Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Numbing and Home Education


In my facebook feed of all the various groups I am part of I see two themes and they almost always refer to boys. Some start at 8. Some in their teens.There is violence, aggression or they "disappear" into video games.
It is interesting because that is the age that boys are often told to "stop crying" and are often becoming aware of the "gender box" of masculinity. In blunt terms this is the time they are told culturally that "being a man" means not showing feelings (except anger or violence). The harder the push culturally, socially and within a family for them to "man up" the stronger the reaction tends to be.
This is not to say that girls do not have the "gender box". Their's is to be quieter, thinner and "nice" (shudder). This means their reactions are different. 
Numbing is a way to distract ourselves at the shame/pain/discomfort we feel. The stronger the feeling, the more we numb. Culturally Britain numbs with alcohol, even from a very young age but it isn't just about substances. 


If we stay busy enough the truth of our lives won't catch up with us. This was/is a great socially acceptable numbing. Look how hard we work! Look at all the hours we put in! If I keep at it until I am so exhausted I can't actually think I might sleep.
Gaming (especially OLMMO's) can part of this. Not content with being busy in this life (which is messy and lonely and painful and awkward) they are buried in quests, and where the rules make sense. Where they can interact as their best self (or even their coolest). In short where they don't have to feel. You can play games for pleasure, but if you/child as not meeting basic physical needs it is numbing behaviour.
In the same way as the kitchen will never be clean enough for the neat/cleaning number, so too, the dungeon/chase/quest will never quite be enough. As someone who used to get up at 6am on a Sunday to clean, this is about avoiding feelings.

Addictive behaviour

From coffee, energy drinks, smoking, sleeping pills, food and alcohol, we are a culture comfortable with numbing. 
It is how we "unwind". It's "social". It's in "moderation". If in order to tell "how bad your day was" you need a glass of wine, beer or tub of ice-cream, then you are numbing.
The trouble is numbing is not selective. When we limit our feelings we limit all of them. The stronger the cultural oppression of feelings are, the greater the numbing. The trouble with this is it makes us sick and miserable. Addictive behaviour starts at that moment when you feel uncomfortable/awful/icky and reach for something to make it go away. That's all addiction is. You can "not give in" but until you learn how to be uncomfortable you will have to fight with that feeling, forever.
We learn our numbing behaviour from the people around us. Our peers, parents, families and culture. If one numbing becomes unavailable we transfer to something else. 

Learning to Feel

Talking about our feelings and being vulnerable is so excruciating for most Brits we would do almost anything not to. Even avoiding eye-contact on the bus/train.
Culturally we avoid talking about anything important until we are forced to, or drunk. The narrow band of "acceptable" emotions is growing. Therapy and counselling is not unheard of or shameful to most folk under 35.
It's a process. Trying badly is better than numbing amazingly. The thing is if we want our children to be okay with their feelings, we have to be better at ours. We can restrict their access to things they are using to numb but without an outlet for their feelings they will find something else to numb with.
Children tend to "do what we do, not what we say". This means if you want to address their behaviour that is bothering you, you have to address your own first.  

Leaning into the discomfort

Being present and honest is uncomfortable. It is also necessary. It walks us back from the addiction line towards something else. It is imperfect. It's sometimes painful but it is also filled with joy and beauty. Some people have never felt joy.
Or it was so long ago under so much "stuff" they can not remember that feeling. Feelings are the colour palette of life. They add shade and meaning. Tone and context. It is human and important to feel.
As parents we are still learning and we can change through changing our own numbing behaviours, and being present to how we are really feeling. This affect our children. If we see their behaviour as one about making uncomfortable, difficult and painful feelings bearable it is not so easily dismissed. It gives us more tools and more compassion towards each other and hopefully ourselves. 

Being mindful of the pleasure/numbing edge.

Looking at ourselves is not about policing ourselves into "good" parent behaviour. It catching yourselves thinking, saying or doing something and stopping. Understanding why you do it. It is not numbing. Not running away from our most horrible inner self and feelings. It is being braver and more courageous than we ever thought we could be. 
It is in giving ourselves permission to be whole. In enjoying the moments and being truly present when they are there.

Home education is far too important to take seriously.

Monday, 17 October 2016


Home Education but not at home

One of the best things about HE is that we get to travel to places, try new things, and meet interesting people. 

We meet children and adults of all ages and the only "issue" my daughter has is when men or boys try and mansplain at her. She is actually a great judge of character, loves to look after little kids and has manners that get praise where ever we go.
We didn't used to do much with other folks that HE. After getting called a "troubled family" and literally getting the "socialisation question" from my super fun and helpful LA bod* I decided to started a D&D group. It has since fizzled out, BUT we meet other HE friends and families on the way. Some stuck, some didn't.
We have a couple of events and meets we go to now. One is swimming on a Monday, and one is the park every other week.
It's cool and non pressure. It's fun to watch her like the a mother goose with all these goslings peeping and following her. She never gets mad and is kind and encouraging with them all. Last week a little girl was "stuck" up a large rope climbing frame and she carefully but firmly talked her down.
But HE kids are awful at people?
Our girl is a quiet bookish sort by nature but when she takes out the dog other walkers talk to her (some she will speak to, some she won't). When she goes shopping the clerks often chat to her too.

* This is sarcasm 

Our daughter has different levels of interaction with people all the time from many walks of life. She has good instincts of who and when she wants to talk to people, because I have never forced her to. 

I love museums and galleries. I love travelling though my health and budget don't always give me the miles I would want. There is something about being the the presence of great art and interesting objects that is inspiring. There have been so many interesting side paths, odd thought directions and fun from visiting and interacting with amazing things.
They take us and help us learn things I would never have imagined.

Of course I would love to go to Paris or Barcelona (outside the budget) but we are planning a London trip. Nation and Portrait Galleries and then China towns markets. Looking at all the great and good, the weird and wonderful. It's an adventure and one she will remember always. It isn't about me taking her to a place. It is about us discovering, interacting with this new stuff together.
HE is not about being shut away from the world it is about exploring it, getting messy, probably lost, and finding things about yourself and world you had never expected. 

Home education is far too important to take seriously. 

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Eight Things I don't get about School

Eight Things I Don't Get as a Home Educator...about school

1) Pen Licenses.

Say what?I truly had not heard of this until it was mentioned by a parent asking about it in a Home Education group. Apparently you have to "earn" a pen license and it can be revoked and you go back to a pencil. Not only is this shame culture at it highest but some kids are never taught how to use a pen properly. I also do not understand why the pressure to write is more important than having something interesting to say. In the world where everyone types, cursive and writing is a pleasure for journals and notebooks but it isn't something most kids will ever need when they leave school.
Learning is about mistakes. I learned how to write cursive and I wrote with pens at a young age. The big leap when I was in school was from ball-points to fountain pens (that always leaked). How we write cursive is a direct result of how ink pens work. I got ink all over my fingers, on my shirt sometimes but it was part of "school". Unless you write with ink many parts of cursive just seem odd.

2) Behaviour Charts- Punishments for not sitting still.

Kids fidget. Good kids, difficult kids, young and older. Stillness is something that children and even some adults are not designed for. Of course mindfulness and meditation help kids enormously, but we are not talking about that. We are talking about punishing kids, sometimes very young ones, for not being able to sit still. When a child gets restless, they as displaying their hard-wired physical NEED to play. This need is shamed and punished publicly which then leads to the shame defence called disengagement. You are send the message that THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU to kids all day every day, for their biological need to play.
Gillian Lynne also struggled at school with fidgeting and was taken to see a doctor. He and her mother left the room leaving the radio on. On seeing her dancing, the doctor told her mother to send her to a dance school. That there was nothing wrong with her, she was a dancer. She went on to have a long and amazing career in even being awarded a DBE (Dame Commander of the British Empire).
Imagine how Gillian would fare today? 

3) Uniforms

There is a running joke about the unofficial uniform of Home Educator is pj's. There is some truth in that. The dress codes for school seem to get weirder and weirder and are seemingly used to make small teachers feel very important. Uniforms are often expensive and even change over the time a kid is at school. (I think my mum had to buy three different sets of uniforms).Uniform is "supposed" to be an equaliser, but often it isn't. The colour of someone's socks is not an indicator of their ability to learn. Let's talk about P.E kit here also. Girls and boys PE uniforms are often completely inappropriate for the sports they are doing and the weather they are doing it in. This is not okay! Uniform over the well-being of children is idiotic. Tiny skirts and thin t-shirts while running around in the cold and wet is not fortifying it's awful.

4) Sitting for hours

If someone asked me to sit in a chair for two hours now without moving or fidgeting I think I would struggle. Especially in uncomfortable and often sweaty plastic chairs. I think most adults would. We'd want to get a drink, stretch our legs and shuffle to get circulation back into our backsides. It is not a normal situation even if you are used to sitting all day to do so without break or movement.
There are loads of studies that show sitting for protracted amounts of time is pretty awful for your health. Yet siting for hours is still standard school practice.

5) Not being allowed to pee

When I was at school I would deliberately drink less so I wouldn't have to use the toilets. The toilets were terrifying places that stank. Many toilets were locked and while girls tended to have less of a hard time leaving in classtime we still got quizzed and scolded. As someone with a kidney disease I look back in horror. The damage this does to your body is horrific. You need to pee between six and ten times a day. NEED. Breaks get smaller and smaller, you can't be late for classes, and get punished for your biology. In this regard it is more like prison than somewhere you learn.

6) Bans on strange foods/toys/slang

From sweets and crisps, to outside food at all; to toys, and slang and even noises schools ban some weird things. Prohibition doesn't work.

7) Electronic tagging

I'm not sure I even need to comment on this. I was a model student but had someone monitored me they would have seen I used the visitors loos (which were out of bounds) and sat in a "locked" drama hall to meditate most lunch times. I wasn't naughty I just like a clean safe loo and a quiet place to be. Prisons tag and monitor. The ONLY way this would be cool to me is they went off ONLY when someone left the school during the school time. (That said I often went to a my best friends house for lunch during our exams).

8) Touching (physical contact with other kids at all).

Touch is important. It helps us find our boundaries, bond and connect. It can also be used to harm, but in general physical contact is good and necessary. 
Threatening or aggressive behaviour is threatening and aggressive with or without touch. Sexual behaviour, is sexual with or without touch.
This is monstrously de-humanising and stops kids finding their own boundaries and learning where other people's are. It makes no sense to me.

I am sure there are many more things that I "don't get" and you probably have some of your own. Feel free to add your own!

Home education is too important to take seriously.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Post Traumatic School Disorder

Post Traumatic School Disorder

I think I am "thick at maths" which is odd considering when I was at school I could have told every formula for G.C.S.E physics. Odder still that I worked with long addition and money from the age of 13. I was a bright kid, clearly good at many things (and not afraid to show it). Maths and spelling were my Achilles heel.
We were organised into "sets" by age 12 and what I learned was if you are "bad at maths" they just don't bother. My teacher couldn't hold the attention or stop the class from erupting into violence.
I learned practically nothing for years. Well that isn't true I learned that you just have to "deal with it" if you are slapped, spat at, walloped with a ruler, and I didn't even think of this time in my school life as the time I was bullied.
"Maths" teaches me still. I wonder now if the rage (and oh there was so much rage) came from the kids being given up on and shamed, all, day, long.
This is from a time in my life when I would have told you I was enjoying school. I was House Captain, Head Prefect, had friends.
Yet between my maths teacher, chemistry teacher and English teacher school was still a traumatic place. My maths teacher couldn't and didn't teach, my chemistry teacher bullied me horribly and made my life difficult as she detested me, and my English teacher who would make us do spelling tests every and shamed me every single time (I am also sure she stole a poem I wrote as my coursework and passed it off as she own) I got humiliated and shamed and sure I was rubbish at things.
There are times now I still feel ashamed, and horrified at my "lack ". Yet I am dyslexic. Especially with numbers. I have to work three times as hard as everyone else, and I did.
Simple screen test at college allowed me to know that fact I was dyslexic and I escaped having to get a G.C.S.E in maths to allow me to continue my further education.
My younger sister had the same maths teacher as me and had to re-take maths G.C.S.E three times at college because she simply wasn't taught at school the stuff to pass it.
My mum was a teacher. She had a sort of "teacher-mode". It was weird because I could see that teachers were people, but they were never allowed to be "real".
I was the first person to get a degree in my family.
You'd think that it was a success story.
It wasn't until quite recently I began to realise how much "stuff" I carry around from then.
I wonder what I could have achieved if I hadn't been told "oh you are this kind of person", sorted in a box and told over and over again I was the problem.
"You suck at this thing."

We started our Home Education journey out of desperation. The bullying started as soon as she got there. Foot print bruises where she had been stamped on. She was kicked, punched and pushed off toys. From the age of 4.
We asked to move schools but that was "impossible".
So we started to Home Educate "until we can get her into school".
Then we sort of fell in love with it.I would do it all so very differently now. More relaxed, more fun. More groups and support.
This has it's own kind of trauma.

Yet my daughter has never been told by us she "can't do this thing".
There is not "subject" (not that we learn that way) my daughter "can't" do.
Imagine if we stopped tell our kids that THEY were the problem. That THEY need to fit into this box what they might be good at.
The layers of Post School Trauma are many and complex. I believe some of it stems from how the system treats the kids (and teachers). I believe some of it is the culture of acceptable violence, shame and fear.
If we stopped being ashamed, and afraid imagine what we as a world could do?

Home education is far too important to take seriously.