Sunday, 30 May 2010

The fight be over

That night I celebrated. I really did. I raised an imaginary glass to everyone who had fought so effectively and so brilliantly, and I toasted them. I stopped shouting, "Let me at 'em!" Then I cried. Not a sobbing outburst, but a few tears made their way up from the ducts in my eyes and rolled over the barricade of my lower lids to thread down my cheeks.

Mixed in with exhilaration was - what? - a little disgruntlement. A little more disbelief. A slight case of why doesn't someone come along to give us a medal, even a tiny medal? Why doesn't someone acknowledge that we've fought back the powers of would-be darkness? I expect poor old Gandalf, Aragorn, and the hobbits felt much the same when they arrived home from their journey. And everything inside them was changed, and everything around them was changed.

I'm talking about a bitty while ago when the CSF Bill that we, home educators, would pay heavily for was washed-up and swirled away after ALL THAT STUFF we did and said and wrote and read and felt and struggled for and protested against.

And now I feel... aged... betrayed... tired... colder... more determined NOT to let stuff like this keep happening.

If Lord Lucas is right, at some time in the - hopefully - distant future, like Dracula the same blood-drained arguments will arise from their washed-up coffin and, like the poor brutalised humans in True Blood, we'll be having our necks forcibly bared to accommodate the bureaucratic fangs again.

We will be advised to wear collars of invincible arguments; we will be polishing our children's fine minds faster than ever, including studs of law, politics and how to win an argument arguments in their customary neckware.

It may be sooner. It may be later. But it will come. Because people are just like that. Because orcs never quite die out. Because, although they don't mind freedom for themselves, a lot of bureaucrats and sinister movers and shakers in the power circle don't want it for other people, let alone other people's children.

It's a lot harder to fight evil that is unrecognised as vile.

It's a lot harder to fight the failings and leanings of society towards totalitarianism.

It's lovely when the fight is, for this moment, over.

But you still miss it. It has changed you. You can't go back. You reflect. You think on it. You recall when. You shiver at what if it had.

Be good if I could go down to the Grey Havens and potter aboard one of the ships with the white sails and set out for the West.

But life isn't like that, and there is subtle evil still to identify and counter.

"Let me at 'em!"

Sunday, 23 May 2010


Strange how the US and Britain are so coterminous these days.

What the Americans do we seem to copy or amend. "No Child Left Behind" shout the Americans. "Every Child Matters," we reply, nodding in agreement.


"Our nation is at risk," the report stated. "The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people."

After hearing from President Reagan's blue ribbon commission in "A Nation at Risk" I had an epiphany:

Alternative education could end the rising tide of mediocrity if it was available on a large scale. Alternative education contains the nutrients children and youth need to excel: an understanding for the way childhood works, intimacy and close-knit community ties, and a well-rounded curriculum with arts and social-emotional learning in the core curriculum. "

Yes, pet, we've been stating that for some time. How can you fit an generic education to each individual child? You can't.

Joan Jaekel goes on:

"I am a systems thinker, and understand that when a system senses the need to self-correct, it tends to first swing to the opposite extreme. You decide to go on a diet and pig out on pork chops. It wasn't surprising, therefore, that "A Nation At Risk" resulted in the federal government taking over with high-stakes standardized testing, scripted teaching, the narrowest possible curriculum, and sanctions and rewards, not only for the child but for the teachers, the whole school, and, eventually, entire districts. "

We've experienced that too. Here, the SATS are under fire from those who are required to administer them, but really one test more or less in a constant stream of assessment... what difference does ONE test make when they are legion. Danae shrugs.

"Our efforts to 'reform' public education out of its mediocrity by imposing strict centralized rules has resulted in even greater mediocrity and our goal to "leave no child behind" is as elusive as before. "

Indeed, Joan Jaekel. The goal of not leaving any child behind or stating that every child matters is as elusive as ever because it is an undefined goal. What does it mean? Where do you even start defining such blatantly ridiculous rhetoric? How can you want to sweep every child along on a tide of achievement when a) you haven't defined achievement and b) society is a pyramid with the majority of its citizens being a platform for the lucky minority who are maintained in their place at the summit by the labour of the rest.

But it's all words, isn't it?

Back to Ms. Jaekel:

"Mediocrity is the inevitable result of a system that is too closely controlled and micromanaged from the top. Ironically we, as a compassionate society, send 'at-risk' children to schools that eliminate all forms of 'competition' so that it will be 'fair' to everyone, but because of these traits, they tend to be 'fair' but mediocre.

Excellence happens when a system has room to self-organize and self-correct. The anti-individualistic, un-personalized design of the system itself undermines a sense of craftsmanship and personal commitment that results in excellence."

Yippee! Precisely, Joan. What we home educators are saying is leave them alone to get on with it - not as a lax parent would by providing minimal childcare (a neat and minging insult from Mr. Badman to autonomous education) but by parents being there, available, involved, engaged, helpful, supportive, interested in and encouraging of the youngsters' learning.

Sheesh. It's so simple. Mass produced isn't good enough any more. Individually crafted people, that's in vogue now and forever more.

" We have to look at the challenge to fund every individual child's education as a necessary commitment by citizens towards our collective, healthy future. This needs to not just be an ideal, but a practical reality. As Terry Mollner, co-founder of the Calvert Family of Socially Responsible Mutual Funds and one of the earliest pioneers of socially responsible investing suggests, capitalism, unrestrained, inevitably leads to poverty for some just as socialism, unrestrained, inevitably leads to mediocrity."

We've consumed under capitalism for some time. It doesn't work. It doesn't. If you wish to stay human and believe that every soul has the right to be the best it can be, then capitalism isn't the way.

The film-maker Michael Moore's excellent documentary - Capitalism: A Love Story (I hope you saw it last night or video-taped it or will buy the DVD) - points this out.

"Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story" comes home to the issue he's been examining throughout his career: the disastrous impact of corporate dominance on the everyday lives of Americans. But this time the culprit is much bigger than General Motors, and the crime scene is far wider than Flint, Michigan."

As one interviewee said she doesn't know how they sleep at night. I always think how many millions do you need to have a 'good' life? Don't they know that public service - to give of yourself to help another human being - is that which makes us happy?

As for socialism, we've seen Mr. Balls (how's your new campaign going, Ed?) as proponent of socialism and he would force children back or into schools to cleanse them of their unique qualities and roll them out as dough under the cookie-cutting National Curriculum.

What we have now in schools doesn't suit PEOPLE.

I'll be watching the US for more encouraging signs like the poor folk who were evicted returning to squat in their own houses and the ex-workers in a factory staging a sit-in to get their company benefits restored (cheered on by President Obama).

The banks have had enough out of us. The meddling politicians have sculpted and resculpted the system enough. The likes of BECTA and Ed Balls have told us what to do with our children's education enough.

We're tired of being poor and we're weary of being mediocre.

And, Lord knows, we've had enough of it all.

Sunday, 16 May 2010


A.C. Grayling today solidified some vague feelings I've had slumbering in my breast.

I'll tell you what I've been mulling over. You might guess from the title of this blog entry. It's identity.

In his book Liberty in the Age of Terror, Grayling points out - as, of course, is plain when you give it some thought - that we are all layered identities. I am not just my name, address, phone number, eye pupil measurements and fingerprints: I am, amongst other things, a mother, a partner, a daughter, a citizen, an enfranchised member of society, a political activist (thanks to the Labour Party), a sometime reader of New Scientist, a one-time (poor) guitar player, a listener, a dog owner and dog walker, an irate writer of letters to various newspapers, a chocolate lover, a home educator and a non-car owner.

That's to mention a few.

So I'm not just a collection of dubious and soulless statistics in the land of plastic cards. I have standing in other ways in this world, and I have various identities to cloak myself in when I deal with miscellaneous and sundry facets, individuals, groups or institutions. The more identities I have the more layered and interesting I become as a person and the more I can draw from the identities to both support me and present me to the outer reality.

To choose to box me into one area, for example, to call me a home educator (and nothing else) is to deny me a wholeness. To corral me into one enclosure is to make me less of a human. It may help you to define me, but it doesn't help me to be myself in all my complicated glory.

More complex human beings are interesting and they expand human consciousness. Shallow and simplistic identities restrict our reach, and reduce the holistic view of a person to the parts that person plays in the dance with the outer world. To see a being as only one thing is to lessen
him or her.

Thanks A.C. Grayling for helping me to condense my misgivings at the idea of identity cards. Not only do they fail in their stated function of reducing terrorism, but they increase the already intrinsic tendency of people in society to regard me as a mechanistic unit.

Identity is not catered for in schools, it is denigrated and denied. All pupils must function as one or conform to the expected. Only in home education are the various layers of identities in one person nourished and encouraged. Yet another reason that home education is better for the young than schooling: it empowers them, and allows them time and space to grow their identities.

Home-grown identities and complex, intriguing human beings – compliments of education outside school.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Dandelion - thoughts of Spring


Teeth of the lion.

All over the gardens, the grass verges and the patches of spare ground.

Heartily disliked by some people.

Pretty little things, the yellow flowers, aren't they?

Cheerful, gorgeous yellow.

You can see why they were called the teeth of the lion when you study the serrated-edged leaves.

Even the seeds are rather attractive - light and feathery. They float free on the slimmest breeze.


All over. Everywhere.

Can't tell them apart.

I can't.

They all look the same and act the same.

I'm wondering if they have a pecking order? If the biggest flowered ones are the bosses? If the palest green-stemmed ones are subject to cyberattacks?

I wonder if you're a dandelion, and you don't grow up in the 'right' neighbourhood, you're shunned and shamed and called nasty names or ignored.

They're clones, of course, are dandelions.

Essentially, they're all the same. Generally speaking, they're identical. All one. Alike to the very DNA.

One day microbial predators - because the dandelions are clones - will unlock the door to their DNA, and move in for a takeover. The dandelions will be helpless. They'll be wiped out. No more pretty yellow flowers perking up near the shed or making themselves at home amongst the vegetables in the allotment.

So, in the flowering plant world, you're better off being a lily or a thistle etc.

Individual, different.

Schools remind me of dandelions. All uniform, all behaving the same way. Feeding off the same mind food.

If something were to go wrong, schools might have churned out dandelions - er - students who were unable to do anything about the wrongness. Schools might be taken over and disappear. Denizens of the schools could be paralyzed by non-thinking, by disjointed, unconnected gobbets of meaningless 'knowledge' and incapable of organising blobs of knowledge into one whole that provides a solution to a threat.

The graduates of schools might be so demoralised and disorganised that they would fail. I believe you can see these things in the political system at the moment. Confident people are not welded to the past (glorified as 'tradition'), but duck and dive to accommodate the present and are adept at predicting the most rewarding path into the future.

However, back to dandelions. Get rid of them and the world will probably not end. Get rid of all flowering plants and the planet will be in trouble, I think.

So let's accept flowers in all their glorious clothing and colours. You never know when the humble thistle will colonise an empty niche and conquer its particular part of the world.

You never know when you'll need a good thistle or a good alternative method of education like HE.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

The teacher trap

Condemned out of their own mouths:

"In July, MPs on the cross-party schools select committee argued for teachers who are the victims of malicious allegations to have their records wiped clean to stop the claims permanently spoiling their reputations. The presumption of innocence until proven guilty was at risk, they warned."

A few malicious parents are making false claims, are they?

So let's fine 'em.

The poor teachers can't hack being falsely accused, it seems.

They should come to home educators to find out how to deal with it. Home edders can tell them how to suffer all the slings and arrows with style and grace.

Now, dear teacher, have you been accused of something by that 'delinquent' kid and his family? Did the accusation go on your record? Are you madder than hell? Hot under the collar as Hades? Feel despoiled and trampled on?

Will you now shout that you have a right to the presumption of innocence?

The right that you didn't mind denying all home educators recently. You didn't shout about it then, did you? Weren't too bothered if EVERY home educating family was checked for abuse, eh? Stuff the presumption of innocence - they're all guilty!

Maybe we will extend you the same courtesy. Maybe we will say:



Remember all that?

Perhaps not because it wasn't YOUR reputation that time, was it, teacher?

Didn't matter so long as YOU retain your basic right to one of the basic rights our law gives us.

I'm all right, Jack, you mutter. You can go hang.

And teachers' reputations. Well, well, we must preserve them, mustn't we? Can't go accusing someone without any reason, just for the devil of it, can we? THAT might destroy their credibility and land them in a heapin' helpin' of trouble. It might even hurt their feelings and damage their peace of mind. Could put the kibosh on their careers too.

Such a pity.

You can dish it out, but you can't take it.

Hypocrisy is alive and well in Britain.