Pointless education and missing caches.

You can take the boy out of the school, but can you take the school out of the parent?

There’s a constant balancing act here, to discharge our legal duty under Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act

7. The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable-
(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
(b) to any special educational needs he may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

and to reflect what I see as the needs of the real world and my children.

So for example, maths and english qualifications are held to be an absolute must by many journalists/employers/politicians *but* it’s not actually straightforward to get those if you aren’t in school. GCSEs are difficult because of the coursework aspect – many home educators go for iGCSEs instead, but there’s still the issue of finding an exam centre and working out how to jump through the hoops, which for people many years out of the exam system themselves is not straightforward.

But, and it’s a big but, should exams/qualifications really be the be all and end all of education? I can see that an employer wants to know how capable a prospective employee is, but should the education system just be set up for employers?

And, if we home educate at least partly because of our disenchantment with the constant testing and encouraged comparison within the system, why do we (ok, why do I) so easily drift back into the requirements of it?

All of this pondering is brought on by yesterday’s experience with quadratic equations.

Now, confession time. I’m a geek. A computer programmer, sudoku lover, I wander around with numbers and patterns in my head all the time. Shopping I’m keeping a running total of expenditure as I go round, driving I’m working out our average speed. I can’t help it, it’s just who I am. And I love quadratic equations – they are a good puzzle. So I was genuinely confused by the complete resistance I encountered from the highly numerate Small yesterday.

Hours we spent on it. Hours and hours. There were tears. Not mine, although I felt like it at times. And I was the worst kind of parent – after I’d done all the calm, quiet explanation, I shouted and threatened. I could *not* understand why he couldn’t get it.

Eventually, after about 5 hours on and off of this, I gave up. I wrangled him and the two smallest into sun kit, and we headed off out to geocache, as a much more sensible use of a beautiful sunny day. He carried my phone very carefully and navigated beautifully with the compass setting in c:geo (free app) and although we didn’t find the cache it was a lovely walk, we saw a lizard, and finished up with icecream and sand angels on the beach.

Then, once we got home and I’d put tea on, we sat down together and went through the whole quadratic thing step by step. And I realised that I’d been misunderstanding the problem – it wasn’t that he didn’t get the maths, he just couldn’t see the point of it. Right at the moment the point is to finish the year in mathletics, and I turned to twitter to find the wider point

The tweet is still going strong with 27 RTs, and lots and lots of really helpful answers. The parabolic paths of angry birds are plotted with quadratics. You can use them to work out picture sizes for magazine layouts. There were links to articles on 101 uses for quadratic equations, youtube videos on parabolas and all sorts.

So, quadratic equations are useful. (It should be said that they were introduced via area calculations on mathletics, which does seem to be a fairly real world application, and appears to be used in farmville too 😉 ) And after our discussion last night, Small sailed through that section this morning, and polished off another gold bar with ease. I’ve yet to show him all the real world applications of it, but what I’m still grappling with is how I work out that balance, how do I work towards what society thinks my children need, without imposing the parts of school based education that are the worst aspects of it?


About Jax Blunt

I'm the original user, Jax Blunt I've been blogging for 14 years, give or take, and if you want to know me, read me :)

Oh, and if you'd like to support my artistic endeavours, shop my photographs and art at redbubble


  1. The pointless versus the relevant is an argument i had with myself daily when the kids were HEing! I tend to think now that there is no need to do what appears to be pointless exercises (to the kids) when they are very young as the system suggests we do, but to wait until the point is better understood by them. For example, a friend of mine with a youngster fascinated by science decided to leave the GCSE maths until much later (he was doing AS levels by then) as he hated it and the kind of tearful frustrations you described ensued! he virtually did no formal maths between the ages of !2 and 15 but went onto do maths GCSE when he applied himself, then knowing he would need it for university! He just graduated with a First! I think it’s very easy to buy into the propaganda that if they don’t learn it young they won’t learn it at all. That’s not the case and the danger of learning it too young is that it can put them off a fascinating subject for life! The answer lies in breaking out of conventions and doing what’s right for your child!

    • The difficulty is in working out what’s right for your child. I’ve tried going the autonomous route, and basically, my children don’t educate themselves. They don’t even get to be all that good at using the computer tech that they need day to day for the games they want to play – if something goes wrong they complain and ask someone else to fix it. Can it really be right that I just leave them to figure it out for themselves when my experience tells me they won’t?

      I’ve been told by people time and again that they *will* develop that sense of curiousity, but how long do you wait for that to happen? What if there is actually a reason that they won’t? I think the balance I’m trying to put in of a little bit of academics daily is a reasonable one, but am I damaging their ability to self determine by requiring that?

      I’d like a time travel machine so I can dash into the future and check. And as I don’t have one, I guess I just have to take my best guess…

      • I honestly believe that the thing that makes day-to-day life work, now, is the best thing. If autonomy leaves everyone grumpy and unfocussed and stressed, then it’s not the best thing. If structure (or the current level of structure) creates friction and argument and unrest, then that’s not the right thing, either. I really think the future will look after itself, as long as you have happy, fulfilled children now. Make today work, and they’re bound to learn stuff, formally or informally. They’ll only stop learning if they’re sidetracked from it by being unhappy and unfulfilled.

        Whether that means more structure, or less, in a particular situation, is a judgement call. But it’s OK to try something, decide it’s not working, and try something else. I don’t think you’re going to break any of them as long as you’re trying to be responsive.

  2. I think the lesson here is about finding the source or type of motivation for the individual child. I’m like you and enjoyed quadratic equations because they were a type of puzzle. I also enjoy crossword puzzles. To others it’s like saying they need to learn to do crosswords – why? I never saw the point of doing art and crafts to display or take home loads of useless junk (as opposed to the pretty paintings in galleries and delicate designs in pottery shops that I could never achieve but would have been worth keeping). As for sports – pfff! Cookery, geography, biology, history – they all had a point in my teenage mind. I think you have to find the point in learning something that serves as a motivation, or just leave it until a motivation presents itself.

  3. Hi again Jax, I don’t think you’re damaging them by introducing ideas and direction about what you think is useful for them to be doing. I see this as stimuli and all children need stimuli even if it provokes rebellion – they will be learning valuable skills! I also think that the point about autonomy is that no one develops in complete isolation and we can only find things to autonomously direct ourselves towards from stimulation from the outside world, often provided by others, which seems a bit of a contradiction! I felt that our kids always needed contrast – in whatever they did, whatever approach they took – and all experiences educate – whether directed or autonomous, both directly and incidentally! And I always felt that it was necessary to balance everything; both the child’s needs and the parents’. I needed them sometimes to do things I felt they needed! And they needed to do things they felt they needed! And that unless unless there’s downright bullying or abuse, all things have a value! Certainly raises points for discussion and therefore even further learning!
    Hoping this hasn’t made things more confused. Through all your posts I’ve always admired the way in which you approach your parenting and your children’s education. I can’t see anyone who thinks about it as much as you do going too far wrong! xx

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