Tuesday, 27 March 2012

My ongoing education

Something big's shifting in my mentality.
This is really exciting, not scary.
I know it's a shift in focus, a clarity about myself, my life, all life.
I think I've been so blinkered by the daily grind, the working, the bills, the nappies, the house, I've not had time to take stock.

I've extended my reading, now reading things I would have "pooh-pooh'ed" a few short months ago. I'm exploring spirituality, nature, history, femininity, education.
Following on from my recent post about instinct and hormones, this change in perspective comes from the same instinctive place as my breastfeeding, my elimination communication, my dealings with my children and my social circle.

I am relating to people better. I am not judging people as I used to. I am acknowledging that everyone is only doing their best. I am not fearful in my dealings with people. I am trusting in the Universe to provide what I need. I am happier, freer, not worried about what people will think.
I am educating myself, reading up on herbalism, plants, nature, the Moon and it's cycles, women's menstrual cycles, feminism, home education, unschooling.

I always thought I'd do more degrees, a masters, get more letters after my name. I was searching for a subject to research for years, debating whether to take an online course, or do a part-time university course. I'm not exactly sure why I felt this need to achieve. I suppose I was brought up to really value academia, and the ultimate goal was to achieve great results and accolades. I had no goal in mind, no job which needed those letters after my name to get in the door.
In fact, the area in which I worked full-time and ran my own business for 15 years was totally unrelated to my university degree, and not once did a client ask for my credentials.
There is a real feeling of "using your brains" not "wasting your talents" in this society. What's wrong with being a good person, a great mom, a supportive friend?

When I did the Leaving Cert and used only about 70% (? 325 of 525, maths never my strongpoint) of my points gained for entry to my degree course, I was accused of "wasting" my other points. Was I to have done medicine just because I could have? And the points system is arbitrary anyway, medicine only has higher points than arts because there are less places available. High points does not guarantee a good bedside manner, as we unfortunately know. I love the Italian university system of entry, where anyone turns up on day one of the course, and only those who pass the exams get through to year two.
The whole Irish education system seems geared to memorising facts and figures and regurgitating them to prove how good your memory is. I totally abused it, and won. In school you are never taught to think freely about a poem or novel; you are told what the author had in mind, and you tell this to the examiner. What do you come away with after your school years? Some quotes from Hamlet, a couple of maths equations, a hatred of Irish poetry.
In university I memorised quotes from books without ever having read them, and worked them into essays to sound well-read. I read the "Cliff's notes" on every course book and read not one book for one class in my four years in university. I did it partly out of laziness, partly out of a stubborn wish to prove the system was flawed. I flaunted the fact that I was working the system to people. I was proud of getting honours for work not done. My essays were returned full of red scrawls, paragraphs marked "waffle" and "have you any back-up for this point?" but I'd still get honours.

I'm reading about unschooling. The process of letting children decide what areas they would like to learn about. Why teach an artistic kid complex mathematics? Save that for the maths geeks. Why force a maths geek to read a nature poem in a foreign language? Why let a sporty hands-on kid sit behind a desk for 5 hours a day, then send them home to do two more hours of homework?
What are we teaching our children with state exams in roughly 8 subjects? To be a Jack of all trades and master of none? What about Mozart, did he draw endless stamens and petals, or was he allowed endless hours at the piano?
Who are we trying to impress with our myriad letters after our names? What will remain of that after we die? Will our grandchildren care that we got that extra diploma, or that we gave warm hugs?
If you know you want to be a writer, surely you should be encouraged to read, write and LIVE life, not run endless laps of a hockey pitch.
How many people change career path once, twice, four times, learning and living and changing, because this is LIFE, and it's for LIVING! I met a fantastic man in his late 40s who owns a restaurant, he had a previous law career, but he told me his dream is to make kitchen tables. He is the kind of guy I want to sit beside at a dinner party, he will have stories to entertain, and doesn't take himself too seriously. (If you live in the South West of Ireland you very might well know this man!)

So, I haven't chosen a new "subject" I want to study. At the moment I'm not in a position to pay for classes, and know I will learn quicker by researching any topic myself, perhaps contacting a few more educated people in each field as I need to. This is the University of Life, this is where it's at. This is the Shizzle my Dizzle.


  1. Great post niamh! popping over from home education FB - Pauline

  2. Thanks Pauline! I'm really enjoying the "broadening of the horizon" as I'm now looking at it! x

  3. I was very lucky when I started college that an introductory lecture from a history professor who challenged us to rethink EVERYTHING we'd been taught as "fact" convinced me to take History as part of my degree, and consequently opened my eyes to the problems with approaching learning in a non-critical way, as we were taught to do in school. It was tough for me, because (perhaps from years of traditional schooling) my brain is hard-wired at this stage to cram, regurgitate, purge. Rinse and repeat. I can't tell you how many exams I got A's in, for which I can no longer recall those rote facts that I reeled off to achieve that A.

    I went on to do my postgrad in instructional design and technical writing, and learned so much about the importance of recognising different learning styles, and catering for them. And it all made me wonder about our school system and the children it fails.

    As the mother of a boy, I now find myself worrying more about this. It seems to me that fewer boys learn well in our rigid "sit there and learn what I tell you" academic set up. I fear we are failing our sons. And while the newspaper headlines proclaim how well girls are doing, I wonder why they are not shouting about the other side of that coin - how well our boys are not doing...

    So I do what I can at home to allow my little man to explore this world around him and to help him investigate and understand the things he is interested in. He's still a toddler, but I hope to continue this as he grows.

  4. I was so moved Niamh about this post, and feel it so close to my heart. To watch my boys excel at some things, and really struggle with others and wonder what the message is when they feel the area of their struggle is somewhat defining them. Two of my boys are so creative, so drawing, drama, creative writing is what they love, one of them loves science, one struggles with science, both struggle with maths and Irish. The younger two are starting on their journeys, but one has been diagnosed as Dyslexic, and learns in a kinesthetic way. He could also operate a drill at a very young age and can problem solve and is such a deep thinker, at 8. He can climb or scale anything, if you stay still he is likely to climb you too, he can't sit for long, is an eternal fidget, so being at a school desk can be such a challenge for him. They smallest boy is very organised, is creative and seems to be into maths too, so how can one education system be right for such diverse children? Luckily we are in an Educate Together School, and they do seem to focus on their strengths and encourage them in their areas of difficulty, but imagine a school system where the focus is on their interests and their strengths, imagine how fulfilled they would be and how they would grow up feeling they were excelling in their chosen area. Would we see the same crime rate? Would addiction have such a hold on society? Would we have the same rate of kids struggling in school? When I went to secondary school, I managed to mitch so many classes each week and spent 22 classes weekly in the artroom. I was in my heaven!


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