Thursday, November 30, 2006

Modern Myths: No.3: Children need discipline

Myth 3: The current problems with social unrest and unruly, disruptive young people are caused by lack of discipline. If parents, schools and other people in authority were stricter and punishments harsher, young people would behave themselves and the world would be a better place.

You don't have to look very far, in the current climate, to find this myth being fuelled, furthered and funded on a vast scale. In fact, stand still for long enough and it comes to find you. Along with the one about relative poverty, it is being used to sanction incoming laws which will restrict our liberty and lead to forced state interference into private family life.

With a funky new image, name and website, here is the Respect agenda, which is the shop window for the 'new reforms'. Read and be awed ;-)

Tony Blair is panicking about the nanny state argument and refutes it before anyone has chance to make it in every speech he makes and article he writes about this issue. Here he is in his article for The Sun newspaper nine days ago:

"The 'nanny state' argument applied to this is just rubbish. No one's talking about interfering with normal family life. But life isn't normal if you've got 12-year-olds out every night, drinking and creating a nuisance on the street, with their parents either not knowing or not caring. In these circumstances, a bit of nannying, with sticks and carrots, is what the local community needs, let alone the child."

Sticks and carrots. Well, that's the nature of the power system we call authority. Based on the principle that most people are innately bad or stupid and need strict coercion to be made to comply with society's interests, we set up our systems to try to control each other thus.

But I think the nature of power is changing. Authority (power over others) is on its way out, thank goodness. People increasingly don't trust it, don't like it and don't want to work with it. Its 'fluffy, liberal' couterpart, autonomy is the kind of power system we're moving into. Ancient belief systems, including Mayans and Taoists refer to these contrasting types of power as male and female, respectively. In I Ching terms, we're talking about the first principle (The Creative) and the second principle (The Receptive) - yang and yin, which swap places roughly every two thousand years.

Just to prove Tim's stereotype theory ^^ here's the image, which you can if you like imagine to be slowly rotating through 180 degrees every 2 millennia or so. You can picture me wearing pink or yellow-lensed shades at the same time also, if it helps!

Each kind of power has its benefits and drawbacks in equal measure, of course, and it is not the purpose of this post to denigrate the essence of male, creative, authoritative power - only to say that because of the changing time in which we're living, that those methods and systems are becoming less effective - hence our current social disorder problems. A government who authoritatively, desperately clings onto the old kind of power is a government who fails to understand the situation and which completely wastes its time and energy.

Well, I've been a mother/stepmother for twenty years now and I have found through trial and error that imposing rules, regulations, boundaries, sticks and carrots on children is not the best way to create a harmonious, educational environment for them at this time. Sure, it will work to some extent and with limited effect, but it's very difficult to impose and there is always a backlash: i.e. the child will rebel eventually. If you are very strict and you impose a system of full surveillance, you may delay this rebellion for years, but not forever.

I have dozens of empirical accounts to back up my conclusions in this respect, but in the interests of brevity will just blog a few key ones.

  • My own children, who have no externally imposed boundaries, rules or punishments, are peaceful, respectful, 'well-behaved', considerate people who are interested in learning about the world around them. If I'm ever tempted to say "Do this, don't do that," they immediately respond in a negative way, which reminds me that 'power over others' is not the best way to go about things.

  • All of my own behaviour which has been negative, damaging and self-destructive has stemmed from other people trying to impose their authority on me.

  • Out of the many children I have known, the ones who have the most authoritative parents exhibit by far the most extreme behaviour problems, because most things they do are a reaction against that authoritative power.

  • One girl I was at school with was an only child whose parents were even more determined than mine were to impose their authority on her. She was monitored all the time, pushed, furthered and assisted by them constantly. She complied with their wishes as a child and a young teenager because they gave her no choice. Of course they meant well and only wanted what they thought was the best thing for her, but as soon as she went away to Oxbridge and was able to rebel, she did. She went to live with a religious cult in America and hasn't been in touch with her parents ever since.

  • The most secure, content, productive and peaceful people I have known have been those who were brought up with trust, love and very little parental discipline.

  • This is a time when people need to work their decisions out for themselves. They need to try different ways of living to find the one that suits them the best. Being told what to do and coerced into doing it can only have a negative effect on people now, because it impedes their own personal, autonomous development - the dominant type of power and therefore the motivation that intrinsically drives us all at the present time.

    My contention is that the only way to successfully, positively affect other people now is to teach by example, on the learner's terms and at their spontaneous request. There is no other method that will be 100% successful, without unwanted side-effects.

    Tuesday, November 28, 2006

    Modern Myths: No.2: Single parenthood

    You probably guessed this one would be next on the list, but actually I think it's received a lot less coverage recently: the government seems to have finally remembered, albeit a little late in the day, that single parents have the vote too. They must think we have very short memories though.

    Myth 2: As single parents, we are the lowest of the low, the single biggest cause of all the country's problems. We are usually feckless parents who care little about our children and only care about getting a free flat/house. Our pregnancies are usually unplanned and our children poorly cared for and badly behaved.

    Civitas has led the think tank opposition to single-parenthood. Indeed, its entire 'Family' page is devoted to the running down of single-parent families. Lone mothers "May have more problems interacting with their children," some righteous researcher proclaims. I followed the reference to find the source of this supposition and was led to this paper on Parents, Parenting, and Family Breakdown by J H Tripp and M Cockett, but even having read this thoroughly I can find no evidence or even suggestion that single parenthood alone causes this effect. The Tripp and Cockett paper rightly confines itself to the effect of parental conflict on the children of divorce and separation which is a different matter entirely.

    So much for social science. It seems to be common practice to say what you want to say, find someone else whose work vaguely agrees with yours, list theirs as your reference, call it truth and present it to politicians so they can use it for whatever purpose suits them best.

    Various newspapers (Daily Mail being top of the list of course) have jumped on any studies which have found against single parenthood. Here's a smattering of such examples:

    Schizophrenia much more likely in children of single parents - Sarah Hall, health correspondent, Wednesday November 22, 2006, The Guardian. Now who on earth funded that particular piece of research and why..? Well, despite the catchy title it turns out to be more about racial differences: "The researchers, who had been investigating the incidence of psychosis among different ethnic groups in south London, Nottingham and Bristol, found that African-Caribbean people were nine times more likely to develop schizophrenia than white Britons and eight times more likely to develop manic psychosis. Black Africans were six times more likely to develop schizophrenia and six times more likely to develop manic psychosis. ... Long-term separation was almost twice as common in African-Caribbean communities compared with white British, with 31% of African-Caribbean families separating compared with 18% of white British families." If it's true that African-Caribbean people are nine times more likely to develop schizophrenia than white Britons, there are surely many other possible reasons than single parenthood. The long-standing social history of African-Caribbean people suffering from the actions and decision of their counterpart white Brits being conveniently overlooked for the purposes of this propaganda.

    Guardian again: Underage sex linked to single-parent families - James Meikle, health correspondent, Monday July 23, 2001. "The study, by the Family Matters Institute, involved questionnaires completed under supervision in 21 schools. It found that 18% of boys and 15% of girls had had sex. More than seven in 10 who had not had sex came from a family where parents were married to each other, compared with only half of the teenagers who were sexually active. ... The survey indicates that three in four parents of sexually active 13-year-old girls do not know their daughters are no longer virgins and that one in five young teenagers lost their virginity when they were drunk. A quarter of sexually active 13-year-olds have had four or more sexual partners." This cleverly implies, but does not actually say, that single parents are less aware of their children's sexual status. Again, it completely ignores other factors like post-separation parental conflict and the negative influence of stepfathers.

    Here's just one example of the Daily Mail's long running campaign against single parenthood: Married parents are best, admits Blairite think tank By STEVE DOUGHTY & JAMES SLACK, 5th November 2006. "Yesterday the policy institute acknowledged that research clearly showed that 'children who grow up with both biological parents do better on a wide range of outcomes than children who grow up in a single-parent family'. It added: 'While this research may be instinctively difficult for those on the Left to accept, the British evidence seems to support it.'" The story refers to a paper by the Institute for Public Policy Research which in turn draws its findings from the Millennium Cohort Study, a survey by the Institute of Education in London of nearly 20,000 children born in 2000. "This, it said, 'has shown that children of cohabiting couples do worse than those of married couples.'"

    It's like a game of Chinese Whispers. Do worse by whose standards? "The report said: 'Single parents, it has been shown, can be less emotionally supportive, have fewer rules, dispense harsher discipline, are often more inconsistent in dispensing discipline, provide less supervision, and engage in more conflict with their children.'" I've spent half the morning searching and can find no research to support these strangely unsubstantiated allegations.

    "And yesterday - when the institute made its full report available - it said the breakdown of the traditional married family was at the root of this disturbed teenage behaviour. It said: 'Changes to families, such as more parents working, and rising rates of divorce and single parenthood, have undermined the ability of families to effectively socialise young people.'" [my emphasis].

    Dig a little deeper and the news is not all bad. "However, children in single-mother families did not differ from those in two-parent families in the warmth and closeness of their relationships with their mothers and described more shared family activities," comment Judy Dunn and Kirby Deater-Deckard in their report, Children's Views of their Changing Families outlined here.

    And you have to go across the Atlantic to Cornell University to find this piece by Susan Lang on Henry Ricciuti's paper: the National Longitudinal Survey of Labor Market Experience of Youth. "Being a single parent does not appear to have a negative effect on the behavior or educational performance of a mother's 12- and 13-year-old children. What mattered most according to the study, is a mother's education and ability level and, to a lesser extent, family income and quality of the home environment. He found consistent links between these maternal attributes and a child's school performance and behavior."

    Recent government comments about single-parenthood have confined themselves to the financial points - single parents, of course, being more likely to be in receipt of some form of state benefits. You have to be very determined to find anything negative about single parenthood still available on Tony Blair's website. But I found this: "In the Dunedin Study in New Zealand, boys from single parent families were disproportionally likely to be convicted; 28% of violent offenders were from single parent families, compared with 17% of non-violent offenders and 9% of unconvicted boys (Henry et al., 1996). Based on analyses of four surveys (including the Cambridge Study), Morash and Rucker (1989) concluded that the combination of teenage child-bearing and a single-parent female-headed household was especially conducive to the development of offending in children." hidden in this cited paper on Childhood risk factors and risk-focused prevention by David Farrington, Professor of Psychological Criminology, University of Cambridge.

    We are accused of being one of the main Drivers of Social Exclusion in a report by The Social Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of York which was commissioned by the spookily-named Social Exclusion Unit.

    Last year there was a huge raft of 'single parents: baaad' government website references and links, but these have all but disappeared now and I can hardly find any of them. I'm convinced this is a deliberate pre-election attempt to rescue some single parent votes. We are, after all, a fast-growing sector of the electorate.

    I found (and then subsequently lost) an interesting quote amongst the research papers that made reference to a definite move towards a matriarchial society and I think this hits the nail on the head. The balance of power is changing, as predicted by the Mayans, (who reckoned the nature of power changes its essence from either male to female every two thousand years) and other ancient people.

    This is evidenced by the recent feminist movement and the rise in numbers of female-headed households. Far from being a cause of concern, I think this is a normal and natural process which is only disruptive in the process of change itself.

    My own experience of single-parenthood has been 100% positive, especially when compared to my experience of being in a marriage, in relationships and as a child growing up with one natural and one step-parent. My relationship with my children is closer, healthier, more harmonious and more 'in touch' when I'm not in a relationship with a man, than it is when I am. I think there are problems as a result of divorce and separation of parents but these are more to do with new relationships and the step-parent factor than the experience of single-parenting alone, in my opinion.

    The best situation for a child in my experience, is unlimited contact with its non-resident natural parent on the child's terms: this relationship and right of the child to dictate the terms of contact being held sacrosanct by both parents. This has proved to be a much better arrangement than any other I've tried or seen in practice.

    I know some marriages work well, but I still look (perhaps idealistically) back to a more tribal extended family arrangement that provides mothers with much more support from female relatives than our current nuclear families can hope to provide.

    Monday, November 27, 2006

    Modern Myths: No.1: Poverty

    I want to use my blog this week to get a few things straight about a few things, because reality seems to be completely divorced from some popular concepts at the moment. All the concepts involved are suspiciously being pushed very hard in the media and are currently the subject of vast public spending and policy and legislation changes. My next few blog posts will address these myths individually, because there's too much to cram into one post. I will deal with them in order of priority, with the issues being pushed the hardest and financed the most, first.

    Myth 1: Relative poverty is a social problem which desperately needs addressing, because it is at the root of all public disorder issues and failures in the education system.

    Truth: Relative poverty only means you have less than some other people. It does not mean that you don't have enough of everything you really need, which is the definition of real, material poverty. Material poverty has all but disappeared in this country due to our state welfare system. Where people are unable to afford to eat or pay their bills, this is usually due to financial mismanagement, not lack of income.

    To quote Charles Dickens: "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery." This quotation was widely repeated throughout my childhood by my chartered accountant stepfather, who in the course of his work had seen a lot of misery. It annoyed me then but has stayed with me resolutely ever since.

    Relative poverty is only a problem for the family involved if they succumb to the marketing campaigns and peer pressure to constantly acquire the latest thing, when they don't actually need the thing. This is a choice everyone is free to make.

    Furthermore, a family living in relative poverty who is satisfied with their lot has many advantages over their more affluent counterparts. Being happier with less, there is more spare time freed from working to devote to family, house, garden and children. Having just enough money, as opposed to too much, is a far less stressful way of living. I know this because I've lived through both situations. Surplus cash is just as much a cause of worry as lack of cash, but this is something most people won't believe unless they've actually experienced both.

    For individuals and families, poverty is a state of mind which is easily cured.

    The acceptance or choice made by swathes of the population to live in relative poverty is, however, a huge problem for those people who devote their lives to the goal of keeping our country's economy artificially inflating. There is no such thing as a stagnant financial situation: the economy is either shrinking or growing. When people stop increasing their spending rate, the economy starts shrinking and we are classed as being in a depression. I would argue that a healthy, naturally run economy has natural ups and downs (booms and busts) like everything else in life, but governments stake their success on avoiding slumps, for which they are invariably held responsible.

    I see that David Cameron has jumped on the 'relative poverty' bandwagon now, saying: "In the past we used to think of poverty in absolute terms - meaning straightforward material deprivation. That's not enough. We need to think of poverty in relative terms - the fact that some people lack those things which others in society take for granted. So I want this message to go out loud and clear - the Conservative Party recognises, will measure and will act on relative poverty," because of course the issue goes way beyond party politics and Mr Cameron is setting up his stall for his time in office which will, I'm sure, be little different from Tony Blair's in terms of policy and legislative program.

    The think tanks are working hard to 'prove' the relative poverty argument. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, whose research papers are widely used and quoted by Tony Blair has worked on very little else in the past few years. JRF's page on poverty forms a main part of their website hub. If you read it you will notice that the term 'relative' has strangely disappeared, although relative poverty is undoubtedly the subject of the page, not absolute material poverty. I expect this to be an increasing trend in the near future.

    Being seen to be trying to solve the (invented) 'problem' of relative poverty has many benefits for government and big money/power people, including:

    1. Giving them an excuse to introduce a raft of surveillance and social control laws and measures, such as:
    - Imposing full-time childcare on children from as early as two years old
    - The targetting of poorer families for compulsory intervention programmes
    - 'Contracts' between citizen and state (drawn up by states not citizens, naturally.)

    2. Enabling them to keep the economy artificially growing, by:
    - Increasing productivity, whether people really need more things or not.
    - Increasing employment, whether people really want or need to go out to work full-time.
    - Increasing spending, both public and private.

    3. Using people living in relative poverty as public whipping boys for issues like rising crime, failures in the education system and major public health problems.

    4. Drawing attention to the so-called 'poverty' issue makes government look...


    As opposed to looking like the greedy
    $$ warmongers $$ they really are.

    Sunday, November 26, 2006

    Learning to read for children in "poverty" ;-)

    Beverley Hughes claims that young children from families living in 'poverty' don't learn to read early enough. "If a child is in a more impoverished background where they are not necessarily going to get the enriching, stable environment at home, it will be to their advantage to start good-quality pre-school learning earlier," she said in this BBC news article.

    I have two points to call her on (well, lots more than two, but two very striking ones..)

    Firstly, if you have enough money to pay your bills and eat you are NOT living in poverty, by any logical definition of the word. Food is still very cheap and public libraries are free. State benefits are sufficient to cover all modest living expenditures, therefore parents on benefits/ without partners/ on lower incomes/ in social housing are being unduly singled out for unwarranted special treatment.

    Secondly, being on a low income is actually helping my child to learn to read - not hindering her! Here's how:

    She wants to eat custard, but the only way she can tell which is which out of the ultra-cheap tins is by actually reading the words.....

    Each can could contain kidney beans (15p), chopped tomatoes (15p) or the custard (21p) she actually wants to eat - there are no pictures or other clues on the can apart from the words.

    Proof that less wealthy children are not disadvantaged when it comes to learning to read - because we can't afford to buy food that has pictures on the labels! ;-)

    *Edit* For clarity's sake I should perhaps add the following example conversation as a footnote:

    Lyddie: Tom, what does this say?

    Tom: Chopped tomatoes

    Lyddie: And this one?

    Tom: Kidney beans

    Lyddie: What does custard look like?

    Tom: It's runny and yellow.

    Lyddie: No, silly! The word!

    Tom: Oh, it starts with a C, like Clever Cat

    Lyddie: It's this one then!

    Tom: No, that's chopped tomatoes. Custard has U after the C, like Uppy Umbrella.

    Lyddie: Ohhh then they're all chopped tomatoes or blooming kidney beans! I want some custard! They all say the wrong thing!

    Tom: I don't think we have any custard, Lyddie.

    Lyddie: *Walks away grumbling and muttering*

    Friday, November 24, 2006


    Here's the "Respect" agenda, much referred to by the National Academy for Parenting Practitioners.

    "Respect Action Plan builds on our current drive to tackle anti-social behaviour and reclaim communities for the law-abiding majority.

    "It also explains why we need to deepen our approach by tackling the underlying causes of anti-social behaviour, intervening early where problems occur and broadening our efforts to address other areas of poor behaviour.

    "In summary, the Respect Action Plan has six main strands:
    - A new approach to the most challenging families
    - Improving behaviour and attendance in schools
    - Activities for children and young people
    - Strengthening communities
    - Effective enforcement and community justice
    - Supporting families"

    I'd like to know how much of this is going to be compulsory, and what they define as being "other areas of poor behaviour". This could mean anything.

    "Parents have a critical role in helping their children develop good values and behaviour.
Conversely, poor parenting increases the risks of involvement in anti-social behaviour.
We will develop parenting services nationally and focus help on those parents who need it most." Do those parents get a choice about the 'help' they receive? Who decides who needs it most? What about the parents who don't want to be 'helped'?

    "We will expand national parenting provision and establish a new National Parenting Academy for front line staff." I need a glossary. What does parenting provision mean? Providing parents? That's birds and bees stuff, isn't it? Or are we talking about providing substitute parents? Providing for parents? Providing what for them? This government uses language like David Blaine uses ropes, chains and TV cameras. Quickness of the hand deceives the eye.

    "We will legislate to increase the circumstances, and organisations that can apply for a parenting order, where a child’s behaviour requires it." I see. Parenting Orders. No choice then. Penalty for breach of one meaning prison for parents and 'suitable' replacements found, one assumes, as with the current Truancy Laws.

    Where are the laws that pinpoint the exact prospective breach(es) in 'good behaviour' which will trigger this criminal process?

    "We will take a new approach to tackle the behaviour of ‘problem families’ by challenging them to accept support to change their behaviour, backed up by enforcement measures." It's not support. Support, in this context, means 'to give help or countenance to' or to 'assist by one's presence'. Unwanted help does NOT help, it only interferes.

    "Tackling poor attendance and behaviour in schools is particularly important since truancy and exclusion have been proven to lead to anti-social behaviour.
We will extend targeted action against truancy and place a new duty on local authorities to identify children missing school and support them back into education." NOTHING here about the (still legal) deregistration and home education option, which would surely be mentioned by a responsible agency who truly wished to offer support.

    "Specifically, we will develop Britain’s first national youth volunteering service.."
    volunteer /, - v. 1 tr. to undertake or offer one's services voluntarily.
    voluntarily -adj 1 done, acting, or able to act on one's own free will; not constrained or compulsory, intentional.

    "Respect cannot be built by central government or local services." *Splutter choke* I'm sure they employ comedy script writers for these things.

    "If people are too scared to go out, or the see that those in authority don't confront problems how can we expect them to have the confidence to do so, or to access the support that could help them change their lives." Where's the question mark? Give this author a Parenting Order, someone, s/he obviously missed some crucial schooling. There's a comma missing too. Tsk.

    "The Respect programme aims to make local government, housing and policing more accountable to local people - empowering them to take control of their community." I want to know exactly how they will be accountable. And to which local community. Their client groups?

    "We will continue our drive to ensure effective, swift and proportionate responses and sanctions by further extending the menu of powers available to local communities to deal rapidly and effectively with ‘low level’ anti-social behaviour. We will also broaden the range of people able to use existing powers.
We will strengthen the powers available for frontline agencies as well as streamlining the case management of Anti-social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) within the courts.
We plan to roll out a national ‘community payback’ scheme of visible and constructive punishment for offenders."

    The UK contains 60,209,500 people, crammed at the rate of 629 into every square mile. The National Parks consist of one million square kilometres of land in the UK. The Crown Estate holds 110,000 hectares of land. The Duchy of Cornwall has 54,764 hectares. The Church of England owns 125,000 acres of UK land. I don't know how much is owned by other so-called public bodies or robber-baron individuals but I do know that the vast majority of us are crammed into the remaining space in towns and cities by the million. Crammed in like sardines, side-by-side, stacked in blocks, the extent of land available for our private use being confined to a postage-stamp garden, if we're very lucky.

    60 million people on 244,820 square kilometres of land. How much is that each? However much it works out at, in my opinion this is the birthright of every UK citizen.

    Outside my window I can see miles and miles of green countryside, empty of buildings. And clusters of towns, empty of green. Houses crammed together with no spaces in between. No room to park a car, no room to plant crops, no room to play football. No room to spread out and be creative with space. Or hide. Or explore. No space to do anything except stay in your room (if you have one) or congregate on the street. Of course there's 'bad behaviour' when people are crammed together like that. They're not being worn out in the factories or down the mines any more. They're being dictated to from the age of two to the age of eighteen all day every day, five days a week. Thirty to a classroom, crammed in. Our innate territorial instincts are being challenged beyond belief.

    It's just an idea, but maybe if familes had more space to call their own - not shared, community, managed zones, but real land to call their own and time to spend on it, some of the problems might be solved. I might be wrong about this. It might make the situation worse. But it seems to me, looking out of our window, such an obvious possible solution to at least try, since everything else seems to have been tried and failed.

    Threatening people with removal of their children and freedoms if they don't comply with rules surely won't work. Surely most people don't operate on that basis, by stick and carrot? What are we, donkeys?

    Respect is a two-way, mutual process. If you don't give it, you don't get it. I don't see the government giving its people any respect whatsoever.

    And is it just me, or does this sound spooky?

    Supporting the government's parenting agenda, as it develops.

    - again, from National Academy for Parenting Practitioners

    As a parent I want to set my own agenda, along with my children. Are we still going to be allowed to do this?

    Client groups?

    The National Academy for Parenting Practitioners site refers to a "client group" - which is presumably we parents.

    Here's the context: Acting as a national centre and source of advice on high-quality academic research evidence on parenting and parenting support, combined with practical knowledge of what works and has worked in different situations and with different client groups.

    I thought the word 'client' indicated an element of choice, or option. However, according to my Oxford dictionary it means:

    1. a person using the services of a lawyer, architect, social worker or other professional person.
    2. a customer
    3. Rom.Hist. a plebeian under the protection of a patrician
    4. archaic a dependant or hanger-on.

    Interestingly, its root is in the French verb cluere, which means "to hear or obey".

    Ah, that makes sense then.

    I haven't even got past the introduction yet.

    Thursday, November 23, 2006

    Lyddie: letter sounds progress

    She's suddenly made a big leap forwards today: recognising the starting sounds of words. e.g. "Square! That begins with s! We made a S didn't we? And circle begins with S too!" and "Pizza begins with p! We made a P." "Did we make a M? Mummy starts with M." Must keep stitching then! We haven't made a M yet.

    She still pronounces g and k as d and t, and suddenly today she realises that this is wrong. Now she's trying to say them properly using the back of her tongue. All this is self-motivated, but I think it's been triggered by a combination of the Letterland thing and also some Dr Seuss DVDs, kindly donated by Lucy. Lucy, she's been singing the alphabet with an English (Yorkshire) - not American accent! Maybe the American accent will come later ;-)

    Wednesday, November 22, 2006

    Meri Christmas

    We've been to Leeds to see Meri Christmas this evening. The play is set at Christmas in a retirement home run for and by Asian people. The two main characters - an old woman and an old man, had been ignored and abandoned by their respective families even though they had devoted their lives to their children and providing for the future for them.

    It's very zeitgeist: M and I had been chatting in the car on the way to Leeds about the breakdown of family life and the farming out of the care of society's young and old people. We were commenting on the recent increase in the number of laws being passed and the extent of police powers, and I said we should be looking at the causes of the problems rather than seeking to force people to behave themselves. We agreed that the breakdown of family life was to blame.

    I think we disagreed on the blame for that. I tend to hold social and financial pressures (including compulsory schooling) to blame for keeping the generations apart. M, ever the Prussian, is still in favour of social institutions and blames feckless selfish parents for the situation instead. I was roundly told off at the end of the evening, for not being sufficiently cheerful or flexible ;-) In the 1930s East Prussia of M's childhood, there were strict rules about conversations and social niceties - as there probably were in this country at that time. Not too much politics, no religion. No saying things like they are. We must all appear to be cheerful and happy in case we depress the other person.

    I suppose I have changed. (She says I have.) At one time I would have thought one thing and said another. Nowadays I tend to think one thing and say it. I prefer the more genuine me. She obviously doesn't ;-)

    Zara's Blog

    As a natural development of her Other Half of the Sandwich theory, Zara has started a blog: Teenage Philosophy.

    Read now, and marvel at how Esoteric Cave Woman could possibly produce Consumer Babe!

    Hmmm. Kinda feels like a Margaret Thatcher 'We are a grandmother' moment. Bit scary really. What on earth is she going to tell the world? :-O

    Monday, November 20, 2006

    Government's threats to HE freedoms

    Well I've been mulling over the monitoring home ed issue quite a lot. Clare posted a link to a discussion she's been having with someone here, in which she sets out all the relevant points with perfect clarity, IMO. If I was going to respond to their consultation exercise it would just be to provide a link to that page, to be honest. It would be hard to find a better way of explaining the issue from a home educator's perspective.

    The petition now has 230 signatures! Which is great, until you look at the 7000+ they got for the one on repealing the hunting ban, or even - as someone on our local home ed list pointed out - the one requiring the Prime Minister to stand on his head and juggle ice-cream on the grounds that, "If he's not going to resign, the least he can do is provide us with some entertainment." Trouble is, knowing Tony Blair, he probably could. And happily would. Bless.

    Radio 4's Start the Week this morning included a great interview with the Observer's Henry Porter, billed as follows:

    "Someone, somewhere, is watching you. Whether it’s CCTV, ID cards or the DNA database, increasingly our movements and biological make-up are being monitored. To some people, these are examples of technology coming to the aid of crime fighters. To the writer HENRY PORTER it is part of a deeply worrying trend that could already be out of our control and he explains why he thinks our freedom and privacy are under threat. Suspect Nation is on More4 tonight at 9.00pm."

    He came across as being reasonable, relaxed and made his arguments in a compelling way that nobody could argue with. People like Henry Porter, Clare M, Neil TM and all the others just repeatedly, patiently making the arguments against total blanket surveillance gives us the best chance of waking up, working out what's happening and maybe trying to slow it all down or something.

    But even then, not meaning to be too depressing ("own personal hell" still ringing in my ears LOL - dare I ever say anything that's not cheery or happy again? ;-) it IS happening. It WILL happen. I can't see how it can be stopped. The technology is there, it cannot be uninvented and it's just too tempting for states not to use it. The universal compulsory schooling laws have done such a good job at switching off most people's critical thinking faculties, family allegiances, territorial instincts and a range of other healthy natural attributes that I just can't see anyone stopping the steamroller process. The very thought of trying reminds me of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, especially this image, surely a scar by now on our race memory:

    So what's to be done, when governments are hellbent on tyranny? I did an I Ching reading about it this morning and got 46: Sheng: Growth, with changing lines in the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 6th places resulting in 30: Li: Fire. Don't be impulsive. Just remain unremittingly persevering, in a consciencious and consistent way. If we are sincere, we will find an affinity with people in power. At this time we can work together in the spirit of solidarity to achieve something, if we're modest. The concluding Fire hexagram is about shining brightly - unashamedly doing what we do - to illuminate the world.

    So if the I Ching is right, which it always has been for me, then all is not lost and what we're currently doing will work.

    We were chatting about it at our home ed meeting today, thinking about the practical problems government will face if it tries to impose a curriculum on us. Lucy made the point that we could all, if pushed, show already that we comply with the National Curriculum and my home ed reports to LEA have been set out in such a way, to demonstrate that we do tick all their boxes even though we learn naturally. So in reality all 'complying with a curriculum' would consist of for most of us, assuming it was similar or identical to the one currently used in UK state schools would be some extra paperwork.

    The real difficulty would be if we had some kind of schedule or timetable imposed on us, or testing. All of which are the natural next steps after curriculum. But even then, unless they camped out in our living rooms or fitted us with surveillance cameras, how could they possibly enforce it? Chilling thought: rewind twenty or thirty years. I wonder if the CCTV debate and other losses to our privacy and liberty were debated in these terms - i.e. surely they couldn't/wouldn't actually do that? But look: they did.

    We've slipped so far down the steep totalitarian slope it's hard to see how we can possibly stop the fall at this late stage.

    Having said that, I had 'totalitarian' parents, in the sense that they wanted to oversee, monitor and control every single thing I did and I can tell you that even with unhindered 24/7 monitoring provision, the tyrant's goal is an impossible one. My parents demanded I be asleep by a certain time every night, but without the use of drugs or a cosh they couldn't force sleep to happen. (I became insomniac instead.) They shut me in my room, took out my lightbulb and removed all my books but I still stayed awake.

    They were determined I would accomplish certain skills and manners but they were only partially successful, despite their best efforts. You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink.

    What you can and will do, unfortunately, by trying to subsume a person's will, is bring about a reaction that might manifest itself (amongst other ways) in rebelliousness, apathy, disinterest or outright violence, depending on the person. But the thing about controlling other people is that it's a very difficult habit to break, once established.

    No I don't think the lawmakers have our best interests at heart. Only the interests of preserving and inflating our national economy and preventing us from ever rebelling. But I keep coming back in my mind to the glimmer of hope that the officials we deal with are real people and can, in many cases, be dealt with as such.

    Having said that, we're often up against the attitude expressed by Education Welfare Officers that 'some parents are not fit to home educate and these should therefore be weeded out and banned from doing so.' - with which I disagree. But it is a prevalent and deep-seated opinion throughout society and I think it's akin to the 'some people don't deserve to have children' sentiment I hear chunnered by people (most of whom don't seem to have any of their own.)

    On a related note, Lyddie was accused of being a brat by a passing stranger in Asda today. It's just made me want to run away and find a self-sufficient haven. I have days when I just don't want to be amongst the world when it gets like that.

    No, this is not further evidence of my "personal hell" - we had a lovely day apart from that, honest!

    Dear me. Blogging, huh? Who'd bother with it? ^^

    Saturday, November 18, 2006


    Someone has kindly given us a Letterland book and electronic machine-thing (pictured left). I had mixed feelings about it because it's bright and garish and very plasticy and noisy, but I do like the concept of giving the letters names and characters.

    The game-thing is quite old and simple, and has an option which just repeatedly asks questions, in a funny school-ma'am voice, like: "Where is Sammy Snake?" The child must press the right letter to get a new question. Every time the child presses the letter, it announces who it is in it's own voice, like: "I am Naughty Nick," "I am Annie Apple," etc.

    I like the fact that it doesn't say whether the answer is right or wrong, it just keeps repeating the question until the child presses the right button. So it's a learning process, as opposed to a winning and losing/ succeeding and failing process. I don't like things that indicate WRONG answers in a learning process, because one of the key factors in learning is confidence and as we all know, being repeatedly told we are WRONG does nothing for our confidence and only makes us want to give up.

    Lyddie plays with it for about 5-10 minutes at a time. It's just laying around with her other toys. I'm certainly not doing anything to 'encourage' her to play with it - I don't think that kind of intervention is either effective or wise. She enjoys playing with it on her terms even though she's not always getting all the answers straight away. Finding out the one that leads to a new question just adds to the fun for her.

    She's had the thing for about 3 days now, (It stayed in the bag for a few days before that, because I'd kind of forgotten about it.) and has gone from not knowing any of the letters to guessing most of them right first time this morning, in that space of time.

    What we don't know yet is how well this translates into actually reading. I'm not sure if she's making a link with the shapes, the little people with names, and the sound the letter is supposed to recognise - I suspect not at this stage.

    But we're still stitching letters, so hopefully that will help too. If our silky 'S' has the same shape as Letterland's Sammy Snake then I think it will come, in its own good time.

    We haven't even looked at the book yet. I'm waiting until she brings it to me to read.

    EF's thoughts about HE politics

    I've just read Elderfaery's latest blog post, which is her take on the current home ed political situation. In Denmark, where she is, things are very different, and she's discovered that the US attitude and approach is different again.

    Maybe we need to lift our heads up and look around at the way some others in the world do things and see things and also start to think laterally about our strategy for dealing with government and officialdom.

    EF's views resonate more with me than anything I've read on other blogs or on mailing lists and I had a chat with our local government chief ed welfare officer yesterday which reminded me that he is an honourable, well-meaning man who supports HEing parents want to do. These kind of connections between real people are possibly the key to sorting things out in a less confrontational way that works better for us.

    As EF points out, the numbers are still vastly against us. The great majority of people conform with the school system and many think that every child should be made to learn in that way. Unless and until that changes, we're going to be in a vulnerable position and we strengthen that, possibly, by making friends not enemies.

    I've still got a lot of thinking to do about this and will blog more about it in the next few weeks, but for now, if you like, take a look at EF's post and see what you think.

    Friday, November 17, 2006

    Home Education Petition

    "We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Allow home educators to be free from the interference of Local Education Authorities.

    As home educators we believe our children thrive without the constraints of rigid schooling and national curriculum. We have, for many years faced unfair scrutiny from the education authorities and social services. We beleive the way we educate our children is the best for our children."

    10 Downing St e-petitions


    I've read through all 657 blog posts I saved before the deletion and have opted to re-post 97 of them, which is roughly 15% of the original amount. I've divided the ones I want to republish into the following categories:

    Autonomous education and parenting:
    The Theory (15 posts)
    The Practice (37 posts)
    The Politics (10 posts)

    Magical Money (7 posts)
    Magical Universe (5 posts)
    Mad World (8 posts)
    Living (7 posts)
    Democracy? (2 posts)

    Theatre Reviews (6 posts)

    - and am about to begin reposting them now.

    Next job is to link to them all in selectable, drop-down categories from the sidebar, then I'll be satisfied with the blog as it stands.

    Autonomous education and parenting: the politics

    The following 10 re-posts are all about the politics of education, especially as it pertains to our rights to raise and home educate our own children in the way we see fit, which we perceive to be under persistent threat from government.

    The most recent one has most of the comments it received first time around pasted at the bottom, because I still had those in my email box (though I think it's missing one - sorry, whoever you were! Can't find it).

    Re-post: "Parents should spend more time with their children" - Nov 06

    From Tuesday, November 14, 2006

    "Parents should spend more time with their children": Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York

    In a recent interview, The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu said:

    "'We are raising expectations that cannot be met. Parents should spend more time with their children. They should be reading to them, entertaining them.

    'I was born in a village where we didn't have any toys. Sometimes, when a neighbour's car needed a new tyre, he gave you the worn out one, so you could run and wrestle with it. This was the great height for children!

    'And yet, my parents, particularly my mother, was wonderful in the evenings. She would have all of us children (Sentamu is the sixth of 13 children) sitting round a fire telling us amazing stories, bonding the family together.'

    He says that everything in life springs from the relationship between a parent and child and deplores the neglectful, vapid environment of contemporary childhood.

    'We have become a society where we all gather round the microwaves, or the television.

    Even while you are eating, the television is blaring. Come on! Parents should spend more time talking to children because behaviour is learned in the home. It is no good blaming schools.

    Once children have reached 11 and you have not been with them, then you have lost them. That is the difference with what happens in a Jewish home or a Muslim home, where the raising of the children is paramount.'

    'Victorian values are always being berated but at least parents back then put children and their education first. I look now and see these latchkey kids, some as young as seven.' 'We hear too much of people's rights. At the heart of it there are responsibilities. To do that which I ought.'

    'Manners, behaviour, attitude, always begin in the home. We mustn't use schools as a way of bringing up children, that is not right. Even animals don't do that.'"

    Excellent sentiments, with which I wholeheartedly concur. But I don't see anyone asking Dr Sentamu exactly which hours parents should be spending with their children, reading to them and entertaining them.

    The early morning hour before school? I remember this time being pack-jammed with finding uniform, getting dressed, locating PE kits, shovelling breakfast down, last-minute homework, face-washing, hair-brushing, getting into the car, queuing through the traffic in a frantic attempt to make registration. And that was if you could get your children out of bed on time.

    The hour or two after school? If you're lucky enough to finish work by 3pm, which most parents aren't nowadays, your children would anyway want to only flop, zombie-like in front of the TV. Getting them to do homework at this time is an uphill struggle. The very last thing they want to do is look at a book.

    Tea-time? If I could persuade them to interrupt their precious few after-school hours of freedom by sitting to eat with me, I couldn't get much conversation out of my young schoolchildren. As an adult, I was the enemy, so they were reluctant to tell me anything. Instead, they bickered amongst themselves. They were confrontational and overly defensive then.

    Evening? Many children are expected to attend activities like brownies, guides, music classes, etc. And also be in bed in good time to be up early for the next day. Not much time for sitting around the fire telling stories there. And there's still the dreaded homework to get done.

    Other parents of schoolchildren might have different experiences, but I found the out of school hours to be one long struggle with my children. I was reluctant to put any demands on them like "Come and listen to this story," or even "Let's sit around the fire." They were just about surviving the system and this took all their energy. We all were.

    Within a few weeks of deregistering they were happy to come and listen to a story, but recovering their interest in life took months - probably over a year.

    I wonder if Dr John Sentamu, brought up in Uganda, was in full-time school from the age of four. It doesn't sound like it to me.

    posted by Gill at 2:42 PM 8 comments...


    Yep. When P was at school there was very little time for anything. I remember crying at the end of one of the summer holidays when I realised that the only real chunks of time I'd get to spend with her during childhood were those six week summer breaks.

    Posted by Allie to Sometimes It's Peaceful at 11/14/2006 03:23:52 PM


    I used to cry with happiness when the summer holidays started. I ahted the school run. Battling heavy traffic in the winter with a double buggy with prem twins in it and 5 kids with zero road sense. That was after the up at 7 and the ritual shouting up the stairs for 45 minutes to get everyone up, dressed, washed, breakfasted and out with all the crap they needed for that day. Then on a night it was tea, homework, baths, pack up making and bed and I was a stay at home parent. I do not ever remember doing any reading except their school reading books.

    Posted by Ruth to Sometimes It's Peaceful at 11/14/2006 04:47:40 PM


    Well, I did have one of those idyllic childhoods - in South London in the 70s and 80s. I was at school from rising-5, until I was 18 1/2.
    We didn't have a tv, and my parents seemed to have made a conscious decision to do interesting things with us. Often I think they did more with my brother and I than I do with my 4 (who have never been to school).

    We had bedtime stories pretty much every night until we were about 12 (one of the last books my dad read us was Catch 22). We spent evenings together, we went out at weekends. We had brilliant holidays in dodgy B&Bs.

    We didn't eat together in the week (my mum childminded for several years, so we ate with the minded kids (usually only one) before my dad got home), but we always ate together at weekends. We ate out a lot too. I still love having a meal at their house (which I do fairly frequently!), as we just revert straight back to those crazy conversations :)

    My dad taught us about all sorts of things, and my mum was always there to sit and chat to. I don't think Sentamu is being unreasonably idealistic.

    Posted by Alison to Sometimes It's Peaceful at 11/15/2006 06:51:21 PM


    I'm glad to hear that it's possible to combine a healthy home life with full-time school Alison. Or at least, that it was in the 70s and 80s. My parents didn't manage it by virtue of the fact that we were out every evening at a variety of extra-curriculur activities.

    I think if we'd stayed with my dad, things might have been different, but with my chartered accountant stepdad my mother was able start fulfilling the upwardly mobile aspirations she held on our behalf.

    I still don't think, having compared full-time school for my children, with full-time home for them, that there's enough time outside of school hours for a family to do everything they might want to do at home. Unless they didn't want to do much at home, I guess.

    Posted by Gill to Sometimes It's Peaceful at 11/15/2006 07:47:32 PM


    And yes Ruth, same here! About 45 mins shouting at them to wake up in the morning, and panic panic to get everything done in the evening.

    I can't believe Dr Sentamu experienced all this and they still had time to sit around the fire and hear stories.

    Posted by Gill to Sometimes It's Peaceful at 11/15/2006 06:41:40 AM


    We did a few activities, but we weren't out every night - because my parents clearly valued family life. I know several school-using families today who seem quite content, have happy well-adjusted children who are very close to their parents and so on. And seem to fit plenty into their lives :)

    Maybe it's because my children haven't been to school that I don't feel the need to demonise it. The worst my school did to me was to bore me, but there was always enough entertainment at home to make up for it.

    Posted by Alison to Sometimes It's Peaceful at 11/15/2006 09:13:53 PM


    My children's experience of school was a lot different to my own too. When I was at school in the 70s and 80s (pre-NC) teachers were allowed a lot more autonomy and flexibility regarding lesson content and teaching style. Our work wasn't marked or tested excessively, and our teachers weren't observed or judged a lot.

    I remember having one very miserable year with a teacher who didn't like me (or maybe she didn't like anyone! but I took it personally) which may or may not have been noticed and 'corrected' under the current system. But the rest of the time things were more pleasant and free than for my first three children, 20+ years later. Not ideal, or really fun, but bearable. There were children of varying interests and abilities and these all seemed to be catered for, or at least tolerated peacefully.

    2o years later, my dyslexic son was being kept inside, alone, every break time and lunch time period 'until he learned his spellings'. This was a top of the league-tables school which was determined to perform well in SATs and Ofsted inspections, regardless of the emotional wellbeing of its pupils.

    Maybe some children still survive the system unscathed. I really hope so, but our family experience (all three of my older children had some major problems at school) tells me this is becoming increasingly difficult.

    Posted by Gill to Sometimes It's Peaceful at 11/15/2006 09:46:13 PM


    Re-post: Gatto - A Coal-Fired Dream World - Nov 06

    From Wednesday, November 01, 2006

    "A mass production economy can neither be created nor sustained without a levelled population, one conditioned to mass habits, mass tastes, mass enthusiasms, predictable mass behaviours. The will of both maker and purchaser had to give way to the predestined output of machinery with a one-track mind.

    "Nothing posed a more formidable obstacle than the American family. Traditionally, a self-sufficient production unit for which the marketplace played only an incidental role, the American family grew and produced its own food, cooked and served it; made its own soap and clothing. And provided its own transportation, entertainment, health care and old age assistance. It entered freely into cooperative associations with neighbours, not with corporations. If that way of life had continued successfully - as it has for the modern Amish - it would have spelled curtains for corporate society."

    John Taylor Gatto
    The Underground History
    of American Education
    Chapter 8 - A Coal-Fired Dream World

    posted by Gill at 2:47 PM 3 comments

    Re-post: A conversation in our guild chat today - Nov 06

    From Tuesday, November 07, 2006

    N (15): Boo hoo, I have to go to school soon.

    Me: Ew. Poor you.

    U (22): Don't complain! My dad always told me, and I didn't believe him until I started working, that your school years are the best years of your life. They are.

    Me: Rubbish. I disagree. My school years were horrible. I wasn't happy until I'd left the dump.

    U (22): It beats working though.

    Me: How?

    U (22): No bills, no mortgage. You get to finish at 3pm.

    Me: And that's it?

    U (22): Well, yeah. No worries. You just have to sit there pretending to concentrate all day.

    Me: As opposed to work, where you... just have to sit there, pretending to concentrate all day?

    U (22): Yes but at least you don't have to worry about paying your bills while you're doing it.

    Me: Great. Is that all there is to life then?

    U (22): No, if you work hard to get to go to Uni and have a laugh.

    Me: You have to work hard and go to Uni to have a laugh?

    U(22): Yeah, as well as study. Beats working.

    Me: How?

    U(22): Well you get loans and credit cards thrown at you. Free money. Party party.

    Me: So you can start working and worry about paying even more bills?

    U (22): Yeah, but you just put off worrying about that.

    Me: Ever thought there might be any different ways of living? Like, not doing any of that stuff at all?

    U (22): Not really, no.

    Me: OK :-)

    I didn't bother saying anything else. But I am sometimes asked by them what I do for a job. "Home educate my children," I say. I usually just get comments like, "Wow, I wish you were my mum." But it never seems to occur to people that they have choices too.

    posted by Gill at 7:30 PM 9 comments

    Re-post: Learning to read, 'experts know best' - Nov 06

    From Wednesday, November 08, 2006

    Lyddie brought me one of her new books to read to her last night – the ones from ex-stepdad and his new, retired-teacher wife. A bit of background first. He visited one day when I was sewing a letter d in dotty fabric. The conversation went as follows:

    Ex-stepdad: What are you sewing?

    Me: A letter d, with dotty fabric, look.

    Ex-stepdad: But why?

    Me: To help Lyddie learn to read.

    Ex-stepdad: And how do you know that’s the best way of teaching her?

    Me: I’m not teaching her, I’m helping her to learn. Basically, there are two main methods: Look-say and phonics. I used to think look-say was the best way. It involves the reader learning to recognise whole words just by being repeatedly told what the word says. It’s how most children in schools have learned to read since about the 1960s. But I’ve been doing some research and I now think phonics is the better system. The child learns letter sounds and is therefore able to decode language, making him or her a more independent learner. You would have learned the phonics way, I should think, Dad, whereas I wouldn’t have. [I went on to explain the letter-stitching idea to him.]

    Ex-stepdad: Well you know C was a teacher for 40 years, don’t you? I’ll ask her advice for you. Don’t do anything else until she phones you!

    Me: Er… why not?

    Ex-stepdad: Because she’ll know what to do for the best.

    Me: * Laughs uneasily and changes subject *

    Then came the phone call from his new wife (retired teacher).

    C: Gill, Dad’s told me about the reading thing and I’ve just called to say don’t worry!

    Me: Well I’m not worrying, we were just stitching some letters.

    C: Well it’s ok, you don’t have to do that any more. Stop right now. I’m going to WHSmiths for you tomorrow. They’ll have some proper books to teach her how to read. I know you can’t afford them, so we’ll buy them, but don’t worry about stitching letters.

    Me: Well I’ve opted for the phonics method. I’m sure you know all about that..

    C: Yes yes, I was a teacher for 40 years, I can remember what we learned in teacher training college, don’t worry, I’ll get the right thing.

    Me: Well C, you do know we have thousands of books here, don’t you? Whatever kinds of books they have at WHSmiths, I’m sure to already have something the same or very similar.

    C: Listen, we want to do this, it’s the least we can do. And you’re not a teacher, so you can’t possibly know what's best.

    Me: Oh. I see.

    C: I know you’re trying to do the best you can but really, stop stitching these silly letters. I’ll get the books to you as soon as possible.

    Me: Please don’t spend any money on this…

    C: Don’t be silly. We can afford it.

    Me: *Thinking: send us the cash then instead! We’ll go to Rievaulx Abbey!* Oh well, if you say so.

    The books came at the weekend and my heart sank when I saw what they were. I stuffed them in a corner somewhere in the hope Lyddie would forget about them because I was dreading reading one to her, but last night she absolutely insisted we read one. I needn’t have worried. She laughed until she cried, we both did. We could not believe such a ‘story’ existed. After the first page I could hardly speak for laughing and she could hardly breathe for laughing. I’ve never seen her laugh so much!

    Here’s the text of the book we read. Bear in mind this is the 14th book in the series, so the poor mites for whom this is their only source of literary material will have read 13 other such profundities before getting to this one, which is a heartbreaking thought in my opinion.

    Page 1: I like the dog. You like the dog. You and I like the dog.

    Page 2: I like trees. You like trees. You and I like trees.

    Page 3: You want toys. I want toys. You and I want toys.

    Page 4: You like Peter. I like Peter. You and I like Peter. (It took us nearly ten minutes to get past this page – for some reason she thought it was the funniest one yet.)

    Page 5: I like Jane. You like Jane. You and I like Jane.

    Page 6: Here are shops. We like shops. We like toy shops.

    Page 7: You can fish. I can fish. We can fish.

    Page 8: You want fun. I want fun. This is fun.

    This tripe went on for another 20 pages. Fun? I can’t bear to type it all out. Lyddie thought it was hilarious that such a mind-numbingly banal head-bangingly excruciatingly boring book could possibly exist. My relatives spent, at a guess, £50+ at WHSmiths on this load of rubbish if not more – the equivalent of a week’s groceries for us. There’s a whole stack of them here.

    When we’d finished I said, “Oh dear, that was awful. Let’s find a decent book now.”

    She was still giggling and managed to say, “You like books. I like books. You and I like books.”

    And she did that for the rest of the evening, talking in 3-word sentence monotones about everything, it had struck her as being so hilarious. She was taking the p*** out of the book. What a wicked sense of humour to have, at four years old! That's ma girl!

    On a more serious note though, John Taylor Gatto devotes a chapter of his Underground History of American Education to the spookily changing nature of children’s reading books. Before compulsory schooling these were interesting and fun, but they have become (quite deliberately, he says) boring and banal. He’s 100% right if this pile of books here from ex-stepdad and C is anything to go by. He thinks this is a deliberate ploy to put children off reading and I can’t think of any other reason under the sun for forcing a child to read so much absolute drivel. It would put anyone off learning to read. It’s barbaric, psychological abuse – if these kinds of books are the only kind a child has access to.

    And in yesterday’s Daily Mail was this story:

    Reading Trials a ‘Startling Success’

    Children who struggle with reading make ‘startling progress’ when they are given intensive one-to-one tuition, Government-backed research has shown.

    Six-year olds were able to catch up with classmates more than a year ahead after being helped by specialists trained in Reading Recovery techniques.

    Ministers made the back-to-basics approach mandatory in schools this term.

    They are now backing and part-funding the £10million research project to test the effectiveness of Reading Recovery, which involves giving struggling pupils intensive tuition for half an hour a day, for four or five months.

    As many as 35,000 youngsters every year finish primary school with severe reading difficulties.

    Results from the first year of the initiative have already shown dramatic gains.

    Specially-trained teachers were placed in inner-city schools around the country including London, Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool and assigned to help more than 500 six-year olds.

    The youngsters were found to have improved at four times the normal rate after around 38 hours of additional tuition. But children who did not get the extra help fell further behind their peers.

    Meanwhile, youngsters who benefited from the scheme also showed improved writing skills, behaviour and motivation.

    Boys were particularly helped, managing to draw level with girls.

    Dr Sue Burroughs-Lange, head researcher, said: “The progress made by children who received Reading Recovery was startling and statistical tests show it to be highly significant.”

    Schools minister Lord Adonis said: “With the right teaching and support, virtually every child can become a successful reader after starting primary school. Getting literacy right in the early years is the key to long-term educational success.”

    Reading Recovery originated in New Zealand but is expensive, costing £2,000 to £2,500 per child.

    Please excuse me while I finish spluttering. A £10million research project??? £2,000-£2,500 per child??? Where I come from it’s called good parenting, it’s free of charge and it is positively hindered, if not prevented, by the compulsory school system.

    And I’m just about to google Reading Recovery, to see if I can find out what materials they’re using..
    Here it is Apparently it’s based on the ideas of someone called Marie Clay. Googling her too.
    Here she is. There’s a picture, too. Oh here’s a paper she’s written. Wow, it’s good stuff actually. I won’t quote it all but if you’re interested it’s well worth a read. Some key extracts:

    “Independent reading is the reading students choose to do on their own. It reflects the reader’s personal choice of the material to be read as well as the time and place to read it. Independent reading is done for information or for pleasure. No one assigns it; no one requires a report; no one checks on comprehension.”

    Yup, this is what my children all did. I would contend that most young children in the constant presence of lots of good books would pick this up naturally, especially if they see their adults reading for pleasure too.
    Argh, the whole paper is interesting. I mustn’t quote it all or this blog post will be unfeasibly longer than it’s already going to be. Wow, she quotes this from Jefferson though:

    “The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

    I wonder if our government has actually read the contents of this £10million project they’re funding? LOL.

    But here’s the crunch:

    "Research indicates, however, that many students do not choose to read often or in great quantities. In recent years scholars from a variety of disciplines have studied the amount of time students choose to read and the effect of literacy on cognitive functions. In a series of studies involving hundreds of students, Morrow and Weinstein (1986) found that very few preschool and primary grade children chose to look at books during free-choice time at school. Greaney (1980) found that fifth-grade students spent only 5.4 percent of their out-of-school free time engaged in reading, and 23 percent of them chose not to read at all. Anderson, Fielding, and Wilson (1988) found that students spend less than 2 percent of their free time reading. Furthermore, as students get older, the amount of reading they do decreases."

    Yes, because they’re in school. And what are they given to read at school? If it’s anything like our new Key Words scheme, they’d be certifiably insane to want to sit and read it.

    "The premise that literacy is associated with school achievement, participation in a democracy, and self-fulfilment is widely held. Why then don’t students read more? Some suggest that the way reading is taught is not conducive producing students who love to read. In a study for UNESCO, Irving (1980) found that most respondents made no association whatsoever between reading and pleasure.

    "According to Anderson, Fielding, and Wilson (1988), students who begin reading a book in school are more likely to continue to read outside of school than students who do not begin a book in school."

    What? I’ve read that last sentence twice and I still don’t get it. How have they measured that?? Ugh, I’m not going to google Messrs Anderson, Fielding, and Wilson too. This could go on all day.

    "However, research also suggests that some teachers are not knowledgeable about children’s literature; they are not able to introduce students to the wealth of books available, and they may not recognize the effects of their teaching methods on students’ attitude toward reading (Short and Pierce 1990)."

    If this is really the case, what on earth are they being paid for? And what on earth did they learn at teacher training college? It’s like saying some doctors don’t know anything about the immune system. Oh wait, …. Yeah. *rolls eyes*

    "The common sense notion that students who do a substantial amount of voluntary reading demonstrate a positive attitude toward reading is upheld in both qualitative and quantitative research [she goes on to list all the research.]"

    Well duh. We needed all those experts to tell us that?

    "Students’ reading achievement has been shown to correlate with success in school and the amount of independent reading they do (Greaney 1980; Anderson, Fielding and Wilson 1988). This affirms the predictability of a success cycle: we become more proficient at what we practice (Cullinan 1992)."

    Oh goodness me. I think I’d rather read about Peter and Jane. More chance of finding out something we didn’t know. Like whether I like a dog or not. So nice to be informed about what I like…

    "Overwhelmingly the studies show that children from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds learn to read early."

    Well I never. Even poor children can learn to read.

    "Children who learn to read before school entrance (about 1 percent of the population) are those who are read to, who have someone to answer their questions, and who like to make marks on paper. They are called “paper and pencil” kids (Durkin 1966). Studies show clearly that children need not be from privileged homes in order to learn to read early, but they must have access to print and have someone to read to them (Taylor and Dorsey-Gaines 1988). Heath (1982), concluded that the way children interact with books in many homes differs from how they are expected to interact with books in school. Children who come to school with well-developed skills in “taking meaning from books” are clearly at an advantage.

    "When Durkin (1966) studied the homes of children who had learned to read early, she found that someone in the home read to the children, answered their questions, and encouraged them to write. Wells (1986) counted literacy events (which he defined as any encounter in which the child was involved in reading, writing, or engaging with print), and found that prior to school entrance some children had hundreds of literacy events, whereas others had few or none. The amount of experience that five-year-old children had with books was directly related to their reading comprehension at seven and eleven years old. Children who had engaged in hundreds of literacy events entered school understanding more about the world than children with minimal literacy events and furthermore, they excelled at the end of elementary school. Six years of schooling could not make up for the loss children suffered by not engaging in literacy events in their early lives. Wells stated that of all the activities considered possibly helpful for the acquisition of literacy, only one—listening to stories—was significantly associated with later test scores. The need for extensive early literacy experience was further documented in the research of Durkin (1966), and Teale and Sulzby (1986, 1992)."

    So they know – they know! – that being at home with an active, involved parent is the best possible environment. And still we have compulsory full-time schooling from 5 years old and state encouraged full-time schooling from 2 years old. From 6-weeks old, if SureStart has its way.

    There’s more, then:

    "Krashen (1989, 1993, 1995a 1995b) conducted a comprehensive meta-analysis of forty-one studies on in-school free reading, sustained silent reading, and self-selected reading programs. In thirty-eight of forty-one studies, students who engaged in free reading did as well or better on standardized tests of reading comprehension than students who were given direct instruction in reading. Krashen’s meta-analysis showed that in-school free reading programs are related to vocabulary development, knowledge of grammar, writing, and oral language facility. Correlations between free voluntary reading and scores on literacy proficiency tests are not always highly significant statistically; however, they are consistent and show that free voluntary reading does make a difference.

    "Students’ reading ability and desire to read are affected by the structure of the texts they read. If texts are well organized, have a logical flow, and include relevant information, they are inviting and reader friendly. Unfortunately the quality of writing used in some content-area textbooks found in American classrooms is considered deficient in some respects (Anderson and Armbruster 1984; Armbruster and Gudbrandsen 1984; Flood et al. 1991). Some textbooks are simply “baskets of facts,” little more than loosely connected lists of propositions about a topic. The organization of chapters, the structure of expository text, and the language may be murky. Traditional expository structures such as cause-effect, temporal sequence, or comparison-contrast are seldom found. Students often find more clearly written expository text in good informational trade books than in textbooks (Freeman and Person 1992)."

    This is exactly my point. Boring books put a child off reading. So why publish a reading scheme that’s mindnumbingly boring?

    Here’s the conclusion of the paper:

    "Independent reading is the kind students choose to do on their own; it is not assigned or assessed, but it has a positive effect on learning and school achievement. Research about the effects of independent reading on school achievement and programs planned to promote it demonstrates these common factors:
    The amount of free reading done outside of school has consistently been found to relate to achievement in vocabulary, reading comprehension, verbal fluency, and general information. Students’ reading achievement correlates with success in school and the amount of independent reading they do (Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding 1988; Guthrie and Greaney 1991; Krashen 1993; Cunningham and Stanovich 1991; Stanovich and Cunningham 1993).
    Numerous surveys show that many students do not choose to read great quantities, nor do they choose to read often (Morrow and Weinstein 1986; Greaney 1980; Anderson, Fielding, and Wilson 1988).
    The preschool years are crucial ones for children’s language and literacy development (Baghban 1984; Clay 1991; Durkin 1966; Heath 1983; Ninio and Bruner 1978; Snow 1996).
    Library programs are founded on the knowledge that literacy experiences have a lasting effect on language growth, reading development, and scholastic achievement (ALSC 1996; ALA 1996; Bridge and Carney 1994; Towey 1990).
    Common features of effective programs designed to promote reading in schools, homes, and libraries include access to varied material that appeals to all ages and tastes, active parent involvement, partnerships among community institutions, and collaboration among significant adults in students’ lives."

    So the Reading Recovery programme, if it’s based on the work of Marie Clay, will introduce interesting things to read to stimulate a love of reading. No wonder it’s so ‘startlingly effective’. But £2,000 to £2,500 per child? Gah.

    The state replaces parenthood, forces young children into schools and alienates them from their parents, who are pushed into full-time, taxpaying employment. THEN, when the boring school reading schemes don’t work, (quel surpris,) the government has to spend vast amounts of taxpayers’ money on buying in yet another project which has consulted a dazzling array of Educational Psychologists to work out that what children need is something as close as possible to time at home with engaged parents.

    Tell me I’m dreaming? What a mad world.

    posted by Gill at 5:28 AM 17 comments

    Re-post: "Parents must do better" - Nov 06

    From Thursday, November 09, 2006

    From the BBC education news page, with my comments in italics.

    Parents must do better - Johnson

    The Education Secretary has said he wants to make it easier for parents to do more to educate their children.

    It couldn't be easier. Just send a formal detter of deregistration to your child's school. Further details and legal position on the Education Otherwise and Home Education websites.

    Speaking at a conference in London, Alan Johnson said it was time to challenge the perception that education began and ended at the school gates.

    Hmmm. Alarm bells already ringing...

    His comments came amid calls from the Daycare Trust to extend free childcare places, particularly for disabled children and those from poorer areas.

    Mr Johnson said there were now twice as many childcare places as in 1997.

    The minister said parents who took an active interest in their child's education could make "a massive difference".

    Indeed. My own teenagers don't smoke, drink, take drugs, hang around in gangs, smash up bus-stops, get into fights or show signs of mental illness. They are all extremely eloquent and 100% capable of earning a living in any employment field of their choice. They learn and study under their own steam without having to be coerced, for hours a day. This is after 8 years of educational freedom from the compulsory state schooling system.

    But he stressed it was not for the government to dictate to parents.

    *Printing this and sticking it to kitchen wall.* Can it be signed by all MPs, please?

    "Everyone needs a bit of help sometimes, whether it's a confidence boost, some practical advice or an urgent intervention," he said.

    Maybe, but not at a cost of £billions to the British taxpayer. Caring parents do it for free, naturally. Especially if they manage to resist the government-driven social pressure to put their kids into full-time childcare as early as possible and 'get back to work'. It's only the children who grow up feeling no adults really care about them or are on their side who might need state-sponsored confidence-boosts, practical advice or 'urgent intervention'. This is how the state makes work for itself.

    Among the suggestions he highlighted were to make parents' advice services more accessible and better publicised, and introduce longer opening hours into schools.

    LOL yes, alienate them even further from their parents and their family homes. Someone pull me out of this yawning pit of sarcasm that seems to be opening in front of me, please?

    "Although parenting is an intensely private matter, it has immense public consequences," he said.

    Translation: You might think it's your business, but we're increasingly making it our business. Hey, we have an economy to fuel. Sod your family's mental health. Money comes first.

    "We must make it easier for parents to do more to help the state with the education of their child."

    "Parents help the state with the education of their child?" According to Section 7 of the 1996 UK Education Act, The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable- (a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and (b) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise. Not the state. Doesn't the state offer to help parents with the education of their child, then? Mr Johnson appears to have 'accidentally' reversed this legal fact.


    For every hour a child spent in compulsory education, they spent more than 10 in the care of their parents, he said.

    Most of it sleeping

    Mr Johnson said many parents wanted more help and were turning to television programmes for advice.

    "I have become aware of the voracious appetite that there is among parents for more information, more support and advice.

    "A recent survey showed that almost three quarters of parents watched parenting programmes like Supernanny and over 80% have found them helpful."

    Programmes that teach you how to bully your child into accepting authority. A tragic necessity when parents have lost touch with their children to the extent they now have, thanks to generations of enforced government intervention. What a sad world.

    Children's minister Beverley Hughes told the conference bad parenting blighted communities and their children's prospects.

    When things go right, the state is providing a great system. When things go wrong, it's bad parenting. Do people really fall for these lines?

    "There are circumstances when parents' behaviour or indifference is damaging their children."

    She said schools, health services and council services like libraries and sports facilities must focus on parents, in particular on fathers instead of always on mothers.

    Complete the alienation process by making both parents allies of the state, and enemies of their children.

    Expensive care

    Earlier, Alison Garnham, joint chief executive of the Daycare Trust, said the government had made tremendous progress in developing new childcare places.

    Childcare places free up workers, create employment, raise taxes, increase everyone's spending and increase family alienation. So of course they have, it's their raison d’être.

    "But two years into the 10-year national childcare strategy there remains a considerable way to go in achieving our aim of universal childcare," she added.

    "Our aim of universal childcare?" Aren't... parents.. supposed to provide universal childcare? Not any more, it seems. Orwell was dead right.

    "Childcare remains expensive and out-of-reach for too many low-income families including lone parents and also families with disabled children."

    Those children who need even more parental time and love than any others, then?

    She said this appeared to be the case even after government help with the costs.

    The trust also called on ministers to scrap plans to allow nursery class sizes to rise from eight children per teacher to 13.

    Latest figures show there is one place for every three children under eight, compared with one place for every nine under-eights in 1997, according to a report by the Daycare Trust.

    One in every 3 is quite encouraging actually. Does this mean 66% of children get to be with their parents instead? Hope so, but suspect not.

    It also found parents in England met 75% of all childcare costs in 2004/5, considerably more than in Denmark where parents pay 30% of the costs.

    Oh, not then.

    Mr Johnson told delegates at a Daycare Trust conference that the government had already invested more than £20bn towards 1.3 million childcare places.

    £20bn??? Mad, mad, mad.


    Something's afoot: I see the government is making noises about changing regulation rules pertaining to home educators. (Thanks Tech.) Of course this will be after a 'consultation' during which parents all get to bust a gut stating their opinions, which will then be totally ignored. When legislation is enacted by the state, to further suit the state, the politicians will say they have 'consulted' and that most people want this to happen. Rubber stamp, and it's in. Let's not delude ourselves that this will happen, no matter how much desperate effort we invest to try to prevent it.

    Personally I'll take action if and when my right to educate my children in the autonomous way that benefits them is legally challenged. I'm happy to debate and defend this educational system with anyone, any time, right up to the High Court and beyond, if pushed that far. My adult children are willing to stand as evidence that this kind of education works far better than anything offered by the state, measured by any standards except that of psychological compliance. They can measure us by that one if they dare.

    I'll write what I need to, where I need to, I'll attend meetings, hearings, reviews, conferences, briefings, whatever it takes. We all will. If our legal right to take this escape route to freedom and good mental health is actually threatened by the state, that's when I'll take action. That's my battle line drawn.

    Until then, they can send in their monitors and their assessors. I have nothing but good things to tell them and my meetings with them have always been educational for the officials involved, which is no bad thing in my opinion. And my children's 'work' will always remain their own private property. It does not belong to the state, any more than the children themselves do.

    Posted by Gill to Sometimes It's Peaceful at 11/09/2006 11:03:00 AM