Baby hormones and Good Housekeeping
Aneeeway, so I've been doodling along in this floaty little baby-induced equilibrium, taking everything in my stride with nothing provoking much more than a lazily raised-eyebrow reaction from me....... until - I happened (with a jarring sort of splutter) upon this. And I thought: "Hang on a minute...! I wrote that!" Not that, you understand - I'm not the kind of person who posts anything to the forums of Good Housekeeping magazine - but that article, which the original poster is referring to! The one about the ants and the bypass. It was something I wrote about in my Green Parent column a few months ago. Which was very spooky.
Actually, I don't know what freaks me out more: seeing my little ants and bypass anecdote regurgitated as a point of discussion in this way, or the fact that someone would read something in Green Parent magazine ...and then raise it for discussion on the Good Housekeeping forum! I mean - why not talk about it on the excellent Green Parent forum, which has a section on education - instead of the.. family and friends section of Good Housekeeping??
So, let's have a look at what they've got to say about it anyway.
The original poster is concerned about formal qualifications. Yes, if you are prepared to keep your child out of the hoop-jumping system, lack of eventual formal qualifications is a definite risk. Your child may grow up with the time and the freedom to identify his or her true vocation in life - a way to spend his or her time (and maybe even earn some money) which enables them to actually enjoy life instead of just enduring it working full-time at a job they hate. Or - possibly worse - don't really mind.
Hmmm, yes it's fair to say that the collecting of formal qualifications aren't at the top of my list of priorities for my children. But this way of thinking developed as I witnessed the older ones' gradual return to educational liberty after we made the deschooling decision. I too was worried about qualifications in the beginning until I realised how much conviction and determination a young person could have, which put exam results somewhat in the pale.
The first response is brilliant. Ah, then we get the inevitable socialisation/ working-in-groups comments. Because school is so good at teaching those skills, isn't it? (Not.) I love the way my children have been able to develop their social lives over the years. They've slowly made some very deep friendships which will probably be lifelong, and they've also enjoyed the company of passing acquaintances of all ages in lots of different environments.
And then a teacher replies and makes some very interesting points.
"There are, however, a number of organisations (some more formal than others) run by home-schoolers, where their children mix for social events, sporting activities, educational trips etc - as well as allowing a parent who has particular skill in one area to teach a number of children together. These activities go some way to alleviating that problem, but they still tend to place the individual child at the centre of the activity. And learning that (s)he is NOT the centre of the universe is perhaps the most important lesson that any child can learn."
So - a school, which exists to teach children, does not conduct child-centred activities...? And a home education meeting or activity does - but shouldn't? Riiiight..
Well I can at least see how attending school teaches a child that (s)he is not the centre of the universe, but what does school teach the child, then, is the centre of the universe?
Then she criticises the learning method. My one, described by the ants and the bypass. (Not just mine, obviously - it's autonomous/natural learning, as practised by hundreds of thousands of families around the world.)
"It seems fine in theory, but if followed closely in practice would mean that the child would only learn about things with which he came into contact. I know a wise parent/teacher could draw out other things - but it seems fraught with problems to me. The point of education and child development is to gradually introduce the child to things with which he is not familiar, to extend his knowledge, to enrich his experience of life, and to teach him not just about a specific new experience but also how to cope with other new experiences that he will meet through life. It is wise and good to allow the pace of learning to be guided by the child's development, but to confine him to a situation where the very agenda is set by his experience seems to me to be allowing the cart to pull the horse."
- which is as well-formulated an argument as any I've come across. So how would I respond?
Well, it's very closely connected to the qualifications thing, isn't it? I think there are two basic kinds of education: training - and learning. Given enough time and effort, a syllabus and a stick-and-carrot system of incentives, you can train almost anyone to do almost anything. Even critical thinking, as someone was recently telling me that a good university course apparently trains people to do. ("Isn't that just a natural human function though?" I asked. "Not when you've been though the school system.." came the reply.)
The sad thing is that many people nowadays - particularly educational professionals - think that's the only kind of education that can possibly exist. Facts in, facts out. Like rows of little machines. And the system works: if what you want are armies of compliant, obedient workers who will collect their qualifications and then apply for jobs and execute their given duties reliably. It does that. Just about.
Do we really want that? For our children? For our world?
Well, it pays the wages. Pays the bills. Pays the taxes. Keeps the wolf from the door. Keeps us all in the 'real world' (which, in fact, isn't at all). Prevents anarchy, revolution, chaos. It'll do, won't it? It can be a bit mind-numbingly depressing, but it's ok...?
No! Come on, it's not! Life is for living! Not just existing.
What a school education can't do - and I strongly disagree with the poster here - is teach a child "how to cope with other new experiences that he will meet through life". Schools teach children how to cope with school-like experiences. They don't teach them, for example, how to find out what specifically interests them and how to develop the discipline to pursue a subject, issue or skill to the nth degree until they're satisfied, or how to work out how to organise their own time, to stand or fall by their own decisions without the luxury of being able to blame some systemic failure for their own absence of motivation. The home-educated children I know learn that one very well: they don't suffer from a lack of motivation.
"The point of education and child development is to gradually introduce the child to things with which he is not familiar.."
No. The point of life is that by living it, we are all gradually introduced to things with which we are not familiar. The point of school-based education, I contend, is to ensure that the child confines its activities to things with which he is all too familiar. Classroom.. college.. office.. call centre.. desks, desks, desks. Do as you're told, form an orderly queue. Speak when you're spoken to. Think only about the subject at hand. But only until the bell rings. Then, think only about the next subject at hand, but only until the bell rings. Then... and so on. Nearly every day, for years.
"I hadn't, until recently, realised that you could just take your children out of school or indeed not send them in the first place."
- the original poster comes back to say. Yes indeed. It's not a very widely known fact, which in itself is quite shocking, when you think about it. You didn't know you had a choice about sending your children to school? No, they're your children. They belong to their families still, not the state. Please believe it, while you still have chance.
And the last poster on the page as it currently stands says:
"I know it breaks your heart (it certainly broke mine! ) when your child stops thinking you know everything and starts to correct you because "Miss says...". But learning that there are other authorities, other founts of wisdom (?), other opinions and beliefs is important. Ultimately, it is leading to the time when the older child realises that actually nobody has all the answers - and what the good parent and/or teacher should be doing is giving the child the tools, the information, the experience, and the confidence to make up his own mind."
There it is again. Home educators do not (unlike school teachers) ever pretend to have all, or even any of the answers. Their children usually have access to the whole world's opinions and beliefs, whenever they like and for however long they choose. (Unlike school pupils). I give my children the Internet, the museums, the public libraries, the freedom, the books, the groups and the events with which to 'make up their own minds'. In fact, they even get to make up their own minds about whether or not to attend school. As for confidence - they were born with that. It's not my gift to give them, I just never took it away from them.
I think it's kind of ironic that it took a Good Housekeeping forum to wake up my fighting spirit from its slumber, anyway. I wonder if that means I'm fertile again? Let's see... No. I'm not angry enough for that, yet.