Wednesday, February 06, 2008

what did you do today?

I enjoy reading examples of things HE families do. Sometimes it is presented as "what subjects did we cover today?" (I'm thinking of a Mumsnet thread, where this is crossposted)

But there are a couple of things which bother me, so I thought I'd put them out there to be gunned down or mulled over.

There might be a danger in cataloguing the "subjects" our children cover that we buy into the mythology that activities have to be cataloguable in terms of school subjects to be worth doing, to be educational. For school-at-home HE, it's kind of easy and obvious: "well, we did 30 minutes of our reading scheme and then 30 minutes of maths worksheets, a bit of our history project and then off to the HE science group after lunch" (I am oversimplifying just to make the point).

But for autonomous home educators, the activities of our children may well not at all look like school subject-specific activities.

1) there is the danger of focusing on, emphasising, noticing the activities which fit the boxes. Of breathing a sigh of relief when a child does something which we can present to the in-laws as educational and within the realm of what they'll recognise as such. Of interacting with the expectations of wider schooled society on their terms rather than ours.

2) we don't know when our children are learning or in what form. Someone recently said something about their children spending all day playing computer games. And it's accepted generally in society that that would Not Be Educational. But there is a stage in a person's life when they first learn to use a mouse alone. In what universe is that not a major thing to have learned? There is a stage when they first learn to navigate icons to their favourite games and activities. Again, how are they not, gloriously, learning? And the learning continues; computers are just a medium like any other, which can be educational depending on what is going on inside someone's head.

It might be in the "down-time" computer games that our children learn the most in a day. Or in the building of a large lego structure. Or in who knows what - it needn't look like school, it needn't be good LEA-report fodder, and maybe we as parents will never know what our children learned from colouring in 47 pictures of the Teletubbies one day aged 2 (that's a hypothetical).

There's a wonderful HE video on Youtube called "Learning all the time" which portrays some of that - that you can even make a video of unschooled children doing their thing, and there are glimpses of all sorts of wondrous learning going on, but it still can't be grasped and quantified. Poor old OFSTED, maybe that's why they tried so hard to shut down Summerhill.


Gill said...

We have a certain 5 year-old here who appears to have done not much other than play on a Disney PC game full-time for the past 3 months. Obviously picking up IT skills, developing hand-eye co-ordination, blah blah *other stuff that ticks boxes if and when you really want it to..*

BUT she sat down to play a general knowledge-based board game with some of her teenage siblings the other day - and won. I've no idea how or from where she absorbed all the information she was coming out with - we were all amazed. It certainly wasn't from the Disney game!

Here's a question: Should we ever even try to tick the boxes? Is it ethically 'comfortable' for you to even think about how to translate what your children are doing into the conventional language of education?

Because I've done it from time to time over the years, without letting it interfere with what the children were doing. It gave me some solace when I was worried about censorship and it possibly even gave us the space and freedom from interference that we needed. We also did do plenty of talking to officials about education just happening.

I'd love to live in a society that didn't separate learning from living. But this one does, so don't we have to speak the native language sometimes?

emma said...

I think the "without letting it interfere" is key.

I think that yes, if it's necessary to give a family the space and freedom from official interference that you talk about, then it's important. It would hardly be productive to find one of those school attendance orders served upon one's children rather than being prepared to tell the officials anything at all about what they have been doing.

It's a real tension, though - the fear of essentialising one's children, the fear of directing activities so they'd look good in the journal, moving away from living in the moment. I kind of like the idea of taking digital photos of cool things happening as they go along, and then maybe once a month pick the most obviously educational ones and write a sentence or two about how educayshunal those moments were, and put it all in a document to show the LEA bod if needed. Rather than writing it all upand justifying, and rather than retaining educational products left right and centre, but keeping a record for peace of mind.

I also wonder whether it might be beneficial where possible for two parents to swop who keeps the record, so there's a month on and a month off where one can sinmply focus on living in the moment with a child. Or for older siblings to agree to keep mental notes for a month to give a single parent that same possibility of presence.

It's something I wrestle with, but only in theory at present (under the radar still)

Gill said...

Older siblings are very good at that! And notes scribbled on calendars. And blogs... But sometimes I wonder whether I shouldn't fight the system harder. It's not necessarily good for it to be pandered to, is it?

Or a nicer (and healthier) way might be to document the child's learning/life sometimes as a loving gift to the child. But also to use as evidence should the need ever arise. The two motives don't really fit together, do they? My thoughts on this are always in flux!

The other thing I wonder about a LOT is: how much do we interfere/influence without consciously trying to? Even consciously trying not to? How much should we?

Once you start wondering these things the questions never stop, do they?!

Anonymous said...

Unschooling and autonomous home education were just invented because you can't legally say "we need no education" anywhere in the world, right?

Maybe not, it's that honestly think that the idea of compulsory education in childhood is extremely destructive of freedom for both children and adults. It's that what we should all really argue against.

I don't agree with you that learning cannot be quantified and I doubt you'll ever persuade authorities of this.

Yes, life is learning. But for a doctor to performs surgery he has to know medicine at a serious academic and professional level which can be tested.

You can test what a child knows too. Should you want to do it? No. People should not be tested until they want, in preperation to perform professionally.

This obsession with giving every child a future has bred insanity in the world.

William Godwin was right. Adults do learn faster than children. If adults stop learning it's because they think it doesn't matter anymore, there's too much bureocracy stopping them or are too busy surviving to care.

Not that a child should not be helped by their parents to the best of their ability if they have a burning interest, but education should never be enforced legally like it is.

People are not numbers for self-interested politians to use in goals to make History.

Gill said...

Thanks Leo - that brought the clarity back for me again. Sorry Emma - I didn't mean for this to turn into a therapy session for me!

Carlotta said...

"I don't agree with you that learning cannot be quantified and I doubt you'll ever persuade authorities of this."

I shall however be telling the authorities that tests are much, MUCH less meaningful than they would appear to like to think.

When they get to me (am also still apparently under a radar, or am being left completely alone, I'm not sure), I will be telling them, should the subject arise, that the best they can say about tests is that an examinee wrote or said something at the time of the exam that suggested that they knew something at that particular moment, though you couldn't be sure that they actually understood it, or that they still know it or that they still understand it.

I shall also be saying that an examiner might also not know if the examinee failed to answer the question for some reason other than a lack of knowledge.

After all, I knew a nurse who was by far the best practioner in her set, who failed her written exam and there are plenty of qualified doctors out there who know far less than their test results would suggest...says the woman with an A grade O level in both Latin and German and a B in physics....which frankly means diddly squat.

(I learned the Latin parrot fashion, rapid short term memorised the German...don't remember a word and just made up things as I went along in the Physics paper.)