I do a lot of thinking about education. And talking about education. And reading about education. It’s kind of a hobby of mind, as well as a way of life.
I’m forever either strewing, cajoling or coercing my kids into exploring subjects outside their safe boundaries. I negotiate, blackmail, offer and sometimes, just give up and spend my time on twitter instead.
I’ve got a plan. It’s to turn out children who can support themselves, who are pleasant, polite, capable, but also strong, and independent minded. I challenge their preconceptions at every possible step, and hopefully mine too. I don’t think that being 42 means I know everything, or that I should.
And the more I learn, the more I wonder about the school system. The amount of apologising, explaining and criticism I come across, I do wonder why people are standing for it. The drawback is that if you home educate, it seriously impedes the undertaking of earning activities – being available for your children round the clock means holding down a job becomes beyond challenging. We’ve done it – at one point we did opposite shifts while also using a childminder or flexi schooling, but when it comes down to it, particularly with young children, I want to be there for them.
So yes, home education can be difficult. But parenting is difficult. And there are no do-overs. You don’t get to the end of it and get to say I’ll try that again, but do this bit differently, it just doesn’t work that way.
What is it about schools that puzzles me?
The first bit is simple. Education as governed by the law must be suitable to age, ability and aptitude, and fit a child for a life in the community of which he is part, without closing off other options (to condense and paraphrase case law). To me this means what I said above. My children must be able to support themselves, and be reasonable members of society. So they need to be able to earn a living, but also cope with technology, feed themselves, keep clothes on their backs, manage a budget and so on. Most of those aren’t static skills – and very few of them are explicitly addressed in schools. We are forever being told that school leavers aren’t suited to the world of work, which seems peculiar as the hidden aspect of compulsory schooling is to turn out good compliant worker/consumers. (Don’t believe me? Try the works of John Taylor Gatto, a massively experienced and highly lauded teacher if you want another opinion.)
The other day I had a conversation on twitter about whether schools should be teaching children about keeping safe on social networks. I’m not convinced. I don’t think parents can abrogate their responsibility in these areas, and schools don’t tend to keep up with this stuff. I know a lot of parents don’t either, but they are their children’s first and best teachers, and it’s the school system that has got in the way of that, broken down parents’ confidence and, to my mind, actively damaged society.
I know that’s a challenging opinion, and I’m very happy to discuss it further in the comments – do you think I’m right? wrong? what is the purpose of education? Do schools do it well these days? What do you really think?