Saturday, November 22, 2008

A significant challenge

"Attendance is inadequate in 14% of the pupil referral units inspected this year. Finding ways to engage these pupils in work that they see as interesting and relevant remains a significant challenge."

- Ofsted Annual Report 2007/2008

"Education, even in the rich world, is failing millions of children. Sooner or later this scandal will have to be addressed, and my guess is we will need to rethink the way we educate our children rather than simply throwing more money at the problem."

- Michael Hanlon, Eternity: Humanity's next billion years

"We, the Rockefellers, funded that. We funded Women's Lib. We're the ones who got it all over the newspapers and television: the Rockefeller Foundation. And you want to know why? There were two primary reasons: One reason was: we couldn't tax half the population before Women's Lib. And the second reason was: now we get the kids in school at an earlier age. We can indoctrinate the kids how to think and it breaks up the family. The kids start looking at the state as their family; at the school; at the officials as their family, not at their parents teaching them."

- Aaron Russo quoting Nick Rockefeller


The above quotes have all come to my attention in the past few days and stuck out in my mind like fairy lights, all linking around the same truth: forced schooling isn't run for the benefit of the pupils.

If it was, it wouldn't have to be forced, for a start. It would be happy for children to attend on a voluntary basis and it would therefore be such an agreeable place that children might not mind attending on a voluntary basis.

Very young children are naturally curious about the world around them. They want to learn. It's only years of "Sit down, shut up and face the front," "You must finish your work before you can play," and "This work is not good enough. You have low marks: you are stupid," that contrive to put them off the whole idea. (OK, most teachers might not actually talk like that any more but the intrinsic message will still be clear, however diplomatically it's phrased.)

Left to their own devices, children have integrity. They know (we all know) right from wrong: what feels good, and what feels bad. And they react accordingly. Children who are supported, encouraged - but not forced to learn - want to learn all the time. They soak up knowledge and information like blotting paper and come back with ideas, inventions and fresh, exciting ways of looking at things. But they know when they're being manipulated and they don't like it.

There is no excuse for our society to treat children like that, as if we don't trust them to want to learn and make good decisions. It's just not necessary, and it's incredibly damaging. Why do we go along with it?

Because we fear for our jobs. Without forced schooling, who would pay the teachers? The university staff? Without "educated" children and qualifications, who would employ anybody? Who would pay for anything? The whole system would break down.

It's tearing at the seams anyway. It isn't a natural, healthy structure. It's an economy based on debt: a society in which most people aren't really happy or fulfilled. Yes, you can go and work in a warm place all day and be reasonably sure of being able to afford to buy a warm meal for yourself in the evening, but is it worth it? And have we really lost all confidence in our ability to get those things on our own terms? If so - why?

It seems like change is coming anyway, whether we want it or not. I'm interested in finding out whether this financial crash is an orchestrated one, or a genuine one. I'm inclined to think the latter, at this stage - in which case the end results are up for grabs and anything could happen.

But really, we've been trained to think that we all need jobs and that without them, we wouldn't survive. I think we need to ask ourselves whether that's really true and who this system of jobs really serves. What alternatives could there be?

I like the idea of a self-taught, artisan society in which everyone is paid for their products, or rewarded for the effect they produce. Did we ever have such a system? Were we ever allowed to get that far? And if not, who stops us and why do we let them?

What about those attendees (or not) of the Pupil Referral Units and "finding ways to engage these pupils in work that they see as interesting and relevant"? I think Ofsted hit the nail right on the head there, as anyone would sooner or later, after years of examining the education system. I don't actually think there's anything much different about the PRU attendees than any other school children except, perhaps, that they're less good at playing the game and feigning interest in the artificial activities that are foisted on them. They've called foul and stomped off the pitch, and who can blame them, when they didn't want to be there in the first place?

What work might they see as interesting or relevant? I don't know. Something real, maybe, that didn't require 'learning outcomes' or similar boxes to be ticked. They must be sick to the back teeth of those interminable boxes to be ticked. Everyone must be.

No wonder more than half the population believe UK children behave like animals. If you try to control people, they're going to react against it and this is a whole generation which has had enough.

We really do need a rethink. We need to start thinking for ourselves, instead of being so easily manipulated and gullible. It's difficult, I know, after a lifetime of indoctrination, but I think we can do it because our instincts tell us what's good for us and what isn't. My instincts have told me that bonding with my babies is a good thing. Having home births, with minimal intervention, and nourishing each new child myself, according to the baby's requirements. This paved the way for me to learn how to respect their wishes as toddlers and for me to want to support their natural learning.

When the older ones were later betrayed by the school system, I couldn't stand by and do nothing because I was irrevocably on their side, as I should have been. With the younger two, home education is just a natural extension of that instinctive early mothering. We are genetically programmed to support our children and to assist them in becoming successful, because it's in our own interests and that of our species that we do so. Anything that thwarts this process is bad.

It's possible that we need to rethink our ideas of 'success'. Does it really mean getting the most money, the most power? I suppose it means something different to everyone. My dictionary says that it's "the accomplishment of a favourable outcome." The question we've got to ask ourselves is: favourable to whom?

13 Comments:

Blogger Allie said...

Good stuff, Gill. I don't know about a different world. I used to be very sure about what that would be and even subscribed to some beliefs about how we'd get there. Now I think that the best we can hope for is to control the most vicious instincts of our species as we face the inevtiable consequences of our inability to live sustainably.

1:05 pm, November 23, 2008  
Blogger cosmic seed said...

Another excellent post there Gill. Thanks for pointing out that barnados ad - it's about time a children's charity actually stood up and spoke out about this issue. I hope it makes people stop and think about what they are creating with this attitude.

1:28 pm, November 23, 2008  
Blogger Riaz said...

Yet another fantastic post.

There are three other reasons:

1. Because you're clever. Most parents somehow seem to think that clever children should go to school. What is the point if they are hardly learning anything because they are held back by the age and not ability based system?

2. To take exams. Most parents overwhelmingly want their children to get GCSEs.

3. Socialisation. I could write volumes on this and why schools teach the WRONG social skills.

10:25 pm, November 23, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Thanks Allie. Blimey though: how do we control the most vicious instincts of our species? I can think of some traditional ways of controlling them (water cannon.. tear gas.. machine guns..) but they're no less vicious. Non-vicious ways might include putting sedatives in the water supply, or something? Huxley had a few other ideas, didn't he? Maybe, if this is an orchestrated crash, that's what it's all about.

Thanks Tech, yes indeed, let's hope it makes a difference although I'm not overly optimistic about that.

Thanks Riaz. More reasons to go to school, you mean? Oh yes, people who want to use schools for their children can usually think of lots, can't they? A typical answer I get (having started to ask people why they use schools before they can get in and ask me to justify why I home educate..) is "Oh, s/he loves going there!" And I think to myself "Yes, maybe. But have they actually been given a choice?"

When I was a child, my mother thought I "loved" doing lots of things, but I was just conforming to her powerful expectations by pretending to be happy because it was easier that way. I'd tried protesting, suffered the punishments and realised that wasn't really an option available to me.

Unless I'm wrong about schooling and hundreds of children really do love going there. Probably some do, especially at the younger ages when it's still fun sometimes. But most of my children's schooled friends say that they'd rather not have to attend.

I'm not anti-school per se, I just wish every child could be free to choose whether and when to attend. It's the coercion that I don't like.

My children would probably consider attending some things sometimes if there was no compulsion involved, but we'd end up deregistering and re-registering several times a day, LOL. Hey, there's an idea...!

7:20 am, November 24, 2008  
Blogger Allie said...

Gill, I think this is very powerful,

"When I was a child, my mother thought I "loved" doing lots of things, but I was just conforming to her powerful expectations by pretending to be happy because it was easier that way. I'd tried protesting, suffered the punishments and realised that wasn't really an option available to me."

Adults often say that children "love" doing things. Sometimes I'm sure that's true but I also think that our culture tends to assume that children are enjoying something right up to the point where the children demonstrate *extreme* aversion to it. Sometimes even past that point - "she likes it really" - as they pull their screaming child off them at the start of ballet class. It's no wonder so many of us have trouble identifying what we really do like in later life.

9:20 am, November 24, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Exactly. It's 'normal', middle-class parenting to encourage one's child to be 'brave' about trying new things and sticking to commitments.

In actuality I think a lot of that is about parents foisting their own frustrated ambitions on their children.

And parents have many different ways of coercing their children into going along with it. The children are stuck in such a dependent situation, physically and emotionally, that they really have no other options.

It starts much earlier than the piano and the ballet lessons though - with toddlers who are never consulted and whose preferences - often clearly stated - are invariably over-ridden without a thought. And earlier than that, when a baby's feeds are set to four-hourly, and its sleeping arrangements enforced, and its cries ignored.

By the time that child reaches the age of four or five, it has already learned, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what it really wants to do or what it might really feel or think, matters to no-one.

And the parent whose treatment of the child has been encouraged - set out, even - by the powers that be in society, sees nothing wrong in a bit of gentle 'persuasion' and 'encouragement'. 'In the child's best interests', of course.

If I'd had a tenner invested in my name for every time they told me that their latest coercion was 'in my best interests', I could have bought our house outright, for cash.

Instead, they've got £thousands swilling around in bank accounts and shares (fast depreciating, I would imagine) while my children and I live in debt and on benefits, mostly estranged and alienated from them.

Well, it's not going to be that way in my family any more. My children's real opinions and choices matter to me. I share all my money with them and always will do. We will not - by my actions - be estranged and alienated.

We don't have to go along with the diktats of 'society', do we? It's often better to question all of our assumptions about the way we do things, take it right back to basics and rethink the whole thing for ourselves.

I've been accused of trying to reinvent the wheel but really, if vehicles are repeatedly falling apart then someone needs to go back to the drawing board.

9:47 am, November 24, 2008  
Blogger Riaz said...

Another issue is that far too many parents (including my own) hold a naive view that what schools teach is important stuff that children need to know. The situation has intensified with the introduction of the National Curriculum. Parents nowadays are overwhelmingly preoccupied with the National Curriculum and consider other subjects as less important.

I was talking to a retired owner of a bookshop. He told me that in the days before the National Curriculum, parents would buy books that interested their children even if they had nothing to do with what they were learning at school. After the National Curriculum was introduced, an increasing number of parents only wanted to buy books that were written in accordance with the National Curriculum.

1:46 pm, November 24, 2008  
Blogger Tibetan Star said...

You've been translated!

9:52 pm, November 24, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Wow, there it is!

:-) Thanks you xx

I also found, looking at your profile, another great blog of yours, to which I've now subscribed.

Back to Riaz, ohh, it's depressing, isn't it? Have so many people really stopped thinking for themselves and abandoned their children's whole education to the state, so quickly? Such a decision doesn't make any logical sense.

I've spent the past two hours reading this, which has further convinced me that what's needed now, more than anything, is families investing time in their children.

7:26 am, November 25, 2008  
Blogger Riaz said...

I think it's more of a combination of lack of confidence and the parent's feeling that their education is inadequate and out of date.

The teachers aren't always any better. I once wanted to know more about a certain era of history and my parents told me to ask my teachers, but they didn't know much more than my parents did.

9:44 am, November 26, 2008  
Blogger emma said...

yes yes yes yes yes.

Except for the bit about universities.

The big difference between university and school is that

1) the parents aren't involved. Or at least, when they try to get themselves involved, university lecturers of my aquaintance get really irritated

2) no one has to be there if they don't want to

3) no one is forced to turn up to classes/ produce particular pieces of work. If a student doesn't do what the course requires then they are asked/forced to leave. Completely different model from school. Even in the "top" universities, there's a drop out rate of at least 5-10%, and that's a GOOD THING, because people arrive and realise it's not for them and go to do something else with their lives


I know this doesn't deal with the question of young people whose personalities have been coerced out of them by more than a decade in school, and who really don't know for themselves what they want. I'd have to say that the most rewarding students I've taught have often been mature students. And I'd also have to say that the kind of university department of which I have closest experience (music), the students are self-selecting just because noone goes to university to read music who isn't completely passionate about performing/composing/listening to the kinds of music which university music departments focus on. And however encouraging or coercive parents are about making teens do piano practice, parents don't tend to say "yes yes! Go and study music at university! what a good idea!", so the students have also often overcome expectations that they'll do something more conventional.

So yes, my spectacles are rose-tinted, but I am yet to be convinced that universities should sit in the same category as schools!

1:36 pm, November 26, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

So, Riaz, what would have been the best response for you in your request to learn more? Enthusiastic help to access books and museums? Mutual exploration of the subject matter available? Assuming the answer is yes (as it would have been for me) then it's such a pity that such an easy, enjoyable experience couldn't have been provided for you. In that respect, then, not only did the education system fail you in your wish to learn, but it actively thwarted you by conspiring to convince your parents that they couldn't teach you and perhaps your teacher that he wasn't allowed, or otherwise motivated to.

Hi Emma. Some great points about university there. I'm all for them, as long as everyone really wants to be there. I always said that if any of my children became so passionate about a subject that they wanted to study it to degree level and beyond, I'd be very happy for them to be there.

Sadly, though, when Tom looked into it he found tutors who weren't motivated and fellow prospective students who didn't even seem to know where they were, let alone why - or whether - they wanted to be there. Perhaps his experience was just unlucky, but he was the only one who was really interested in the learning facilities and the course content - including the course tutors.

I'm very glad that some people are still managing to find fulfilment at uni.

1:51 pm, November 26, 2008  
Blogger Riaz said...

Home education wasn't good enough in my parent's eyes. My mother thought I would miss out on practical work. My father thought that I wouldn't learn by studying on my own. He said that I need guidance (from teachers) and that I would only learn in a classroom based setting as part of a group. They were also concerned that I wouldn't get a broad and balanced education unless I attended school. Instead I would gravitate to things that interested me and ignore everything else. The reality was that I had quite a wide range of interests and I would find places like museums and exhibitions interesting. The only things that didn't interest me were sports and popular culture. I also wasn't into fiction but preferred films and cartoons.

6:39 pm, November 27, 2008  

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