Saturday, 2 October 2010

In support of the crazies

Over at The Independent, they're putting on a battle, an adversarial either/or. In the teacher's section (it's school vs. free school, not school vs. no school) one commentator casually dangled a morsel of bait.

Some students, however, are, in fact, kinda crazy - and cause all manner of chaos whilst in the system. ... There is: plain 'crazy'; followed by 'batshit crazy'; followed by 'home-schooled crazy'.

I have never met a student, coming from a home-schooled background, who was anything other than severely lacking in social skills, lonely, immature, barely educated, deeply unhappy, paranoid, suspicious and profoundly 'odd'.

Made me smile. I thought, Yup, you pretty much described Tiger - my home educated beautiful bonkers creation - at this stage of life right now. Not the paranoid. I wouldn't include that. We haven't yet got to where she thinks butterflies pass secret messages in wing flaps to spook her. (Hey! There's time!)

But the lack of social skills, loneliness, unhappiness, suspicions? That's a fair assessment for Tiger's plight if you judge her today.

I'll maintain though, that being crazy in this shape and form is not a result of her education. Tiger's special form of crazy comes about because she is a unique expressive person. One given extra sufferance, sure, by living life with people like us, her mama and papa: we're the sort of selfish types who seek out work and life experience and take the kids with us. We weird home educating parents lifted up our Tiger, along with her two sisters, took her away from her normal community, culture, background, friendship groups, and dropped her in Asia.

One daughter is doing quite well, thanks. She's autonomously exploring the island, learning Chinese, making incisive comments on the culture. The other has traded her hat and is considering setting up a craft stall, so she's doing something mainstream folks can call business studies.

Unlike her sisters, Tiger feels she doesn't belong. She has trouble knowing what to do in the local shops. Heck, some of the shops are people squatting at your feet with a bamboo basket busting with skinless fish. I have some sympathy. Lonely, yes, because she misses the other crazies; the home educated kids she sees back home for lessons and in playgrounds and woods. Worse, she doesn't speak Cantonese. She can't read Chinese, although she's learned the word for ladies, which by itself has a limited literary range. So she's not communicating well. You could say she's poorly equipped for this world, and even barely educated.

Is her type of crazy wrong? In my view, no. She's a person, expressing herself in the world. Like people do, like children do, sometimes because they're made that way, and sometimes as a reaction to challenging life circumstances: relocation, job change, divorce, bereavement, family stress, new contexts, culture shocks. All those circumstances can create people, large and small, who are utterly and completely bonkers by any narrow definition of normal. And if those people screw up your system - cause chaos in it - then it's your system that's wrong, not the people in it.

In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest it is quite a healthy experience, to be a little crazy. If we arrived here, sent Tiger to school, just like normal, where would she have expressed her fears and anxieties? Maybe not at school. She'd save the demons to let out at home. I'd have two hours to slay them all, settle her down, then wrestle her into bed to start the day again.

That doesn't sound to me as healthy a response as the day we spent today. Tiger asked me to come with her to the basketball court two minutes walk from home - the one her sisters skip to freely. She needed a parent to be there, reassure her, tell her it's OK, it's not strange, that's the expectation here, this is how things are done. She played, then came home, a little quieter, less lonely, just for an hour. The fact that she is home educated, I'd say is a positive support.

So my point in response to this commentator, is that people are wonderfully complex, nuanced, and much more interesting - crazy ones and all - than ever represented in a mainstream institution.

There, I could argue that socialisation takes a limited form. People are well adjusted to a type, succeed to a norm, hide their unhappiness, cover up their loneliness, present the education required, keep their inadequacies hidden for fear of exposure, hide safely in places where their immaturities don't show, and be always suspicious that a merciless member of staff will seize upon failure and use it for power and humiliation.

I'm coming out then in support of the crazies; the home ed crazies I hold in particular affection. I like the expressive, the strange, the outside school range.

I'm a little far gone myself, so I'll support all our rights to be crazy. To move, as we need to do with life circumstance, between states of madness, illness, sanity, health, composure, off the wall bonkers, stone cold sober. To do that means we're people, living life, and maybe not normal, not crazy, but healthy.


Rachel M. said...

By social skills are they referring to the honed art of joining the popular crowd to hate on the odd and different students? Tragically I know a blogger who's 6 year old daughter is "hated" by the other students. Hated being the word they use towards this little girl. It's a cruel world and students are getting meaner at a younger age.

sharon said...

Hear, hear! Such sweeping generalisations are a poor guide to the real world.

Actually, I think that had she been conventionally schooled Tiger's problems would have been worse. Being dropped unsupported into a school full of 'different' for hours at a time would have been completely beyond her ability to cope. As things stand, she is slowly acclimatising, painful though it is, and will be able to cope independently in just a little more time. School would have been far too much for her.

ladybirdcook said...

I think that teachers are batshit crazy - they spent their whole childhood in school and then go back for more?! isn't that indicative of something really worrying?
My kids do go to school as we live in a country where home-schooling isn't an option. However, they manage to pull off all the crazy skills of a home-educated kid - we just have to pack it in to a shorter amount of time. If my girls weren't crazy and weren't kicking at the system in their own unique ways, I'd feel that I'd failed somewhere. This world needs more Tigers and other uncompromising little girls so they can grow up to be strong women and do some much needed ass-kicking. I don't worry about the attitude of future generations as long as I know that there's a group of girls, who will one day become mothers, who are prepared to kick the system til it begs for mercy :-)

Retiredandcrazy said...

That's the trouble with this world There is no room for anyone to be different. We all have to conform to the clone system. Good for Tiger that she is holding out against the crowd.

Gweipo said...

wow, you're brave. I know about the 2 hours you're talking about.

And the british press, or rather it and then people who leave comments on it - well. I don't know. Not like it's the empire where the sun never sets anymore is it now? I looked on the BBC blog to see about the new so called "breakthrough" on ADHD (which wasn't ), what was particularly sickening though were the comments of people. I got myself really into a rage about the ignorance, the assumptions, the lack of empathy, the hatred. And the worst of it all was that the worst comments came from people who admitted to being teachers. Now that it truly scary.

Grit said...

i wonder rachel how social life for the primary years is different now from years ago. i feel kids are supervised too much by institutions, and their mistakes and errors identified as 'targets' they 'need to work towards' as if they're in a continuous appraisal system always answerable to others.

simply, there is too much pressure on kids to comply to a norm. that's my opinion anyhow. but what do i know? i am an ancient hippie with electrified hair brought up by parents with social minds but little interest in what i actually got up to, so long as it didn't cause them too much trouble.

i think you're right sharon, but i'm biased. i will always question the route we chose, and wonder if another would have sorted it better. of course we will never know, so we'd better enjoy ourselves as best we can as we go.

you do me much good, ladybirdcook, and i'm standing to applause! thank you!

thank you r&c! i think she's unique; sometimes she is so articulate and aware she astounds me. other times she just howls. which way will it go i wonder, in the teenage years?!

hi gweipo, i rarely allow myself to be drawn into the comments but i find now i don't feel anger in response. sometimes outrage at the injustice and plain ignorance informing a judgement, but most often these days the response i have is to smile. i think now i've heard the same form of reactions to home ed again and again and again. relax before, during and after reading, that's my advice!

Gweipo said...

do you ever get time for yourself? I'm glad I don't have to micromanage my kids for at least 8 hours 5 days a week ... it keeps me sane.

Gemma said...

"I have never met a student, coming from a home-schooled background, who was anything other than severely lacking in social skills, lonely, immature, barely educated, deeply unhappy, paranoid, suspicious and profoundly 'odd'."

Well, that just about sums me up! Problem being I spent all my childhood being educated in a school, not at home so the argument does not work there..... Since escaping from school I have, bit by bit, pieced myself together again. I think people still would maybe call me some of the words mentioned above, I would myself some days, but luckily I found out about home education in time before I put my own children into the system.

And we're learning and growing together every day...........

I would also say that the first home educated person I ever met was at an adult ed. evening art class. She was younger than me at the time (she was 19) and so friendly, relaxed, well adjusted and able to get on with every one there - better than me!!

Lots of luck with your girls on your big adventure! I really feel for Tiger, reminds me of me! How lucky she has you there for her!

Fantastic blog by the way, thank you so much for sharing!xxx

Grit said...

hi gweipo, i think the answer is that i do not manage the kids for large parts of the day! they get on with their own stuff. i trust them to do that. atm, shark is writing stories, squirrel has taken a basketball to the court, and tiger is playing games on the hoodamaths website. tomorrow we'll go to a museum and i'll research that myself so i can encourage thoughts and discussion. after, i'll encourage them to write about it or follow it up in their own way, but i don't insist, and certainly not immediately.

that's roughly how our home ed goes. because we are the people we are, the culture in the house is books, books, museum visits, galleries, books, books, theatre, music, performing arts. we meet other home ed kids regularly for play and events.

every family's home ed is different; there's no one way of doing anything, which is liberating. in that, i find the home ed world can be very tolerant and non judgemental. it's maybe why we resent judgement being made so easily of us!

hi Gemma, and thanks for your comment. i think school very badly prepared me too for the outside world. i spent years inside an institution that managed every part of my day then i had to face a system that expected me to take the initiative. i think that still happens in a school-university transition.