Saturday, January 12, 2008

Baby hormones and Good Housekeeping

Baby hormones. They dull your mind and they quench your fighting spirit, lulling you into an easy-going, cooing contented state of gooey bliss. It's a good few months since I last gave birth, but I've learned that if you breastfeed on demand ( - a phrase that invariably makes the poor baby sound like a mini-tyrant: "I DEMAND...!") then you can actually hold off your return to the peaks and troughs of fertile hormone hell indefinitely. Well, at least until you're about ready to get pregnant again, so you don't have to suffer too much of it. [N.B. I'm being a bit flippant there. For the record: I don't really get pregnant just to avoid suffering from PMT. No, I get pregnant just to ... Well, I won't finish that sentence!]

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??

Beats me.

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.


Blogger Ruth said...

Weird that they choose the have the discussion there. Maybe they felt that the Green Parent crowd wouldn't find the idea contentious enough, and wouldn't, therefore, draw out as interesting a range of points. If the original poster already perceives herself as a part of that community, it might make sense to her to come back to it with a "Listen to what I just read" post.

9:29 am, January 12, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Ah yes, good points Ruth.

10:08 am, January 12, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Ruth...? You're online in the new house already? *Dashes over to Magical Meyhem..*

10:10 am, January 12, 2008  
Blogger emma said...

Great post, Gill.

and hmm. I haven't found that breastfeeding on demand stops fertility indefinitely (about 2.5 years for me, even when breastfeeding continued beyond, and very cross about the returning fertility I was too. Especially when pre-menstrual)

4:34 pm, January 12, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Oh thanks Emma!

And hmm yes, *indefinitely* wasn't the right word, was it? 2.5 years is probably the most I've managed too when I sit and remember back properly.

I'm kind of looking forward to getting a bit of mental sharpness back with it though. And kind of dreading the mood swings. Am on the lookout for something herbal which might balance those a bit.

8:02 pm, January 12, 2008  
Blogger Fiona said...

Yeah, I've heard this objection to autonomy before, this bizarre notion that the adults drift passively behind the though real life were put completely on hold...though how could it be unless you were in a SCHOOL in the first which case I agree that you WOULD need a special plan to introduce "citizenship" or "compound interest" or whatever because it wouldn't just COME UP...of course,my Theo is rabidly egocentric, has no team spirit whatsoever and thinks he's the centre of everyone's universe, but there are plenty of friendly sociable poster children for home ed...Fiona

9:20 pm, January 12, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

I think my lot are egocentric in their ways too Fiona. It's probably less obvious because there are 5 of them! But they all have their little *moments*. Then again, I think most reasonably healthy children [people, in fact] have those. Except that in school, if I remember rightly, it gets subverted in various ways.

10:11 pm, January 12, 2008  
Blogger Allie said...

Hmmm, bf on demand stopped my periods for a whole *four months*!

I often feel like I'm orbiting a different sun when it comes to talking about autonomy and learning. I guess my main argument when it comes to the child's learning being limited by their experience would be to say that I see my children actively seeking new knowledge all the time - that is at the heart of their experience. I suspect that healthy humans always do this. The leaps away from the familiar will vary - sometimes very tiny steps - but the fact is that many of us see this process in action.

1:40 pm, January 13, 2008  
Blogger Mieke said...

"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."

Quite frankly, that really makes me wonder about the environment in which this person meets children. Or are my children so completely different? Only learn things they come into contact with? I'd like to invite this poster to our house for one day! I wish I had a pound for every time questions were asked or discussions held about seemingly 'random subjects'. And I certainly don't have to guide my children to broaden their horizon or 'draw other things out of them', as a matter of fact I am finding it a major challenge to keep up with theirs! I confess that for my fiftiest birthday I have asked for the right to be excused from late night discussions / questions and research... My brain needs a rest after ten o'clock.

6:53 pm, January 13, 2008  
Blogger Jenny said...

I have to balk at the 'best lesson a child can learn is that they are not the centre of the universe' speak..
So what are they? How exactly does this teacher believe that children learn their place in the world? By having it enforced and reinforced that they are just one inconsequential being amongst many who must conform to expected norms and behaviours?Or else....they are labelled and rejected so they learn their place through fear and rejection
Or by being valued and respected as an individual, their talents and strengths nurtured while they learn how they fit into their world?
Oh but that wouldnt fit with the ethos of your average state school would it and probably wouldnt wash with a teacher who believes the most important lesson in life a child can learn is that they are unimportant in the wider world

8:10 pm, January 13, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Allie, 4 months? You were short-changed there! And yes, great point about children seeking new knowledge. Autonomously-educated children would be bored to tears if they didn't, wouldn't they?

"Quite frankly, that really makes me wonder about the environment in which this person meets children."

School, Mieke! That poster is a school teacher, I think she said. And yes I quite agree, keeping up with the endless questions, discussions, debates etc is my problem too!

Jenny, yes you make an excellent point too. That 'know your place' attitude might serve the economy and the status quo well, but it doesn't seem to do children much good.

12:37 am, January 14, 2008  
Blogger Tech said...

The thing about children needing to k now adults don't know everything made me lol. At a recent science show our home ed group attended, there were two school parties. The scientist kept telling the children that they had to *think for themselves* and that *grown ups, even their parents and best teacher, don't know everything*. Well, the teachers faces were like thunder! Whereas the HE parents were nodding along furiously in agreement! They really are blinkered these people - they don't seem at all able to see that the arguments they use against HE are exactly what they are doing to children day in day out in the day prisons!

2:17 pm, January 14, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

LOL yes, that's quite funny. And tragic. Actually that 'learning your place' kind of comment in the forum ("learning that (s)he is NOT the centre of the universe") pretty much sums it up, doesn't it? School is for maintaining the pyramid structure of power and the people above have to pretend to know more than the people below, for the same reason.

7:33 pm, January 14, 2008  
Blogger 'EF' x said...

My mum was a 'highly qualified' teacher and it became a standard joke as I grew up that each and every time I went to her with a random question about oooh I don't know, lots of things, she'd always say: "I don't know."

And she really didn't know. Training to be a 'teacher' is not rocket science, I mean what's the basic training? Three years still? And then extra courses in being patronising and condescending.

As a 'home educating' mum (gittin all pompous now) I have my kids coming to me at least 500 times a day (no kidding, it must be) asking me what this that and tother is/means etc..and 9 times out of ten I do not know. I know a lot about my specialist subjects (getting ground in cat poo off rugs and and...oh, is that IT?) but precious little about their specialist subjects (web site design, natural horsewoman ship, ancient Greece etc).

The standing joke in my house now is that my reply is not: "I do not know" but "Go look it up or phone a friend." Which they will do if they can be ar!ed. It's great now with the internet and David Attenborough DVD's and library books and cheaper phone lines (so we can phone friends) because the kids, in this way, do find out more than we were probably able to as curious kids asking and asking.

V. creepy about that GH thread...some of the posters were all a bit hoity toity ("I say I say I say! Worts all this I heyar abite home heducation?") bless. But you know what they say Gill, better to be talked about than not etc.

I do so loathe it when teachers come chiming in as voice of experience and authority. *sigh* My personal suspicion is that many teachers choose the job because of the extensive holidays. *ahem* And they WHINGE almost constantly about their jobs and pay and ug ..don't get me started. Sorry to teacher bash on your comments, I know they are not all the same, it's just y'know, most of them at least APPEAR to be.

6:33 pm, January 22, 2008  

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