Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Same words, different worlds

I'm a home educator. You can see what this means. Read any month.

I can say, from practical experience, that living this home ed life means opportunity and possibility. In all and any direction. Anytime, anyplace, anywhere. And to achieve this mind blowing state I'm not even smashed on Martini or high on drugs.

I'm beyond salvation to the normal, so I'll claim more. Living this life leads me to meet a more exciting diversity of people in a wider range of places, than I ever met before, in any of my former lives.

I have been a magazine writer, an advertiser, a teacher. In those rat-narrowed worlds, I could tell you train times in and out of Euston. I could tell you which hotels served the best biscuits on the press launch. Which person working in which capacity for which corporate could be relied on to give a good quote on the market for computer software. I could tell you ten different ways we could locate this printer in your product line. I could tell you the colour of my classroom walls; where the carpet moulded; which desk was engraved with what message; where Kevin sat today and how that was different, or the same, from yesterday. I could tell you what predicted grade he would reach. With revision; without it.

But as a home educator, I live in a fantastically interesting, complex, wonderfully kaleidoscope patterned world. It changes everyday. It is unpredictable. It is society. It is life.

Any home educator will tell you these things. That once you are in this world, you should be prepared for anything. We meet the widest type of people, from all society. People who open our ideas to thoughts we never had before; engage us in different beliefs, knowledges and ideologies; lead us to different perspectives and understandings.

I have met more people of more varied backgrounds than I ever did in a career. I meet people who live in housing estates and in mansions. People who are powerful and those whose jobs make them invisible. I've met the wacko, eccentric, impossible, normal, strait laced, visionary, brave. All dedicated. Sometimes, none of us have anything in common, except for the fact that we home educate. We inhabit this space now, to take part in the workshop, building this space rocket, all with our children, building their lives. The bizarre and the beautiful.

Home educators will tell you freely, too, about the communities they inhabit. I am more deeply involved in this society, more aware of my surroundings, my localities, than any job prospect ever offered. We hire your halls, use your local shops, build relationships, occupy public spaces, educate the press, tell schools what we want, forge new ways of working with staff at every level in every public service around you. I have made this place I inhabit. I have a right to be here: home educator.

In this home education world, I meet many women, too. Not one of them is weak willed, ignorant of the law, unaware of their responsibilities, or distracted from what they see is the reason why they choose what they do. The education of their children, the health of their family, the fulfilment of a lifestyle. I feel fortunate to meet these women. They are strong, intelligent, independent. They do not accept social values uncritically. They demand answers to the most dangerous question of all: why.

Everything that I have described here, this vibrant, exciting home education life, is the complete opposite to the world many people will read of this week.

If you are the reader of this, you are invited to believe that Khyra's world is how the home education world works.

It's easy to press on us the perils ahead for the school removed child. It plays to our anxieties of neglected, hidden children. Excluded, locked away, forbidden. It's easy. As a culture we can call on all our narratives of lost and lonely children. Their helpless faces, pleading, frighten us in our nightmares. We peer at windows, and imagine the worst; how it could happen. Here. There. Anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

But Khyra's mother was not a home educator. Khyra never experienced the life that is home education. She never took part in it. She was not home educated. She did not come into our world.

The agencies - those who were responsible for supporting Khyra - call upon home education often. It deflects attention from their failings.

The journalists - those who write quick copy to sell newspapers - explore home education from their simple angle. They draw the image of the child locked away from all society, all resource, all everything. Dead flower. It is a straightforward, easy to consume idea, and it makes for a good story.

These people do that today. They casually use these words - home education - as if Khyra's world means my world. As if our worlds are interchangeable. Then those words draw me, together, with Khyra's mother. They draw my strong limbed, life-filled children towards a squalid bedroom and a locked kitchen door.

The words sound the same. That's all. They sound the same. But their meaning makes us worlds apart. Worlds apart.