Friday, 16 July 2010

One for the naysayers

Here we visit the Cromwell Museum, Huntingdon.

Cromwell is fantastic, isn't he? People still get worked up about him. Remember that episode from 1649? Whoa, let's swing punches!

In fact, what I've really learned about Cromwell, is that everyone who has an opinion about Cromwell is right, so don't cross them.

To my gritlets, I say Cromwell is about power. He shows us different ways of getting it. He might show us other human attributes as well. Like our capacity to be bloody minded, focused, and know we are right, so I'm swinging punches too. He also tells us something about politics, attitudes to Catholics and Protestants, then kings and parliaments. Yes, poncey lace bits too, and hard men with thick skulls and agricultural weapons strapped onto sticks.

But my perspective is not so much about whether Cromwell was right or wrong, or deserved to have his head stuck on a pole. It's about Cromwell in the land of home ed. Because mama is the primary teacher of Cromwell to her kids. That, I think for some folk, might be another controversial question.

Because I could say what I wanted, right? Who's to know? I could make up anything! I say for sure that Cromwell was a suppressed bisexual who deserved it. He was fascist. He was gay. He was right wing. He was Marxist. He was Jewish.

Now I have real power. Left to my own devices, I can warp the brains of my vulnerable hot-housed children and force them to parrot my weird world view!

And maybe this is at the heart of the problem for a lot of people who are a little suspicious of home ed.

It's particularly true in history. The subject that people perhaps feel most comfortable with, if it endorses a national vision, offers a coherent narrative and, best of all, provides a tale that unites us: a story we can call ours. The type of subject best taught to all our children by a dispassionate, non-involved, non-partisan deliverer of a National Curriculum History Syllabus. If you can find one amongst the debt-laden ex-history students who survived the under-funded PGCE course and Crusher of 3G.

I may subscribe to the idea of a coherent narrative or not, but that's not the real issue for me. It's the suspicion from some quarters that I as a parent shouldn't be in charge of this history narrative in the first place, in case I pass on my mishmashed politics and weird values.

Guess what? I have an answer to that.

You're on a hiding to nothing. It's like complaining that Jewish parents raise Jewish kids, or that Catholic mamas give rise to Catholic kids, or look! Agnostic parents raise agnostic kids!

Yes, every parent passes on histories, values and ideas to their kids. Bloody good thing that we do. Parents are in charge of those cultures. Culture is ours, matey, and we create it. You want to forward your beliefs, values, knowledge, and pass them on through the generations? Have kids.

If I couldn't do that - if I couldn't pass it on, miseries, phobias, grudges and all - then I would have to train myself to say, 'Now kids, I know today is Sunday, and that means I loaf on the sofa scratching my bellies, but for you it's the Wesleyan chapel. I have no opinion about that. There you will be taught Methodist hand gestures. Be sure to forget about them, because you must develop no opinion on them either. Next stop is the squat around the healing circle with the hippies. They will teach you the benefit of willow bark. Don't bring that value home. You're off to a meeting with the Cromwell was a Fascist history knitting circle, on which I have no opinion either'.

Kids should learn cultures, values, opinions and histories, close from home. I have to defend that, even when I think someone else's cultures, values, opinions and histories are crap, and not the right ones at all.

Then I have something else to say to the people who complain that home ed parents dominate the views of their kids. And that is, do you have children yourselves?

If you do, you will know that as a parent, every wisdom you would like to pass to your kids from when they are aged about two and a half is routinely challenged, contradicted, objected to, ignored, belittled, scorned, rejected, or mocked. You know when your kids actually take your words seriously, because that's when they respond by lying face down on the floor in a hysterical screaming fit.

That's what happens when you try to impart wise parental claptrap. Don't tell me it ain't so. Round here we are familiar with those words Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which I believe is US medical-speak for the traditional British diagnosis of Awkward Little Sod.

Basically, there is no way that I could get away with spouting mush about Cromwell being a ladyboy in disguise. I have tried. Today, Squirrel asks, 'Why does Cromwell need a big hat?' I nearly get away with it. I say, 'Because he likes wearing lady clothes'. And Shark says 'Mummy, do not be stupid. That hat means he is serious and important'.

You see? Children have a fantastic capacity to be intelligent, inquiring, independent and awkward. Sooner or later they will see through my world view, no matter how convincing I find it. They will question me big time, then go off to make up their own minds. I merely have to accept that taking them round places like the Cromwell Museum is one step by which I am facilitating my ongoing journey of rejection.

And home ed? It makes not a scrap of difference to my teaching of history. Except that home educators have the freedom to study this period by tramping foot by foot over Civil War sites, making it a daily active discovery, and exploring any line of thinking, any time we wish. Whereas most kids who study this period in schools probably don't. Or maybe they do, and the primary teacher tells the authorised version. I can always hope. Maybe they start by reading the monkey story.


sharon said...

Never take your 'facts' from just one source was something I was taught at my convent grammar school. Obviously the Bible was semi excluded from this - although we were told that as it had been written and recorded by Man some things should be taken as allegorical rather then actual. Think they were quite ahead of their time in many ways. Anyhow I taught my sons to investigate rather than placidly accept information. Not always successful, but at least the seed was sown.

Took the time to read the whole of the linked post and its comments, fascinating.

Deb said...

Ah, Grit. I love you so.

"Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts."
- Henry Adams