, in a piece yesterday entitled Please end this torture! starts the traditional working/school mothers' whinge about holidays. Usually these are most prevalent in the long summer break, but I knew we'd see at least one this season too.

"Soon, I shall be ushering the children back though the school gates, trying to contain my sense of relief. I adore my children, but how I'm looking forward to some adult conversation, preferably about something other than Dr Who.I'm sure the children feel the same way. My 11-year-old has knitted herself a 6ft-long scarf since Christmas, which strikes me as the equivalent of the obsessive compulsive behaviour demonstrated by caged rhinos. She needs to be set free to roam with her own kind. There's still another four days to go before Twelfth Night - the official end of the seasonal reverie - but please forgive me as I count down the remaining hours and fantasise about spending next Christmas and New Year on a desert island.
I am only just hanging on to my sanity. Unless someone blows the whistle on the festivities soon, I fear I may be outlived by a bowl of goose fat."

By way of reply, the following points spring immediately to mind:

1. I'd be dead impressed if I had an 11 year-old daughter who knitted herself a scarf. It shows productivity, creativity, perseverance. Obsessive compulsive behaviour? This from the woman who freely admits, earlier in her article, that she "cooked a whole goose just to get the fat. (The result? I still have nearly two pints of the stuff sitting in the fridge.)" to emulate Nigella Lawson. Hmmm... it's not the scarf-knitter who has OCD then, is it?

2. When your children are difficult to be with, it's not because of the holidays - it's because of the work/school schedule! People considering home ed commonly ask "But what about when you need a break? When it all gets too difficult? When you just want to leave them with someone else?" but my experience was that the more time we spent together, the easier I found the children's company. There's always a reaction to school that has to come out at weekends, evenings and in the holidays. You're not seeing your children in their natural state at those times. In fact, tragically, you probably never are.

3. And anyway, if you didn't put so many demands on yourself and the people around you, everything would be 1000% easier. Who says you have to feed 5-course meals to droves of relatives, or spend weeks of your time shopping for 'perfect gifts'? "So as the days go by, I'm feeling more and more like Herod, though my murderous ambitions range further than the firstborn. We've done all the family stuff we can possibly do - walks, clearing out cupboards, playing board games, writing thank-you letters, more walks." Poor children - they don't get a holiday either. Why not just let people be? Why must you always be haring around doing something with them? What are you scared of happening, if you don't?

4. My final, most pressing question about the article: WHAT'S WRONG WITH DR WHO?

Humph. Either Jill Parkin is missing some blindingly obvious, crucial point about motherhood, or I am.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

12th Night?

So when is Twelth Night? When is first day, for that matter? Up until now, my Christmas decorations have gone up on around 20th Dec, and I've counted Christmas Day as day 1, making 12th Night the 5th Jan - this Friday. I'd take them down then.

But I'm not sure this feels right now, or ever did.

It increasingly feels to me like winter feasting time and new year at the solstice instead. This is instinctively the 'start of Christmas' for me, which is probably why my decorations go up when they do - I'm subconsciously aiming for the 21st.

So if the 21st is '1st day', this would put 12th Night on 2nd Jan - yesterday! And that is indeed when I wanted to take them down. I looked at the tree and thought: you have to go. But it didn't, it stayed. Because although I aspire to live by instinct, I'm a sucker for tradition - if only I could work out what it actually is.

Well, as all sensible bloggers are probably sleeping ATM I'll google it.

OK, The Gray Monk reckons 12th Night falls on Epiphany on the 6th, which has made sense to me in previous years.

Wikipedia puts it on the 5th too, and explains the confusion between the 5th/6th as follows: "In some traditions it is taken to mean the evening of the Twelfth Day itself, the sixth of January. This apparent difference has arisen probably due to the old custom of treating sunset as the beginning of the following day. Therefore Twelfth Night would have been considered as occurring on the twelfth day, though in present day custom it is the previous day." Hmmm... that doesn't make much sense to me. Never mind.

Although one of the following paragraphs: "In Tudor England, the Twelfth Night marked the end of a winter festival that started on All Hallows Eve — which some now celebrate as Halloween. A King or Lord of Misrule would be appointed to run the Christmas festivities, and the Twelfth Night was the end of his period of rule. The common theme was that the normal order of things was reversed. This Lord of Misrule tradition can be traced back to pre-Christian European festivals such as the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia. The Winter Solstice (December 21st) marks the 1st day of many Pagan Winter Festivals. The 12 nights following and including the solstice represent the 12 zodiac signs of the year - and the 12th Night (New Years Day) is a culmination and celebration of the Winter Festivals" seems to indicate New Years Day is also an option.

Tradition is evidently a fickle thing. (Though I am attracted to the idea of a Lord of Misrule feast - I keep saying I'll hold one one year!)

Hmmm this page equates it with the Roman festival of Saturnalia, which was their winter solstice, which took place on 17th December! Gah.

OK, let's take a consensus: when does Christmas (or whatever you call your midwinter celebration) end for you, please, dear readers? Do you do anything special to finish it off, as it were? Or just quietly put the decorations back in their boxes? And is there any reason why you do it the way you do?