Friday, 29 April 2011

Not on the bus

Now I know why my mum suggested a day trip to France in the summer of 1981! It was (in those days at least) a remarkably successful way of avoiding a royal wedding. The parallels with 1981 are hard to miss - here we are in the depths of a grim economic time with cuts aplenty and anger on the streets. So up they pop, "Look at the pretty dress! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain/ bunch of old-school Eton bastards doing over the poorest and most vulnerable again..."

But leaving aside the anger at the ridiculous pomp and forelock tugging, yesterday I found myself pondering the royal life as I sat on the bus to work. I was content, a bit melancholy for one reason and another, but basically content on the bus. Outside there were some late teens/early twenties larking about on the play equipment in the park - at ease with each other. Students on the bus were listening to music and reading their notes. A couple were discussing some complicated arrangement of bank accounts and overdrafts that might see them through to the end of the year. An old woman was pushing a trolley along the pavement with cat food poking out the top. No one wanted me for anything. I was in my home town feeling safe, feeling I belonged, feeling free. And I wondered then if any person born into the royal family can ever have that feeling? I tried to imagine a life where you have never known what it is to be just another person - to never have that invisibility. I wondered how it would be to never get on the bus, pay your fair, sit there and watch the world go by.

I know there are a lot of other things that being royal takes away - like worrying how you might pay the gas bill or wondering if the landlord might decide to sell your flat. No material suffering in such a life. But emotionally? What does it do to a child to be born into such a bizarre life? It's a curse, I reckon. The life of a caged animal. The life of a symbol, a stuffed suit or a face under a hat. No choice and no voice. No opportunity to be a part of society beyond the tiny elite. No chance to get on the bus.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

The perils of advice

One of the most exciting things about home education is the feeling of liberation from a dictated path. You really can make your own choices about, not just how your family approaches learning, but how you approach day to day life. I think that can feel quite intoxicating, especially if you are withdrawing your child from school. From observation of others, I think that feeling can be amplified still further if you are withdrawing your child after a long, miserable and frustrating time trying to get the system to meet his/her needs. But what is exciting can also be daunting and doubts and fears are also the lot of the new home educator. That’s when it can be invaluable to have others around with whom to talk. But these interactions can have pitfalls that I’ve come to recognise over the years we’ve been home educating.

If you decide to home educate, you are taking a step down a path - walking away from a whole raft of people who will tell you (and your child) what to do and how to do it. You won’t have a book sent home in a book bag and your child will no longer be part of a class or a year group working to a plan. That is swept away at a stroke. The decisions are yours – the mistakes are yours. The happy days are yours and the miserable days are yours. So it’s not surprising that most of us crave interaction with others in the same boat. We want to know what others do. But what I have come to realise is that no amount of talking to others can (or should) replace considered decisions about what is right for us – for our own children. Other people’s enthusiasm, be it for an expensive curriculum or a child-led lifestyle, is not a sales pitch unless we choose to respond to it in that way. If we do, and we don’t like what we buy, then we have only ourselves to blame. That sounds harsh. But I’ve seen people burn their fingers here and there in home education (had a minor singe or two myself!) and it’s often because they clutched up (too readily) what others were saying and doing and assumed that it would surely work for them too. If home education has one huge advantage over mass schooling it’s that it enables us to help our children find paths that are right for them as individuals. Yes we can exchange valuable information and experiences but we need to always have our own children’s needs at the heart of what we do.

Friday, 4 March 2011

‘Doing nothing’ Autonomous home education and what it isn’t

Blowing off the dust I wander blearily back into this blog... It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged and I had started to think that I wouldn’t feel the urge to blog again, but here I am. Life is pretty different to how it was seven years ago when we first started home ed – but also very much the same in some respects.

Recently I have felt a little despairing about autonomous home education – not for us as a family, for us it continues to be what suits. We continue to take a ‘child-led’ approach, though one child is now a teen. We value autonomy and space and living to our own schedule. What has been making me a bit peeved of late is the sense that what we do is so often misunderstood and misrepresented – even within the world of home ed. I don’t want to go into details about our lives because I think that’s an invasion of other family members’ privacy these days. But I do feel the need to share some of what I’ve worked out over the years we’ve been home educating.

I have often heard, in home ed circles, autonomous education characterised as ‘doing nothing.’ Sometimes this is by those who are critical of the concept or those who don’t understand it and don’t want to. At other times I have heard people despairing about engaging with their older children or teens who have been advised by others to ‘say they’re doing autonomous education’. And it’s about then I want to wallop my head on a brick wall.

Autonomous education is not ‘doing nothing’. It doesn’t mean that we (the parents) couldn’t care less if our children grow up literate or numerate or able to function in wider society. It isn’t that we want to give our children a childhood devoid of challenge or progress or goals and ourselves an ‘easy’ life. Equally, it isn’t something to grab as a label if you are trying but failing to do parent-led education or school. It is not a waste or a doss or an excuse. For us, for my family, autonomous home education is engaged, active and busy and all about learning in its widest sense.

So I’m not at all sure if I want any label that relates to how we home educate. Because it makes no sense to claim an identity that’s so poorly understood and so often misapplied. And who’s to say I get the power to define? Perhaps it’s better to just get on with it and not worry about the labels?

So, here’s the core of the whole thing, for me. People are individuals. People love to learn. People crave self-determination. People have a right to support when young to help them access knowledge and to make sure they have the basic tools needed to function in society and respect others’ freedoms. People should be as happy as they can be because we only get one life. That’s it. That’s the ethos behind why I home ed. Call me what you like (within reason!)