Sunday, November 30, 2008

Socialisation? It's difficult..

.. sometimes I have to break off from chatting to my friends to see to the children!

No, seriously, I love my children and I socialise with them all the time. We play, eat, live and work together at home, most days of the week. We are certainly, like most home educators, closer than your average family.

But when we go out to mingle with other people, you wouldn't necessarily get that impression. Especially if there's some child-oriented activity going on, the children are happy to leave me without a backwards glance and I'm happy to sit and relax and chat with other parents.

Sometimes at home ed meetings this approach of mine has drawn raised eyebrows, to say the least. The best kind of home educating parent is apparently involved with all of their children's activities, all the time. They deny themselves the luxury of indulging their own socialisation needs - or perhaps attend to those when their children are asleep, I don't know - and want to stay right by their children's side at social events.

I have actually been told off by another parent, in years gone by, for pulling up a chair to chat instead of assisting my [quite capable] child's group collaging attempts. Hmm. Maybe I'm just selfish and disruptive. I certainly don't mean to be - we were chatting very quietly, in a corner that was out of the way of everyone else, but apparently it Wasn't Good Enough. *Rolls eyes..*

And I do keep a watchful eye open. OK, maybe I don't see and hear everything, but aren't our children entitled to any privacy from us? As long as we know where they are and they seem happy, do we have to be there by their side absolutely all the time? I suppose I trust other people to let me know if any of my children are causing a problem that I didn't see, and they look out for each other to a large extent as well.

If I hovered more closely, I think it would irritate them. They'd feel sort of obliged to try to involve me in their games and it would certainly cramp their style. I've tried it sometimes and it doesn't feel right, for them or me. They just want to go off and play. Like me, they like to know roughly where I am and that I'm happy and enjoying myself with my peer group, then they feel free to do the same.

And seriously, home educating parents need to socialise too. Even feistily independent and self-contained ones like me. It feels so good to just sit down with like-minded people and have a right old chat. Most of the time we're at home on our own with our children, focusing on their every need. It wouldn't be healthy not to have a break from that from time to time. We need to be happy and refreshed to serve our children well, no? And to forge bonds and links with other parents in the same way as our offspring do with their children.

Some gatherings we've been to over the years have been very isolating events, consisting of little separate family groups each availing themselves of the activity on offer and very little communication from one family to another. But it's been a long time since we experienced this - we tend to give those kinds of events a wide berth nowadays. And actually our preference is to stay at home for most of our time. There's so much for us to do here, it's comfortable and convenient and we get quite a lot of visitors.

I do hope I haven't offended anyone here - except the bossy lady who told me off in Leeds about 7 years ago. If she's reading, I don't mind offending her ;-) But everyone else - well, I know some brilliant, exemplary parents and obviously we're all doing the very best we can. I absolutely don't want to criticise anyone else - just to speak out in defence of what I do, as usual. Sadly, it's difficult to do the latter without seeming to do the former.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A significant challenge

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

- Ofsted Annual Report 2007/2008

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

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

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

- Aaron Russo quoting Nick Rockefeller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

An exciting new project

I've just contributed a post to Home Education Stories UK. A new project, it aims to "become a treasure trove of stories from UK home educators (both parents and children) on a huge variety of topics."

My post, on Home-educating a free-range, mixed-age brood turned into a bit of a rant, but I did enjoy writing it.

I think this site has the potential to become a great resource for people seeking more information about home education in the UK in all its many and varied forms. Obviously, the more methods, ideas and experiences that are on there, the more useful a resource it will be. So if you're a past or present home educator, you might want to consider contributing something yourself. You can find instructions on how to do so here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Computer kids, #3

Further to my previous posts: Computer kids and Computer kids #2, here's the latest image of our IT-oriented little ones:

We connected Lyddie's PC to the network last week, it having been offline until now, and they were exploring the CBeebies website together there. It happened without adult input - I think Lyddie just wanted to show the baby what was there and how it worked.

This unfailing instinct to share knowledge and skills, and to pass them on, never fails to awe me. I'm glad I picked the camera up quickly and got the pic.

The baby understands now that if she points to icons then they can be selected and something else happens, but she hasn't worked out the function of the mouse yet, so she still needs help. But when Lyddie was out last night, I spent an hour on the site with her and she never got bored.

I don't think it beats "KNEE. BOOK." in her priority list of favourite activities though.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Something for the credit crunch

.. or do we call it a credit crisis now? Whatever. As regular readers will know, this family has been home educating on a frugal budget for so many years that economising is second nature and therefore a bit more makes no difference whatsoever. But I thought it might be useful to someone in these times of hardship to set out some of the many advantages (yes, advantages!) of living a blissfully free-range home ed family life on the cheap.

These are some of the ways in which we've found that it's actually better to have less money:

  • Poverty requires creativity. That perfect costume or outfit can't be bought: it must be made, and often adapted from the old curtains or other spare fabric that's been saved. This cuts down shopping time and stretches brains: the skill of turning opportunities to suit what's needed doesn't come from nowhere.

  • Expensive courses, activities or lessons aren't really an option, or if they are, they require such swingeing cuts from other departments of family life that those undertaking them don't commit too lightly, or on a whim. I think this leads to time being better spent doing what people really want to do.

  • Home ed in poverty engenders a 'can do' attitude: my sons were building computers and networks practically (but not quite) out of old yogurt pots and bits of string when they were 10, 11, 12 and couldn't bear to take turns. Now we don't need to pay expensive retail - or even wholesale - prices for our stuff. We can usually adapt what we have to our changing needs, or build something new out of next to nothing, in terms of cost. We certainly fix all our own equipment, which brings me to..

  • Learning through necessity is almost as great a motivator as is learning through curiosity. We know how a washing machine works, ditto a domestic plumbing and electrical system, and a central heating system, how a roof drains, how a car engine works, how to spot-weld, which firewood burns the best and which wild plants are edible because we've had to learn these things. This means that we aren't so much at the mercy of tradesmen or retail systems, and economic downturns (with attendant exodus of Polish plumbers, etc.) go largely unnoticed by us.

  • Children living in families with 'just enough' become numerate at a very early age. Whether it's working out whether we can afford to tax the car, why seasonal veg is cheaper, or just how much money there is to spend, adding up the pounds and pence is a vital skill, quickly learned.

  • Even learning to read takes on a different importance in times of hardship. (If cheap baked beans constitute hardship..)

  • I think the lack of spare funds makes for more individually-honed provision, perhaps because parents have to be more on hand and attentive - there isn't really the option to buy in other tuition or coursework.

I see that I've written about this before, and no doubt I will again. It's an increasingly pertinent issue, isn't it?

Having less money has meant more challenges for us, which have strengthened our family unit to the extent that we can think about very long-term projects that involve us all. It's been such a good thing that I wouldn't have changed it. I just wanted to say that belt-tightening does not have to be bad news.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Dear Kitty Ussher

On the Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee of the House of Commons, on Thursday 30 October 2008, in a debate about the Draft Social Security (Lone Parents and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2008, you said:

"I see no reason why a parent of a child over seven cannot successfully home educate their child and work part time. It is not common sense to presume that just because a child is at home, they are being educated all the time; nor should one presume that just because a child is home educated, they are unable to be cared for or appropriately looked after in child care when they are not in their lessons at home. That is why the provision applies to home educators."

I am writing to you now to express my shock and disbelief that you can be so misinformed about the lives of a group of people in relation to whom you seem to be in a key decision-making role and to correct your misunderstanding.

Pre-arranged, pre-set lessons are a necessary artificial construct of school learning and are not how most children learn at home. Home educating parents have found, often by a process of trial and error, that their children's learning outcomes can be vastly improved when they are allowed to learn naturally, following their interests in a self-directed way.

Home educated children are free to ask questions and be helped to find the answers on the spot, in a way that schooled children can never be unless they enjoyed much lower teacher:pupil ratios and the absence of an externally-imposed curriculum.

It is therefore vital for the continuance of their education provision that the parents of home educated children are allowed to remain in their position as full-time (in the literal sense of the term) educational facilitators. Regular interruptions to this process, in the form of a daily period of state-imposed childcare, will seriously damage the education of any child who learns in this way.

This may not change your thinking about whether Income Support should be payable to such families (Is this actually your thinking? Or do you simply follow your brief?) but you should know better about what you are talking in such crucial debates.