Thursday, 21 October 2010

I'm in the middle, sat on the fence, a leg on both sides

One of the nuances of this world - one that slips by the general public - is the difference home educators mean, when they use the words, home education and home schooling.

I know that home schooling is the common term in the USA and in international places. I am surrounded by it. Well, here I am, in a proper pool of one, bravely pipping up, waving my overseas flag for the English philosophical pronunciation of home education.

But I'm not surprised that most people see no difference between education and schooling, even though I see chasms.

I blame the education journalists, who should know better, because they write the words as if they are simply interchangeable; like a reversible coat. They think one means the other; but maybe with a different colour trim.

They write the article about the non-school chooser, then get the photographer round to take the obligatory picture of the kitchen table. There's mama, open book, smiling child. Not surprising, most people see that and think, that's what it's like, this home education; this school at home.

When Shark, Squirrel and Tiger reached the dizzy heights of the Sunday Times, I cheated. I made that innocent photographer stumble with muddied boots around the onion fields, then track down three faces hid in the cornfield. I finger pointed to the sky and pontificated, this world is our classroom. Where is your school at home now? Remember that, young man, for your next assignment in the land of home education!

In reality, I'm probably failing to teach anyone much difference about those words and worlds. But there is a difference to me: home school means a curriculum that comes from somewhere else, outside of you both. Home education means a curriculum you make yourself and, with your children, build it up between you.

Home school means bringing into the home some of the practices of school. Time tables, breaks for play, pages completed, marks given. There are pages to show.

Home education, by contrast, means observing and discussing what just happens. How fast can a mosquito fly? Why do their wings make the sound of a zip, pulled through the air? We can build that up, add it to our knowledge, use it for physics, insectology, story. There may be nothing to show, except a dead mosquito clapped between the palms of my hands.

But don't hold me up as a fine example of an autonomous educator. (Oh how I just bamboozled the edujournalist!) Sometimes I try swapping methods. I try school at home, even without a kitchen table.

I covertly find maths websites, locate geography pages, draw up spelling lists. I don't wait for the little grits to find them, with their open inquiring minds. I go after my children, hunt them down and suggest now would be a good time for mama to work out long multiplication with somebody. Anybody.

Mostly they scarper. But I have a weapon. I have a purse that buys ice cream.

So here, in grit's home educating world, I want to say, we are a bit of both, all, and everything. In any one week, the children home educate; I try school; I tell them to run off into the world and experiment; they ask for spellings. I feel the difference when we shift positions. The house changes dynamics. We end up, meeting somewhere in the middle.

Sometimes, we trade places completely. Shark, with a determined mouth and a freshly sharpened pencil, writes out a timetable and places her ticking alarm clock on the kitchen table to watch over her like an eye. I creep off and hide in my bedroom.

I have three very different girls. One is my bluestocking, another my oddbeat, a third keeps her head firmly in the clouds. As they grow, they may want very different paths, which may include examinations and strict teachers and timetabled hours. As I go forward, I can't close anything down; I have to keep my options open; I join while it suits us; we leave when it doesn't.

I'm thinking all this today, because on the discussion list I receive - one that the general public never sees - there is some debate about the place and the role of the Local Authority in our home educating lives. Why should anyone sign up to them? How much say should the authority have? How can they be made not to expect school at home? How many strings are attached to the monies you can draw? How can the officials be made to disappear when their presence is an intrusion and not a support? How would it help, to leave your preferences with the authorities? What would it be, to be free of all state presence in your child's education?

I read all of this, and all of the practical steps everyone takes everyday to realise a future they can live with, and I find it difficult to ally myself to any one position. Not because I'm not the sort of person who can't make up their mind (OK, I'll decide later about that), but because I want all of those positions to be true in our society.

At any point in the future, I may want to take refuge in each of those places, and with a different child. I might want the Local Authority to support five GCSEs. I might have a child decided upon them, and on her flexischooling terms.

Simultaneously, I might need the welcoming hands and the understanding of the autonomous educators. I'll get a hug there for the child who's locked herself away at the slightest hint of a classroom pressure.

The third, I just hope there's a course in fairyology run by pixies. Maybe I should write letters, and try and get that one state funded?

I know, in reality, that I need freedom. Freedom to move between those very different states home education: home school as the children grow, and as suits our needs. I can't be ideologically hard wired into one way or the other. I want to home educate: home school our way. That freedom is important and is what I defend. Even if the general public can't tell any difference, and even if the edujournalist hasn't a clue what I'm saying.


sharon said...

The term Home Schooling always makes me think of schooling animals, sounds more as though you are training the children rather than educating them. Two entirely different activities!

The libertarian me thinks everyone should be able to educate their children as they see fit, the worrywort me is concerned about those who are kept at home and not educated in the any sense of the word. Not even going down the road of abuse because I feel that those who abuse will do so wherever their children are educated.

Glad I am a long way past the need to sit on a fence and worry.

Kestrel said...

That was fantastic. Thank you Grit, I also sneak off and hide in my room when my grid drawing, time obsessed child fixes me with a fierce eye and I also find myself chasing the dreamy one round the back yard promising to buy him a cuddly anklyosaurus if only he'll do some reading practice.

Deb said...

I use the word homeschooling because it is so common here, but I wince a little every time I do. I agree - it is a very limiting word, one that does not even begin to suggest the reality of our home/education/life.

Home education is a much better term. Plus it's posh, like all you Brits.

Iota said...

I've never really thought about the difference, but you're right. It's very significant.

Big mamma frog said...

yeah, we once had a heated discussion on a local list about the use of home schooling and home education. The truth is, words DO matter. Just as there's a difference between the words 'like' and 'love' (and many differences in the meanings we attach to 'love'), so 'schooling' and 'education' are simply NOT the same thing. Schooling is only one way of receiving an education.

As for where we are on the autonomous/non-autonomous spectrum, well, we sway and move our position according to the wind and our worries, our interests, our energy, and sometimes just depending on what we had for breakfast :)

I'd quite like a grid-drawing child in my household. I want to borrow someone else's concientious child. Instead of my kids who think 'going on the Wii' constitutes a balanced education.