Friday, November 17, 2006

Re-post: Compulsory education and why it doesn't work - Feb 05

From Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Here is an excellent article about home education in today’s Guardian. It's funny, because I woke up this morning a bit concerned about Zara, who hasn't been very educationally-minded recently, and reading the article was just the reassurance I needed. I love the way they've presented the 'concerns' of the Professional Association of Teachers sandwiched between the calm, academic views of Mike Fortune-Wood and Alan Thomas.

Home education is idyllic, compared to school-based learning, especially of the autonomous, unschooling variety. Why should learning be pre-planned and structured? Why should it exclude parents from their children's day-to-day life? And - more to the point - what has the Professional Association of Teachers got to do with home education? I can only think that, with them, we touch a raw nerve.

Every schoolteacher must know, deep down, that compulsory education defeats the object. When it's so incredibly difficult to coax even a glimmer of interest from your students, when it's almost impossible to coerce them into producing any tangible results of their learning, you can't fail to come to the conclusion that something has gone deeply and universally wrong.

I've stood in front of classes full of 16 yr-old nursing students straight out of school when I was teaching the homoeopathy element of a complimentary medicine module and it was like wading through treacle with weights on. Their faces were blank, bored, they were all clock-watching. They didn't want to be there. And yet my friend and neighbour from our old address who was bringing up young children when I was, and who was panicked to find that doctor-prescribed medicines made her children less, rather than more healthy, couldn't learn homoeopathy from me fast enough for her liking. This was someone who had no academic qualifications, who had hated school and found it pointless, but when she needed to learn in order to keep her children healthy, she became a very willing student.

I also found that teaching Chinese Physical Culture to adults was not hard work, because the students wanted to be there and had enjoyed some years' break from the compulsory education system to recover their curiosity and their willingness to learn. To quote from the Wilhelm translation of the I Ching, No.4, Meng: Youthful Folly:

"It is not I who seek the young fool; the young fool seeks me."

And from the commentary:

"In the time of youth, folly is not an evil. One may succeed in spite of it, provided one finds an experienced teacher and has the right attitude towards him. This means, first of all, that the youth himself must be conscious of his lack of experience and must seek out the teacher. Without this modesty and this interest there is no guarantee that he has the necessary receptivity, which should express itself in respectful acceptance of the teacher. This is the reason why the teacher must wait to be sought out instead of offering himself. Only thus can the instruction take place at the right time and in the right way."

On the basis of this age-old wisdom confirmed to me by my own experience as both a student, a teacher and a home-educating parent, I don't usually supply information unless I'm asked for it and I don't try to solicit or engineer occasions when I might be asked. When I am asked for information I try to only answer the specific question being asked and wait for more specific questions before I yield more information. This is because I'm painfully aware of the fragility of a student's curiosity and I know how easily it can be quashed by a teacher's over-riding assumptions about the student's learning process, which in every case is an individual and unique path.

If one teacher can so easily kill the curiosity of one student, by clumsily taking control of their learning process, how much damage can a country's Educational Department with its compulsory education laws, its strict truancy laws, its 'zero tolerance', its National Curriculum and its Ofsted do to a nation's children? If you want to know the answer, look at England.

posted by Gill at 10:29 AM 6 comments


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