Friday, 31 July 2009

Thinking about autonomous mongooses

Since autonomous learning appears to be under attack in the Home Education review (I refuse to give the shoddy report a large R for review), I thought I'd tell you about a rather good example I ran into today.

Eldest is assimilating the Japanese language as fast as she can, while bemoaning the apparent lack of information online about Japanese history. That's a job for later - tracking down good sources about Japanese history. E has a tutor (F) whom she sees once a week for an hour to imbibe the intricacies of the Land of the Rising Sun. F is a lovely woman who has become a friend too.

F has gone to Japan for a few weeks well-deserved break. She took with her my daughter's request that she buy my eldest two games - one of which was a Japanese Dictionary and her pupil will pay her for them when she returns. My daughter (E) emerged from her studies an hour or so ago and asked 'when will the pound come down?' That started a long and interesting discussion about exchange rates and I was glad her father was there - one of his university courses was Economics - and he was magnificent in his explanations, and hunted out some rather thick books for E to peruse later. Naturally, she was keen to ascertain how much she would have to pay for her games which had sparked off the query.

So, that's it. The core of it for me. Purposive conversation. The ground we've travelled in the last four years has been amazing. And it's astounding how much each of us has squirreled away in our brains, and incredible how we are able to have ranging and fascinating conversations about weird and wonderful, neutral and ordinary, fashionable and unfashionable, historical and modern... Well, I'm sure you get the picture. About anything.

If I know little about a topic, I find myself drawn to find out. One of my children often beats me to the meat of the subject or I delve and burrow myself to tease out the best bits and gobble them down.

And it is so exciting. Books, chats, films, pictures, internet, DVDs, CDs... anything and everything. All deeply fulfilling. Another great thing is that I don't have to pretend to know a subject inside out. I can truly say, "Great mongooses! I never thought about that. Let's look it up!"

And off we go. And go. And learn and learn and learn some more. And more and more and it never stops. And I hope it never stops for me, but I know it will never stop for my children because they've started thinking and comparing and planning and assessing and reassessing and philosophising and recasting and remembering and...

How extraordinarily fortunate we all are to live in a world where knowledge is spread out in front of us like a massive, ever-bountiful banquet.

You need never be hungry for knowledge again. Or, if you are, you can satisfy your desire to consume the goodies whenever you like.

Viva, autonomous! Long live child-led education! Long live learner-centred knowledge. Whatever you call it it works.

The surge of curiosity and crackling of interest sizzles in the air.

And, because my younger daughter (Y) asked a question about those fuzzy little fellas a few days ago I now know a lot more about mongooses (yes, they can be called mongeese but aren't usually)!

Mongooses and the exchange rate. An unbeatable combination.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Bad faith and bad men

I've been pootling around in some law books (as you do). No, honestly, I find them quite soothing, but occasionally challenging and sometimes downright incomprehensible.

One thing struck me as I moodled around and that was the concept of bad faith. Mala fides. I guess you and I know it a bit better by its opposite number which is bona fides or good faith. When I make a contract, I trust in your bona fides. That is, I believe that you are morally sound, that you will agree a sensible exchange of some sort with me and you will stick to your word and carry out your side of the bargain. It can also be your character. Are you trustworthy? Can I put my trust you? Shall I be out of pocket or out of luck if I agree to deal with you?

Mala fides is with or in bad faith, and is also defined as 'dishonestly.'

Normally, I am willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt. I may feel I cannot trust person X but I might suspend my judgement and let them go ahead with whatever bargain we have made. That can lead to trouble. It can also lead to strengthening someone who almost never has had anyone else trust them so it can be a good thing.

It is not a good thing (it is, in fact, mala fides) when my children are concerned and their lives are scrutinised, picked over and dismissed. When the autonomous core of what they are is dissected and thrown out with the other refuse. I never trust anyone I do not know and who shouts a whole load of made-up nonsense, and grimy, sleazy nonsense too, about our lives. I trust no one who does not have an open mind, and cannot take the jump over ignorance into understanding. I cannot prove it, of course, but the course of action taken by Graham Badman and his panel of 'experts' leads me to believe that, if analysis t'were done it was done maliciously or in bad faith.

When you present part of a quotation to support your argument and do not quote the whole shebang, when you dizzy people with twists and turns in your faulty logic, when you dismiss perfectly respectable and responsible research - like Paula Rothermel's - because it disagrees with your chosen points, then you show mala fides.

When your irksome, expensive, ultra vires and against human rights and children's best interests recommendations are accepted by an increasingly unstable government on the same day as your report is released to the public who are directly and absolutely affected by your cogitations, then you demonstrate bad faith.

Anyone who supports a man or group of men who show bad faith are themselves contaminated by the soubriquet also. They are mala fides. Their reputations are irretrievably sullied; their academic understanding is suspect and damaged.

Should you seek to coerce another human being - for whatever reason - you inflict dreadful harm on yourself.

You must always be careful and consider what you do and why you do it. Your reputation is a precious manifestation of your innermost self, and once broken, can take years to recover; it may never be the same. And neither might the recipients of your bad faith.

So, Mr. Badman, I would be looking deep into a mirror, were I you today, and asking myself just who am I? What do I stand for? Am I mala fides?

But you won't, will you?

The game and R.D. Laing

I didn't like R.D. Laing when I attended University. I guess I didn't understand his words. I don't know if I understand his words much better these days, but I like them. And that makes all the difference.

"They are playing a game. They are playing at not playing a game. If I show them I see they are, I shall break the rules and they will punish me. I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game."

"It is our duty to bring up our children to love, honour and obey us.
If they don't, they must be punished,
otherwise we would not be doing our duty.

If they grow up not to love, honour and obey us
either we have brought them up properly
or we have not;
If we have
there must be something the matter with them;
if we have not
there is something the matter with us."

From KNOTS by R.D. Laing, Penguin Books Ltd, 1970

Friday, 24 July 2009

The dragon-headed guardian

'Human rights provide the absolute minimum protection against abuse of power that all legitimate states owe to all human beings.' (David Howarth, MP, Shadow Justice Minister, Lib Dems)

I believe (taking a note from Graham Badman's book of how to win influence and hack off home educators) that David Howarth is correct. It is the least we can do to guarantee that a control-crazy set of powerful berserkers DO NOT ride roughshod over the weakest and the least likely of us to protest because we are afraid or cannot cope or don't know how to defend ourselves.

I see myself as the dragon-headed guardian of my youngsters' rights until they reach an age, or more likely, a stage where they can defend themselves from all assaults. From the soft-voiced insidious PR of policy-demons who know nothing of my children's lives to the in-yer-face, stitch-this-jimmy destructive force unleashed by bureaucrats who do not know me or my children, I defend the weak against the strong. Then, again, I do not perceive you as strong if you try to intimidate me as I go about my lawful business - I see you as weak. You have not knowledge. You wish to misuse power.

You are not fit guardians for the peace, for the country, for my children.

Which is why I will oppose you. I will oppose you until my fingers crack and break upon the computer keys. I will face you in my 'V' mask while you whisper your slogans that you are 'passionate' about my children, that you want to 'engage' with them, that you seek to 'support' them in their lives.

I do not believe you.

They do not want you.

We do not want your support, your seeking to engage us, your misplaced passion. Engage yourselves in democracy, support depth of understanding by talking to me and my children and LISTENING REALLY LISTENING because this is our life that we are living and it is not your life. You must LISTEN to your nearly silenced conscience. Be passionate about the status quo that actually works. You must understand how not to treat people like objects to be done to, but like partners (not stakeholders) in a long hard journey upwards towards the light of freedom for every human being. Up to being respected and, yes, oh, yes, being loved.

Are you listening? Can you hear it?

The sound of the whole human race crawling towards the light?

Can you see?

Can you hear?

Are you listening?

Saturday, 18 July 2009

In the depths of the country

I went away on Tuesday and spent most of the week in the countryside.

I saw sheep safely grazing, and millions of rabbits grazing also around the caravan in which I stayed. I saw panting dogs on leads, and faces turning as their owners' said "Hello" and smiled at us in our plimsolls and caps which we donned all ready for adventures.

I saw gently ambling cows, and curious horses on rolling hills.

I saw a fast flowing river beating its foam against a sharp rocky slope.

I saw men and women jumping from land-rovers, emerging muddy wellies first and seeming healthy and happy.

I saw my children, pink with excitement, taking everything in. The sheep grazing, the hopping, white-tailed bunnies, the dogs with lolling tongues, strangers saying howdy, cows mooing and ambling towards shade, horses staring curiously at us townies, the river rushing and gushing downhill towards yet another country village, mud-encrusted land-rovers with farmers disembarking...

and the stone cross standing proud in the market place and the steady thud-thud of peace and healing, and the long talks about the future, and the past, and what to do with the life we've got and what we should do about people who oppose us and seek to constrain us and make us less than that which we are.

And I learned that there is more here than me and my worries. I learned all over again that I can trust my children to do what is right for them and best for them and I should not worry. I learned that they are amazing people who have truly wondrous minds and secret thoughts. I learned what is important and what is not.

In the depths of the country, I re-acquainted myself with peace and what matters and truth and what is meaningful.

And I am a better person for the four days in the green leafed idyll, the country lanes, the steep hills, the sheep, the rabbits, the caravan and a glimpse of the past ways of life.

No one can remove the 'me' from me. No one can scatter my ashes before I am dead. No one can tell my soul what is its purpose. No one can disturb me, or violate my sense of timelessness. No one can rip from me my relentless desire for righteousness and my thirst for justice.

I will fight on.

Peace is worth defending.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Some people think

Some people think it's OK to judge a book by its cover
But I don't
Some people think they know best about something they know nothing about
But I don't
Some people think they are experts on other people's children
But I don't
Some people think it's right to imprison a mother because her child is too frightened to go to school
But I don't
Some people think it's their responsibility to come into my house whenever they like to judge my furnishings, my housekeeping skills (or lack of them), my dog and my children
But I don't
Some people think it's their duty to punish poor people for being poor
But I don't
Some people think it's no problem that children are left in prison all their days without their mums and dads and grannies and granddads and people who love them
But I don't
Some people think that if a nursery worker has a CRB check that must be good and she won't hurt their children
But I don't
Some people think that it's clever practice for Mr. Jones to write a report that recommends his business so he'll get lots of people's money for being so sharp
But I don't
Some people think that the victim is always to blame because the victim started it
But I don't
Some people think that Members of Parliament always listen to, and help, their constituents
But I don't
Some people think that ID cards are great because they'll stop terrorism and stuff, despite evidence to the contrary
But I don't
Some people think you have to torture people to get the truth out of them
But I don't
Some people think that it's reasonable to point to a really bad system and say "Our system is fine because we're not as bad as THEM"
But I don't
Some people think they should spy on everyone because people they're spying on 'might commit a crime'
But I don't
Some people think it's expedient and positive to collect everyone's data because the authorities never make mistakes and they are always to be trusted
But I don't
Some people think children should be weighed, measured and monitored because they won't 'progress' without those interventions
But I don't
Some people think they don't mind if the authorities harvest their DNA because the authorities must know what they're doing and it'll help catch criminals
But I don't
Some people think that authorities can always be trusted to do their best for the people who pay them and they are blessed with exceptional talents of discernment and are eternally free of prejudice
But I don't
Some people think local authority representatives are adequately trained in everything they should know and that they are infallible
But I don't
Some people think it's cool to bully other people
But I don't
Some people think that children belong to the state
But I don't
Some people think children learn best at school
But I don't
Some people think they need a teacher to show them how to walk and talk properly
But I don't
Some people think it's reasonable for a teacher to shout at a child when he hasn't done his homework because his grandma was ill
But I don't
Some people think it'll do a child good to be taken to school even after his dad died in the night
But I don't
Some people think their jobs are vitally important so they have their mobiles switched off in business meetings and schools can't reach them
But I don't
Some people think that the accused is guilty until proven innocent
But I don't
Some people think it's progress to take away other people's rights
But I don't
Some people think it'll get them what they want if they persecute minorities
But I don't
Some people think it's their God-given duty to oppress other folks because the first people happen to have money and power
But I don't
Some people think they shouldn't leave things alone because when it ain't broke you should mess with it
But I don't
Some people think it'll do no harm for journalists to lie with statistics and just lie generally
But I don't

Some people believe that I'll go along with them when they treat me like a pariah, a child abuser, a sub-human, untrustworthy, lying, cheating piece of filth. They think I'll go along with them because I'm bound to be guilty of something or because they don't like my face, my politics, my belief in my children's rights to be free to educate themselves, and my duty to educate my children the way they want to be educated. They think I'll go along with them because I don't value my children's freedom generally, my freedom generally and the freedom of all people to do what they want within reason without totalitarian officers of a crazy machine-led, performance management-mad Matrix government seeking them out to squash them

But I won't

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Behind the bars

She walks slowly, but not so slowly as to be noticeable.

Her feet stick to the pavement, but there's no chewing gum on it.

Lydia's head is down, her eyes swivel from side to side, and she shrinks in on herself, trying to seem smaller and greyer to match the buildings nearby.

Her heart thud-thud-thuds in both ears, and her eyes concealed behind the regulation spectacles are fixed on the group of children moving in their carefully observed groups, doing a strange new dance that a government expert has recommended.

Pulling her hood forward over her thin face, she checks around to see if anyone is watching her.

The railings pull her hands, and her hands close over them and clench hard. Teeth clenched too, she spots him circling in the nearest group.

The sensor has started out of its housing to make a sweep, but her hands won't let go.

Her teeth grind.

Her arms ache.

The boy with the hair that no one can tame falters in his strange dance and glances towards the grey-faced woman with claw-like hands clinging to the thick iron bars.

"Johnnie," she breathes. "Johnnie."

With gun unholstered, the second security guard is running across the astro-turf towards her. His knuckles are white as they tighten on his gun.

The other guard races up to her. "What are you doing? You have no clearance to be in this area."

Although she seems to be looking in his direction, Lydia is really staring past him at the small boy with the blond hair. "I - I was... going..."

The other guard checks the monitor in his hand. "It's Mrs. Malham, isn't it? 209 Bayswater Drive. Widow of Clarence Arthur George Malham..."

"Yes," she answers quietly, then she shouts, "Johnnie! JOHNNIE!"

The guards are surprised, then they take hold of her knuckles and attempt to bend her fingers back to remove her thin fingers from the bars. "JOHNNIE! IT'S MOTHER! JO..."

One of the guards hits her hands with his nightstick. Her fingers are numbed and fall away; her hands flop to her sides. The boy stands uncertainly in his pose, wondering what to do. Someone called his name. Should he answer her?

He doesn't know.

Lydia's tears are raining down her face as the boy hesitates in his circle, and the other children begin to slow and stop to watch him watching the thin grey woman outside the fence.

"Johnnie," she says on a sob. "Joh..."

The nightstick rises again. Her fingers leave the bars and her eyes fill again.

The boy is persuaded to move off with his group towards the grey building. He doesn't look back and he hunches his shoulders as if trying to shake away the image of the grey-faced woman beyond the bars of the fence.

"Go along now, Mrs Malham. We'll have to report this behaviour, you know. We can't have this sort of thing happening. I'm sure you realise..."

Her head lifts inside the hood, and, for a second, her eyes kindle. The guards step back. "I realise..." she says softly. "I realise..."

Her steps are leaden as she walks away back where she came from.

"Who was she?" says the second guard to the first.

"Oh," the other man answers, "Just one of those crazy home educators. No one to worry about at all. She can't do anything... Got no power."

The second guard watches the bent grey back for a moment more. "I feel sorry..."

"Don't say it!" The first guard shakes his head. "Don't say it. You don't know who's listening."