Saturday, 31 October 2009

This is how we are British

Everything is happy down at the Celtic Harmony Camp today.

There is wand making, magic stone wishing, and broomstick making.

There's also storytelling, follow the riddles and take the trail to the druid.

OK, the druid was a little disappointing.

There was a sign through the trees reading 'druid' and our little party followed that. I was sort of quietly hoping there would be a proper druid in there, one that explorers maybe found in the middle of a forest. Someone who didn't know the Romans had arrived or never even heard about the Normans, he was just doing his druidy thing, like growing his long trailing beard, sipping from the elder bush of wisdom, rejuvenating himself with elixirs, and incanting over willow twigs.

But no, he was just a cut-out bit of wood with a label 'druid'.

I should have photographed that. Possibly due to being so completely underwhelmed, my eyeballs just stared blankly. Even so, we were all in agreement about that disappointing moment; no-one burst into angry tears, or became engaged in heated discussion about what a let down a cardboard druid was; no-one got all huffypuffy about Celtic celebrations being tools of the devil or found anything controversial at all. No. We all just stared, and walked back along the trail, and then we clustered around the fly agaric, going ooh! and I photographed that instead.

So you can see our little party was mostly happy and gentle and entering into the spirit of the thing called harmony.

But then we got to the Celtic cafe.

There was not harmony in the Celtic cafe. Not at all. Fifteen minutes more and there could have been blood.

There were four people serving, or maybe more, because it was hard to tell, what with Celts wandering in and out, arranging paper cups and scratching their midriffs.

From the four who were serving, it was the job of one to shout at all the others with a face that did not attempt to disguise intense irritation mixed with loathing.

From the customers who had not given in, died, or crawled away in despair with soup when they asked for coffee, there was one man who started off the twenty minute procedure to extract tea looking like the mild mannered man you might expect to give up his seat to an elderly lady on the bus home. By the end of twenty minutes he had shaved his head, tattooed his face with the word HATE and maybe would have torn down the counter with his bare knuckle hands if someone did not give him the fuckingcupofteaandrightNOW.

And then there was the little crumblepie cutie kid who stood in the queue next to a man who was a dead ringer for a six foot bullfrog, and the woman who was serving kept mixing them up. How can you do that unless you are blind?

So Grit's request for a biscuit shaped like a bat pales into insignificance. The serving lady dutifully wrote down biscuit bat on a piece of paper, despite standing next to the biscuit bats, then put the piece of paper to one side where no one paid any attention to the biscuit bat request until Grit was pulling at her own face in despair and making strangled cries of pain.

And the lesson I can learn from this moment is that the Celts were probably just like us.

They were probably very harmonious and polite and quite agreeable. Not at all warlike, and very tolerant, and possibly good at queuing.

They just became a snarling naked tribe of seething rebellion and anger and ripyourheadoff blood curdling redseeing mob painting themselves blue fuelled by fury and rage when they were separated from the thing they most desired and WANTEDINALLTHEWORLD and that was


Friday, 30 October 2009

OK, I will do pumpkins. But stop it with the Haribo.

I hate Halloween. I do not know what it is for, except as a useful commercial enterprise for that lean period before Christmas. You know, that happy end-of-year time when people lose their reason and ability to count, like you need reminding every second of every day how many minutes to go before you are declared bankrupt.

And of course, like every other miserable antisocial parent in the UK, because it is Halloween and that is such FUN I have to slap a grin round my cheeks and pretend my life is now complete and yes, why don't you wrap me in bandages and bury me in the garden because that will make the day for you so much more FUN.

Of course, because we home educate, that means we are going to have a fantastic time. Better than a hundred million fantastic times rolled into one, because Halloween is not only such FUN, I have to make every one of our damned learning experiences FUN at well and this is an opportunity to make more educational FUN out of a damn learning experience than we ever thought possible.

But forget about the trick or treating. I draw the line there. Did we suck that one up from the USA? I swear before three years ago I never heard of that. And I am so peeved that I didn't think of it. I could have made a fortune in protection money and settled a few local scores properly. Like sending my kids off into the dark and stormy dimly lit street dressed as vampires to threaten Mr Arse that if he doesn't hand over the Haribos they'll slash his car tyres and shovel shit through his letter box. That sounds like a fine tradition worthy of Smalltown. I could start that.

Oh if only Halloween could stop there. There's yet the bloody pumpkin.

Who ever saw a damn pumpkin like these great orange globules until a few years ago? Now we all have to dance round the sodding bonfire cavorting with pumpkins like they've been doing this in Berkshire since the time of Henry II.

OK, maybe they have down there, but the pumpkin carving might push me over the edge. It is the first reason why I am so sharp on my wits, heels and telephone dialling finger today. I see there is a community arts event down the road in which you can carve your own pumpkin and then go off to the spooky night Halloween party with a torch to scare yourself witless, find all the spooky creepy carved Halloween faces, and fall into a ditch. Sounds fantastic.

Shark is dead keen and within ten seconds of me mentioning this opportunity, she is bounding off the walls, fully dressed and ready to go.

She knows the difference between promise and action. I promised faithfully, really cross my heart and hope to die, that I would carve that pumpkin. The same one that two weeks passed by and it started to corrode from its own fermenting acid and was sat in a pool of slime that looked like pumpkin piss. It stank something rotten, which only increased my reluctance to go near it, even though I knew, I really did, that from this point it wasn't going to get any better.

I still left it for three more days. I couldn't pick it up. All the flesh had rotted away and it was only kept in some sort of round shape due to the near-exploding pressure of the internal compressed gas created by its own rotted guts.

Two weeks after Halloween had been and gone, the only answer was a face mask, a bin liner lowered over the pumpkin from hell, and a shovel, to scrape the dead and diseased item off the worksurface. Two years later I can still see the stains.

So with the sniff of a pumpkin carving session by day and a party session by night, all laid on by someone else, you can bet that I am down there on the dot to enjoy it.

And those wonderful welcoming smiling people do lead that session, properly and smartly, and make a big party atmosphere from it. I cannot thank them enough for that, for making it all so exciting and funny, all day long, dressing up pumpkins, making clothes for shadowy shapes, then dressing them in sparkly twinkly fairy lights and hiding them all around a big old rambling party garden.

By the darkness of the evening, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are so proud and excited, they're all this way! that way! look over there mama! I maybe might admit they're all cute again, even though they're tugging my clothing in three different ways at once, and chattering in every direction which makes it impossible to know without possessing six ears which way they want me to come and find the best one yet!

Which makes me love the happy smiles on their faces and their delighted excitement and howls of oo ooo oooh! at those jumpy shapes and shadows in the dark. And then the cute way that Squirrel hugs me tight just because she needs to and I am there for her, even in the dark in the garden, with pumpkins on sticks, and stupid misled foolish Grit, says Yes! That's fantastic! You are right! The pumpkins are brilliant! And I love Halloween too!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Did the earth move?

There always comes those particular points in the home educating day when I think to myself that if I do not leave the house right now, right this minute, away from this one square centimetre where four people are standing to growl simultaneously, then I may pick up the nearest blunt instrument, in this case the Exciting Book of Fish, and bludgeon myself to death with it.

So it is fortunate that tonight I can spare Shark, Tiger and Squirrel the sight of blood and send them scattering in different directions to find knickers, socks and footwear. Because this is the evening we have waited for, since the last one was cancelled due to cloud cover, and that is the astronomy night down in the desolate and dark beyond in a field somewhere south of Bletchley.

Do not laugh, by the way, at Bletchley. It was chosen as the wartime code-breaking place partly because it was situated in the abandoned part of England where no-one wanted to go. And today's Bletchley town centre is hardly the bright light city centre for your evening social whirl. Everything round here closes down at six. So it's either dogging or star gazing.

Of course we arrive late, despite setting off for early, because in the dark I cannot find a field south of Bletchley just by driving around, cursing at the Satnav. Although I try it.

When we do arrive, park the car, stumble out into darkness, I am blinded by the organiser who probably does not realise you cannot have a sensible conversation with someone if you wear a head torch. After having my retinas burned out, I am guided towards the pitch black field where I think there might be a huddled group of would be astronomers, listening to a talk by an astronomer who knows what he is talking about. With his slow, unhurried way of talking, pausing, thinking, describing, he is immediately recognisable as one of those experts we follow, literally blindly, into fields all over England.

It takes ten minutes or so for my eyes to adjust to the blackness. There are a lot of people here. I think they might be people. They might be hideous reptiles beamed down from Planet Zelta and staring at the skies waiting for the pickup from the mothership for all I know, because in this unfathomable darkness I can make precious little out of anything except for a crowd of great lumpychunk shapes, attended by mini creatures clinging at ground level and whining. I recognise that sound. They must be the offspring, so that almost guarantees we have found the right group.

Although the proper astronomer is very interesting and explaining all about globular star clusters and the magnitude of Venus, I'm only hearing half of it. Squirrel is cold, and that despite me having said a million times that people in this country wear clothing if they are going to take to autumn fields after dark. But a Squirrel who is cold clings onto the back of your coat and slowly throttles you with your own neckline and zipper, forcing you to make gurgling noises as you unsteadily try to fix yourself on grassy lumps in the darkness to look for Venus.

I could cope with that were it not for Tiger who suddenly takes fright at the mini people at ground level. She probably thinks they might be dogs and thus clings onto my left arm, perhaps hoping to pull it off and club one of the mini shapes to death should it crawl too close.

In between choking and whispering getoff me you are pulling my arm off stoppit stoppit stand up look at the damn sky you should have worn a coat stop doing that and standstill I feel sure that all the reptiles are going to start turning and tut. Shark legs it over the other side of the crowd. Even though it is dark I can sense that expression of exasperation. She will have nothing to do with this embarrassment and is already pretending she is someone else's daughter. Even a reptilian parent from the Planet Zelta waiting for the bus back home might be preferable to the spluttering one-armed Grit thrashing around on a grassy knoll beating off two replicants.

But after I have unpeeled Tiger and trekked back to the car to retrieve Squirrel scarves, I manage to stare at the skies and catch the end of the talk.

Our astronomer guide is wonderfully knowledgeable, and does not come across as a person who maybe also likes model railways in sheds, not at all. He is enthusiastic, jolly, and describes how seeing these stars is like looking at old friends, ones who have been around to help build the universe. And he cautions how astronomy is not without hazards, because one night he had his toes nibbled by badgers.

It is deeply relaxing, this hour, staring at the night sky. I forget about my cold feet and crick neck, and become absorbed in finding the constellations, those tiny twinkling eyes peering back to earth. If I could reach back thousands of years I would see myself standing looking at this miraculous sight, the huge breadth and depth of that immense sky dome. I could have spent hours, or days, or years watching, and I would think that there was something timeless and eternal too reflected back to earth in those shining lights.

When the proper astronomer finishes his talk, and we have to pull ourselves away, we all stumble off and look through the very expensive telescopes. If I were those enthusiasts, I would be wrapping those tripod legs in fluorescent hazard tape, because there is no small amount of stumbling and pushing in the queues to ooh and aaah at the moons of Jupiter and the wide bomb blasted craters on the moon surface.

By the end, everyone's delighted; if someone saw a satellite track across the sky, I believe it took an effort of will for us all not to applaud, and whistle and laugh in shared delight. Rarely have I met a sudden community of people come close together for that experience.

And who knows, I might yet become an astronomer. It is the simplest, most fulfilling and most satisfying way to have the earth move and, even better, there was never a moment of guilt or worry or fear that things would have gone better if only I had made an effort to shave my legs first.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The gentle day that is not spent at school

I had better chronicle the ordinary upwiththelarks* home educating everyday.

Any wandering past visitor will otherwise think this blog is only a permanent mouth open rant against Ed Balls, the dark lord Badman and all goblins who live in mountains.

Anyway, this blog exists partly to show you that if you enjoy life with your own children, there's no reason why you shouldn't do more of it. Money might be a reason, possibly. My solution on that score is mostly to go without. The charity shops in Northampton are cheap. They're a much better bargain than Hitchin, where the reusable M&S clothes are very expensive.

Cutting edge stuff, eh?

Well, if you are contemplating home education, here's an ordinary day. Minus the arguments.

After reading another chapter of The Hobbit, we all donned outdoor clothes and strode off across the fields looking for an education.

That means we can call the world and this field, our classroom. Including this special building which I feel bears some similarity to the one I used to teach in.

The little grits need no encouragement to go around poking their noses into these places. With this sort of background they could aspire to be OFSTED inspectors.

But given that we home educators encourage playtime, here is a picture of permissible play going on from a park bench.

And we walk past a lot of wetland, so let's call fifteen minutes in a bird hide staring at an upturned duck's arse both science and geography. The debate as to whether it was really a dead floating pigeon we will count as PSHE.

As usual, the Gritmobile is the last car in the carpark at College Lake today, so I'm betting that the gritlets made something of an education from their observations and experiences of the world; from all the discussions we had about dead pigeons, quarries, wetlands, global warming, and where you would hide if you were a weasel on the run from a ferret armed with a sub machine gun.

Later I might bribe the little home educated gritlets to write about it.

So there it is. A perfectly ordinary home educating day.

I recommend it.

*OK, upwiththelarks is a lie, and I only put it in to make myself feel purposeful and energetic. Really, I poke my kids with skewers to force them out of bed at 10am.

Of course, now I have confessed, I will claim that lolling around in bed is yet another benefit of the not at school lifestyle. You can hang around in jimmie jams till all hours reading books, and you get to call that an education as well.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

I hope Maggie Atkinson has big ears

Why on earth would anyone want to be Children's Commissioner? Do they really want to listen to children? Have they thought that through?

I don't know about your kids, but mine disgorge an endless stream of incoherent rubbish concerning the intricate bowel movements of unicorns and fish and caravans and mudlarks wearing kitchenfoil body armour. Fifteen minutes of that and you'd be stabbing your own head with a knitting needle. I can tell you it's far less painful.

I chose to stay alongside my kids for this rambling muddling through journey, rather than packing them off to boarding school for some earhole respite. By the way, don't think I'm telling you this to show you how great and glorious a self sacrificing mother I am. Rather, it should tell you what a cruel streak I use to beat myself, thinking I want to experience the forbidding place that is daily living and education of your own children, and all the while listening to hours of endless babble.

The idea of journeying in home education alongside three mardy mucky kids - staying with it from the stumbling punch-drunk dwarf years towards the stroppy hair-flicking pre-teens - well, a long time ago it did seem like a good idea. That idea, as you can guess, was before these human types were made into microns of cells. And that one-sided decision to home educate was also possibly taken after a glass of red wine, facing a worried looking husband over a kitchen table some years ago. Perhaps the decision was affected by rising at 6am every morning to try and teach 7G about full stops while Kevin prowled the corridors with a baseball bat, and Jim routinely hid his bag of heroin wraps in my book cupboard. Maybe I thought any educational mayhem I could bring about wouldn't be quite as bad as that.

But now, sitting here, sunk under paint, paper, offcuts of fabric and unicorn fluff, rendered semi-unconscious from hours of stream-of-consciousness drivel about lampshades and trams and Barbi who wears matching shoes! You can bet some days I have my doubts.

So I wonder why Maggie Atkinson really wants that job of Children's Commissioner. Probably not to listen to children; certainly not to mine, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. They would almost certainly speak the wrong answers, or witter on for five hours about giant cats fighting underwater battles with shape-shifting fish.

And wittering kids aside, she has all that work to do with bloodyminded parents. Would you like to do that job?

These home educating types for a start. They can be determined for battle, I can tell you. You're going to have a fight on your hands there, Maggie.

Let's face it, things have not started well with them, have they? First there's the link to the favourite bete noire, BullyBoyBalls. Then Maggie upset the parents of thousands of kids in England at a stroke. Take the information she gave to the Education select committee regarding her future appointment:
'I will take you back, if I may, to when I was an adviser in Birmingham city council, where there were quite large numbers of home-educated children - it is getting on for 20 years now since I worked in Birmingham. At that time, as an advisor I had a right and a duty not only to knock on the doors of people who were choosing electively to educate their children at home, but simply to go into their premises and, on the most headline of bases, to look at whether the environment was right, whether there were age-appropriate materials in use, and whether the children seemed okay.'
Let me hold up that rhetorical pointing finger, Maggie, and take you back to the law. Show me the law. Show me the law that gave a local authority advisor the right to enter someone's house and home. I don't think that law exists, Maggie. Ed Balls would like it to, which is why he's worked so well with Badman, who's recommended it.

In fact, Maggie probably knows that this is one of the sticking points for home educators.

The state seems itching to get inside family life, and many ordinary people are making a ripe rich noise about that right now. And it seems to many of us that local authority bodies are desperate to assume the power to enter any home in England where there can be a child defined as 'home educated'.

So be careful, you keepers of runny-nosed bawling mini-humans aged under 5. If you do not choose a state nursery for your delightful littlehairysnorting Moonbeam, then can it be said you are 'delivering the birth-five curriculum, that every child is entitled to' in your own home? Then welcome to the world of home education.

Of course we can fight back on the idea of Maggie's mates doorstepping us Monday morning. Perhaps if the local authority would like the right to enter my house, inspect my 'environment', look at my 'age-appropriate materials', and assess whether I have beaten my child recently, then that's a right we can potentially extend to everyone. Doesn't it follow that citizens should have the right to enter any 'premises' belonging to an employee of the local authority and check that their family household is running in accordance with state policy?

Somehow, I think if Maggie wants that job of listening to children and the families who love and protect them, then her work's cut out.

But I can't leave this post just yet. There's one thing that's bugging me more than fifty beetles stuffed down my bra.

Did you notice the word Maggie first used to describe where thousands of people live? Premises? Not someone's house or home, but their premises.

I don't know what children up and down England call it - maybe after listening to those children you could tell me Maggie - but Shark, Squirrel and Tiger call these premises their 'home'.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger love their home. They love this house. They love the way the floorboards don't quite meet; they love the way the worn down Victorian brass doorhandles turn; they love how you can gaze at the wooden joists overhead in their workroom; they love the curved stone step down to the coldest bedroom.

I might beat myself about the head because I cannot see the floor from one November to the next, but I know my children love this space, their home. And I've chosen to live with the way they show their love. Call that way rolling around, screaming, laughing, throwing themselves about, slamming doors, pulling the front room curtains down, creeping down under the fluffy sofa throw to read, and yelling obscenities while perched on the toilet. It's chaos. But it's our chaos.

Maggie should know above all that this is our family home. It's the place where we love, laugh, eat, sleep, shout, cry, argue, make up.

But it doesn't stop there. These rooms are filled with the things we have made and built. That mess of blue pipe cleaners, sequins and folded paper? It's Shark's home-made ray, and she dreams of the time she stood in the warm pool to stroke their silvery backs and feed them treats from her hand, and my underwater dreamer longs for that again. We'll try and help make her dream come true.

But that tangle of twisted wire? That's the day Squirrel spent two hours painfully constructing a wire horse from a design she'd seen painted in a Celtic festival. Every tiny piece of wire she carefully twisted between her near-bleeding fingers. I coaxed her to use the pliers; she still needed to feel the tiny threads press into her skin. That's how she learned the strength and tension of that wire.

And Tiger's painting, hanging on the wall in our front room. The one she screamed over, wept over, declared rubbish, and returned to, time and time again, bringing all the determination she could wring from her body to put into that paint the feeling she had. Tiger, trasher of bathroom, destroyer of clothing, creator of beauty: my most sensitive, expressive artist.

I wouldn't want to be Children's Commissioner, having to listen to all this.

But I bet this is all the wrong answer, so Maggie probably won't want to hear.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Another reason why I don't give in

Thanks to the Anglo Saxons, we've read Beowulf Red Fox Classics edition and The Hobbit second time through; made solemn progression to the Franks Casket; dipped into a dozen and more books about the years after the Romans and before the Normans; enjoyed ordinary days at West Stow Anglo Saxon Village once, twice, every year; jumped on the Secklow mound in Milton Keynes; and silently wept for the loss of that crumbling old house in Northumberland close to the sandswept shores of Lindisfarne.

It all makes sense anyhow, visiting Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. Here Shark, Squirrel and Tiger take part in an archaeological dig, meet King Raedwald, tour the burial mounds with a guide who is dramatist, historian, storyteller, then drink hot chocolate before setting out for home.

It sounds unlikely, given this holiday lifestyle, that I can say this year has been draining and damaging. But it has been so. Not because of the sheer hard 24/7 work of it, nor the shouty, sulking, opinionated children, nor the bizarre communities of people we meet, nor for our falling down house, nor the absent husband now supping beer somewhere in Kowloon. The damage has come from constant insinuations, a steady dripdripdrip of negative press reports, a government's sneering suspicions, wondering why as home educators we deserve to be hated. The origin is the DCSF and the Badman review, and I have resented the hours I have spent there, fretting, because those hours are more precious spent elsewhere.

We have met the state half way in our choices for education; we have been supportive of local projects that explore options for children and parents; we have sought to build good relationships. By this, we thought we could look forward to a time when families can choose some school, part school, no school, un school. Throughout, we believe that education is more important than difference, and that there are as many ways of education as there are children. We extended trust, and as parents we expected to be trusted in turn.

Badman betrayed us and all of that. And if it were not for the strength and gladness of ordinary people we meet daily in our gadabout life, people like Bryan the archaeologist who bursts into warm laughter, and shakes my hand firmly on finding that Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are home educated, declaring from the heart That's the best way to live! If it were not for those people who make up our everyday world, by now I probably would have buckled under the weight.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Lavenham living

Spending a cold night sleeping on a hard floor with only a part-share of a dead flat cat for covering is a small price to pay for waking up surrounded by the beautiful landscape that is Suffolk.

Big Bro took over this house, where we've spent last night, from mum and dad. It's a small house, not old, part of some new housing expansion years ago, built in a village which reached capacity with maybe 200 inhabitants, so there's no more now to be made. Who would want to live in this backwater village anyway? There's no shop, a bus every Wednesday and the post office ran from the side of the local labourer's pub. In the house there's no gas mains and the radiators are fed by an oil tank out in the yard, refilled once a year.

But there are compensations to village life in the middle of nowhere. Best would be sweeping back the curtains to these windows and seeing wide vistas of ancient weathered landscape fringed by bony hedges and raddled woodland. That would be perfect. But no matter. My wakeup view is the back garden of two bins, a washing line, and a battered shed.

But I still love Suffolk. I really do. Both my parents are dead here, resting or dozing. Perhaps mum is still pegging out the washing, or bringing it back in again, because she can't sit still until it's done, but her continuous activity, shaped by the wind and the likelihood of rain, is just another measure of how I remember her here in this house, busy in the back garden, worrying over the washing line.

I don't know everything about my parents, like why they saw Suffolk and stayed; perhaps it's the ideal retirement place, just far enough away yet close enough. I know why I like it. It's a mix of the hard-edged farm labouring life, with all the raw rook woods, grey clod fields and bleak misery of cold dark mornings which an agricultural heritage describes, set side-by-side with secluded gated mansions and ancient fifteenth century timbered manor houses, composed with the estate all around and bordered by peep-proof fences.

Such is that mixture of history, poverty, incomers and money, you can be walking away from this village on the unmarked single track road, up to the farm where the wife once sold eggs if you hammered on the kitchen door, and Claudia Schiffer might sweep by in her Audi, flicking you into the ditch by the cow field.

We're definitely from the poor side of Suffolk, so today we're off to look at what wealth meant in the 1500s. For us, it's over these fields to Lavenham, to look at gentry from the eyes of an elderly gentleman on a walking tour of the town.

Lavenham is a perfect medieval town. The weather is mild, a wind is stirring around the market square and the sunshine is intermittently breaking through, promising a bright autumn day. It makes a wonderful backdrop for the old gentleman who'll lead us gently on the Sunday morning tour.

A small party of us has assembled between the timber framed estate agent and pub, and as we wait for the walk to start, I listen hard, in case I snatch the sound of a pageant or a wandering minstrel finding their way here, to this old medieval town in the fields, strung along the roads from Long Melford or Sudbury. You never know; Lavenham's the place to come if you wanted to make some money and work in England's medieval cloth making industry. Broadcloth - a thick dense woven cloth - was exported from here as far as Russia and North Africa in the fifteenth century. Such was Lavenham's success and industry that in 1524, it was England's fourteenth wealthiest town.

But within a decade or so, developments in weaving elsewhere, a steep decline of demand for broadcloth, and sudden loss of overseas markets, meant the end for Lavenham's prosperity. The timber framed buildings put up in that period of expansion between 1460 and 1530 were left and stayed untouched; merchants who built them followed fortunes elsewhere; the money ran out for rebuilding or replacement. The oak timber houses simply stood here, frozen in time, while other towns around transformed themselves with new economies: redesigning, redeveloping, expanding. Lavenham, a little town, was saved by its own decline. Now we're told there are some 300 listed buildings here. And it's true you don't have to walk far to see the first fifty. After five minutes I wouldn't be surprised if I might look down to my feet and discover I'm dressed in a woollen kirtle with a chatellaine strapped to my middle, the keys to the family chest jangling as I move.

Really, it's a beautiful walk. The town is peaceful and quiet, and I can fantasize about living in those beautiful steep-roofed limewashed houses, where pewter mugs, dried lavender bunches, leather tankards and wooden bowls would be our everyday use. We walk up the long street where the culvert once spilled over with the blue woad dye which created the famous Lavenham Blue cloth and made the merchants wealthy. I'm sure, if I were on my way to market right now to buy that ha'penny of goose fat, then I'd stop at the street end here and clasp my hand to my nose to complain about the awful stench that rises from piss on woad and how it stains the very earth as blue as the devil's arse.

Seriously, I wanted to live on every street we went along, call every wooden carved door my own, and I can only imagine the pleasure for those that live here. I bet if they come here, they must never want to travel away, because to live in Lavenham means your family can stay forever not knowing about the grimes and crimes of places like Norwich, or that godforsaken place of London.

So we come away after the walk has ended, and I'm struggling to emerge from the fifteenth century, pretending not to be a tourist, but imagining that the houses, if not mine, are lived in by families who can trace their lineage back beyond the 1400s. They might be sat there now in wonky kitchens where the story of how Richard II once travelled through these parts are still told as if it were grandmother's favourite tale.

It's difficult to maintain that fantasy. There are too many Mercedes, Saabs and Jaguars lining roads like Silver Street. But don't tell me anymore about that. Let me keep my fantasies intact.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Cancel this one

Don't talk about the journey today to Cambridge, in which everything went wrong from start to finish. Don't mention the arguments, the unicorns, the dollies, the late start, and the way that the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences closes at 4PM ON SATURDAYS.

What a stupid time to close when the Grit retinue only arrives on the bus at 3.30pm. We snatch a quick look at Darwin's South American rocks then get booted out by a keyjangling curator with a fixed stare.

Just don't talk about it. And don't talk about arriving in the middle of nowhere in Suffolk in the darkness, having left a message on a mobile phone stolen two years ago, to discover Big Bro in a domestic having just sold the sodding bedroom we sleep in, aka the old beatup caravan on the drive, so now me and three squabbling kids are mucking down in a front room heated like a furnace having divided up bed provisions which include eight sofa cushions, a flat cat, and a tea towel.

And I don't care if this blog post makes no sense whatsoever. Because when I am that sad old Grit reading her own blog posts in ten years time I want to come back to this day and wonder what the hell was going on.

Right now speculating I might return here and find only a confused state of misery is a more comforting thought than to think that by then things might have got so bad I look back to this day and consider in retrospect it was probably one of the happiest days of my life.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Terence, you didn't go far enough

This article, I largely agree with, which is surprising, because it is in the Independent.

Recently I have taken to tutting at the Independent. Tutting. That has to be a sign of middle age, hasn't it? Once I might have donated a fiver to an anarchist cause of firebombing their offices. I am growing up.

I tut at the Independent because four days out of five they find some pathetic excuse to stick a photograph of Carla Bruni in my face. If the article tangentially refers to the French banking system, there will be a photo of Carla Bruni's legs, possibly because she once walked to a bank. In the mind of an Independent picture editor, the state of the Société Générale probably justifies a quarter page given over to Bruni's ankles.

I could go on. Like the Pandora section is complete waste of space. Seriously, are they paying money for junk? Pay me and I'll write pointless junk. And don't get me started on the 10 best or 50 best, all of which are fine if you are the type of person who can lose the odd £600 down the back of the sofa in spare change. Then there's all the family travel tips which are so very useful if your family is loaded and comes in a 2adult2childrencosyunit.

Their worst crime, but the one we laugh at proper bellylaugh, is of course, the education journalism: the advertorial. Pages of this masquerade as independent journalism. They must think they get away with it, and no-one can see the single reason to that copy: to support Thursday adverts.

Anyway, none of that is what I want to say here. I just needed to get that off my chest.

Today in the Independent Terence Blacker writes of English fields, tourists and ramblers. This is an area of special interest, Terence, and you don't go nearly far enough. I'll fill in those ordinary people gaps for you; they're in Grit's fields.

We have stumbled across fields in all directions from our town - round edges, through middles, over topside and downside, into ditches, up trees, under fences, through cowpats - and I can tell you that our English fields are crawling with eccentrics, gentle enthusiasts, and small straggling groups, criss-crossing those spaces looking like oddments and allsorts, but all standing still on moments to purposefully, wondrously, point to grass, sky, tree, and earth.

They may first come, townielike, to these fields because they seek antidote before heading back to the office come Monday morning. Or they may be dwellers in chocolate box villages wrapped in lace curtains. They may be both and neither; I don't know. I see people who use fields, woodlands and open spaces as a resource, a place to learn, a place to grow; a place of belonging; a place where we can teach children what it is to build friendships, neighbourhoods, communities; a place to meet people who share your special interest, no matter how bizarre, eccentric, abnormal, laughable.

And these people found in fields I probably admire more than anyone else in the world, because these people truly are independent minded. They know you laugh at them, and let's face it, sometimes that is easy, because amongst their numbers count hippies and druids and mad people. But it doesn't stop them. I admire their resilience and determination; their refusal to give up, no matter how odd-ball and off-beat. They do what they do regardless; because they want to follow their enthusiasms, interests and desires. Do you go with them? You can if you want; makes no difference. They are building things that are theirs, and things that are loved, and you can share it if you will, and they would be delighted with that.

In these fields we've met hundreds of people with their quiet passions: parchment maker, charcoal burner, twitcher, lichen expert, herbalist, fungi collector, historian, storyteller, geologist, telephone pole enthusiast, organ maker, flint knapper, sewage farmer, morris dancer, archaeologist, and woolly mammoth hunter. Hopefully, we have hundreds more to meet, and all to celebrate.

Like I said, I am just getting old, and joining them by degrees. But it is of some relief to me that among this number I can yet count hunt saboteurs and anarchists. And you never know, I could soon be visiting ecowarrior Shark chaining herself to a tree; Squirrel, enthusiastically exploring the world of woodlice, and Tiger, digging the earth in search of a sabre-toothed cousin. Their enthusiasms, communities, and loves have to start somewhere. May as well be a field.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

If evidence were needed

I forgot. It is my current mission to show you how home educators abuse their children by forcing them to socialise.

Here is a bunch of home ed kids at the regular Mad Science workshop. Socialising. If that's the right word for this point.

I guess socialisation is what any government lackey calls this activity in schools - when everyone sits down and stares at the teacher - so we'll call it that here, for the benefit of those challenged by more than one interpretation of the s-word.

At this point, a home educator would say, Socialisation? We do it all the time. There you go. Photographic evidence.

But I know for any government lackey peering into this blogging home ed world, this is all merely further damning proof. These photographs are simply evidence of how home educators find the surest way to damage their offspring, academically, psychologically, and socially, literally guaranteeing them a life on the streets.

I can hear them thinking how they might represent the hazard home educators present to mainstream society.

They can present the casual, ordinary way we expose our kids to the danger that is other home educated children; they could tell you how we coerce our kids into sitting down while a teacher type person tells them about atoms, molecules and compounds; or how we force children to breathe each other's sweaty smelly breath in closed halls and rooms, with doorhandles crawling with swine flu bacteria.

And if that fails, those government lackeys could leak to the press how those damnable home educated parents laugh when they abuse those child innocents by forcing them to queue.

But then there is the proof staring straight at us all.

The government toady will cry, Of course it is an inadequate education! It should be stopped! The evidence is right there! In front of your eyes!

Not one of those kids can be learning anything. Because not one of them is in UNIFORM.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Owls can wear skirts too

While Shark, Squirrel and Tiger dress up owls, maybe it's the opportunity to think about the many outfits owls can wear.

This blog is a record of what our family does and where we go. And this blog speaks for no-one else, but me, us, and our family. It might chart our changes, trials, problems, and the progress of the kitchen mouse, who midnight danced about my worktop undeterred by late night owls dressed as cabaret stars.

But if there is one thing I would like people out there to understand - especially those people who automatically choose school without being aware of options - it's that education comes in many forms, and one is not better than another, if the child likes it, and thrives.

Some children enjoy formal schooling; some children enjoy unschooling, or autonomous education; some children enjoy a mix of this, a mix of that. I trust every parent to know, help choose, and develop their own children as best they can. I think people do that, because they love their kids, just like me.

We all find our own way; the ways which suit us best. On that point, I have no objection to schools; if we had a decent enough provision, and had they loved nursery, I'd probably be packing Shark, Squirrel and Tiger off there. Then I'd be writing a blog complaining about that. If the local school offered flexi arrangements and my kids wanted every Thursday there, then we'd go there too.

Squirrel says she'd like a GCSE in French, and doesn't want to wear a uniform to get it. Shark says she wants to study marine biology, and doesn't care what she does for that. Tiger says she wants to study art, but wants to be free to find her own way, because if we ask her to go to school, she'll hide in the toilets. Then it's our job, as their parents, to find and make all the arrangements to meet their different temperaments and aspirations. Even when they change as they hit age 13.

Locally, we have a range of school options, flexi-school, and home education options and a-bit-of-this and a-bit-of-that social groups; I align with none of them, and all of them. Because in all of these, there are interesting people to know and meet; a wide range of beliefs to understand; a lot to be gained.

I don't mind what you do regarding the education of your children. That's up to you, but I want the state not to interfere with your - and my - decision. When you and I choose, neither you nor me should feel bullied by Balls, Badman, OFSTED, local government, school-choosing neighbours and home educating voices.

I want your choice and your freedom to continue, because your freedom is my freedom; it's the freedom to choose to unschool, home educate with conviction, use a home-based curriculum, to flexischool, to send kids to school, to transfer between those situations and opportunities as children need - so that they can be happy, realise their futures, gain their independence, and thrive.

Now, to get back to the owls. Here are their delightful costumes.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Life is simple in cartoons

Roger Bolton introduces a Sunday morning religion programme on Radio 4. I usually don't listen because Sunday I like to lie in bed cosying up to a hairy devil of a hangover.

But of course round those blogs I'm catching up on the discussion about last Sunday's programme. The one where Roger Bolton interviewed Schools Minister, Diana Johnson, about religion and home education.

Diana says home education is under scrutiny today because spooky home educators might be doing religion (but we're only doing evangelical Christianity, obviously, because she possibly can't mention Islamic fundamentalism; that would sound too provocative).

Diana probably thinks all school choosing parents should know that something religious and sinister is going on behind lace curtains near you. She doesn't know what though. It could be anything. She worries that she doesn't know what home educators are up to. You can hear it in her voice. She even cried out, 'we don't know what's happening!'

Well Diana love, take a tablet and read this blog. That'll save you a few hundred quid on the wages to OFSTED and your staff at the Local Authority. You won't need to pay them to come peep through our letterbox to find out what we're doing, and whether I'm evangelising Christianity, or Islamic fundamentalism, to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, while chaining them to the radiator. You might even learn something about how children learn while you're here.

But it wasn't Diana wailing about her own ignorance and overactive imagination that tickled me. It was Roger Bolton.
There may be cases where a child is with very authoritarian and dominant parents and doesn't have the fresh air of school and mixing with other people, and if you think back to those Victorian periods where evangelical parents, usually fathers, intimidated their children, threatening them with God, with Sin, with Hell, if they don't do things, some people will worry that this is possible now under home tuition, that this could happen and you'd not be able to do anything about it!
Well I barely know where to start, there are so many options.

So I'll keep it personal. Mr and Mrs Timms are evangelical Christians who live in our town, and they home educate three daughters, just like us. In Grit's world, I nod hello to them, because I know them from the local shops, the library and Shark's drama club. They hold jumble sales at the Church. Squirrel used to play with one of the mini evangelical Timms at tennis until the idle Squirrel couldn't be arsed to roll out of bed for Tennis club at 9am on a Saturday morning. I think the mini Timms still attends.

In Grit's world, we mix with people of the Timms and non-Timms variety every day of our lives. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger attend events with people of many religions, and none; they see schooled children, and home educated children; they play with kids of all colours, shapes, sizes, dispositions. And at some events, I've even seen the mini Timms.

In this world, I've also known a complete nutcase on the religion front. The name of her shall never pass my fingertips; the memory of her sends shivers down my spine; and I still live with the mental horror of her throwing herself to the office carpet delivering prayers to God. Incidentally, she sent her child to the local primary school. That same child had seven kinds of shit beaten out of her, mostly for having a lifestyle where she couldn't celebrate Christmas, birthdays or Easter.

The point is, being a religious zealot, or even authoritarian, is not the preserve of home educated parents. What you gonna do then, Rog and Diana? OFSTED all parents? Last year that suggestion would've sounded ridiculous. This year, it sounds like a government plan for next year.

But in Roger land, Grit's description of meeting ordinary folks who have a diversity of beliefs doesn't work. In Roger land, there are schooled and home 'tutored'. The two never meet! There is no 'mixing with other people', because home tutored people like us, or like the Timms, have no neighbours, use no community, and see no-one.

Where Roger lives, in a Victorian cartoon, Mrs Timms wears a mop cap and a look of ruddy-cheeked satisfaction, knowing she is saved, and the rest of us are damned to burn for all eternity. Obviously, she is never to be parted from the five-foot crucifix she grips between her scrubbed clean fingers.

But she is merely a cover. Mr Timms is the malign force behind the home tuition and inflicts mental torture on all the mini Timms at every waking hour of their miserable, wretched lives. Mr Timms is striding about a dusty Victorian parlour even as you read, stroking his mutton chops, plotting his sermon on Sin, Despair, and Saturday Tennis for the chastised and beaten mini Timms. The fact that they are home tutored, as everyone knows, means the Victorian mini Timms never leave the house, and never see another soul. Look carefully; you may see their wide and terrified eyes staring from the broken window pane in the attic window.

So feel sorry for Roger, living in a two dimensional cartoon world where mutton chops are in fashion, and we hope just for the men. A world where Dan Dare is real. Tin Tin, Snowy and Captain Haddock dash by on their latest adventure. Mickey Mouse may be hiding round the corner.

But there is comfort there, Roger. When there is wrongdoing down the Evangelical Hall, and some people fear for the evangelically oppressed home tutored, you can hope that there will be Diana, shining and resplendent in her Superwoman costume, come to find out, and she, bringer of the fresh air of school, can do something about it all.

But don't draw in Grit to your cartoon.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Education, Education, Education

J.K. Rowling came to live with us today. She moved in her dusty Hogwarts furniture to the bedrooms of Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, silently. Even before I'd had breakfast.

When I realised by 10am that the house is still, no-one's stirring, and everyone's quiet, in bed, turning pages, one part of me was itching to march straight in there, kick J.K. Rowling's backside and bring my children back to the busyness of a Monday morning.

Today I want to visit astronauts at the National Space Centre in Leicester. Or go to Cambridge and see Darwin. Or we could fight with Greeks at the British Museum. Or smile at the poised Christina of Denmark in the National Gallery, and wave to dusty Faraday at the Royal Institution. We could go anywhere, see anyone.

And I suggest all those options when I coax everyone down for breakfast at eleven, ending with pleeeaase! annyywherrreee! from the pleading position, which is flat out on the floor. And the answer I receive is ssshhhh total silence.

Now one big part of me feels like J.K. Rowling already outwitted me. I am staggering from that preemptive strike. She has achieved a feat unrivalled.

Hours and hours, in this house, of sssshhhhh total silence.

Broken only by the sound of turning pages.

For that accomplishment, the woman deserves my respect.

I guess a key point to this observation is not that Shark, Squirrel and Tiger draped themselves in rooms today for six hours reading what Harry did, while I shuffle off to do the laundry, it is that, if only I can let them alone, these kids are ably equipped to find their own way, discover their own interests, and with any books of their choice, simply educate themselves.

Each of my kids has been a late reader, preferring for the last few years to dig up the lawn, bathe unicorns, and paint cardboard. Squirrel did not bother to pick up a book until last year. And only then with bribes, threats, treats, rewards. But did anything I do really influence this outcome? Nope. Has late reading stopped them today? Not a bit.

But this interest? You can be sure they'll follow it now, regardless of what I do, say, or how much chocolate is on offer. And if I get on the wrong side of that interest, then woe betide me, because aren't kids as ferocious about guarding cherished intentions, just as a starved out Rottweiler guards that stolen juicy marrow bone?

The other point I can draw from this observation - how kids stay with something no matter how desperately they need the toilet - is that the Cambridge Primary Review is yet settling the dust around from where it hit the desk last week. The Review that recommends less formal styles of drill and kill testing, and more time for exploration and play in the early years.

And what an ill informed, ignorant decision government made to reject that report.

Maybe this government sees the first problem. That Tinkertop aged five cannot sit still for an hour to receive her delivery of the state curriculum. She's wriggling ants in the pants!

Then the state answer is not to create a system where Tinkertop can run about, like her body needs, or to encourage her with more flexibility, more freedom to explore her own way, find a path with creativity and play. No. They say, Parents, feel bad that you cannot teach your child to sit still! We have the solution! We'll teach Tinkertop how to sit still aged FOUR. So you, inadequate parent, can be made to feel bad about your parenting, and be forced to depend on the state just a little bit more. And the government can bag those kids into the system all the sooner.

But what happens next? When Tinkertop won't sit still aged four? Bet you can start school at age three. Maybe aged two. Nappies no problem.

The government rejection of the Cambridge Review; their Balls and Badman fiasco designed to monitor and evaluate parents; the new 'consultation' to get your child into more and more daycare - none of it's surprising.

For the government to accept the Cambridge Review meant acknowledging that they have failed in the very area in which they established their core agenda: education.

Education, it seems, is no longer about learning how to learn; it's not about critical thinking, creativity, independence, autonomy. Education - and children - are now simply another excuse for agendas of authoritarianism, centralisation and surveillance.

Give me a choice of Balls or Rowling, and there's no competition. Today, Rowling helped Shark, Squirrel and Tiger create their learning for themselves, become inspired, follow their own paths, be creative, live joyously. And I had to stay indoors and do the sodding laundry. Curses and blessings upon her.

If you've read this far, you can wonder whether I am a bad and lazy parent for failing to march Shark, Squirrel and Tiger down the road dressed in black and white to receive their daily dose of state curriculum.

Or you could wonder whether Tinkertop should be sat in uniform aged four, perched on her nappies, because she's not ready for that change either. Or whether she would be better placed running around the park with a cornflake box wedged on her head, dressed in a fairy outfit and wearing purple wellington boots with home made googly eyes stuck on the toes. Maybe that is the best route for Tinkertop to reach age nine, and settle down for six hours when J.K. Rowling comes to move furniture inside her head.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Dig returns from South America

All I can say is, regarding your tactical planning, strategic development, and vision 2020, it is not a particularly far-sighted approach on your return to show me photographs of you snorkeling in the Caribbean with a bikini clad babe 38-24-36, and then expect to have your washing dry for when you leave again on Wednesday.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

I told you this would happen. And it did.

I got lost in Ashridge Woods. Looking for deer. Despite having spent £2.95 on the map of woodland footpaths.

After five minutes walking in that direction holding that map in my trembling sweating hands, I can tell you we are DOOMED.

The map is totally wrong. None of the paths we are walking along exist on the map. The paths on the map do not exist. That sales assistant took a crayon and scribbled wild lines over a piece of paper then handed it to me and charged me £2.95. She should have added to that casual hand wave and cheery Turn left out the visitor centre GO FOREVER LOST INTO THE BLAIR WITCH WOODS OF DOOM, SUCKER!

I am keeping from the innocent gritlets the knowledge that five minutes into this deer stalking business that I am marooned and may never survive. You should hear what happens in the car when I have forgotten the GPS. The endless cry LOSTMUMMYLOSTLOSTWEARELOST has led me more than once to stop that car and fall to my knees by the roadside in despair.

And Squirrel is skipping along and says she really hopes we see deer! DEER! Tiger says this is the most exciting adventure to have happened ever! Shark says she has never seen a deer before and this will be amazing and beautiful. I say nothing. Tring could be a fourteen mile walk that way. I mean, look at this. Can any sensible person find their way through this?

After another ten minutes, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are all gamboling along gaily and I have only the awful regret hanging dense over me that I did not bring chalk and draw arrows on tree bark because that is the only way now I am ever to know the route back out of this wildness.

And then we see a sign! And for a moment all hope is revived!

Until I see it makes no sense at all. And now here I am, stumbling headlong into a lost black hole of bleak despair where only the shivering beech trees are muttering my name in derision. My heart is filled with wild dread. This is the unknown, the incomprehensible, the nightmare.

In panic I pass the camera over to Shark and brightly say, as if we are all having such fun deep in the woods, I say as we walk, photograph the lovely woods, Shark!

Because there is only hope left. If she photographs our left-right path through this uncharted territory, then I can skim back through the images and navigate with trees to safety before the werewolves find us.

And after half a mile she scampers back with delight and I look at it all in horror!

Hopeless! Hopeless! All is LOST!

So I say with complete confidence, which is the only time you can be sure I am a dead woman walking under the swaying sword of Damocles, I say brightly to Shark that of course I know which way I am going now, because you can trust mama on this: I have a map and I am taking everyone to see DEER.

And strike me dead, but five minutes later we see DEER! Large, lumbering hoofy creatures, a dozen or more, black and brown and dappled beige, springing and jumping in front of us. And the gritlets all but fall to the ground with the glory, seeing woodland fallow deer rise and fall with great beautiful leaps across the path, through the trees, then turn, herd again, stop, stare at us, then turn away, as if their tracks whisper follow us. And I am in awe and despair all at the same time, because now, deep in Ashridge woods, I have not a clue how to get out. The only certainty as the clock ticks on is that the zombies who live in the woods will creep out at dusk to tear out my living beating heart. And we still will have a six mile walk back to the car.

But now we have seen deer! Great snorting barking gruffling creatures! And stags! With antlers! After watching them, edging closer, creeping through the beechfall to listen to the throaty rumbling cries of the stags as those wild creatures lumber further on through the trees, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger will now assume the adventure is done, and we can return to the car. Like mama knows where it is.

If the cry goes up, My feet hurt, I am done for. And then Mummy? Where are we going? When that question comes, I shall reply, We are going in a big circle back this way! And the little grits will happily scamper along the path around me, looking for more deer, confident in mama's stride and purpose when I am sweating bucketloads of fear and laughing with the insouciance of it all! Of course I know where I am going!

After walking blindly in one purposeful direction, then eternity walking left, then straight down this path because there is no other, then here we come to a road! I assault a man on a bicycle, all but pinning him to the ground, because if we now turn left-instead-of-right, or right-instead-of-left, then add fifteen miles and an ambulance to this adventure.

We make the last mile along the hard roadside. Suddenly, at a bend, I recognise the curve, and the field edging the woodland. Thirty minutes later, we make the car, and this is it, sanctuary in the darkness, and the little grits know nothing of the lost bewilderment and confusion, but are squealing with delight, and happy, because today, they have seen DEER.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Ed Balls, you have cause to be worried

No wonder folks round here are scared. I've tracked down the organised resistance movement. At great personal risk, I have photographed their secret rendezvous in the wild and fierce jungle plains of England.

See that lake? Filled with submarines. They can be called up at a moment's notice on the whim of this lot. I tell you, compared to this outfit, your local revolutionary guerrilla group are amateurs. Drugged up with Tixylix and lemon sherbets, this crew are lethal.

Here they are, huddled into little groups. Don't believe they're being organised to play team games about pinning the pollen on the stigma. No. That's what they want you to think. Actually, they are masterminding the undermining of the entire educational system, right here in the heart of England.

Here they are again! Brazen! They just want you to believe they're a bunch of home educated kids gearing up for a race pretending to be mice chased by owls. But do not believe it. All that running around making squeak squeak noises is merely a cover for their super organised clandestine operations.

See that map? Do not think for one minute this is an orienteering exercise so these kids can learn North from South and where are the markers. These people are planning a covert military strike. And that little kid in the fawn dufflecoat? Mr Big.

Don't say you weren't warned. Do not approach under any circumstances. Those snotty tissues can take out a man's eye at fifty metres.

But Mr Balls, if you think this crew is mean, let me tell you, you should see their mothers.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

That's not real life

Some folks, like the woman I spoke to recently, say home educated kids surely can't learn real stuff of life, like how to socialise with people, unless they're in school. Because only in school do you find all ages.

Some home educators say that nowhere else in life are you made to work all day alongside people the same age as you. An experience interrupted only to get beaten up in the playground by Kevin of 4G, kicked out of the computer room for setting the tables on fire again.

Can you imagine accepting as an adult what you have to accept as a child?

I'm sorry Miss Smith, but you are now aged 30, so you can only work with the 30 year olds in Room 8. And please do not complain about Kevin again. I can assure you the incident with the hammer is being dealt with by personnel.

Give me the freedom to choose, and I'll choose to dump my kids straight in with the daily option that provides all ages, thanks; we meet old Doreen at the Co-op, and Fliss, age six month, who visited us last week.

But if I'm in debate with someone about that dreaded s-word - socialisation - they might look at some point like they've caught me out. They say AHA! But what about all the faiths and cultures eh? You clearly can't have those in your cocoon of a middle class cushion!

Then they have that smug look that suggests now they got me. Confess it, you measly-weedly Grit. You keep the kids at home to indoctrinate them with your cosy world view which, if you haven't already guessed, is narrow, bigoted and ignorant.

Yesterday we travelled to London with a group of home educating families to visit Irene White. Irene's aged 92. She told us her story about what it felt like to be growing up in Germany in the 1920s and 30s. She arrived a Jewish refugee in England via Palestine just before war broke out.

After we'd found out about Irene's life, Jewish heritage, family life in England, and eaten a kosher lunch with extra portions of latkes, we were invited to the local synagogue, where the Rabbi talked about Jewish beliefs, celebrations and history.

That visit to the synagogue joins others we have made. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger have toured a Sikh Gurdwara with a young man of happy eyes and welcoming smile; they've visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Northampton, led by an old man whose skin faded into the colour of every ancient stone; we've visited the Buddhist temple at Milton Keynes to be feted by warm smiles, hot tea and kind faces. We've visited with other people everytime; other home educators, other children, other citizens.

But I got to thinking after my recent argument, not that she was right, or even she deserved that black eye, but how you rarely see Shark, Squirrel and Tiger on this blog in the company of others.

That's probably because we are all made hyper sensitive in this world to the chastisements and rights of others. And of course, we are all now slaves to the fear of Mr Spooky from the corner. I'm sure he's hanging round the back of this internet connection right now waiting to pounce on my innocent child's face.

Well, you may start seeing other bodies. Like backs of necks, bits of limbs, tops of heads, halfsides, eartops and foottails. Unless those other home ed parents hunt me down and kill me. So far they've just shrugged, and said, Why are you bothering to ask? Click away.

I think maybe it's time to push back a bit on that little piece of arsewisdom - that home educated children cannot socialise.

Lady, call it a mission to socialise you.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Ignorance is Strength

Dear Guardian

Please can I be a staff writer on your newspaper? I have been reading your newspaper recently and am very impressed by the quality of the journalism.

You could employ me for your education coverage, since I believe that is of a particularly high standard.

I am a very good candidate.

I can use wrods, and some punctuation. I am very jolly, and I am sure everyone will be delighted with my enthusiasm. On the education desk, I will trouble no-one with independent thinking and I can adhere easily to Party lines as required. If the Ministry of Truth provides a daily press release for me, I'm sure I could copy it out quickly. My ability to rekey a given text accurately is excellent.

But I know writing about education in a newspaper needs more than wrods.

I might need maths. If the Ministry of Truth provides statistics and percentage thingys in their press releases, I'm sure I can cope. My keyboard would have those numbers just like normal, wouldn't it? That would make the copying easier. I would never question numbers provided, so don't worry about that. I know that two plus two equals five if the Party should say so. And I do not normally boast, but I feel it is appropriate in my letter of application to say that as a result of over ten years of compulsory education at school I am now the proud possessor of O level maths, grade D.

You might have guessed by now that I know a thing or two about politics. I understand that for the job of education writer, I must be on good terms with the Party, otherwise I won't receive any press releases.

You can be reassured here. I think I might be secretly in love with Ed Balls, because of all that manly urge to control people. Thanks to my secret devotion* I will be a completely unquestioning devoted drudge. I know the stability of the Party depends on me. I would pass that type of unquestioning loyalty onto you. I think you might feel yourself very fortunate with that type of dedication.

Of course, I understand we Party types have to appear balanced if we work for a newspaper. We have ordinary readers to mislead.

Would it be alright if I copy out the press release one day about home educators denying their children a proper education, then the next day I could copy out some other wrods, to give the impression I am not really in the educational pocket of the Party? I could do that 'conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty' stuff.

Just to warn you, you might need to supply me with a copy editor to go over what I wrote just in case wrods creep in, like home educating types are stinky hippies. (I had better come clean. It has happened before. But I think I got away with it.)

Finally, I know the difference between truth and falsehood is not important when generating money. And the newspapers must sell, right? You can be assured I will have an eye to your financial position at all times. It is a cruel fact that sex sells newspapers, yet we have to be topical. Do not worry. I have loads of ideas. Like how home educators are secretly selling their children on twitter.

You can probably tell I am hot property, so there may be some bidding war for me. I feel obliged to let you know that I am also applying for the periodicals, Budgie Maintenance for Amateurs, Play Ideas for your Fish, and Crafting with Lolly Sticks.

I will wait by the phone. Tell Jessica she's my heroine.

*PS. Please don't tell anyone about the love interest. Some people might not share my passion for Ed's pudgy bits.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

We have the right to choose

Today is the day home educators storm Parliament!

Look at that! Government by the home educated! That would be a coup, eh?

You'll be alright. We won't be able to agree on anything.

Actually, that bit is not surprising. We home educators are so very diverse. Some use worksheets and some home educators just passed out because that word came near their eyeballs.

Some home educators use their local school for resources, support and ideas. And some home educators would like a Hadron Collider so they could suck the local primary into a gone forever black hole.

When it comes to providing an education, all kids have such different experiences and interests, and families have such different philosophies.

But what home educators have in common is a belief that choice in education must stay with the parent and child, and not be taken by the state.

Home educators choose to take responsibility for a child's education everyday. We roll up our sleeves and dirty our elbows. And what many agree on, is that an everyday home education experience won't be helped by the imposition of someone else's curriculum, control, or by their supervision.

When you send your little Tinkertop to school, you trust a teacher, a classroom, a headteacher, a school philosophy, a pre-set curriculum, and national assessments to provide the bulk of that education.

If you're a professional parent, you may try to fill in any gaps between that school and homework, with interesting and creative activities that your child wants to do.

Then home educators are no different from you. They are usually resourceful at finding stuff to do; they work alongside their child, support interests, find workshops, join groups, make playdates, and shiftily approach other parents for birthday parties, joint tennis lessons, or evening French clubs.

But to know what home educators are upset about, you only have to think about the summer six-week holiday.

Think whether in July you would like an inspector from the Local Authority to have the right to enter your home and check whether you have a suitable schedule of summer educational activities chosen from their prearranged curriculum. And, by the way, before your little Tinkertop returns to school in September, the Local Authority might pop back and test her to see if your educational plan worked. They probably won't make you feel any better by saying they're making sure she's safe too, and checking you're not beating her up, because everyone knows that you might.

Then you can see what the fuss is about today.

Home educators think they are doing pretty well, thank you. Mostly against the grain, but independent, resourceful, capable, determined. Just like most parents, dedicated to creating an educational environment for their children, but mostly based on stuff their child likes to do.

To protect that educational freedom; to protect that right to choose; to support the rights we believe children have, home educators today gather in a mass lobby of Parliament. The BBC reports it here.

If you've read this far, know that parents who home educate are just like you. I choose a lifestyle, just like you. I love my children, just like you. I choose to raise them in the way that I see fit. Just like you.