Twice this week, in two completely unrelated conversations with two completely unrelated groups of people, someone has said to me that they no longer read home ed blogs because of the feelings of inadequacy these generate.
I felt quite uncomfortable about this, because although I haven’t been blogging much at all in the past year or so, when I do blog our home ed, it can sometimes veer towards being that kind of blog.
There is a but. And I don’t really know what I’m trying to say, let alone how to say it! But feelings of guilt and inadequacy can certainly be overwhelming, and perhaps we all have an inner ‘should’, which looks around at what other people are doing to try and get some kind of measure by which to set itself.
It’s just that.. blogging (or Facebook commenting, or posting etc) isn’t life. And yes, this sounds really obvious, but I wonder if we do forget this and assume the family in question to have spent its whole week doing amazing science experiments or completing piles of enlightening workbooks, or asking oh-so-interested questions and finding the answers. Just because those are the presentable bits.
The truth is, all of those hours of silent consolidation or contemplation, or being immersed in Harry Potter for three days straight without coming up for air, of sibling scraps and screaming rows and just plain, banal domesticity – or indeed, hours spent blogging or reading other blogs and Facebooking and general Internet mooching while the children indulge their own CBeebies/ Moshi Monsters/ Bin Weevils habit… aren’t mentioned.
Instead, the temptation is to sometimes say: “Ooh! We did something *educational*! Quick! Let’s blog it!” – just to convince everyone (but mainly ourselves) that we are doing ok, making progress and so on.
I think all that other stuff (that doesn’t get blogged) is educational too. I could write lists for how it is. In fact, I will:
Silent consolidation or contemplation – *thinking time* – is vital, as anyone who knows anything about the learning function knows. We can’t just take in information bites non-stop, and spew it straight back out again in the standard manner that seems to be required by schools – that’s not real learning. We have to ideally go seeking the information ourselves and then take it in at our own pace and then go away and let the subconscious chew on it for a while, and then come back with more questions later. If we have any. Which we might not. (And that’s valid.) Depending on our personality and how we seek and process knowledge.
The problem (I could pontificate on this for quite some pages) with trying to industrialise – or commercialise – Education is that it doesn’t really box up like that. Not really. You can deliver or sign up for a course in something and bestow or receive a certificate at the end of it, with or without some kind of test, and all of this still doesn’t guarantee any real learning. For that, you need to begin with either curiosity or some other kind of intrinsic motivation. And that’s hard to profit from, or oversee, or monitor, or sell, or buy, or earn money for teaching. Sadly, in the latter case. It shouldn’t be, but it is.
- Being immersed in Harry Potter for three days straight without coming up for air – well, that’s just reading, isn’t it? I’m no psychologist, but I’m sure it’s useful for the development of our critical faculties, or creativity, or cognitive something-or-other. And yes, many of us are obsessives. I suspect our natural learning function leans more towards focusing exclusively on a thing until we’ve finished or mastered it to our own satisfaction, than it does towards a ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum patchwork quilt of neat and tidy one-hour chunks.
- Sibling scraps – learning to manage conflict in a safe and fundamentally (although it often doesn’t feel – or sound – like it!) loving environment.
- Screaming rows – assertiveness training 😉
- Just plain, banal domesticity – the building blocks of a well-functioning life. Vastly underrated – if you want to know how vastly, go round to a distracted, obsessed, highly intellectual academic’s house for tea. Especially if he doesn’t hire a cleaner. Teaching children – by example – how to endure the ‘boring stuff’ in order to live well (delayed gratification, I suppose) is vital. And something they don’t learn at school.
- Hours spent blogging or reading other blogs and Facebooking and general Internet mooching – very important information gathering and social networking to facilitate facilitation 😉 (And the parent’s sanity! If you’re that way inclined..)
- While the children indulge their own CBeebies/ Moshi Monsters/ Bin Weevils habit – this, actually, is really important. I love the fact that we now have those children’s social platforms so that they can learn about group interaction and so on at their own pace, with an off-switch for when it all gets too much, without the pressure of helicopter parents. CBeebies I have more of a love/hate relationship with, but it’s largely uncommercialised and some of the content is great. Anyway, it’s not for me to choose what my children like to watch. If they’re attracted to something, they’ve probably got something to learn from it.
And when I make these points, I hear people say: “Yes OK, all of those things are educational. But is it the kind of education you want your children to have?”
But who’s to say the parent’s (or teacher’s, or local authority’s, or government’s) desire for a child’s education is the best, most appropriate education for that child? I don’t think anyone can say what that is, in fact. Not even the parent. Yes, he or she can be responsive and attentive (although sometimes these hinder the learning process rather than helping it) and present learning opportunities for the child, and create a stimulating ‘learning environment’. I have done all of those things and still do sometimes.
But if the chief motivator really is the child itself – and this can be really difficult, as an adult, to allow precisely because of those feelings of guilt and fear of other people’s judgment, lack of trust in the natural process and fear of letting go – then the person grows up ‘complete’, learning (and able to learn) everything he or she really needs to know. A truly independent learner.
Sure, set good examples. This is the only way I know of teaching (apart from supplying the information or tutoring that’s requested by the child and no more than the amount requested! Another very difficult thing to achieve for most parents and teachers) that’s in any way properly effective. As a species we can’t seem to help mimicking each other. So if I read, my children read. If I grow food, they want to grow food. (This is actually not the case here yet. I live in hope, but suspect there’s some kind of instinctive division of labour system going on.) If I earn lots of money, they probably want to earn lots of money and work out how to do that, and so on.
This learning by example is a very powerful thing, but it doesn’t always manifest in ways that are immediately obvious. For example, my parents and friends’ parents were mostly churchgoers and yet I and my friends are mostly not. And yet we do congregate and eulogise at home ed meetings, which could be seen as similar kinds of gathering places.
When people wonder why it is that some autonomously home educated children grow up to become barristers and others organic farmers, shopkeepers, or unemployed etc – I look at the parents’ occupations and there is usually some pattern of emulation that’s quite easy to spot. So if you want your child to become Prime Minister, first become Prime Minister yourself! (Discuss.. 😉 )
I do see exceptions to this rule: adult children who have broken the mould and gone on to have adult lives that were very different to those modeled to them in childhood, but there are still usually less obvious and yet strong similarities. A factory labourer with a strong work ethic who nevertheless doesn’t find his work particularly fulfilling, produces an office worker son with an equally strong work ethic who nevertheless doesn’t find his work particularly fulfilling, and so on.
And I was the child who was taken to all of the extra-curricular clubs, sessions, groups and lessons, whose every hour was kept busy, for fear of boredom or inadequate parenting.
And yet, I (not necessarily my sister or brother, but I) just wanted to stay at home and be left alone to read, play and dream on my own terms, in my own time, with no externally-imposed schedule. (I live like this now for myself though, whenever possible. And yet.. none of my parents do! Hmm..) (I’ve had a variety of parent-and stepparent-type people in my life, in case you were wondering about my choice of quantitative pronoun there!)
And at least one of my children often requests a schedule from me, though most of the others don’t. So we’re all different, and the best thing, surely, is to work out what each person needs by way of input, and supply that.