Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Society of Unexperts

I was speculating earlier today on how much I'd like to see a Society of Unexperts formed.

I visualise unexperts proclaiming on all sorts of areas.

Something along the lines of the 'reasonable man' referred to in law. He's deferred to as a sort of everyman expert or unexpert and his opinion is a measure for courts and juries to consider in trials.

Experts probably have a place in our society, but not the place they currently occupy.

You see, experts are prejudiced. They see their specialty everywhere. They are a little like Dr. House in reverse. He is the doctor who tries everything (including the kitchen sink) to find out what the tricky patient is actually suffering from. Experts reduce anything their patients are suffering from to the realms of their own speciality.

So the dermatologist thinks the blotch on your neck is just up his street. And the Ear Nose and Throat guy is determined that it has a connection to the sinus infection he's just uncovered. Then the psychiatrist writes a report stating that it came from the hours you spent in the front room with your completely daffy Aunty Rosa as she fed you with bovril and chips when you were nine and a half.

I wouldn't want anyone off the street to rewire my house of course. That would be taking the SOU (Society of Unexperts) too far. Yet, isn't it true that talented amateurs can accomplish wonders? After all, Leona Lewis and Joe McElderry and Susan Boyle were amateurs until recently.

But, unexperts can see from other than their pre-programmed viewpoint. They can examine evidence and understand the rationale behind it. They can employ their own point of view to inform the problem.

You can be an expert unexpert too. After all, there are dozens of areas that we're all competent in without passing an exam or writing a conference paper. We don't need the outward awards to know that we can do something. We know that we are unexperts in many things.

I more or less learned to type by - well, typing. I did it because I had thousands of words saved up on paper and I got tired fingers and sore hands. So I typed. And because I typed a lot I got good at typing.

I haven't bothered to go in and take a test, but I could probably do quite well. I'm an unexpert at typing.

I'm an unexpert on the world of my children too. I feel fairly confident I could go head to head with the big black chair in the Mastermind television show on the topic. I know a lot about it. My view of my children is unique; it spans quite a few years and experiences. Since before they arrived in this world actually. My eldest hiccoughed every so often while she grew inside me. My youngest pushed an arm and a leg right out of my side (at least it felt that way) about two weeks before she was born while I was watching an exciting film.

No stranger-expert will ever know what I know about my children.


That's why I think we should have a Society of Unexperts.

Experts can be downright dangerous. Recall the doctors who attended trials of distraught mothers as they explained that their most precious babies had died and they didn't know why. But the doctors knew why. They were experts. They knew; that's why they were called to give an opinion because they knew these mothers were killing their babies, and the mothers went to gaol because - gee whiz, gosh - Dr. Expert MUST know best.

Dangerous. Fortunately, unexperts were ploughing through evidence that said if one baby in a family died of cot death then it was possible that another child from the same family could die of the same cause. The babies had shared genes, didn't they? What was more likely that you'd share some deleterious (dangerous) genes? Had the experts thought of that?

Why, no.

Experts see what they are expert in.

Local authority representatives see school as the pinnacle of society therefore they want to see school impressed on every child, even if that child is home educated. They are the experts.

Badman, as we know from his blog* is an expert in education or what passes for education in this country. He is a school/schooling/schooly expert. He likes it. He lives it. It is the ONLY way to educate. For him to open his mind and accept that there are other ways is impossible for him, I think. That would be admitting that he and all his fellow experts were wasting their time in an impotent and impoverished system, and he isn't about to do that. Same with Mr. Balls. You can tinker with a ruinous and collapsed school system. You can throw at it years and years of money, and fiddle with its huge capacious illiterate innumerate monstrous growth of a body but you can't make it work.

It doesn't work because it isn't the only answer. It isn't even the best answer. It never has worked. It never will work. Those who succeed, succeed in spite of it, not because of it and we'll never really know what those who succeed (however they define success) would have been like if they hadn't contracted state school.

There is no single right answer for an education, and that is what the school system offers. It holds out 'the right way.' When you consider carefully you'll understand that there is a range of answers - the best ones are shaped to fit the person who is educating. There is no one 'right way.' The way that school takes is one way and that is one that fails so many children rather dismally.

School does not work for every child. I'm sure any unexpert could tell you that.

*The blog I refer to here is a satire and a spoof, and can be found at:

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Dumbing, dumbing, dumber

I'm listening to dreamily Christmas music on the CD which came off the front of the Classics magazine. It's sheer loveliness.

What I have to write is hard sloggery.

Santa dropped into my life the book Dumbing Us Down by the sainted John Taylor Gatto, and I have to - yes, I just must - type some quotations from it. The book is like a long cool drink of common sense in the desert of despair that we have been wandering and wondering in for what seems like all of the now-dying year.

From whence to quote? Pick a page, any page. Lovely, lovely, difficult words shattering more of my illusions and making sure that the shards are kicked around until they are mere tiny pieces of my once-accepted ideas.

"Private time is absolutely essential if a private identity is going to develop, and private time is equally essential to the development of a code of private values, without which we aren't really individuals at all. Children and families need some relief from government surveillance and intimidation if original expressions belonging to them are to develop. Without these freedom has no meaning."

That's from page 69. Rising up now is all my belief that young people need time away from school and the doings of schooling. My own children told me many a time. "Mum," they said. "We need time to be relaxing, time to be practicing piano, time to be thinking, time to play..."

How disastrous a society are we constructing if we don't allow the young time to leap about in play, and to stare out of the window without being criticised or controlled or stopped.

Just to be themselves. Not the pretend selves that they have to put on like a stiff uniform every school morning. Just who they are like the old clothes that they don in preference to any others when they are lounging around hanging about not doing much.

I recall conversations from the school gate where parents told me proudly that little Ellery was tired out from ballet rehearsals the previous day (a Sunday) when she'd been called in at 11.00 and let out at 6.00, and then there was the drive back of an hour and a half.

Something's got to give. Something. And that something will be Ellery. Never alone Ellery. Always surrounded by a crowd of strangers all dressed up the same and screeching for attention.

No wonder teenagers like to hang about on street corners moodily staring at the strangers who left them no time to watch the stars in a state of wonder.

Biometrics can describe a doll. Biometrics can describe the outer man, but what's that man really? Who is that man? Does he have an ego, does he have six wives, nineteen children, was he once a monk then he woke up in the middle of Central Park and wanted to be out of his cell, is he a frustrated actor rehearsing the words of Hamlet in the empty theatre he has constructed in his mind? Does he love a woman? Is she interested? Does she know him or he, her? Have they had children together? What's his faith? Does he believe in something greater than him or is it all grab because this is all we get and you'd better get it now and get as much as you can because everyone will think more of you?

Who is he, beyond the mere appearance and retina and fingerprint?

Is he anyone who has had time and put effort into defining himself?

Does he care that his fingerprints are stored to be fished out by a complete stranger, a bureaucrat? Does he care that the bureaucrat will never know the private him? Just a bunch of lines and codes? Is that all he wants to be?

Time. Time. Time to develop. To think about self. To extend self. And question self. And become self.

Is life getting quicker? Is it racing? Is it all things and getting the things done and buying things and buying more things because we define our lives by things.

Time. Time. Time to build a self and refine a self and learn how to be a self.

I've known people who cannot be alone. Not for a minute. They can't bear it. They can't become themselves because they won't be alone to develop a self. So they swim in people and blast their ears out with noise to avoid the need to be.

And all that from a quotation on page 69.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Almost Christmas

Hi everyone,

I'd like to wish you all a comfortable holiday with lots of congenial times and good entertainment, stacks of filling, tasty food, and pleasant mood music. Then good sleeps and lovely soothing dreams.

In other words, take a break from thinking about Badman and Balls and the creaking tumbril of government as it wends its way through the streets to oblivion.

If you have snow, get out there - fill your lungs with healthy fresh air, and shout with your children, if they are so inclined.

Enjoy yourselves.

I'd like to thank all those hardy souls who have followed me around peculiar routes of my sometimes convoluted logic and put up with my annoyance at the government and agreed with my feelings that home educators will win any battle thrown at them.

Thanks to everyone on all lists that I visit and thanks especially for the privilege of being able to listen to fascinating conversations and follow interesting points I hadn't thought of.

May your holiday give you everything you need, including time to kick back and relax with your youngsters.

And let 2010 be the start of a decade dominated by common sense and a repeal of the robots who wish only to apply their sad, sorry pathetic rules to other people who aren't robots.

Let the new year be one where people start to respect others. Let it be filled with exciting learning and increasing health for all. Let it be OUR YEAR.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Select Committees and all that jazz

The trouble with Select Committees... well, there are a few troubles with Select Committees. The first is that they are made up of a bunch of people who – er – want to rule the rest of the population. That is an odd thing to want to do. Personally, I don't seem to want to rule anyone, except myself and I have a darn difficult time doing even that on occasions being as I'm so multi-layered and mysterious.

Another trouble with Select Committees is that they have to read a tremendous amount of information in a fairly short time. How can they sort out the chaff from the wheat? It would take me a couple of years to properly digest what some interesting and erudite characters have had to say in support of home education and some fascinating points they have raised too. I'm proud to call myself a home edder.

Of course, I've had a tremendous advantage. I belong to some lively and thoughtful lists with some incredibly dedicated folk adorning them so I've been able to sharpen my little Shrek pencil as I've watched their amazing contributions to the outstanding learning opportunity afforded by home education to even the parental contingent of the home educating family. Me, in fact.

Yet another concern of mine about Select Committee is that they employ discreet language. I want to shout Balls is a moron and Badman is a (er, I cannot think of a suitable thing to shout. Perhaps the DCSF would like to consult on that. Suitable names for Badman. It would probably be as meaningful as consulting on a suitable education).

Then, again, there's the fact that people sitting on a Committee are not exactly unbiased. They are biased in many different ways, but one specific way is that they will be biased towards state schooling. If you skin the average person you will find state schooling writ large upon his or her heart. It's a strange thing how something so potentially damn dreadful, and no matter what atrocities of either the educational or bullying kind were perpetrated upon you, you STILL insist that 'they were the best days of mah life.' What PR school has enjoyed. How deep it has sunk into the societal bedrock. What crap it is! So much so that, if someone brings up all the terrible, soul-destroying happenings in his school, he finishes by wiping a tear from his filling eye and blowing his filling nose at the very thought of the old alma mater.

It's like the most insidious of abuse cycles.

So, we have those worthies of the Select Committee, all with their various Party lines, and their multitudinous prejudices listening variously to the rapidly sinking and almost incomprehensible muttering Badman (an upstanding representative of their kind of man) and the bright, inquisitive, alive responses from home educating children and their families.

What is a man constrained by the likes of Ed. Balls to do?

How are they to look their leader in his dark eyeballs if they deploy the nukes on the pathetic heap of prejudiced garbage that is dignified by the name of the Elective Home Education Review.

One of my first thoughts on sighting the Committee report was that they still have not realised that parents are the best ones to parent and are best placed to decide which form of education suits their own children and that local authorities underlying remit is to destroy home education and get those children into school.

So we have home educators – totally committed parents – and we have local authorities, some with fine representatives but others, a lot of others, with no darn clue about any kind of an education at all and a serious blind-spot which makes them avoid the facts looming up to crash into them. The facts are that the school system does not work. I would say it does not work for everyone but the longer I live the more I believe (there's that word again) that school DOES NOT WORK because it is predicated upon force.

And, however men like to spin it, force does not conquer all.

Overall, it's a 50.3% from me for the Select Committee Report. They criticise Badman, yes, they'd have to be blind, deaf, dumb and living inside the mountains not to know that Badman's so-called report is fit only to line our budgies' cages. Yet they haven't caught on that it is the parents' duty to choose the mode of education for their children. The parents' duty. Not the government's, not Balls', not Badman's, not Barry Sheerman's, not the MPs', not the paranoid LAs'.

You know it's practically impossible for a child to avoid getting an education. They're born to it. They question as soon as they wake up and talk. They do it because it is an instinct. You cannot deny a child an education, but you can choose which education – in accordance with their wishes – that they will get, even if that's one that they select for themselves (this is called the autonomous way).

That's the kind of Select Committee I approve of.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Home education less lethal than expected

Following Thursday's headline in the Guardian which was 'Swine flu pandemic less lethal than expected', I'd like to travel forward in time to view the next big headline that will catch our attention.

'Home education less lethal than expected

Reporter: Polly Dolly, Everypaper

Expert examiners yesterday confirmed that the fears of DCSF staff and ex-government Minister, Ed Balls, were groundless.

A re-examination of local authority statistics by independent professionals from Statistics International has found that, rather than being more likely to hurt their children, home educating parents are indeed much less likely to be guilty of child abuse.

Betty Wetty of the DCSF says, "We made a few assumptions about statistics that were perhaps incorrect, but fifteen months after we insisted on a new monitoring system, we discovered that the local authorities' facts were not as robust or rigorous as we were assured."

The situation for home educators is summed up by Diana Sminer, a home educator with three children and seven years experience. "We have wasted several years effort trying to point out that they are squandering public funds on a non-problem. We have advised ministers and the media who ran with prejudiced reports from a so-called expert who was no expert on home education. Our children have lost confidence in the political system, except for a handful of individuals who helped us, and have been terrified of being forced into failing schools by local authority Stasi-like representatives. And we don't even get an apology."

The Society of United Home Educators (SUME) is considering legal action. "We believe that government should be held responsible for mistakes of this nature," said Julian Bloomingdale, Vice President of SUME. "They cannot be allowed to ride rough-shod over home educators in this manner and escape consequences."

The DCSF made no further comment'.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Erin and John Holt

Erin Brockovich and John Holt.

They would get along, I'm sure.

Erin is and was an individual. She didn't change her 'potty mouth' for anyone. She didn't change her rather uproarious clothes style to please others.

She had principles and she stuck to them.

John Holt in How Children Fail says this:

"After all I have said and written about the need for keeping children under pressure, I find myself coming to realize that what hampers their thinking, what drives them into these narrow and defensive strategies, is a feeling that they must please the grownups at all costs. The really able thinkers in our class turn out to be, without exception, children who don't feel so strongly the need to please grownups. Some of them are good students, some not so good; but good or not, they don't work to please us, but to please themselves."

Students working, not to get a reward from teacher or approval from the school, must be a nightmare for the state schooling system.

School is unmitigated stress for some children. Damned if they do well, they are told that they must do better. Slated if they do poorly, they must do better, even if that is better than their best and how can a person do better than their best? When Shelly is compared with Polly, who is the class genius, how can Shelly feel but inferior and how does that help Shelly or Polly. Shelly may give up trying for that non-existent approval from teacher. Polly may be coasting along not exerting herself because, after all, she is effortlessly clever.

John Holt again: "The trouble was that I was asking too many questions. In time I learned to shut up and stop asking questions, stop constantly trying to find out how much people understood. We have to let learners decide when they want to ask questions. It often takes them a long time even to find out what questions they want to ask. It is not the teacher's proper task to be constantly testing and checking the understanding of the learner. That's the learner's task, and only the learner can do it. The teacher's job is to answer questions when learners ask them, or to try to help learners understand better when they ask for that help."

I am interested in the way that teachers think because I make it a habit not to teach. I am not a teacher. If pressed, I would say I am a facilitator and an education enthusiast. I believe that all people should educate themselves, if they can. The key words there are 'educate themselves'. People can learn from me if they wish and I will impart my knowledge when they ask me for it, but they must ask me. I will not teach anyone voluntarily. I do not believe in teaching learners. I believe in empowering learners to find out for themselves and, if that involves finding out from me, that is fine.

I think there is something rather arrogant about another human being presuming to 'teach' me. It implies a one-way process. It implies that teaching leads to learning whereas we know instinctively that to learn one has to be ready, willing and able to learn.

As John Holt says: “The very natural mistake that Bill and I made was to think that the differences between the children in our class had to do with techniques of thinking, that the successful kids had good techniques of thinking while the unsuccessful, the 'producers,' had bad, and therefore that our task was to teach better techniques. But the unsuccessful kids were not trying, however badly, to do the same things as the successful. They were doing something altogether different. They saw the school and their task in it differently. It was a place of danger, and their task was, as far as they could, to stay out of danger. Their business was not learning, but escaping.”

I would respectfully suggest that John Holt has used an incorrect word there. I suspect that the word he might have used is 'surviving.'

We survive school to go on to our real lives having played the learning game or not, depending upon which survival strategy we adopt during our school years.

Wouldn't it be so much better if we were left to learn in peace, at our own leisure, untested and unmolested? Wouldn't it be so much better if children were all educating at home (and all the other places they educate themselves in?)

Or is that too much to ask?

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Erin Brockovich and woman power

My eldest has just asked me if I want to watch the film 'Erin Brockovich' with her.

I said yes.

I've tried to watch it a few times but only managed to see a few minutes at different points. So it will be interesting...

Erin was a legal assistant in America who brought a power company to book for polluting a town's water. Originally, she was an unemployed single mum. The film is based on her story. A real story. About one woman who single-handedly brings down a huge corporation.

Erin is one of my heroes.

She is a magnificent woman.

We can all be like her.

We can bring down liars and cheats and politically motivated quangos and people making money out of other people's misery.

We can.

You can.

I can.

It can be done and Erin did it.

Now I'm off to see the whole dang movie.

To remind myself that there is an Erin in each one of us.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

A blissful afternoon...

We've just got back from seeing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

An afternoon of swing and sing and dancing. A time of clapping and emoting as Joseph got sold into slavery by his brothers (ah, that sounds familiar. Wonder where I've heard that before?). But Joseph, he rises again, even higher than the heights of being his father's favourite sonhood.

He becomes Pharoah's favourite Minister. He practically runs Egypt because Pharoah is so busy being an Elvis Presley look-alike.

I bought the tickets some weeks ago. I was asked how many adults and children. I said I didn't know because some people call a sixteen year old an adult and some say people that age are still children. The nice lady on the desk said, "If they are under 18, they're children to us!"

Thank you, Playhouse.

A row of schoolchildren sat, wriggled, talked and laughed behind us. I wasn't asked for my CRB check or tapped on the shoulder and told to move because I was seated near our fragile young and I might be one of them. (Home educators or paedophiles)

There were elderly people swinging their canes, children in school uniforms, middle-aged folk munching on scones and sucking drinks through straws and all of them, jigging about, singing along and clapping their 'ands orf.


Great musical. Great cast, full of energy and enjoying themselves.

Great audience. All ages, full of interest and wanting to enjoy themselves.

Not a suspicious glance around. No police. No bother about tickets. No worrying whether or not we were going to be picked up as those weird home educators and returned to our home because we were AT LARGE and we should be ON THE EDUCATIONAL PREMISES.

Great afternoon.

So, you see, it can work. This being in the world and not checked or stopped or shown disrespect or hassle.

We can be normal. Life can be good.

Life is good.