Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Creation, Darwin, and home education

Be fair to me. I start off, trying to be fair.

I try to say Well, creationists believe... then I'm stuck. I can't explain what creationists believe, except maybe some folks have eyesight issues with the exact word of the Bible, where the ink on the page is as good as the divine finger of God, and that 24 hours bloody well means 24 hours, and so you can say, with total certainty and complete confidence: God created this world Saturday afternoon about tea time.

I try and be fair. I run off to Wikipedia and print out 40,000 pages on various aspects of creationist beliefs. Standing on the amount of paper I printed out, I can now lecture the listening gritlets on how some scientists hold creationist beliefs and yet research into genetic mice and have no problem bringing those two apparently misaligned worlds together.

I half-heartedly subject the little gritlets to some of this debate, because we are all bound to be holed up in a playground somewhere, sometime, with someone. That person will guard the door of that Wendy house. And they will be on a mission to explain that dinosaurs and humans really did live together, like hand-in-terrible-lizard-claw, and the proof is there if only you would see.

But after about half an hour, I probably give up on it. I just tell them the humanity which unites us is stronger than the beliefs which divide us. And dealing with all sorts of viewpoints in life is a relatively small thing that happens.

Like someone has to deal with my views too. Even my belief that Ed Balls is really a six-foot cocker spaniel in disguise and he is leader of a cocker spaniel-humanoid conspiracy whose goal is to eat our brains and turn our bones into dog biscuits. Yes, people have to deal with us too, so be tolerant, little gritlets. Listen, change your minds or stick to your views, but express your points of view as best you can. Do not turn to swinging punches, lobbing bombs, or calling your interlocutor a fat faced wanker. Those approaches to argument will not do, although they are tempting.

As an aside to this, I should just say that I have no problem at all passing on my atheist beliefs to my children. I actively encourage them to be critical of anything that anyone says, writes, or expresses, and that includes me. On occasions, that has been like taking a double-barrelled shotgun to my own feet, but I'm trying to raise independent, thinking people here, not compliant children.

Soon enough the time comes when we join the home education group attending the screening of Creation. You won't read a film review here. For that, go here, or here.

I guess people I would really like to see this film - Hi! people in the Bible wing over there! - you aren't here. But please see it! This film attempts to show you that Darwin was a real family man who was roused from his desk by kids screaming in hallways; he loved, laughed, despaired, and cried. He was not a 2D black and white cartoon illustration in a book. He did not hide horns, tail, monkey arms, and he wasn't born playing with his own six foot long grizzled beard.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are a little quiet after seeing that film. And this time, possibly not because they are embarrassed by mother's constant blubbing. They are accustomed to that; I never wear mascara to the cinema anymore. No, not that. The gritlets are quiet, possibly in memory of a chewed up rabbit and a cute baby chick that is eaten by natural consequence. But I think more than that, too. They may have come away from that film more aware of the way society sometimes works.

I hope they did. I hope what this film did was to show Shark, Squirrel and Tiger that an unconventional idea, and not even a new one, when put forward in a conventional, mainstreamed society, is a little like lobbing a shit ball into the aisles at Waitrose. Some of those shoppers will carry on selecting sun dried tomatoes and acting as if nothing just happened.

Our mainstream society is sometimes collectively held in a thought grip, and that suits the agenda of some people in power, and so it becomes their interest to maintain that thought grip. But what a wonderfully liberating feeling you can have by turning it round, standing up and saying this is what my guts tell me to do. And it might not suit you, and it might not suit them, and that group over there will hate me. But seriously, what's the worst that can happen? People ignore you? People don't like you? Grit wisdom is to be imaginative, then have the courage to put that imagination into action. That may account for why we hoist a home made sphinx on top of a privet hedge or keep a mermaid on the toilet.

The gritlets seem to get it. They draw for themselves the parallel of home education in a society where mainstream says school. One day, we say, school as it runs presently will look outdated. All flavours of home education, flexi schooling, part-time school, full-time school, all will be quite normal. You could choose what suits your kids, you, and your family best. No one will have horns. Maybe that is fair. That's what we hope for.

As for America, they're not likely to let us past that border, just like there is no distributor for Creation in the US. I will fail the creation test. This morning, I read the gritlets the start of Genesis, about the light, and the dark, and the creatures of the sea and earth. I hoped to set the scene of that mental landscape into which Darwin's ideas were about to explode. I arrive at the seventh day and with a sigh say this is the day when God rested because of all the hard work he had done in creation.

Squirrel looks puzzled. Round here she's clearly used to a different speed of events. She says with a frown, 'Seven days? He obviously didn't work very fast'.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Someone's impressed by Grit's parenting skills

Here's Grit, passing on the news and great drama of her day spent home-educating her kids, finding OFSTED has donkey's ears, and cleaning that lovely kitchen sink, when she has to stop everything.

She receives this in her inbox. And this mail, which you will probably receive very shortly, if you have not already done so, is so very wonderfully good.

We are looking for someone to get the children ready in the morning, prepare and clear up the family's breakfast, make the beds, and take the children to school, which is about a 1.5km walk away. The au pair would then need to pick them up at 3.20 and look after them until we get home. We will ask the au pair to babysit 1-2 evenings a week. We have a really great cleaner, so there wouldn't be any heavy housework. There is a bit of light cleaning and laundry which would take about 90 minutes a day in total. There would be plenty of time free in the day to go to language school, and there are a lot of good ones in the area.

If you agree to take the position you shall be paid 2500 (Two Thousand Five Hundred Pounds Monthly) and shall be given a weekly pocket money of 500 pounds. Your residence shall be comfortably furnished within the Company housing estate. We are comfortable here as Shell pays us well however we cannot work effectively and take care of our kids hence our solicitation to you to come and Nanny for us.

Look at that pay! And all for taking the kids to school! I might make a few demands round here regarding my salary.

But as I am sadly otherwise engaged and cannot take up this wonderful offer, possibly located by sending all my bank details somewhere in Nigeria, I could nominate a couple of other worthy candidates.

Monday, 28 September 2009


A few weeks ago we all got Templared. I just paid the credit cards bills for that, so feel the need to do some planning. I need to involve those books in some education. Primarily because it will make sense of that unwieldy, spontaneous purchase of a lovely sparkly book on Monsterology with all the twinkly jewels in the cover. Then there are the little envelopes which you must put your fingers into and squash the plastic seal back again quickly because if Tiger finds out you have been peeping in her book she will sever your fingers and leave you hugging five bleeding stumps.

Of course I can't leave Tiger just to read the thing. We home educators have to turn these opportunities into appropriate learning experiences. And anyway, planning is what teachers are trained to do. They must busy themselves planningplanningplanning all day long! And I am good at planning. My planning will be fantastic. I plan therefore I am. How many books are out there on teacherology that say planning is a really really good thing to do? With proper planning you can keep everyone occupied and stop Kirk getting out the hammer again.

So here I go. Planning. To derive maximum learning experience and impact from Templar's lovelydribbleinducing Monsterology book.
  • We can listen to those old tapes of Frankenstein. That abridged copy on cassette. Trawling those charity shops for teaching resources makes me feel good and worthy. And look how those finds from 5 years ago come in useful now!
  • Greek legends. They've got monsters. We have about forty books on Greek legends, mostly paid for from the library when the fines became too much to bear.
  • Poems. I'm sure I can find poems. I'm sure there's one called something like the Kwackagee.
  • Anglo Saxons. We had to give Beowulf back to the library after the librarian started pleading. Go to Amazon. They'll have a copy and Dig has an account there. Spend all his money while he's in Brussels lecturing Parliament on their extravagant waste of commas.
  • Invent a monster, shaped a bit like the European Parliament. Mud, wool, bit of old dustbin.
  • Body parts. I have a plastic squirting heart. I'll find it and fill it with food colouring. Then we could make a liver. My ambitions are rising as I type. I want a full sized anatomical model with full detachable body parts*.
  • Monster dinner. Shark can trawl through Roald Dahl's dinners. I'm sure she'll make something. Last night she made mashed potato and chopped pear. She can serve that with a dusting of cocoa powder and a cashew nut. Uh. She already did.

And then while my head is filling up with all this monsterology planning I am distracted by the possibility of food, having starved from supper last night, so I walk into the kitchen, where I see Tiger patiently trying to squeeze one of the Arseface sisters into a tiny costume.

Arseface will never fit. Not with those legs sewn on round the hips. Tiger is becoming a bit frustrated though and making those strange grunty sounds that I hear when I try on those size 12 jeans that fitted last week and they're bloody fitting this week.

But foolish child! She needs to do more planning about her costume design!

So I tell her that.

At which point, she turns bright scarlet and starts ripping off every hair from her head. Then the next moment Arseface is hurtling towards the kitchen wall at 5,000 mph while Tiger is screaming like 40,000 bats trapped in a tunnel and pulling the door off its hinges in an attempt to smash it over my head.

I think it may be her hormones. I can detect the start of those cycles. Tsk! More planning for me to do! I could turn Tiger's hormonal cycles into a lesson on PSHE. I bet she'd appreciate that.

*Memo: go to scrapstore. Buy more glue sticks.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Of course I worry about my sanity

Because I am a paranoid nut-case I often stray into websites and documents designed for paranoid nut cases, like the Education Act (1996) or guidance to local authorities for dealing with parents who choose other forms of education than school. Or even the starting points to get myself informed about stuff affecting my daily life.

Sometimes I stray to the homes of other home educating bloggers, like the thoughtful lady behind Making it up or to the uber achieving manor house, a place pretty much of my aspiration and where I steal my home ed ideas.

And then sometimes I stray to stuff over here. Or here. Or here.

Sometimes I even have an eye on what the kids are expected to do in mainstream state primary schools, where all teachers are told to do the same stuff and not different stuff, like they do in my world. Hey, we may have to slip into that stream ourselves, like if I die, Dig pushes off to live alone in Hong Kong, or really if my kids choose it; we like to keep all our options open.

In that vein, we completed the junior SATs science papers a couple of years ago, and spent ages over questions which sounded like

Where does wool come from? Does it come from:
(a) sheep?
(b) motorway?
(c) tree?

I'm serious. Shark spent five days puzzling over questions in that style. Like, Where is the trick? They are trying TO CATCH ME OUT! There MUST BE a trick!

Meanwhile I have to take myself by the scruff of the neck and give myself a good shaking not to be appalled at the level that sort of question aspires to.

And then, because by now I am completely paranoid, what with being aware of the law, and the diversity, and the standardisation of learning all over this country, I sometimes wonder what it is to be a primary school teacher, so I stray into what skills you need.
Typical activities for all primary school teachers include:
teaching all areas of the primary curriculum
And now I am stuck, all over again. Because there is an issue for me, right there. How can any primary school teacher engage fully with all areas? Like, how can a primary school teacher speak with fluency, passion, and knowledge, on geography, history, literature, maths, physics, drama, computers, chemistry, visual art, other languages, other cultures...

And I guess the answer is, well, primary kids do not need to know these things.

So there is the second problem I have, and it's the primary curriculum. Like, who created the primary curriculum? Who decided what is important for kids to know? What's not important for them to know? Why aren't they important? Does the school curriculum reflect the things I feel are important for my mini citizens to know?

Well, no.

I would like Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to have a more well rounded education than can be offered in the state primary system. I want them to meet people who are enthusiastic communicators, who know the subjects they are talking about, who can inspire others in their subject with passion and energy.

Those people are so rare to meet. I guess we won't meet them in the primary classroom, not in all the range we want. Which is why I send the little grits down mines, up trees, into fields, over ditches; chasing after experts who know their stuff, who know how to make their subject come alive, and who know how to engender a love and interest, long after the cold, hard SATs statistics are dead and buried.

Thank you, Jill, the geologist, who took the gritlets to the field this weekend, showed them ice swept landscapes, mammoths trapped in the tundra, blasting winds, frozen soils, and the beauty of rock crystals hidden beneath our feet.

We know where to find the experts, and the curriculum we seek. It is in the real world, with love, passion and commitment.

And I guess if this blog continues to champion those, you can call me a paranoid nut-case anytime.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

If Jan Niedojadlo goes missing, check our front room

Yesterday, I needed to take the gritlets to the Podules, by Jan Niedojadlo.

I am not usually a needy mother. That is one accusation levelled at home educators. Like, really, I home educate because I secretly need my children tucked up in my womb. Better still, wearing hats, mittens and winter clothes in there, just in case. Then I could feel all my motherhood urges flow into my offspring daily and I would be satisfied. I might even glow. I could shove feeding tubes through my belly button.

OK Grit, stop that now, because it is the same ridiculous idea as made by the people who suggest home education is really a cover for your emotional therapy.

Let's say the reality, just in case anyone missed it: Home education is bloody hard work. I usually feel in need of therapy after a day of it.

However, everything happily coincides here: therapy, emotional satisfaction, and art education, and to get that sort of hit, I drive like a crazy frog to the sleepy ancient market town of Aylesbury. They have three pods. They have three pods by Jan Niedojadlo, and I want to get inside one, curl up, get out of my brain and lose all sense of time and place.

As you can probably guess, I don't drink enough and I don't do drugs.

But I do know about the pods. If you have never climbed inside one of Niedojadlo's pods, you are missing a part of your person, but you just do not know it yet. These are total sensory works of art.

They affect all of you. In fact the only thing I did not do was lick one, and that's only because the County Museum in Aylesbury uses CCTV and I might find my secret pleasure viewed by seven million people on ExposedTV! Videos of Perverts in England!

Climb inside a pod and you first feel the curves and shapes and materials wrap around you; foam, rubber, plastic, textile. Sound swims around these small spaces; you half see shapes and swirling colour through subtle lighting and shifting patterns; you can smell tousled Squirrel hair, cuddling up next to you, although I suspect in Jan's head this should be the aroma of essential oil. Squirrel is just as good, and I may get out those hats and mittens soon.

After an hour - and we have only visited two of the three pods on display - we are living inside the giant shell and plotting how we might steal it without anyone noticing, or how Plan B is to imprison Jan Niedojadlo in our front room and poke him with fish sticks and weasels until he caves in and agrees to make us a pod all of our own.

Of course the other solution is to visit scrapstore and find a use for those 20,000 plastic offcuts and that discarded hundredweight of pink foam.

And if you didn't click above, click now, sit back, and relax.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Find something positive. Or die, probably.

Grit has been bubbling around in a stewpit of misery recently, but it is time to emerge from the swamp.

Did you see that? Did you see me emerge? I would like to think of myself slipping away as a beautiful and graceful phoenix creature, sliding into the sky with her shimmering ruby wings, emerging bright and vibrant against the blue overhead, while the chains that have bound her break away and fall as dust upon the fiery lake. But I am probably looking a little more weary and mud soaked and creature-from-the-black-lagoon-like, except without the gills.

So for today I will say that home education is a fantastic lifestyle for parent and child if you choose it, and worth every bitter salt tear, forced grimace, chewed down knuckle and itch to swing a lead pipe in the library.

The rewards are thousand fold. And you get to see a child's face light up with pleasure and understanding that they really do love geology, or drama, or reading, or the seven-times table, whatever floats their boat, because they can get right on and do it, just like that, without any problem or interference. They don't need to dress in black, be beaten up, humiliated, forced to eat their own knickers in the toilets or join the Bratz gang (only aged 6 and below need apply).

It is not that every school is awful. Some are not. Some are quite delightful. I taught in one. Before I taught in another and had all creativity smashed out of me by a sledgehammer.

It is just that I know some schools don't suit all children. Home education suits some children because it gives them more time and space to explore what it is they want to do, and the support and opportunity to help them work out how they want to achieve it.

And home education suits some families because some parents are as mad as a bag of badgers. I hope we fall into that category, me and Dig, and that would at least justify being routinely hounded and persecuted by the ignorant and stupid.

So for today's post, here are some pictures of my garden. I would calm myself down with pictures of puppies and kittens but I fucking hate pictures of puppies and kittens and they make me want to vomit.

She looks like I feel. One of the dollies.
Apparently she has been for a swim in a frog pond and needs to drip dry.

The magic mirror in the garden.
If I look in here I have the curves of Venus and the face of a virgin.
It works if I drink three bottles of vodka first.

Ah! Free as a bird we soar! Light, love and happiness is all ours!
We had a sparrowhawk in the garden last week.

Yes yes YES!
The old grape vine that has been completely neglected for ten years!

But this lady might have made me want to live again, more than anything.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

I'm trapped in a nightmare and I can't wake up

Grit is thrashing around suffering from maladies. Her head is become a rotten cabbage of a place, swilling about with all manner of fevers and maggoty rubbish.

She imagined, for example, in the midst of her delusions, that Ed Balls said how whole swathes of experienced teachers, like deputy heads, were no longer needed. Now schools can be run by executive superheads, zipping up and down the expressways of England, managing their institutions like giant corporations.

And we will watch and we will like this future. TV programmes will fawningly follow those bullish management styles, we will delight in producers lickspittling behind flyaway managers who, with reforming zeal, sweep away ancient rules, staffrooms, and worn out teachers.

Look! The superhead drops in from a helicopter, barks results and flies away again! Proof to all citizens in the Great Leap Forward! Schools are the best new corporates, advancing annual reports, balance sheets, profit and loss, investment opportunities, dividends for the achievers, the intellectual supertop who wave paper passes to prove it all! You too could aspire for your child to become the new super elite!

Now, in Grit's diseased brain, there aren't people in these places at all. They are just input/output corridors, linked to exits and entrances by conveyor belts. Products pass to be neatly corporately branded and packaged; they're stamped on the forehead; certificates pasted on their backs.

These strange delusions and imaginings in the Grit brain are not in anyway softened by the fantasy that a real, live, person emerges - worse, a feeling person with emotions and a face and a heart that speaks to her real moving hands and thinking brain - and says, Heck! A child beaten up! I'm going to stop that!

Of course the system must react! Of course this person must have Failed an Assessment Qualification. What has gone wrong? She cannot have been reeducated on the training course! If she had successfully phased through that system, with the approval of her superiors, she would have made the automatic deference to the institutional hierarchy with the line Must report all visual incidences to line manager for appropriate handling and publicity requirements.

There is no alternative. There are policies in place to deal with human behaviour. In the great endeavour of the new corporates she must be excluded. She must lose her job, she must be cast out of all enterprises requiring complete submission.

Because we must not forget that schools are now corporate institutions. Staff are hierarchised to become delivery components. Each job is allocated specific descriptions and responsibilities to streamline the effective management system. Any item not allocated a place within the appropriate order in the delivery system must be passed to another human-type unit who is trained and qualified.

And more. We must not forget the image is now all important, and more important then any individual child; we must enforce brand loyalty, brand identity and maintain that brand value at all costs.

And what is this thing called community? What world is that? The Grit brain is in a mangled place now where it knows the Labour government has put into place all procedures by which schools must adopt corporate identities and deliver the output with league tables, performance targets, national curriculum tests. There is no such thing as community. There are institutions and there are whistleblowers - a word once used for people who informed on secret controlling institutions but who now are people who step away from the designated mark to simply say what is happening to children.

Children? Children? Who mentioned them? In the Grit brain all is awry and gone bonkers. Because children are messy, scruffy, inquisitive, demanding, objectionable, rampaging, delightful, spontaneous, creative, irritating, unpredictable.

But these are not allowed! The input/output institution might crash to the ground if it has to deal with these creatures! The corporate state cannot effectively deliver the product if it is dealing with maverick creations like this. They must be eliminated.

Well the Grit brain is well and truly malfunctioning now, so she is going to lie down in a dark room and hope that when she wakes up, it is all gone away.

Because it cannot be true. Soon I will wake up. If I do not, next I might dream this Labour government is in charge of when I am conscious and when I am not.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

I'm losing my powers of discrimination

The problem is, I'm losing my ability to detect logic which might lead to irony...

'Parents tend to spend extended periods of time with their own children, they have endless opportunities to abuse them physically and psychologically and yet there is no system in place to identify potential abusers. Unless all parents are included in the vetting process the law will always be ineffective.' (comment on Guardian article)

from the logic that leads to state policy...
That designated local authority officers should:
– have the right of access to the home;
– have the right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate or, if a child is particularly vulnerable or has particular communication needs, in the company of a trusted person who is not the home educator or the parent/carer.
In so doing, officers will be able to satisfy themselves that the child is safe and well.
(Recommendation 7, Report to the Secretary of State on the Review of Elective Home Education in England, Graham Badman)

so, logically, but not ironically, doesn't this apply to your home too, whether you home educate or not?

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Do you think I am trying to convert you to home education?

Recently, a few exchanges in the Grit world led me to wonder about this question.

The answer, in case you missed it, is an absolute, resounding, deafening, NO.

Seriously, I itch for August to be over, so the kids arrive back in school. The museums are empty, we take cheap holidays, we pick and choose the activities we want to do, and we conduct our ordinary lives in relative peace and quiet. That's the way it is for us. Stating it doesn't mean I'm proselytising.

If your children are happy in school, and you are happy with them being there, why would you take them out to home educate them?

People take their kids away from the state system for a shed load of personal, family, and child-centred reasons. And I am sure people leave their kids in the state system for a shed load of personal, family, and child-centred reasons too.

All I can say is that we, as home educators, are sometimes at the receiving end of a hell of a lot of stick for our decision.

Or, there again, we are totally ignored. Like with fingers in the ears and lalalala not listening can't hear you!

Why we receive that reaction, I am never sure.

Is it because we did something that most people don't do? Do we travel against the norm? Do we seem to enjoy our time with our kids too much? Can't you just call us brave and determined, instead of look at us suspiciously and wonder if we're really anti-social freaks and child abusers?

Well, today is Tuesday. An ordinary Tuesday. We finished reading Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr*, went to a French lesson, listened to a science CD in the car, Shark went sailing, Tiger went horse riding, and I made a tomato and kidney bean concoction for supper. I served it with potatoes.

And in case you missed the answer to that question up there, the answer is still NO.

* Thanks, Michelle and Chloe, again!

Monday, 21 September 2009

In this town, eccentricity is normal

I forgot to mention. Yesterday, before we left the house to blunder about Ashridge woods holding a converted schoolhouse birdbox, we hoisted a home made Sphinx on top of the hedge.

It joins the mermaid on the doorstep. I forgot to photograph her. She's not exactly an unusual sight. She's over here if you're desperate.

This particular doorstep mermaid is not a stranger in this house. When she's not squatting on the toilet in the office she's taken herself off to the spare bedroom where she's spent her time sagging against the wall.

I don't know what happened to the others. One seems only to have the tail left, so I guess someone dismembered her, possibly with an old pair of scissors. The other one disappeared completely.

It is all in aid, of course, for Smalltown's annual walk. Smalltown is an industrial town, known amongst people who know these things, for its connections to railways and Victorian industry. So what does the local town events committee naturally put on?

The autumn scarecrow walk.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

What else can we do on a Sunday?

Let's go out for the day!

Off we trot to Ashridge woods, those high quality, beech-based type woods outside Berkhamsted.

These woods have deer. In October the deer go rutting. Apparently it becomes exciting. We may return, with lace curtains and binoculars. In that unique way we have in the home education world, of making an education emerge out of not much, we may tick rutting deer, and the ongoing discussions we are having about drugs and binge drinking, as primary years pshe*.

Anyway, this Sunday we are heading to the Country Fair! Come with us for a lovely photo journey!

First stop, morris dancers. Morris dancers are the new black. I hope you'll all be watching. These are the sorts of specialist-interest enthusiasts who inhabit my world. Be kind to them and love them. I do.

Hungry, girls? We're with the locals in the English countryside now, you know.

Grit has to be dragged away from joining the hedge laying society. You may think the grit type people of this world are marginal eccentrics floating around on the fringe boundaries, in fields and outhouses, but really, we are crucial to the well running of society.

Oh go on then, we're not, but we've got to inhabit some place until we drop down dead.

But then Grit sees this! This! Here!

Isn't that the best thing you ever saw in your life? Grit resolves she must have one of these. It would make her life complete. She confesses to this peculiar streak ever since this day over here.

The only problem is, getting it back to the car. Big, isn't it? And do not be distracted by the glamorous and fulsome Grit bosom, even though it looks sadly estranged from its twin sister over the other side of the sling.

I make Shark carry the cross.

I keep making the same joke hahahaha about everyone having a cross to bear. I am finding it hilarious since we have been wandering about woodland tracks for 40 minutes and I am sure the car was only ten minutes away when I parked. That feels very much like a cross to bear, carrying a giant bird box through Ashridge woods secretly wishing I'd taken the road route like everyone else.

On the fourth time I say everyone has a cross to bear Shark says she's had enough and she's not carrying it anymore.

I make Squirrel have a go.

It takes only another 45 minutes to find the car, fall into a ditch, and end up carrying both the bird box and the cross because now no-one will carry the ruddy thing.

But happy we go home, for today we have seen fields, woods, eccentrics, and bought a bird box that looks like a converted schoolhouse.

And that, people, is our Sunday out. Fun, eh?

Well, it was either that, or stay at home and binge drink.

* Personal, Social and Health Education, for the happily ignorant.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

There is a very good reason why this blog mostly ignores Balls, Badman, and Morgan

Grit is slumped all back to normal now after having her feathers ruffled by Badman yesterday. If I let Balls et al run my life and impose themselves into my daily concerns then I might miss what is exciting about home educating my three daughters, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger.

Like, this morning Shark made porridge.

She takes total control of this activity from start to finish. I do the unnecessary activities of lighting the gas ring on the hob and hovering about the kitchen. I suspect neither are in fact wanted but hey, she's still a child and I need to feel I am a responsible adult, even though sometimes I may be overtaken in that respect by my nine-year old daughter.

When breakfast is cooked, Shark turns off the gas, flicks the wooden spoon round the saucepan with one last expert turn, and lifts that steaming pan into the air. As she turns to the table, she instructs me to tell her sisters that porridge is arriving on the table now with home-made jams and honey.

So I oblige. It is a struggle, because I have to utter that word aloud, shouting it up the stairs to the bedrooms, bringing my mouth to use it, even though in my heart I am so very proud of Shark for becoming chief breakfast maker in this house.

It is the word porridge. That foul lump of beige that I can barely look at, let alone eat. Try persuading me to leave a burning house to consume one mouthful of that revolting dog's mush.

But as I gag on the word porridge, those two kids upstairs leap out of bed, quicker, smarter, better than I have ever managed, even with chocolate bribes and threats of year-long grounding. They dress themselves in a trice without me needing to snort, finger wag, shout, stride about the hall, threaten the police, social services, and school. Tiger and Squirrel bound down the stairs three at a time with the sort of faces you see on kids in Christmas adverts from Toys-R-Us.

They leave me standing in the empty hallway astonished that I ever missed this trick, and once again knocked sideways with the sudden wisdom that my kids are growing up, independent, self-directed, with miles of strength ahead of them.

And it is moments like this, Balls, Badman and Morgan, that are more powerful than any you can muster, and what this blog is truly here to prove.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Graham Badman saved my marriage!

Readers of this blog might sometimes guess, reading between the lines, DIG ISN'T HERE and, when he is at home, DIG WORKS AT HIS COMPUTER.

When Dig is at home, working at his computer, it is usually for a deadline that is impossible and requires 18 hours work a day. The stress will cripple this entire family, squeeze the pressure on the delicate Grit, and bring a dense oppression to this marriage, until Grit arrives prostrate at the floor and has a big squeal. And in that big squeal words might be heard, to the effect of


followed by other delightful epithets, delicate phrases of tenderness, and a sustained verbal assault on how shoving one's chosen life partner under the 12.20 Virgin train to London might be a rational thing to do.

Now I cannot deny that in this house last night there arose from this kitchen turns of phrase which sounded a lot like the above.

But this morning, Dig and Grit stand shoulder-to-shoulder. Here we are, happy. United. Husband and wife.

It would feel good if this united front was due to a night of steamy passion. It was not. It was the mutual discovery this morning of the endeavours of Graham Badman.

We have looked each other in the eye, equally, problem shared, and started laughing.

For readers of this blog who are mystified because they come here simply to discover what new disasters and triumphs can be manufactured by a home educating family of five (but mostly four because one is never here), I should explain a background story.

A little while ago, the Department for Children School and Families (DCSF) put up Graham Badman to write a review of home education. A panel of names was supplied along with Graham to make it look like the review was independent; Elizabeth Green of the DCSF provided 'advice'.

Whether you're for or against the recommendations, we can take it the review was not independent but originated from the DCSF with Badman as the front man.

The report recommended a variety of measures, all of which led in the direction of social control and not much in the direction of home education.

To prove that all home educators needed intervention by government, Badman came up with a strange statistic playing on middle England's fear of the words 'social services'; he suggested many home educated kids are more likely to be 'known' to social services. As the report was published, the NSPCC linked stories of abused kids and home educators. Some newspapers repeated these claims. Tie it all up, and you get child abuse + social services = home education.

The government clearly thought they could get away with it. Let's face it, home educators are a disparate bunch containing the widest variety of all society. In this group there are the posh, the desperate, the mad, the sane, the middle class, the non-mainstream, the unconventional, the Radio 3 listeners, the pink hair enthusiasts. Who would speak up for this lot? Who would dare?

Home educators put up a fight. With freedom of information requests, they proved the statistics that Badman collated did not stand up to scrutiny. Worse, the statistics were manipulated to give the public a misleading and defamatory impression of home educated parents and children.

Let's say the reality. Children in home educating households are less likely to be preyed upon by abusive adults; they are more likely to be protected from predators, from bullies, from abusers; they are more likely to have the space and freedom to grow, and to have their educational and life needs met by their parents and family.

But the DCSF, wounded by this reality which keeps on coming back to them, then replied, That's it! We're not giving you home educating nosy types any more ammunition! The statistics you want are not interesting! Because we say so! And what's more, some people are poking fun at Mr Badman!

Well, Grit can't make it any worse, so here she goes.

Graham, you saved our marriage!

Because this morning, Grit and Dig wake to see that Graham Badman has written to the DCSF, I want more time to prove that home educators are a bunch of abusive layabouts who are inept and known to social services! I want to show the world that I was right!

The DCSF has of course granted Graham more time to find the statistics to damn us all, and off he's gone, looking, because he couldn't find any before.

But something else will turn up, won't it? There'll be a juicy story somewhere that links - wait for it - home education and pedophilia. And from the government's point of view, that will do the job where statistics will fail. Shove some shitty press stories covering abuse and home education through your letterbox, and if there was any sympathy for home educators, by the time the DCSF, Badman, Balls, Morgan and the press have had a go, they hope there won't be any soon.

So. The state of affairs today in this household is that Grit and Dig are looking at each other, and laughing. This government will continue to stitch us all up to achieve what they want. Possibly, a nice big database, not much freedom from you, and lots of social control.

On the plus side, there should be lots of jobs for inspectors, authorising agents, third-party data services, Capita Software, and people you don't know poking around your private life before declaring you guilty of something and a fine of £60 for infringement.

But as I said, for the moment, Grit and Dig have a common enemy. Graham Badman has brought us both together in united purpose. We're laughing, shaking our heads at the state of this government, and wondering whether life would be better together if we lived elsewhere.

Of course I won't say the idea of a common enemy isn't an attractive one if it puts the Grit and Dig marriage back on track and engenders such a state of togetherness.


Thursday, 17 September 2009

That's just the way it is

It is true there are some mornings when you leap out of bed and shout I need a hammock!

And then you must convince yourself that a day spent constructing a hammock in the garden constitutes for your offspring an education, more rounded, you hope, than sitting at a school table dressed in black and white and filling in worksheets.

Then you must set about creating the hammock from scraps of old netting scrounged from whoknowswhere; some sticks from the garden, and a lot of string and ribbon. The children for whom this is an education wander off after half an hour to sacrifice dinosaurs to the pit of despair which they have dug in the middle of the lawn and covered over with leaves.

While they are busy with that, you discover that hammocks do not stay up with string and ribbon. You must then bribe Tiger to give up the nylon rope she has tied round her midriff and which she says is 'climbing equipment'. It is not climbing equipment, it is essential stuff to hold up my hammock, now trade it for three squares of chocolate and be off with you.

After some two hours hard labour, Grit staggers inside to revive herself with alovelycupoftea.

When she returns ten minutes later she finds the lovely new hammock, made with bits of rope, sticks, string, ribbon and Tiger's climbing equipment, already requisitioned by small people.

Satisfying and frustrating, all at the same time.

And someone somewhere hopes, educational.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

This shows how far I have come

We decide to go to London, on the spur of the moment. We walk to the local station, get on a train, connect with the Underground, and here everyone is.

OK, I cannot say that Shark, Squirrel or Tiger appear deliriously happy about this momentous journey, but one day they will learn what a huge leap forward this has become for their mother who failed from the moment of their birth because she has only two hands.

What impossibility it was, for something like the first four years, to make it to the Co-op. That's maybe two hundred yards away from the safety of the front room.

So impossible and beyond my means in fact, I once had to collapse in the street in a broken heap and sob to Dig from a mobile phone to collect three screaming children and a corpse because I was in the act of stringing myself up from a wing mirror of a clapped out Fiat.

That was the bleakest, bombed apart, smashed up time, when the joy of having triplets was eclipsed by the knowledge that this was a life sentence to be led alone with no appeal, no parole and no reprieve. Life was an eternal struggle and the only change of pace was brought by the question, Can I make it make it to the Co-op without self harming?

I coped by not giving in, by achieving more than the day before, because giving in would mean I would surely die, and probably by my own hands. Not giving in meant going out every day, rain or shine, even if we made it only to the garden, car, street, corner shop, or the playground at the edge of the street.

But now the demon days are gone, and heading to the Science Museum is straightforward, and of course I can cope. Even when we miss the train connections, which suggests the signs are now pointing in the wrong direction when you compare just how a joyous a spontaneous day out in London should be.

The Science Museum doesn't help, quite honestly, because today they are employing at the entrance points a range of bag snatchers and peepers with faces hammered out from granite.

One bag peeper, let's call her Gorgon, frisks me for illegal items like napalm, incendiary bombs, knives and balloons. Yup. Balloons.

Anyway, the conversation Are you carrying any knives? goes something like this.

Grit (eye spying a small penknife in the Gorgon's box) : Why are you confiscating penknives?
Gorgon (recoiling as if asked Why are you confiscating nuclear missiles?) : Knives can be used to damage equipment!
Grit: I hadn't thought of that. Does that happen a lot?
Gorgon: Well, sometimes ... (rummaging in Grit's festering stinkpot of death, otherwise called handbag) ... or you might attack someone.
Grit (bursting into laughter) : What? I might go berserk? How many times has a visitor been attacked in the Science Museum with a knife?
Gorgon (adopts very superior expression, looks away, shoves festering stinkpot back at Grit, says nothing.)
Grit : Can I assume never then?
Gorgon (looks at ceiling in lalalala not listening mode)

I cannot say this warms me to a happy and successful day at the Science Museum, even though I have loved the place, really. It shows me bizarre bits of engineering parts that make no sense, and displays Bacofoil round the spaceman which I guess someone must dust after visitors have gone, keeping it extra sparkly. So it is sad that a place which celebrates invention, inspiration, ingenuity, freedom of thinking, all possibility, now embraces paranoia.

It is extra sad when the next incident happens in the Launchpad, the children's science exploration area. Shark is with an 'explainer'. Explainers are 'friendly staff' who explain things.

I don't know about you, but explaining means to me you might take the time to talk through a sequence of ideas, so that the subject in hand is intelligible. That's not the same as instruction, is it? Like, bark out a series of orders for which there is obedience or defiance.

The explainer looks at Shark, tells her what to do, and she does not immediately do it. He waves her off the equipment, does the job himself, tells her to do exactly as shown... and she does not. In recognition of every individual child's own approach, own path, own learning curve, he throws up his hands at her and walks off.

I watch this, gobsmacked, wondering whether home education has turned me into a totally alienated human being, or whether this is now normal behaviour when dealing with children, even if your job is to create fun from science exploration. The answer comes in seconds when a secondary school teacher bawls out a girl from across the floor because she is using equipment in an area of the Launchpad she is not supposed to. The girl drops the magnetic blocks like she was stung. Head bowed, humiliated, she immediately walks back to the school group which was, I'd say, ten yards away.

By this time, things are not looking good inside the Grit head, even though a day in London just because we can remains a great achievement. So it is with some relief that over the tannoy comes the announcement that for the next hour, we can enter the Wallace and Gromit exhibition A World of Cracking Ideas, free.

Grit and the gritlets race along there, and quite frankly I am salivating at the thought of saving some £25 in exhibition entrance fees.

And all I can say is that I am so very very glad I did not pay that amount, even though it is a delight to see Wallace and Gromit and even though Nick Park is a hero in this house.

Which all gives us time to explore the rest of the Science Museum, which is excellent, and we spend a long time fumbling about plastics and learning about materials.

But it all shows me what a long way we have come. Once, and not so far away, a day out in London was totally off-limits to a single travelling Grit and three gritlets. But now, even though the good auspices are not there, the day does not sink in disaster. I can overcome setbacks, redeem the moment, bring something positive from impending misery, and wrench achievement from a situation that once looked like total doom. The gritlets declare it a very good day out and everyone tells me they learned something new and surprising and interesting.

These days, the mistakes I make do not presage the end of the world. I simply will try not to repeat them. Next time, I will try and make the first train, grit my teeth past the bag peepers, skip the Launchpad, and avoid the high-spend special exhibition. We'll stay with the fantastic displays in the Science Museum itself.

And I'll smuggle in 100 deflated balloons in assorted colours and I will blow those beauties up in the ladies toilets, leave them there, call it performance art, and title it One for the Gorgon.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Yes. I gave them total permission to trash my house

This is the law for England and Wales, as stated in The Education Act, 1996, Section 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 today in the Grit household, this is otherwise.

All to provide a wardrobe of sixteenth century style garments for Arseface.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Suffering for the sake of science

A day at home, making soap bubble mixture, then blowing bubbles through home-made wire loops, observing reflections, finding out new things about iridescence, making up stuff about surface tension, volume, pressure and the incomprehensible doublebubble theory and looking up interference in twenty different science encyclopedias before drawing pictures of bubbles attacked by arrows and pretending to be light beams.

For the latter, I include a photograph of Squirrel in the act of falling off a home made trolley as she careered through the kitchen and failed to negotiate a bend at a door.

We all picked up the crashed and crumpled Squirrel with much devotion, assuring her that she had most ably demonstrated that light travels in straight lines and bends when it hits objects, but Squirrels on trolleys cannot do a sudden 45 degree swerve.

Memo to Grit: buy more washing up liquid.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Jtrail of Northampton

I've always believed the space I inhabit has a direct impact on my sense of well being, my emotional state and my outlook.

Surround me with piles of paper, furry unicorns, plastic junk, and why the devil are my sofa cushions up that tree? and nothing is possible. I am out of control, overwhelmed, exhausted.

Twist my arm to make me clear the work surface, and I can make things happen. I can create, make something possible, do, achieve and influence.

Mess must be contained by tidiness. But the tidiness must be contained by the mess. A state of creative tension, with one not subsuming the other.

Oh, forget it.

This philosophical ramble is just a thin attempt to make you think I'm an intellectual with some thinking station up there to justify what I really want to say. Forget it. You should see my desk.

I really want to say, I fucking hate Northampton.

I mean. It was once a glorious ancient place with city walls, a huge market and a fountain! A real, proper, decent-sized fountain that the people of Northampton loved! OK, so the people of Northampton showed their love for their fountain by persistently vandalising it, but hey ho, that's the price of democracy.

Well, it's not really the people of Northampton I'm taking issue with. Lovely, mad, delightful, bad, friendly, eccentric and delirious, they are probably the same as anyone, anywhere else in the UK or the world.

What I really hate is the restructuring, the reappraising, redevelopment, reoverhauling, regeneration, renewing vision that has gone on here, in this once-fine town of Northampton. I could blame the Chairman Mao type of thinking, that saw architects and planners force us to enter a sort of Great Leap Forward. They knocked down any building older than fifty years and worshipped bleak concrete and cheap cladding. Leaving Northampton as the sort of town which in architectural terms crows that once it had the largest bus station in Europe.

What has prompted the normally laid back Grit to this rant is that today, in pursuit of that maverick character called home education, today I take the children to a Jtrail in Northampton.

It is excellent. The leader is glancingly patronising to Shark. I forgive that, because I do not believe Shark is quite normal for a nine-year old. Shark, my pint sized bluestocking who would ratchet up a few degrees if only she could write coherent sentences, has stuck by the leader's elbow in a 70+ strong crowd and hung on his every word. This is not because we must be bribing her with ice cream but because she is interested in what he has to say about Anglo Jewish history in the UK, just because, well, just because it is interesting, OK?

Over two hours the leader walks us through places with evocative names, providing fascinating information about former dwellings, shops and histories. There were once medieval cellars of the town which remain buried to us, whose tunnels link and connect. I can dream the lives above. Communities, crafts, traders, moments of beauty, gentleness, passions, intimate lives, personal histories.

Of course a visitor to Northampton cannot see or feel much that was once ancient because the developers have blasted holes in pretty much everything above ground.

And then the Jtrail leader takes us here. I would say this is characteristic of how Northampton has respected its history and heritage buildings.

Yes, this is the spot. This is roughly how Northampton respects its heritage, Jewish or otherwise.

Under this tarmac is the site of a twelfth century Jewish burial ground. It's located just outside the city walls (all gone). Now, it's round the corner from the sex shop, near the dual carriageway that gives most of this town the feeling of a motorway bypass which you'd sooner get out of; it's by the boarded up boot factories, over the road from the bus station which looks like someone had to think of a good use for 5 million bricks, close to the advertising hoardings, adjacent to the long row of graceful townhouses written off as mostly for student rent, and about a quarter of a mile from the gas works.

And if final proof is needed. The market square is medieval. I defy you to sense that. The fountain, donated by a Jewish businessman, gone.

This is the sort of undistinguished, cold grey concrete block shoved at us to represent this complex heritage. One that looks like it's designed to withstand running street battles, tank fires, missiles and low grade artillery.

I'm affected by those spaces. And like I said. Jtrail, wonderful. Northampton, crap.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Fields, mostly

The afternoon starts in quite a benign and gentle fashion, with a trip round the North Crawley Church

and a glegg* at the wonderful painted wooden panels in the roodscreen.

How old? Oh, I can't recall. Let's say fifteenth century until someone tells me, actually Grit, 1986.

Then it becomes really strange. We spend several hours and walk several miles following an elderly gentleman. He leads us about a lot of fields. They have names like Lower Starvation, Sawpit, Little crouches, Meisy stocking, Prize fight, Eat the dead, Horse close, Sheep walk, Top nashes, and Gomery piece. (Go on, spot the one I made up.)

Here are the pictures. Somewhere we saw a grass snake and I became unreasonably excited and started shouting and pointing.

The grass snake might be around here. Apart from that, there are a lot more fields.

You probably have to be an enthusiast.

I won't put you through all the history. Except to say that field there has a Viking name. But here we're south of the Danelaw. Interesting.

If I don't tell a lot of history, I'll just say that some of the fields were very, um, field-like.

*glegg is an ancient Nott'm word my mother used. There you go; you can learn about English local culture from this blog as well as the pains I inflict on my children in pursuit of a decent education.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Ed Balls, these are the sort of people I trust with my children

You know, thanks to the vetting and barring database, there's a lot of suspicion around right now about people - the same people who until a few days ago were just doing their normal goodwill favours, or their normal, routine, help-out-the-community-jobs.

Those are the same people who you would hand over your child to without a moment's thought, and perhaps it never occurred to you - until Delyth Morgan spoke up on BBC Radio 4 - that these people would do anything other than drop off your kids at the sports hall or feed them baked bins from a tin.

But now, thanks to the withering plague hands laid out on our heads from this government of death, we parents are being invited to look at each other and question, to really ask ourselves, I know that person appears helpful, but that's not normal, is it? Someone helping my child? Only a pervert would do that. That's it. Proof. Now I KNOW they're going to rape and murder my child and leave their dismembered bodies scattered over the village green and we can assume dropping kids at the sports hall is just a cover for that intent.

So while the government comes up with this big scare, it also comes up with the answer. What can we all be made safe with? A nice new database. I would like to know what is the relationship between this government and the folks running Capita, because they must be enjoying a boom time in the behind the scenes supply of management information services. And even if we didn't really want a national ID scheme, we're more or less acquiring one, just by other means.

With these thoughts in mind, I take Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to a workshop on sound, in a village hall somewhere in England.

And this workshop is run by Jilly, who is possibly the most deliriously batty person you have met in a long time. Jilly may hum, spontaneously. Because Jilly is into healing sounds, deep sounds, and a resonant chakra balancing. With a lot of incense.

And Ed, I have no qualms at all about Jilly maintaining frequent and intensive contact with Shark, Squirrel and Tiger.

Even when she admits, with a wonderful laid back smile on her face, that last time she did this circle sound thing with candles, she set herself on fire.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Yes, everyday's something like this

Should I post about this morning watching children explore light, prompted by yesterday's Mad Science club?

Thanks to the scientist who yesterday taught some twenty home ed kids. Today happy hours were spent making colour filters, playing with prisms, and thinking up ideas about refraction, reflection and diffraction while flipping through reference books and finger pointing new experiments to try. And yes, we gathered round the worn out pine kitchen table.

Perhaps not that. I could post about our Heritage Day trip to the Holy Sepulchre church in Northampton. On the way we listened, attentive, to the Naxos CD on Great Scientists (and thanks, Michelle, part of our wise and wide communities of educators all around, for putting us onto those).

Perhaps the church. One of four round churches standing in England, nudging a thousand years old. Grit collars an old man there to guide us. He turns our time into a back and forth seamless session of the history and religions of Norman-twenty-first century England.

He's a fine teacher; he knows every stony nook and cranny, and proudly runs his papery hand over a Saxon dial embedded in the ancient wall. Our thanks go to him, too, and a wish that he won't have to submit to being vetted. His talk should fit in well with the home education group we follow, because they're up and about this term exploring religions around the world.

Well perhaps I should post about the other events of the day. Like turning up at Central Milton Keynes Library in the lock-up time, for their evening storytelling session. The storytellers wove wonderful tales, and invited the audience to tell their own stories of how they came to Milton Keynes and what they recall of this new town.

The town might be new; the land is ancient. We have stories to tell of Roman burials and Celtic roundhouses. Tiger, Shark and Squirrel were the only children there. Sad; I wanted many children to be there, listening to ordinary citizens tell their ordinary stories; this glue which holds us all in a community together. But I guess the evening time is past bed time for school next day.

So that's our day. A home educated day. Following up our lessons, clubs and societies. Working at home with practical things. Anticipating joining in with organised groups. Going out on trips. Meeting people who care. Listening to adults tell us stories about how this place came to be.

Extraordinarily ordinary.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Thank you for the invitation

Dear government,

Thank you for the invitation to join your brave new world.

Unfortunately, we can't join. We're busy that day.

We probably can't come at any time.

I'll be honest.

I don't like the sound or the look of your brave new world. In fact I'll try and avoid it. Not only that, but I'll tell people why.

We home educate our three wonderful daughters. They are growing up to be people who will make this world an exciting place. They are imaginative, creative, filled with inquiry. They are learning, following their ambitions, and engaging, everyday, with this world.

My three children are educated in society. They constantly defy the expectations of adults who think of children as interested only in electronic games and hamburgers. My children teach adults that children are fascinated by adult worlds; that children want to learn from adults about rocks, and shooting stars, and water, and winds, and how every magical thing works and why it is.

And to those adults who teach us - who lead us on geology walks, history walks, who ask us why stars explode and earthworms wiggle - I want you to know that my children value you, what you teach, and what you say. You are helping shape their worlds.

Shark, confident, determined, articulate, has set her sights on the watery world of marine biology. She has sourced herself an online course, has questioned me about university, and wants to investigate all the depths of the world. Tiger wants to attend art college. Expressive, sensitive, responsive, she hopes to tell you that all lines, shapes and colours can reveal thoughts and feelings you didn't know you had. Squirrel wants to be Squirrel. She is funny, charming, interested in planets, soap bubbles, charcoal, paint. She's a champion for her rights and for the rights of all those she loves and knows, and, even of you when you fall on hard times. She's Lawyer, Engineer, Geologist, Scientist, Artist, Renaissance woman.

But, in your brave new world, I need a licence from the local council to introduce this world and its people to my children. I need to reapply, annually, for my licence to home educate. You do not trust me to support my children's needs or their goals. In your brave new world, only a local official knows what we should do. I, and the children, must therefore be inspected in our home; we must be advised, assessed, and marked.

Well, thank you for the invitation. But I'm sorry, I won't join your brave new world.

We have made our own arrangements for the education of our children, and I'm happy with that. I don't seek your approval, your sanction, and I'm not asking you for permission. When our arrangements founder, or our needs change, or we aspire to new ambitions, then we will arrange anew, because I trust our ability as parents to identify and reach the world around us. When we take that new step, I won't ask you to mediate our experience, to act as our advisor, or to give us the rubber stamp of your approval.

You see, in your brave new world, you are behaving as if my family is your family. But it's not your family. Our business is not your business. It's my family, and it's our business.

Yet there's more.

In your brave new world you would like me to be fearful and untrusting. You would like me to check on a database all the names of the many people who might have contact with my children.

Thanks for the invitation, but I'm not going to do that. I'm going to trust my judgement, my community, the judgements of others around us, my children, my family. I shall continue doing what I do. I teach my children to be in a society where adults will help them. I teach my children to always follow rules of personal safety. I teach them to never to leave a safe situation for a dangerous one; to be wary of people and places that make them feel uncomfortable, out of control, taken advantage of.

This is my responsibility as a parent. It is not your responsibility. You are not the parent of my children. I will support my children's growing judgement; I will trust them. I do not trust you, and I do not trust you to help them be the people they want to be.

I say all this confidently because we, as home educating parents, have recently come to understand some of the methods you would like to use to create your brave new world.

You tried to divide our community, and splinter it away from all society, when you said that home education was a cover for child abuse, forced marriage, servitude. You invited a great many people - not home educating parents - to take your words for themselves. If those people had done so, they would look upon us with mistrust, they would see us on the streets in the mornings and stop themselves smiling at us. Then they would ask themselves, Is that mother hurting those children? Are those children hidden? Are they indoctrinated? Does she abuse them?

In all honesty, I feared that reaction as a result of your dishonest, vilifying words. But I can tell you that many people I meet have not championed you. They have shown us understanding and tolerance. Many have expressed how they wished they could have home educated, or how unhappy their child was at school, and what benefit an alternative education would have brought. That has given me confidence that this society does work with trust, tolerance, and respect.

Trust, tolerance, and respect; these are true too of the home educating community. I respect others to know their family needs, to choose and shape their lives accordingly and to raise their children as they see fit. I expect in turn that I am respected; that the choices I make are respected too. With this approach, we support and give to each other.

But to create your brave new world, you are stamping on these values to give yourself the right to stand in this community, to take our judgments, to take our place as parents, as keepers of cultures, as deciders and makers of our fates, wishes, ambitions. I do not need you there. You will unpick the trusts that we honour, and take away the judgements we make, and then tell us you make for us a better future, one that is yours. Not ours.

So thanks for your invitation. But no thanks. Not now, not ever.

Have no doubt that we will continue to educate our children as we feel and think is right. We will continue to explore all things from stars to earthworms. We hope all the adults we rely upon will continue to teach us. You shall not stop me from living life this way.

And now we're busy. I must take Shark to look at the shores of the lake where we will meet her friends and teachers; Tiger to the stables to see Jenny, who helps her handle horses, and I must take Squirrel to the bookshop and then supply her with sequins.

Because it is these people, not you, whose invitation to the world I accept.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Alert the authorities! Control of Grit risk!

Grit has been CCTV'd today, in Bedford, being irresponsible. She has been doing something I am sure she is not allowed to do, given her role as parent-teacher-adult-in-charge to vulnerable gritlets.

She has been caught loafing off, all on her own. Yes! Can you believe it? On her own! Without any children and totally alone!

So where are they? you ask. Where is the defenceless Dig and the vulnerable and needy nine-year olds, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger? Are you having a new patio laid, Grit?

Well, the children are indisposed, elsewhere. And you can bet that shiftless fat arsed grit has been enjoying her unregulated adult activity, and you sure can assume that this activity was of a non-supervised nature and totally not endorsed by all the parental-teacher licensing agencies Delyth Morgan could muster.

Because, get this, today I send Squirrel, Tiger and Dig off to Wales in a hire car to attend a funeral of someone they've never met, and I send Shark, upwards, strapped to a harness, along with a dozen other home ed kids, all atop a wobbly tower made of milk crates, under the pathetic excuse that this is an educational team-building activity day down the local outdoor centre.

Here she goes!

Hurry up Shark! Once you're up the top, I can abandon you to scoot off down Bedford town and into that Sally Army charity shop and blow your £1 dinner money in the cast offs department.

Really, I should be imprisoned for my own good and the safety of children.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Because most of the time we fall flat on our faces

The other day Tiger accompanied me to Scrapstore. She was terrified. Children are not allowed in Scrapstore.

To get inside, you must first pass through locked doors. Here are pinned large notices about what they will do to children who are NOT ALLOWED in Scrapstore. If you dare defy them and bring that child inside, then you will be DISEMBOWELED and hung lifeless over the wiggly eyes and that will serve as a lesson to all humanity what will happen if you bring children into Scrapstore.

And I agree. Really. Children should not be allowed in Scrapstore. There is nothing more irritating than a soft and gentle fantasy involving 2,600 plastic offcuts being broken apart by a child screaming MUMMMEEEEE at the tops of their voices. No. No children. I want that place all to myself.

But. Tiger has a specific project in mind. It requires foam. This type of foam? I plead for the hundredth time, gesticulating with my hands in the air, like a desperate woman clawing at straws. No! That type of foam? No!

Then Tiger suffers me like the idiotmama I am and with a tut and eyeroll tries to explain in excruciating detail what type of foam is exactlythattypeoffoam.

Until I throw up my hands in despair and say we will risk all, it is worth it, come and look at the foam yourself. In Scrapstore.

And together we make our way to Scrapstore. Once we have passed the locked doors and fearsome notices, Tiger catches a glimpse of this Aladdin's cave of plastic offcuts, bits of wool, cut out squares of paper, and it is like looking at a cave sparkling with diamonds and emeralds and rubies.

But to reach those treasures in the inner sanctum, you must first pass the six headed keeper at the paydesk and his name is Norman and he is The Guard. Tiger peeps out from behind me, and sees Norman. Norman catches Tiger in his sights and emits the sort of growl you could expect from a ferocious panther ready to leap upon you and rip you limb from limb.

Tiger shrinks in horror and Grit becomes a backsliding slime laden weed who is grovelling apologies on the floor for ignoring those signs of death and bringing a child right into the cave of delight that is Scrapstore.

After some negotiation, Tiger is allowed to pass. On the understanding that I will be disemboweled before dawn if she breathes out of line. Tiger, meanwhile, has seen the plastic offcuts and now has eyes as big as saucers at this warehouse filled with junk. Delirious, she starts to babble about all the exciting things she can make with wool and paper and foam and 2,600 plastic offcuts. And those things are all elephants! dinosaurs! fairies! horses! castles!

Norman, who has been unable to stop his ears from wigging all this chatter, must have a heart that melted. Because when all the choices are made - bits of string, clumps of wool, fabric scraps, 2,600 plastic offcuts - Norman gruffly passes over a little package to me, containing four blocks of Sculpey. As he does so, he says in his grim and surly voice that the baking clay is a present because Tiger is using Scrapstore properly and what's more, that is how it is meant to be used. And that comes out sounding like the greatest threat and the most wonderful praise all at the same time.

And I don't know what to say, apart from a mumbled thank you. Because it may sound stupid but that is one of the kindest things to have happened to us in a long time.

In simple truth, I walk about this world with headlines like this hanging over me, and 'common sense' from Delyth Morgan shaping my world, and all the while waiting to be dragged off to the local police station with a truancy officer gleefully filling in forms right behind us.

All because we have made this non-mainstream choice and chosen to home educate.

For that choice, we must face the one old lady who loathes the sight of kids gadding about on a Wednesday morning in full view and lets us know it in no uncertain terms. Or we must be flicked into the gutter by the young professional striding down the high street and who, this morning at 8.23 precisely, deposited her child in the local state school and knows for sure it's people like me that are failing to support our schools and bringing this country down.

And so often I am put in a position where I am made defensive, explaining things, justifying ourselves, even when I don't want to be that defensive person, and there is no need to feel these things, but I feel them all.

And sometimes moments like this happen, and gruff old Norman passes that baking clay in reward to us, to Tiger, and it feels like someone opened a window and a million and one diamonds and emeralds and rubies just shone out.