Thursday, 26 January 2017

The Importance of de-schooling

What is Deschooling?

Deschooling is the idea and process of taking school, and all it's rules, ideals and structures and letting it go. Even if the you are thinking of doing structured education, this time is vital to adjust, and release the stress and mentality of school.
It can take a few weeks, but equally it can take much longer, because it is not just the kids that need to adjust, but it is primarily the parents.
You would hardly expect someone who has been in a traumatic relationship to just leave it and be fine. More over you would find that if you recreated that sort of relationship soon after that the familiarity would make it something your child accepts, but it damages the parent-child bond and adds to, rather than heal the child from the trauma.

School as trauma.

Most Home Educating families who have been in the school system leave because of trauma, from bullying to the school trying to force a child into a different shape than they are. The mental, physical and emotional damage from school can be deep. Ask any adult who has been bullied.
Psychologically school is a building where education is given to them. Learning is something done to them, not something they do. Failure to understand or comply leads to punishment and how good you are at test often determines whether a teacher will even bother trying. Children are told time and time again what they can and can't do, what they are and are not good at, when they can pee, when they can eat, when they can speak. It makes for a adult v's child mentality.

Deschooling is the learning to be, without bells, and standing in lines, or sitting in rows. It is about the child finding out who they are under the uniform, under who they have been told they are.
What if they are not "thick" or "lazy"? What if they are not a "freak"? What if they are not "difficult"? What if they just needed the opportunity to learn to do something themselves (the only way something truly sticks)?
Deschooling is about the parent letting go (some of us need waaay more time at this than others). It is about the parent learning that education looks very different than school. That all that six hours a day from 9 until 3 is about schooling, not education. It doesn't just happen while sat at a table writing, or you standing over them telling them to "do it like this". That they are far more likely to copy you than you realise. If you want manners, be polite. If you want them to read, read and have books around. You want them curious and keen? Be curious.

But how long?

Well that depends on many factors. Some say a week for every year in school, some say a month. In reality healing and letting go of school will in the long run fix more problems, and in fact most Home Educating families who have issues about getting their kids to "knuckle down" or has kids "refusing the work" will be asked "did you deschool?"
Taking a week off, or a holiday simply isn't enough time for the parent to really let go or for the child to heal.

I can see I made the mistake myself. I didn't deschool at all. I pushed hard and had 6 hours a day at home sat at a table, when I started. (Yes I am an idiot.)
It was only when I got too sick I had to let go. A process that took about 2 years. It fundamentally healed my relationship with my daughter, and allowed her to learn things about herself and the world I never imagined. When we take a break from the idea that learning and school are the same and are very different, that education happens everywhere, all the time we can feel better that we are doing "enough". That play is powerful, important and necessary for healthy children then you are ready to begin. Children heal quickly it is only when we give them the space and time to do so, we can also heal ourselves.

Home education is far too important to take seriously.

Dealing with Critics

What Critics really mean.

It’s really easy to feel overwhelmed with “helpful” friends’, family, strangers and busy-bodies raining on your Home Education party. In my experience there are two kinds of critics. Those who are afraid for you, and those who afraid of you. Some of it is cognitive dissonance. School for many is not just a way of life but a process that was fundamentally so important to them (how it is important doesn't matter) that they can’t imagine anything else. If you know teachers (as I do) I have seen some people never leave a school environment. It is literally all they know. It skews their world view so strongly they can not, and are terrified of looking outside of it. In an uncertain world there is a comfort to the predictability (even if it is predictably awful). I have seen teachers so physically and emotionally broken they end up in hospital, but “have to be there when the bell rings”.

What about the real world?”
 If the “afraid for you and your kids” critic believes they need to “save” you from being over protecting (being bullied gives you character) or from “being weird”. This normally comes from having seen first hand how people who are different are socially punished, especially in school.They believe that being made to conform to what they think of as “normal” is necessary.
So do the other kind. The “afraid of” critics. Bucking a social norm as a teen is seen as “normal” as a parent it makes you weird, difficult or a bad parent. The idea that you don’t have to follow the rules is just so “out there” for them it can make them foam at the mouth in outrage or stare at you blankly as they get an Error 404 signal in their brain. It is important to understand that most criticism comes from fear. Being different is a virtue not a failing. That examining the world from a different perspective is a gift. The people who changed the world the most are people who were different.  Yes your children will be different and have different experiences. That is one of the benefits of home education not one of it’s failings.

And lo, the cry went out: what about socialization?!
The “afraid for” bunch are either overly romanticising their own childhood or fear that if a child is not forced to sit staring at a teacher unable to talk for hours at a time your kid won’t have friends. This isn't Mallory Towers. Or Hogwarts. Or Grange Hill. Also the idea that being home educated mean you never leave the house or speak to another human soul is frankly ridiculous. Much like prison, in school the friendships you make (and enemies) can be very intense at the time. However once that forced association is ended, the relationships often fade quickly. The “afraid of” bunch just do not believe that anyone could learn about how to deal with people in a non-school context. There is a seditious idea that without school the child will be “broken” somehow. If the child is allowed to express themselves, their gender identity, sexuality, personality and tastes freely we are tearing down society. Or worse trying to turn our children into what we want to make them. “Maybe they’d____ if they were at school”. Forced association is not that same as socialization. Say it with me! Home educated kids meet people of all ages, and backgrounds all the time. From clubs and groups to hanging out at the comic book shop or park. The friendships they make are just as valid and important as those of children at school. They are often based on similar hobbies and outlooks rather than being shut in a room for three hours at a time needing permission to pee.

“How could you spend all that time with your kids, you’ll be overwhelmed?”
Being overwhelmed by your kids can happen. However in you only spend time with your kids after they have been shut up in a stuffy box being talked at all day, they are not going to be the same as they are de-schooled. The “afraid for” tend to feel overwhelmed and frustrated and transfer their relationship or what they imagine it would be like onto your family. They don’t know that ending the school run and the rush to “cram” everything in being gone allows for a peace rarely known. The “afraid of” tend to think that you won’t be able to cope. In fact only trained professional, like teachers can cope with children all day every day. The thing is between groups and the slower pace it is much less overwhelming than having a miserable child at school.

Structure and Tests.
Although not many parents would say it there is an idea that if there isn't a school (or a school like structure) then there would be no structure and life for a home educating family is day-time television and lazily lounging around. No I won’t lie there are plenty of home educating parents and kids who don’t get out of the jammies if they don’t have to (why would you) but that doesn't mean we are lazy. It speaks to what they imagine or fear they would do if they could rather than anything to do with your life. Some home education is very structured and even if the education isn't they might still have set days out or groups as well as a set house routine. It may look unstructured from the outside but things like the times libraries close or events happening don’t wait for home educators. We too have weekly calendars and we have to be able to juggle quite well too.
A written test only really shows what a person knows on that day, at that time, under that stress. That is all a test shows. It doesn't take into account the person or the individual. It doesn't show the sum of their knowledge. It is a snap shot, not a film. Test culture and the corporatization of education went hand in hand. Tests and marking of them is big business. In fact the test business has more in common with Big Agro than nurturing the next generation. It is part of a business model that takes the human out of the equation. Yet that fear. The fear of failing a test will ruin your life is so pervasive in our society some people and even home educators can't see past it.
While certain fields require you do an examine or meet a certain standard a lot of university will allow to apply without any GCSE's or A-levels. In fact they care more about if you can pay your tuition fees than if you have any formal qualifications.
That fear that without that piece of paper (and all that by default comes with it) your future will be nothing, is a hard one to shake.

By coming away from that fear and looking at your child excels in, what sets their passions aflame and encouraging them you give them something far more than if they passed a test at school. It makes your child stand out and gives your child space and time to explore and think. When faced with 40 or 100 people applying for a job someone who is talented, driven, adaptable and self motivated stands out. You can always pick them up as an adult later should you find you need them for something.

Home education is far too important to take seriously!


I keep seeing this theme on various home education groups from parents yet to de-register their kids.
“What if they get bored.”
“What if I’m boring.”
My knee-jerk reaction tends to be
“So let them.”

As though being bored was the worst thing that could happen to a child. It isn't, it is the base, the bed-rock of almost all creative efforts. It is the place that we children and adults alike find their own motivation. Now in general I tend to hold the idea that if my Mum did something I should do the opposite (this stands with most of my life) yet her attitude about boredom is one I adopted. If me or my sister ever complained about being bored she would give us extra chores to do, and this is something I do also.
With no television my daughter is almost never bored. She reads, makes things, draws, cooks, gardens, plays music, and when she was younger she would just play.* You see I believe the whole “bored” thing comes from this idea that we have to “entertain” our children. As though we have to tell them what to do, what to be, every single second of the day or they won’t be “enough”. We won’t be “enough”. This social anxiety of being comfortable with our own thoughts and feelings is pretty huge. There is a wonderful performance poem by Tanya Davis called How to be Alone. It is both beautiful and moving. It’s interesting because it starts out small, about how to be alone and comfortable in your “aloneness” in small quiet place, then to take yourself out to dinner or the movies, then out dancing or a trip alone. Somewhere in all that we find where our comfort line is. We find where our “alones” anxiety kicks in. The thing is this is why home education is subversive. Even on your worst day (and we all have them) you discover, you are enough. In a world that makes money from your anxiety and self-loathing and has a vested interest in “keeping you busy”, on a rainy Tuesday morning, you discover you are enough.

Boredom is a super power.

“ How we envy you, envy you! Lucky humans, who can close your minds to the endless deeps of space! You have this thing you call... boredom? That is the rarest talent in the universe! We heard a song — it went 'Twinkle twinkle little star....' What power! What wondrous power! You can take a billion trillion tons of flaming matter, a furnace of unimaginable strength, and turn it into a little song for children! You build little worlds, little stories, little shells around your minds, and that keeps infinity at bay and allows you to wake up in the morning without screaming!” Terry Pratchett- Hatful of Sky

Boredom is the starting place for “I wonder…” and “Why does…” and “How could I…” These thoughts are natural human curiosity. They underpin play and true learning (as opposed to learning it quickly to pass a test). It is full of failure (maybe that is why we are told to be anxious about it.) Again failure is how we really learn. It’s how we teach adults, from driving to cooking and even adult maths, and no-one bats an eye-lid.

Playing and doing
Play* is a hugely important part of the social development of children. We are social mammals and all social mammals learn through play. Children mimic what they see (not what you tell them to do) just as all mammals do.
Dr Stuart Brown would tell you better about play than I but it is important. Not only for children. The opposite of play is depression, according to Dr Stuarts Brown’s extensive research. Our depression epidemic in children can in part be traced back to this deprivation of play. Depression physically changes the brain, the body chemistry and physical functions of the whole body. This is not “feeling sad” this is an illness, like rickets being brought about by a lack of something fundamental to human beings.
Constructive “doing play” must always be balanced with free play. I read a book when my children were tiny about it and used it to get my hubby on board with unsupervised free play. (I wish I could remember what it was but it was 12 years ago). I organised my daughter’s life around structured learning (she was copying letters before the age of two) and being left in her kid safe room with her toys. After the “tidy up game” she would have a drink and a nap. If she missed her free play, she wouldn't want her nap. It was as though her brain needed to digest her play. We also had “noisy” play and “quiet” play, from about that age too.

This has had some odd effects. She has never been a screamer. She has never had to yell and whoop to get my attention, should just knew I would listen to her. I also never begrudged her, her noisy play. (I grew up around musicians).

So here is my spurious advice. Play. Not just allow or encourage your child, but you, grown-up, worried, sensible you. Play. Turn the sofa into pirate ships and throw paper cannon balls at each other. Make up washing up opera (what will happen to the tea-spoons?) Home education is far too important to take too seriously.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

"Helpful" People

"Helpful" People

I'd like to take a moment and ponder some things that people have said to me. Now my dearest darling hubby thinks this is probably a bad idea and he is probably right. It will be not great for the old blood pressure.
I am not alone in getting advice when it come to parenting my child of course. Parenting advice is everywhere, and the shaming is REAL.
As a home educator I have sort of been, polite about my friends choices in how they raise their kids.
Because I am sort of that person, and I kind of figured that the "comments" and advice are at least well meaning, if coming from a place of very limited experience.

"Aren't you worried that..."

You know what, regardless of the end of that sentence the answer is probably yes. I have woken up from some terrible nightmare in a cold sweat that all the decisions I have ever made are terrible and I have utterly failed as a parent. I mean thanks for bringing it up because if you hadn't and it was something that I'd never thought of, well I will now!

"What if..."

What if she wants to be a vegan/Catholic/doctor/nomad and your choice to do______ means she can't? I have tried to encourage my daughter that she can do anything she wants to do. It might take a lot of hard work but I will love, support and do my best to help her (even if I don't agree with her choices). I only know that I had to raise her, as authentically myself, as real as possible. I am sure I have fucked up, a lot, but I have spent her whole life trying to be the best Mum I could ever be, because I had such a bad family experience.

"Shouldn't she learn to deal with terrible things?"

I mean I know school can be soul destroying and awful but don't you need that as a child to be able to tolerate it as an adult?
Firstly why would ever allow yourself to continue in a situation like this as an adult? It isn't healthy or good for you. This is where the tight smile and the internal screaming kick in. Bullying, trauma, misery and awfulness are not character building. In fact having a happy healthy childhood builds a stronger foundation to deal with life than the reverse. Psychologically we know this to be true. Children with childhood trauma are more likely to become addicts, more likely to suffer with mental and physical health issue, but whatever. It's character.
*rolls eyes so hard*

"What about socialization?"

I have written about this a lot and from our own role play groups to local meet ups and events as well as, you know, living in a city and doing stuff we come into contact with people all the time. My daughter is a quiet bookish sort, not because we home educate but because of school. While she certainly is confident and comfortable speaking to many groups of people from all ages and backgrounds, she isn't trusting of people. School did that to her. It hurt and harmed her, and she no longer sings like she used to. No other question is as likely to make a home educator gain a physical twitch as this one. My dearest darlings response is better than mine, he just tells you to ask her about it. This usually does a couple of things, it shocks them that they would speak to a "child" and if they do, she usually as a pithy and dry enough answer in a way I had not even thought of.

So nightmares not withstanding, I am confident that my shame hangover from having hung out with someone who feels the need to question every parenting choice I have ever made, who doesn't have kids has far more to with them; than me. I am also sure that the "bad Mum" stick is not one they will likely let go off easily.

Home education is far too important to be taken seriously

Love Bad Mummy!

Friday, 13 January 2017

Sample letter's to Local Authorities (humour)

Sample letter's to Local Authorities

There have been a sudden spate of letters being sent out all over the country, some with the standard pointless form, something the usual amount of fear mongering and coercion and some with just a bunch of lies in them that triggered some random sarcasm centre in my brain.
These ramblings and so on are a humorous response to these woeful and frankly mind-numbingly blinkered world view and should probably never be sent to any one. If you do (let me know how it goes) but I am letting you know right not, on your own head be it!

Dear Sir/Madam,

my family and I thank you for the letter's and questionnaires you sent out. They were really quite humourous and made for a good laugh before they were turned into some delightful decoupage, some lining for the hamster cage and some vital paper mache in one of our many projects.

You seem awfully found of tick boxes and questionnaires so in the spirit of generosity we came up with our own questions for you.

What research into education other than mainstream schooling have you completed this (academic) year?

Please list the books you have read and their value.

Please explain in as much detail as possible how a government curriculum based learning invites curiosity, individuality, creativity and happiness in children. Special interest (though not compulsory) in emotional well-being, emotional intelligence and play; providing as much specific information to how this "happiness" informs the curriculum.

Please describe how sitting in a room all day requiring permission to speak, drink, eat and pee enhances the ability of of an educator and the children to become a bright, adventurous and worldly adult.

Show me how does having a strict structure to all aspects of the day, regardless of health, light levels, mood or weather aid the learning of children? Please cite your sources appropriately.    

High school students are now encouraged only to read the sections of books they will be tested on how do feel this will educate them fully in English language and literature? 

In fact the "allowed" or required reading gets less and less and the trips to see plays are replaced with seeing a video in a class room an hour at a time. How does this foster the knowledge, appreciation and understanding of these texts?

As adults we are taught in any way that works, but schools insist on all children doing things the exact same way, even if they find their way faster or better, why is that?

There is a great divide in how adults and children are treated within the school system making "control" more important than connection. How do you re-adjust this divide to make socialising with all ages normal? 

When you wish to encourage literacy and expression, can you explain why children need a "pen license"? 

How does what you wear affect your ability to learn?

Do you think you have a right to wear make-up, colour your hair, or wear nail polish and bright colours? Does this affect your ability to learn?

Are gender norms deeply re-enforced and are you segregated often from your co-workers because of their gender or yours?

Is sexual harassment, bullying and physical violence acceptable from your co-workers and bosses? If it occurs are you targeted by those higher up and told to "toughen up" just "fit in more" or told to "give it time"? 

Would you or your family feel it would be appropriate to threaten you if you didn't return to where this harassment took place, tell you that you were "over reacting"?

How often do you mix people of your own age group of different ethnic backgrounds?

Would you say you have many friends and are they enough?

Do you think your world view is restricted by your lack of peers?

I hope you find some value in answering these questions. It does get awfully mind-numbing to be educating in a world without restrictions on what is learned to try and put it "back in the box". Home education doesn't like to fit cosily into boxes which is why we like it. It is about taking children out of the narrow confines of "literacy and maths" and teaching them to read, write, listen and express them selves. To count, add, tell time delve into the language of the universe and weight flour for cake.

When you send out these sort of forms to families it is a red flag. It say's "I don't know what your doing but it looks wrong!" It get our backs up, makes us suck our teeth, and want to avoid you because these kind of questions show us "free-range chicken farmers" that you work for the chicken factory, and you have no idea how to deal with a chicken that is outside a cage but to try and put them back in it! When you ask us (metaphorically) "does it lay once a day?" and we sort of shrug and say "I don't know, maybe once a week, but the eggs are bigger, and it's a happy chicken!" you look at it like there is something wrong with our non-factory system, Sure you have to "pack them in tight" and it would be lovely to let them have more space and such but when they do they just fight each other.

I sort of got lost in that metaphor. Home educators are amazing and very quickly sussing out who want to throw their "chickens" back into cages and it has nothing to do with how "nice" you sound, or how woolly the cardigan is you wear. If you are not educated in anything beyond the school system, have read no books or blogs your ignorance about the world outside the "chicken factory" is not only upsetting, it's down right dangerous.

For now, enjoy your questionnaire, I know I did.

Your sincerely

Free-range family.

Home education is too important to take seriously.