Gill at Sometimes Its Peaceful inspired this post, after writing up the transcript of a BBC Radio 5 broadcast about home educating. I still consider myself a home educator, even though my son has attended school this year, and feel it is very likely he will come back home at some point. He just received his end of year report, which was very good, with comments reflecting how 'well he's adjusted to school life', and 'especially having no pre-school experience'. We were chastised when he started last September, since we educated him without preschool/nursery etc. and he didn't want to follow the rules very well. This despite the fact that he was already reading and writing and now has been 'tested' to be reading two and half years above his age. The teacher also told us that he gets bored easily, and the work may not be challenging him, but that he should find year 3 more stimulating. Really??
The fact is though, that I don't think schooling and the national curriculum is the best thing, and it has been hard to justify it to my son, when he doesn't want to do it now either. He did want to experience school, and has enjoyed making some friends, but he finds it 'all wrong' as he says. With 29 kids in the classroom, individual attention is just not possible and my son frequently complains that he is not listened to and not called on, or by the time he is attended to, he's forgotten his question and then is scolded for interrupting! I did have a chance to observe the classroom on Friday at an open day, and it can descend into chaos very quickly. Which is why I'm not suprised that the teacher doesn't observe the kicking and hitting that goes on.
Having been in trouble last week for not listening in the classroom I had a conversation with my son that went something like this: "do you enjoy getting into trouble?" his reply: "yes, sometimes". I was taken aback.."why? negative attention is not going to help you" I started, then he jumped in with " Its because I like the library, its peaceful and I can look at the book titles even though I can't read while I'm there". That was shocking and a bit of a wake up call. When the kids are acting up too much, usually in the lunchtime, but also during class, they will be removed to sit or stand in the library. He would rather be alone than amidst the chaotic classroom. I am under no illusions that my child is an angel that never does anything wrong. I know his stubbornness and 'willfullness' is already causing him (and others) some grief. But I also know that he is bright and kind and full of potential.
How many of us, given the choice now, would carry on at a job where we didn't get along with our co-workers, many of which were bullying us, a boss who overlooked us repeatedly for advancement, and an environment that was cold and depressing where our personal belongings frequently went missing? We'd look for another job and quit just as soon as we could.. unless of course our self-esteem was so low, that we just felt we had to bear it (until we reach the exploding point perhaps). That does seem to be a prevailing sentiment when it comes to school.. how we justify it by telling our kids they have to get through it, to face 'real' life. One of the comments on the radio 5 programme by a listener was that children learn to 'cope' with bullying by going to school. That was the most absurd thing I've heard. More like endure. The image of a battery hen farm came to mind, where the chickens are all penned in together and some are pecking each other to death.
Home educators are repeatedly told that kids need the 'socialisation' of school to learn how to function in life. The fact is though, if we are paying attention, that there are many, many, dysfunctional adults walking about, and I doubt very much that they were all home-educated. Or that we don't know enough or are not trained as teachers are, but no teacher I've met knows 'everything'. Its a question of resourcefulness, and guiding our kids to the right information to learn (and teacher's manuals!). I never claim to know everything-- if anything at all!! Beginners Mind, as zen master Suzuki would say!
My son's school has a very good ofsted report and overall it is a good school as schools go. I know the teacher's value their job and try to do their best. But is it the right place for my child? Can we be assured that this upcoming generation is being nurtured and educated to be whole, compassionate, caring and intelligent human beings? It doesn't look that way. So much comes from home life its true, but handing over our kids for nearly seven hours every day, 35 hours a week away from the family, and from a very early age, if you start when you are supposed to, that's alot of different values and mores absorbed outside the family. Then there's the question of how much of those 35 hours are actually spent actively learning? Many teachers admit that much of the classroom time is taken up with policing the kids rather than teaching. This is why 1 -3 hours of educational activity at home is far more intensive and readily done by the kids, especially if its geared toward thier interests.