Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Kids should stink of strawberry sauce

I feel obliged. A large part of me doesn't want to write this, because it might read as if Simon Webb served up a well written, reasoned argument. Which he hasn't. His words crash along like ill oiled cogs in a clapped out bus.

But I would like to think the Independent will now print other voices. I have a miserable, sinking feeling that it won't. It seems to have opted for the Badman point of view, which makes its current campaigning about the vetting database look like hollow posturing.

So I'm writing this. Because Simon Webb's voice, given credibility by a national newspaper, makes me feel sad.

I think there are a range of parents out there who are wacko, bonkers and far gone crazy. But Simon, those parents exist in all directions, not just in autonomous education. They exist, dare I suggest, in the land of structured home ed too. And at school. From some perspective, someone will look at me, and the way we do things, the choices we've made, and because we don't fit with the way they do things, they think Grit? Wacko, bonkers and far gone crazy.

I'm OK with that. Because wacko, bonkers and far gone crazy are what makes our society free and interesting, isn't it? Madness and brilliance lie that way. Which makes me glad we don't all conform to a type. But I feel there was always this tolerance in Britain, which I could rely on, and could carry on being wacko in my own way. A sort of acceptance and mutual understanding that we may all be wacko, but we are working hard in our different directions, and therefore we could be given a sort of respect, reluctant at times, but a respect nevertheless, that we choose as free people.

And I feel what the Labour party are trying to do is take away all that tolerance, understanding, respect. To undermine that community. And that's the line you, Simon, have bought, uncritically, and been supported in a newspaper that's bought, in turn, by thousands.

Simon, the thing I feel is this: that you are complaining about how people are.

And sadly, that fits with a government that says we want everyone to be like us. Then legislation, culture, media, driven by economic interests, produces for our consumption an identikit model of a perfect child.

That perfect child is a perfectly trained consumer. They are delivered the right curriculum from birth; they wear the right clothing produced by those organisations contributing to our economy; they eat the required foods sanctioned by approved business; they are to appear in a particular way, behave in a specified manner, be accessed, approved, recorded, logged and monitored throughout their lives. At no point should they appear in public stinking of strawberry sauce, and wearing wellington boots on the wrong feet.

I believe the government would very much like all citizens to fit a model. I believe they want us to lose the distinction between care about our society and adherence to a party line. And I believe they mark any deviation from the Labour endorsed model as bad, and wrong.

I was brought up by Labour voting working class parents who believed that government didn't make up a society, but people did. Government might influence the culture or help advance particular interests, but they couldn't engineer what happened right down in the land of relationships with your neighbour. That was where people, and human nature, took over. People made for a good or just society because they were people, and people come in all shapes, sizes, colours, variations, outlooks, bust size, opinions, limb length, attitudes, values, experience, hair shape, nose length, wisdoms, and it didn't matter to my parents what those shapes and colours and beliefs were, and it doesn't matter to me either. They were tolerant of all, and I hope I am too.

I like to believe tolerance is a positive trait. Which is why I can only reject the depressing conformity, the intolerance of difference, that this government presses down on me, not only in every part of my life now in this country, but over every part of my thinking. It is an intolerance of difference which seeps through newspaper articles like this.

I was going to quote from the article in the Independent. I won't, because it will take my day away from my kids, exhaust my time, leave me feeling miserable and downbeat and not really produce much from me but sarcasm and mockery, which means coming down to setting one home educator against another.

And I think home educators are sometimes encouraged to fight each other. To show fragmentation, disunity; a divided, undermined community. Divide and rule is easy, and divisions are easy to exploit.

I won't do what this article wants me to do. Simon has a right to express his point of view. Meanly, I hope the Independent didn't pay much for his article.

Instead I will say what I believe in. That I want all parents in this country to be free to choose the education they think is best suited to their child. Their way of education may not be your way, not someone else's way, not the way of the state, or the way of the family down the road or what the council wants. I believe that all these diverse ways of learning produce diverse, creative, different people, offering to society a huge range of talents and abilities and contributions.

There are many home educators like me. Living life in the same house as our kids, knowing their needs, what they like and don't like, how they behave and respond, providing them with books, computers, activities, crafts, lessons, safe places to talk, to work things through, to try out ideas, to be wild, wacko, bonkers and far gone crazy in their own ways, before we tuck them into bed and tell them we love them. That's how I live every day. My kids will tell me if I'm getting it right or wrong. And my kids are who I believe in.


kellyi said...

"And I think home educators are sometimes encouraged to fight each other. To show fragmentation, disunite; a divided, undermined community. Divide and rule is easy, and divisions are easy to exploit."

Bit like what the English did to the Scots a few centuries ago?

Fustrating and depressing that the Independent-but-only-if-you-conform paper has taken so strong an opinion :(

cosmic seed said...

hear hear!

Mieke said...

cosmic seed beat me to it, hear hear, indeed!

When I was a little girl in Holland - a long long time ago! - my father used to say that England was the only country in the world where it was perfectly acceptable to be eccentric.

I think he'd be shocked to see what it's become.

Minnie said...

Ditto here

Jemmo said...

I hate to say 'me too' but...

England has a lot of history, and with it a lot of tradition. I grew up scorning tradition which after all seemed stuffy, unreasonable and boring. But the more I understand tradition, the more I see how important and fundamental to our country it is.

We have tradition used in law, called Common Law, not made up of Statutes and Acts, but of precedent, previous judgements and tradition. We have a tradition, as Mieke's dad said, of eccentricity and the tolerance of difference that implies. We have a history, as an island, of being accepting of other peoples, ideas, cultures. However much we tried to go out and conquer them in our Empire Days, we have generally been pretty accepting of them here at home, much more so than most other European countries.

I see all these traditions under attack and that to my mind is hugely sad. I just hope that somehow we can beat off this enormous grey sameness that threatens to envelop us. I've never been patriotic, but to paraphrase the song, you don't know what you've got til New Labour wants it gone!

sharon said...

Well said Grit. I can only assume the Independent is no longer quite so independent as it seems to be copying the Party line so closely these days. I have never wished for a Tory government before but, for the sake of all of you still trying to live your OWN lives under this extremely poor apology for a Socialist government, I sure do now!

Elibee said...

Excellent Grit. Beautifully and eloquently put. Exactly how I feel and can never quite put into words. Thank you.

Grit said...

thank you for your comments, people.

Julie G. said...

There is one positive that has come out of the Simon Webb article. The wholesale condemnation of this man and the polarisation of the Home Ed community in fighting the Badman recommendations. Ooops, thats two things.