We all have plans for the future and hopes for our children. It’s kind of what parents do. And it is our responsibility to equip our children for a life in the community that they are part of – sounds like a sound statement of responsibility to me.
But how did the Badman home education review(pdf link) leap from that to an annual statement of intent? Is it a good idea? Necessary? How would you do it?
Right at the moment these ponderings are very relevant to us, as you’ll know if you’ve read any of my previous posts about autonomy and curriculum. I’m still working on getting the balance right for us day to day, but one thing that this has brought back home to me with a resounding thud is that I could not have sat down and written a plan for the next 12 months. Well, I could, but we wouldn’t have stuck to it for more than a couple of days. And then if someone wanted to judge my educational provision against such a forced plan, presumably I’d have failed and I’d be measuring the kids up for uniform right about now.
But it’s the flexibility of home education that is its power. I have two children (soon to be three) to cater for, not thirty or more. I can chop and change how I’m doing things to respond to expressed interests and perceived needs of those two individuals, and I can know them far better than any teacher can ever know individual pupils.
For example, atm, I’ve split handwriting and spelling out of English comprehension and grammatical studies for Big. While we are still using Focus on Literacy: Pupil Textbook Bk.5, instead of her struggling to write out her answers, we talk them through together and I write them down. This has several plus points, for starters she’s having to think harder about her answers rather than just dashing something off to satisfy the need to write something down. I’m finding out about her strengths and weaknesses – her absorption of the detail of the excerpts she’s reading is phenomenal, as she quoted directly from the passage after just two read throughs to answer one question. But her ability to logically structure a sentence is probably on a par with most nine year olds – she doesn’t think where it’s going when she sets off so it wanders. Discussion allows us to fine tune this, and means, I hope, that she’s getting far more out of these short sessions together than she would out of doing it alone in a longer space of time.
The handwriting and spelling we’re addressing separately using copywork and spelling sheets, again in short bursts.
How though, did we decide on the core subjects that we’re following? Is this a curriculum that is good enough for everyone to use?
No, this is purely personal choice, based on our beliefs and experience. Tim and I have made a judgement about the skills that we value most and see being needed in the future. We are not so arrogant as to think that we can foresee what they will need in terms of knowledge in the world around them once they are adult, and we both know from personal experience that all the teaching in the world won’t get information into your head if you aren’t interested in it. What we think is important right now are the basic skills of being able to communicate verbally and in writing (hand as well as type), which means a certain level of legibility and spelling has to be achieved. We think children need room to learn to learn, and guidance to achieve that – so while we do answer Small’s frequent questions on what words mean (over the last couple of days he’s wanted to know about revolution, genre, and consistency to give just a few examples) we’ve also given him a dictionary and are showing him how to use it.
He loves to use his science book, which doesn’t just teach him about science, it shows him how to structure investigations and follow instructions. And he’s learning how to use a computer as a tool instead of just a toy – so he has downloaded things, changed his profile, created files, saved them and uploaded them. Knowing how to learn to use new tools was something I don’t think either Tim or I learnt at school, and we certainly didn’t learn about computers, the web or programming then (in the 60s, 70s and 80s ), but we’ve both managed to acquire the information we’ve needed since to have very successful and continuing careers in IT.
I can safely say that the vague bits of history that I recall about Disraeli and Gladstone have been no use to me whatsoever in my adult political life – when I’ve been interested in an issue, I’ve done research, watched TV programmes, read up on wikipedia and talked to ppl who knew about it. So I’m not worried about individual factoids when I read history
with the children, I just want to give them a glimpse of the bigger picture and we do it with fun outings and narratives. If they want to go into more detail they will – as Big has many times with Victorians, Elizabeth I and now her Lady Grace Mysteries.
So, is a prescribed curriculum necessary for home education? I don’t think so, and I think it would utterly be the wrong decision for it to be imposed, even just some basic educational standards plucked out of thin air. I think it’s individual choice and the responsibility of each and every home educating family to decide how they do it, and not something that the government should be sticking their grubby paws in to. And let’s think about it – how many of these government ministers actually have any real knowledge about education? They’ve been through it, and their children might be going through it too, but they haven’t done research, won’t listen to researchers such as Paula Rothermel who have studied it, and I don’t rate their opinions as highly as I do the home educators I’ve met who are living home education every day.