Friday, 4 July 2008

Life in the tin mine

For us, school never happened, but home education did. Sometimes I worry about that. Perhaps we took the wrong way, or the foolhardy way, or the way running straight to Hell, prison, or the checkout at a Tesco filling station.

But today is one of those days when Education Our Way makes perfect sense. It is the right thing to do when I see Tiger grow and make better sense of the world, and herself in it, and all happening before my eyes. It just happens to be underground, that's all.

But this is the heart of Our Way. It takes time. And sometimes we have to have nerves of steel, go the course, and wait for Tiger to cross that particular line, where she can say 'I did that'.

Because there are some things, Tiger, you will not do. You will not go in dark places, or stroke cats, or speak to the waiter Asif at the Indian restaurant, because these things are scary. Sometimes they're not scary, but you're stubborn. You won't sit down and read aloud, even though I know you can damn well read because I spy on you, following your eyes on Black Beauty. And you won't show off your knowledge in public either, even though I'd like you to do that sometimes, especially about Edward III. And neither will you answer polite making-conversation questions about your sisters, your hair, your holidays or your shoes. And nor will you smile at the woman at the Co-op who last week laughed and asked if the beer was for you.

In the face of all this onslaught, this social life, this exposure, this world of other people, school would probably have been a disaster. You become so painfully shy in some situations that it's embarrassing to watch. I feel my toes curl. I slap myself to remember that every week you have lessons with kids you know, and have friends far and wide. And about your shy shrinking, we can bite our knuckles, grit our teeth, roll our eyes, or just plain worry about whether we're doing the right thing.

But then along comes a day like today and I realise our agony and my poking you in the back in the Co-op queue won't make a scrap of difference. Because it's quite clear, and proved to me again and again, you will do whatever it is you want to do when you are ready to do it, so I should just shut up and stop worrying.

And this is, I believe, the true benefit of Education Our Way. We can, if we relax enough to remember, give you the time you want to go on at your own speed, your own pace, and learn the things you want to learn when you're ready to learn them. And all my job is, is to carry on putting those opportunities in your way for you to pick them up and run off with them.

Today we toured the National Trust Cornish mines and engines site, and found out about Trevithick and how the industrial revolution and the Cornish engine shaped Cornish life and made Cornwall the world centre of mining. Seriously, in 1800 the whole of Cornwall must have looked like one sprawling mine. It can't have been too attractive, but there was work, and money. As we trace the mines across the country, the lush rolling hills bear few scars to what mining must have made of this land. And we found out all about this, and we poked you in the back when the lady asked you if you'd enjoyed yourself. Then our route through mine sites and engine houses led us, in late afternoon, to Poldark mine.

Almost as soon as we arrive, the deed is done. We are going down the mine. Dig draws Shark and Squirrel aside who are delighted with the news and gasping for the hard hats. But Dig does not tell Tiger, who hates tunnels. Dig tells me let her work it out for herself. I say I'll stay on the ground with her, because there's no way she'll go down a black hole in the ground.

After some moments in the assembly area, she works it out, why we might have paused there. Oh! Would you like a mine tour? I ask, innocently, like we just had that idea. Tiger's eyes widen as awareness creeps in. It's alright, I tell her, I'll hold your hand and there are no cats. To my surprise, she readily agrees, and adds that it's raining outside, so if we do not go down the mine, she will get wet.

Fifteen minutes later we are standing in tunnels of rock, wearing hard hats – and I do need one – this is not one of those safety-crazy places where you must wear special gear because in the next 500 yards there is wooden beam. No. I need one because already I've bumped my head twenty times and had to stoop so low I'm virtually on my knees. Our feet are in puddles of running water, which is pumped from the mine daily, we are told, otherwise it floods. And Tiger, my little anxious Tiger who is frightened of tunnels, cats, Asif and the woman at the Co-op, is leading the way, delightedly scampering and already steadied by the gentle hearted guide who has been a miner all his life and, he says, would do it now if only his wife would let him.

As I watch Tiger, with her flushed excited face, I wonder why I'm surprised. Here she is, in the capable company of this skilful, knowledgeable man, learning about life in the mine, and the upper world could be a million miles away and she would not care.

Our guide is a wonder to meet. He strokes the warm and damp rock as if it were the coat of a spoiled pet. These two granite blocks moves sideways towards each other, he warns, looking up to the curves above, as if he is noting the characteristics of difficult customers at the local pub by closing time. He adds these customers are kept apart - and he slaps strong wooden beams above us. Don't worry, he says with a wink at Tiger, they won't come down. And if they do, they'll hit me on the head.

Here in the mine we can smell, feel and hear these massive beings. We can almost hear them growling and shuffling into place. We can feel our feet wet and our heads bumped, and Tiger is loving it.

We learn more as we go on, further and deeper. Our guide knows intimately the veins of blues and browns in the rocks around him, he can spot the haphazard chance, the movement sideways in the earth's crust, the slip of brown and grey and blues that promise copper and tin. We are indeed a million miles away. For Tiger it's a real experience and revelation. She can go down mines, stroke underground rock, smell earth-air. And she did those things without a school inspector, a head of department with a clipboard and a risk assessment sheet ticked and crossed in twenty places. She did those things without a dreary worksheet headed Key Stage 3, Life in the mine, while sitting in a classroom, shrink-wrapped and sanitised, and that is one million miles away today from Tiger's happiness, and my own.


Brad said...


sharon said...

Go Tiger! It's amazing what children will do once their curiosity is aroused. Makes it all worth while doesn't it!

Lynn said...

Having a daughter who has some of the same characteristics,this post really got me;-) Yeah Tiger!!!!xx