|for some reason the laptop took the image backwards, as a mirror-image.|
(still no shift button, apologies for the missing capitals)
a friend recently asked me to blog about education options for charlie, and my thoughts behind them.
i may or may not have mentioned here previously that home-schooling is an option being considered in our house. i don't want to get into the politics of it, the way home-schoolers are being persecuted in other countries by bully governments. i'm also dreading making another life choice that sets us apart from the norm, another one that i will maybe have to explain and defend to people who don't understand it.
so far each choice we've made has been viewed with suspicion and sometimes outright indignant rage by people who have followed conventional norms. i've had to deal with criticism on my choice to home birth, breastfeed, mutual weaning, baby-wearing, co-sleeping, baby-led weaning, non-vaccinating etc. in each case the critics haven't informed themselves on my options, just slammed them for being different and tried to shock me into seeing my option wasn't safe for my children, though biology, instinct and research tells me these are the right choices. my critics were from the medical profession as well as my personal life. i began my parenting journey so fired up about these discoveries and choices, and determined to change the world, to educate everyone i met. i have since learned people aren't interested in hearing about it, unless they are on this path themselves, so i now choose not to get into debates with people about my parenting journey. it truly feels like "two roads diverged in a yellow wood" and the path i'm on is just a valid and beautiful one as the more "mainstream" one, but anyway...
so home-schooling is an extension of this path, it's the next step on the journey of this amazing attachment and bond i have created and enjoyed with my son. he's 4 now, and would be starting school in september 2013. i'll make a list because i love lists, of all the reasons that he will not be starting school next september:
1. he doesn't want to. just like he's not ready to wean, to sleep separately, he's not ready to go into the care of someone else for x hours a day. he doesn't want to, he says he'd miss me. i'm respecting that and until he asks to start school he will not go to school. i've presented it in all its fun, friendly and activity-laden glory, he still says no. fine.
2. i think 5 is too young to be sitting at a desk (yes they still do, no matter how well-intentioned the teacher and how progressive the school). it's unnatural. he needs to run, skip, hop, cavort and play. breathe fresh air etc. physically it's restrictive.
3. we all know schools and teachers are stretched with their resources, money, time, staff. how is he, as one in 28 kids, going to get the attention and care he needs from a frazzled teacher with a curriculum to follow?
4. bullying is rife in schools, exclusion, competition, all the negatives that come from a large group of kids, all trying to be top dog. i remember many instances from my own school days and i hate to think that my sensitive, intelligent son would have to toughen up, to stand up for himself against peer injustices, or to defend himself against a physical attack.
5. school negates individualism. it has to. it's a herd mentality, you must conform to fit in. i used to get so frustrated teaching drama to teens who couldn't tell you one like or dislike they had. either they had none, or they'd never thought about it, the idea of "free speech" that i tried to promote in my class was a tricky one. though i'd tell them there was no "right or wrong" answer, they were so slow to come out with their own ideas, when you'd hope they'd have been shouting each other down with their opinions. Maybe it was the socio-economic group I taught, the "politeness" factor, or whatever. in general they seemed scared to commit to one idea, or to "own" a side of a debate. it seemed that nobody had asked them of this before, and it's true that you don't learn critical debate until university, but it seemed that school had failed them in this area.
6. i dislike the methods used for reward and punishment in schools. it is probably necessary to have them, if you have 28 kids in your class, you need to keep control of them. the methods used today aren't so far from the "dunce's cap"of old. fear is the over-riding factor in the discipline used. the time-out chair, going to the principal's office, exclusion from activities, some primary schools even have detention for god's sake! it's archaic, and totally out of whack with our parenting philosophy, so why would i put my son into this situation?
7. i don't think there's anything he'll learn in junior or senior infants... that he could not learn at home. he already has picked up great literacy and numeracy skills by virtue of the exposure we are giving him to books, comics, games. this will continue as he gets older, and as his interest and need for skills increases.
8. now to the popular "socialisation" issue. he does not need to know how to "hold his own" in a group of 28 peers. nor should he. that's a totally unnatural situation. life and work needs us to have skills to deal with all ages, all ranges of people, all manner of situations, and he gets this in our family life. he is out and about with us daily, talking to elderly neighbours, playdates with friends, interactions with cousins, shopkeepers, people who work in places we visit. he has learned to overcome his natural shyness and make conversation with adults. he makes instant friends and joins in with games in every playground, play area and play date. he is non-confrontational, is able to resolve conflict and avoid an argument if one is brewing. i've seen him distract a playmate from a potentially explosive situation by suggesting a different activity, more than once. it's a technique we've used with him from the start, based on reading the situation, and the non-verbal cues, and he does it instinctively.
9. a school-run every morning is a big commitment, time and energy-wise. the younger siblings would be sitting in the car for an hour twice a day, essentially. the early morning rush would be stressful and chaotic, and totally alien to our current rhythms. i used to see children so tired after school they could not participate in my after-school classes fully, and some kids had very little free time in the week. i feel children have to have physical and mental space to dream, to create, to rest and play. i think in general children do too many "activities", the parents bemoan the time spent ferrying them around, and who's actually winning here?
10. colouring! i detest colouring as an activity. i believe it is useless. it serves to keep kids busy, but i don't think they are learning anything, in fact i think it actively discourages creativity and instills a need for perfectionism (staying inside the lines) that adds stress to a young child. where's the blank pages, the invention, the use of imagination? where's the mess, the discovery, the freedom to create? it can't exist in a class of 28 kids, it needs to be structured. i don't think art in schools breeds true creativity.
so far these reasons have been why i believe school would not best serve the needs of my son. now i'm going to list the reasons i love the idea of home-schooling:
1. i love the idea that charlie would be free to choose what area he's interested in learning about. so far in the last few months he's been really enjoying addition and subtraction, and has a great grasp of them using his fingers and mentally. he's started writing sums now too, thanks to a senior infants workbook i bought, and will pick it up from time to time. he is reading and writing simple words and yet we've never sat down to "learn" any of this.
2. many of the world's movers and shakers did so with very little or no formal education. think of the innovators, the artists, the musicians, the entrepreneurs. they all think outside the box. this is a kind of mentality that comes with freedom to dream, to experiment and to create with no fear of being graded, or having to come top of a class.
3. the natural world will be as close to him as the bricks-and-mortar world. i don't want him observing the changes of seasons out a window, or on a nature table. i want him out, eating the blackberries, smelling the flowers, finding the worms, feeling the rain.
4. life is short. a recent death in the family made me realise the pettiness of our society. here we are concerned with what labels we are wearing, what school our children will go to, how many holidays a year we can take. the vast majority of people in the world hav no such luxuries. they want their children to be healthy and to have their bellies full. life is precious, we are lucky. i want my son to live and breathe life, as he needs to live it, not according to the rules of some institution.
5. our family's rhythm is not a 9-5 one. it never has been. we don't work that way. at 10pm last night we were dancing to jedward in the living room, all four of us. if we had to begin each day at 7.30am we'd miss out on many a late-night session of reading, story-telling, dancing, games. barry's work is evening-based, so we all go to sleep later and wake later. it suits us. suiting us is essential, we all have to live this life, we are a team.
6. i have heard from many home-schooling families online, via blogs and groups, of the benefits to children, the confidence, the individuality, the freedom that home-schooling gives. this is so valuable, as nobody in my social circle home-schools. i know it works, just as attachment parenting works, i can check in with families further down the path than us, and not one of them regret it. in fact many say they wish they had had the courage to do it sooner.
7. school is always there. if charlie decides at 7 or 10 he'd like to go to school, we will facilitate that. he may join up fully, may do a day or two a week, or may take classes in a subject he enjoys that we cannot facilitate ourselves i.e. chemistry or woodwork.
8. i was quickly drawn to the idea of "unschooling" which sounds really scary and neglectful to the uninitiated. it's where you don't have a set curriculum, nor do you plan for a home-schooling time of day. you are not re-creating the classroom set-up at home, learning takes place in a more organic way. a child will learn through their activities: they may write their own book, learn measurements and maths through baking, learn a language through meeting fluent speakers in the language. as a parent you "strew their path" with resources, you encourage them to follow their interests and guide them gently into their education. it is truly "education", not "schooling". i believe this would suit us best, as the perverse nature of my 4 year old makes him shout "no!" any time i suggest we "learn" anything, he much prefers to pick up skills through play.
9. i don't believe home-schooling/ child-led learning or whatever you want to call it is any more effort than traditional schooling. the effort of getting a child to and from school, uniform clean, books and lunch in bag, money for excursions, notes to sign, parent-teacher meetings and all the extras seems huge to me. whereas the idea of us following this type of relaxed life-style, visiting the library, bus into town to museums, workshops, meeting friends, sharing skills and interests with other families, it's something we already do, and i'd planned on doing anyway. it might be different if we lived rurally, but we have so many cultural resources on our doorstep to avail of, there is no big effort involved.
charlie just came up and i asked him why would he prefer to learn things at home:
"well, i don't really like it because, because, there's not much dvds there, and if i ever get thirsty in case i forget a drink i can't go home and get a drink , and well, so that's why i don't like school. ok i'm done.
well, because they don't have a big screen and activities in an activity box, ok that's it, i'm out."
it's not a definite decision, it's a big one we've been reading up on the last couple of years, and one we're still discussing. we'll make the decision year-by-year, and constantly re-evaluate it, to see what's the best option for charlie and our family.
i'm tempted to disable comments for this post, as i don't need to get into a debate with people, i'd just ask that if you feel threatened by any of my points above, remember this is my opinion. i am blunt, i'm racing against time to get this written before someone starts sucking on me. if it's not as diplomatic as it "should" be, i apologise. i'd love to have more grace in my writing, but i tend to write as i speak, and rarely go back and edit anything. please read the disclaimer on my blog if you have a real issue with me!
i hope this may have helped some of you who are considering what to do. there are some middle-ground educational options available, like steiner waldorf schools, montessori etc. one other factor which has been a great support for me is some primary-school teachers i know who have had children and practise attachment parenting are questioning the school system now too, with new eyes. their support is invaluable, and i know whatever they decide for their families, we hope to be part of their lives, sharing skills and knowledge as our children grow.