Thursday, 18 March 2010

The school calls this a valuable learning experience (and charges you a tenner)

If I wake up in the night screaming at the horror of what I'm about to do - and I do scream, often, because my brain routinely serves up great midnight dollops of fear - then I have only to think of the circumstance that is the school visit, and my night sweat passes.

We see school visits on our travels, often. When we home educators get inside a museum, or a gallery, or any of the theme park 'educational experiences' on offer, like Britain being bombed even while you sit there, we invariably interact with the school visit. And this is what I see.

1. A lot of queuing. Children queue, and wait. And while they queue and wait, they are shouted at. I think that's called socialisation.

2. The shouting is done by adults, and often takes the form of words like 'if you were listening you will know that you must work with a partner' or 'you have ten minutes at each table and you must share' or 'complete each worksheet before you move onto the next activity'. Nothing about the Romans, then. Nor the Tudors. Nor the World Wars, or the artist, or the science, or whatever we might all be sharing this space to see. No. Instructions about organisation of people, or the flows, positioning, queuing and movement of bodies; information about routines and requirements. Any type of social control really, usually issued by covert threats, or reminders of threats previously issued on the bus on the way in. I guess this bit is called socialisation too.

3. Movement of children to designated areas with reminders about time. Movement is usually accompanied by adults strangely waving their arms, like semaphore. I've noticed this. Some teachers lift up both arms and flap them about a bit like they are struggling to fly. They will never manage it, holding those clipboards. Since the adults are doing this and the clipboards they hold contain the day's targets, I guess this is education.

4. The students are permitted to do things (but only for ten minutes). Now, this is what I saw. A crocodile line of children came into the discovery gallery. They did the queuing and the listening to the shouting and then they were off! Freedom to discover! One little primary school kid queued at Henry the Cycling Skeleton. He wanted to sit on the bicycle and see Henry (who is a skeleton) cycle along too. Henry shows you how your skeleton articulates and how your different joints work. The little boy queued and queued. After a while, the teacher shouted to all the children to line up as a crocodile again so everyone could move to the next gallery. And the little boy went too. He never sat on the bicycle, because the queue never reached him. But now no-one was queueing for Henry, and I felt sorry for the little boy who looked glum and resigned. I would've hailed him back, out of that crocodile, had I been brave enough. And I don't know whether his experience was called socialisation or education.

5. Management of errant individuals. This is a problem. Isn't there always one? This is what I saw at the Science Museum. A secondary school party was in, and something caught a girl's eye. Not a smiling Romeo, beckoning. Not a large slab of cake, dribbling chocolate. Nor a desirable pair of sparkling shoes. None of those. A display about magnets. So she impulsively left the school group and went to it, with her arms outstretched. Seconds later, a booming voice rang out across the gallery, and she was hauled back, slinking miserably to the group, head hung, bright red face. Definitely socialisation.

6. Sometimes I earwig over the teachers talk. I know I shouldn't. But I'll use the excuse that I used to be one. I know it's no excuse really. I can't help myself. Anyway, I want to know what job they're doing. I hear different things. Sometimes I hear a member of staff really enthuse about what they're looking at, and try and communicate something that's exciting, or surprising, or wonderful. I want to hug that teacher, and give them a big smackeroo. I can tell you they're rare. Mostly the staff talk about the students, and the day, or the timetable, the buses, or the staffroom politics. Could go either way. Socialisation? Education? Luck of the draw.

7. At 2.30 everything falls quiet. The buses go back to the schools. The place closes at five. We home educators have it to ourselves, and will potter about, doing as much or as little as we need to fulfil our investigations. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are free to choose. They have time, and space. They might puzzle over exhibits, spend an hour with one display, demand photographs are taken, copy down notes, draw pictures, talk together, ask questions. Usually, at 5.15, we'll be thrown out too, by a tired looking bloke jangling keys.

If I wake up at midnight, fretting that we're doing it all wrong, worrying that our lifestyle won't help, what if my kids are destined to be forever illiterate, homeless, unsocialised, running squealers who cannot tell the difference between right and left, up and down? Well then, I'll think about the school party, and be consoled that at least I only paid £6.50 to get in.


darth sardonic said...

was wandering the blogsphere, stumbled upon yours, read, laughed. thanks. oh, and it doesn't matter whether you think the glass is half empty or half full, it still means someone has been sipping your drink.

Sharon said...

yes to all of this. I see and hear the same things when we're out, especially, or so it seems, at the science centre when there is such a lot of waiting and corralling.

This is all part of why I am almost weeping to think about my children starting school later this week.
I'm might have to stop reading the HE blogs for the jealousy could kill me. Just a slight exaggeration that.

belzi23 said...

I know what you mean. We usually leave whatever gallery they are invading and go back when they leave. My DD finds the noise overwhelming and it's as if everyone else in the building is supposed to give them priority just cos they're a school group. The children certainly don't get chance to explore properly. We like to take our time :0)

sharon said...

I think the really sad thing about the deficiencies of school excursions is that, for far too many children, that is the only opportunity they will get to visit such places as their parents would never dream of taking any responsibility for their child's enrichment.

Kelly said...

We saw one leave the Vancouver aquarium today. The aquarium is so huge that I hadn't even noticed them there, but what we did observe was how many of them crammed into a school bus to leave. We had to turn off the car to wait for them to cross the street in front of us. Then they began to file into the bus, hundreds of them, it seemed like. It was like a clown car bus. I couldn't imagine the noise level with hat many kids on one bus.

Deb said...

I suspect that what you wrote will be familiar to many home-educators. From my own blog last week (copied and pasted because I'm one-handed atm):
As we were wandering around the exhibit, a group of school-children, all about nine or ten years old, came racing into the exhibition hall, laughing and chasing each other. Within a minute or two their teachers had rounded them all up and insisted they all stood still in a straight line. (Why does it matter if the line is straight? I’ve never understood that.) They were about to go upstairs to see something else, and were warned to behave. “Some of you were too excited this morning, weren’t you?” said their teacher in a disapproving voice, “Some of you were too happy.” I don’t suppose she noticed my jaw drop. Too happy? Anyone who ever tells my children they are “too happy” will get an education they didn’t expect.

Debs said...

Brilliant, brilliant post, thank you Grit. We see the same thing too, as I expect most other HE-ers do, and it really upsets me sometimes to see all that natural curiousity being squashed before my eyes.

Our son is 3 and we are regulars at the local museum and art gallery - another depressing thing is the amount of comments/looks we get on account of R's age. Apparently 3 is a little too young for art galleries according to some imagination-less people. *sigh*

LOL at the "straight line" Deb - I've always wondered that too. More meaningless rules that serve no purpose...

kellyi said...

We ate our packed lunches with the school kids at the science museum the last time we went. My dd chatted to one of them about what they'd seen and the other girl replied ruefully "The back of Sasha's head, mostly!"

With sarcasm like that she's wasted in the school system.

Missus Wookie said...

Sadly so true - I used to ask which days they had the least number of school visits booked whilst planning our visit.

We're planning another and trying to decide if going all together is worth the weekend crowds...

Grit said...

hi darth, welcome. they can sip my beer, so long as they do not dribble into it.

sharon, i hope all goes well. it remains a choice to school or home ed, and choice is the key, no?

hi belzi23! i love the way that kids can truly spend hours in these places. if they're just left alone to do so.

sharon, that probably will be the case in some families; but the UK is now awash with the 'brown tourist sign' culture, and it's almost perverse to avoid it.

pity the drivers, kelly. many are probably deaf after a few months.

too excited?! too happy?! ...and i guess that's a bit more socialisation.

you are right debs that there is an age considered to be 'appropriate'. strange. my approach has been to bring them up in these places, because these spaces belong to us all. galleries and museums are our own culture.

kellyi, that is a true comment!

i agree missus wookie - we tend to avoid weekends and holidays if we can. that way, we always feel like these places open just for us!