Monday, 29 July 2013

To learn or not to learn....

I have been thinking a lot recently about home educating.  This has mostly been because my 11 year old ds taught himself to read about 4 months ago.  This is one of the fears of many of my fellow home edders who take the autonomous route of education where we don’t actively teach our children but facilitate them learning what they want to learn when they want to learn it..  It is well known that an average self-taught reader will be anything between 3 and 14 years old but most seem to start showing an interest around 9 if they haven’t before that.  11 and a half seems old!!!  I don’t know why we have this obsession with reading and that is what got me to thinking.  Why Maths and English?  As an English nation we all know English: we all speak it.  So why after we have been taught to read and write does it go any further than that?  We abstract the ability to read from all the reasons we need to know how to read.  Most of the other subjects taught at school involve the ability to read, write and sometimes speak English.  So why force children to read books if they don’t want to read books?  Why abstract the ability to read, write and speak as part of natural life and have a separate subject that involves skills that you don’t need to be a valuable member of society?  You wouldn't force a child to dance when they don’t want to dance especially not to GCSE level even though I reckon the ability to know how to move your body and finding enjoyment from it is a way more valuable skill than the sedentary activity of reading fiction.

Again with maths.  Mental arithmetic I totally get.  A useful skill to have although I don’t believe you need that skill at the age of 6 or even any time before you are going to need to use it say in a shopping scenario.  Financial acuity on the other hand a wholeheartedly worthwhile skill that needs to be learnt before taking out your first credit card, loan, mortgage, etc.  The area of a circle however is a fact that anyone can look up on the internet.  It isn't a necessary fact to teach 9 year olds: the ability to regurgitate that area = pi * radius ^2 does not 'maketh the man.'  I know that Martin Lewishas managed to get financial skills into the curriculum but I have a feeling that many children will have been put off actually listening to this vital information by the way that numeracy and maths is taught in the earlier years.   Again most children learn to count before going to school – how is it that we turn the beautiful simplicity of maths into something so sterile and to many so confusing and/or boring?

The sad contradiction here is that kids love to learn.  Try and get a child to stop doing something they are absorbed in and you know what I mean.  My children will forget to eat, forget to go to the toilet and forget to go to bed when they are absorbed in what they are doing.  This is when the deep level learning occurs: the learning that stays with you years later.  And that learning can occur through random play, social interactions, or as Archimedes discovered whilst taking a bath or as Newton discovered sitting under an apple tree.  The shallow learning of facts for the sake of it however tend to fade because they are not backed by the ability or passion of wanting to learn those facts at that time.  And that is my main reason for home educating my children.  Passion:  the human right that every person has to learn something/anything when they are either ready and able and/or have a desire to do so.  And by ready and able, I mean when mental/physically/emotionally capable. 

My ds learnt to read because he was ready and able.  Once he realised that his brain could cope with deciphering the squiggles into words and that he had the vocabulary from all the bedtime stories my husband had read to him and all the conversations he had had, he started reading.  Just like that.  He was mentally capable.  If you meet him now a few months later you wouldn't know that he hasn't been reading since he was 5.  His passion for wanting to read and his capacity to do it led to him reading and he did it all himself which has given him a sense of worth that he would never have if he had been in school.  
My dd on the other hand has been reading since she was 5, again self-taught. Her brain could decipher squiggles but telling the time (which ds could do at age 4) was a different matter for her.  Numbers didn't make as much sense as letters to her when she was younger.  Her mental arithmetic and number skills have been learnt as part of life, through playing card games and going to the shop with her brother.  She recently learnt to tell the time because it helped her know when her school friends were getting home from school.  She found it difficult but persevered because she wanted to be able to do it and her passion saw her through. 
I am hoping that dd’s passion for reading and ds’s passion for computing and maths will help them when it comes time to get their English and Maths GCSEs (if that is still what they are by then.)  You may have realised that I don’t feel that those 2 subjects are any more important than others and in fact I feel that they are stunningly less important especially in the way they are taught at school.  My children will probably jump through those hoops and a lesson in pointless fact regurgitating will be learnt and I feel that is a shame.
This isn't what I thought I would write about when discussing home ed.  I thought I would be citing Ken Robinson videos and hack-schooling (I’ll add those at the bottom just in case you are interested LOL).  

Instead I would love for everyone to empower their children because they are amazing beings.  Those little babies that learnt to walk, talk, build towers, learn to use the toilet, etc. did so because they wanted to be like us.  They don’t need to be taught facts for the sake of learning them so that they can be tested and judged.  If we have to teach them anything then at least let’s teach them real stuff that will be useful all through their lives.  We have loads of creative, passionate, resourceful teachers out there and instead of using their talents we squash them into teaching abstracted subjects and learning is fast becoming synonymous with test passing.  Let’s set our children and teachers free to explore real subjects in a creative and stimulating way and let’s give teachers the freedom to know when a child is ready, willing and able to absorb those facts and adjust their role accordingly. 

So although I believe that all learning should be self-directed I thought I would put together a national curriculum just to show how things could be different if we had a government who actually wanted to adhere to their law about education being about an “education suitable to age, aptitude and ability”.

Anatomy and movement – I reckon everybody should know how their bodies work, how to move them correctly and look after them - breathing skills, meditation, swimming, climbing, cycling, etc.  Let's also give our children a healthy appreciation for how real bodies look, not photo-shopped bodies like here

Nutrition, cooking and sustainability – what we put in our bodies affects how they work, learning to make healthy meals from natural ingredients is vital to our survival.  Looking at where food comes from, learning to grow it, learning wild food foraging, learning about permaculture and other sustainable activities, etc.

Philosophy – the ability to form an argument and not take everything on face value is a vital skill.  So much of what is in the newspapers or that we are bombarded with via the TV needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.  Let’s give our children the skills to want to check the facts and not believe everything they are shown, told.  (Watch this video about one guys attack on the daily mail to see what our newspapers are really doing to us)

Mental arithmetic and financial skills – so you don’t get short-changed at a shop or fleeced by a loans company, knowing about how statistics really work and how they are skewed to serve many purposes would also be really useful. 

Empathy and non-violent communication (NVC) type skills – let’s teach our children to disassociate a person from their behaviour so that no-one is shamed and judged as bad because of the things they have done, forgiveness, acceptance of others, self-worth, etc.  Watch this video to see how prejudice really works, watch this one for how teachers have the power to affect how children perceive prejudice and watch this one to see how forgiveness can really change lives for the better.  

I am sure there are other important areas but these were just off the top of my head.  However subjects like history, geography, pure maths, applied maths, English literature, etc. can be left for those who are passionate about them.  

Here is one of the many brilliant Ken Robinson talks about education.  This one is extra brilliant because of the added animation.  Every one in the world should watch this video!!!

Schools kill CreativityHow to escape education's death valley and Bring on the Learning Revolution are his TED talks about learning and schooling.  Ken Robinson talks about diversity in education and notes (like I have above) that children, even born to the same parents, are different and so should be treated as such.  I cannot do justice to Ken's amazing ability to tell it like it is, in a funny but stunningly perceptive way.  If you cannot afford the time to watch all the talks above then at least watch his latest one How to escape education's death valley - "Children are natural learners and it is a real achievement to be able to stifle it."

Here are some interesting videos/pages and books about education:
How Children Fail by John Holt
How Children Learn  by John Holt
Teach Your Own by John Holt
Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich
Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto
Pedagogy of the Opressed by Paulo Freire

There are loads of other great books out there and other brilliant blogs.  Just google 'unlearning', 'home education', 'deschooling' or get in touch if you would like more info.

Here is a poem I wrote about my issues with school and our testing culture in this country:

Human Experience is not a test
Can you assess my state of happiness?
Can you score it out of five?
Can you really pass or fail a test
That tells if you are truly alive?
Is joy a quantifiable trait?
Can you plot it on a graph?
Do you score a special funny point
Every time you laugh?
Is empathy a transferable skill?
Can others give feedback?
Telling you if there are any traits
In which they think you lack?
I don't think you can pass an exam
In love or contemplation
I don't think you can get an NVQ
In passion or in meditation
Hope cannot be learnt from a book
Grace cannot be easily taught
Peace cannot be summed up in lesson
Just because you think it ought
You cannot have a kindness target
That everyone must reach
The attainment of gentleness
Is not something you can teach
The fruits of spirit andsoul
Need space and time to grow
They cannot be cultivated in league tables
Or seen in "tell and show"
Spirit cannot be marked and scored
Even if you wanted to
Because human experience is not an exam
ONLY YOU can A* you

1 comment:

  1. This is an amazing insight into something that appeals to me more and more. As a teacher, I can see exactly what you mean, and would love to be able to see a child through school knowing that I have encouraged them to "be" and to learn as and when they are ready to.