Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Each to their own

A woman tapped my arm and said, 'I hope you don't mind, but can I ask, do your children go to school?'

I looked at her and assessed the odds that she was a member of the Chinese Secret Service. Then I looked at Tiger, who kicked the pavement to hear the concrete squeal. If the Tiger world met the school world? What would happen? Would the planets collide, explode, and all matter be sucked into a vacuum? My guess is, almost certainly, by 9am on her first Monday morning.

So I confessed and said No. No. No. No. None of these children go to school. Never in Hong Kong. Maybe later in England if they choose. A middle way to suit all parties? Possibly. Who knows? The person asking me smiled. Maybe in relief, maybe in horror.

Why not, why no school, I didn't add. But Tiger. She needs to measure out her own day. I wrestle with her mind if I'm to extract two lines of handwriting. Could I imagine the result in her head if I brought her to an hourly, daily, timetable outside of her control? Told her straight, from now on, all your time is someone else's; all your activities are brought to you by someone else. That's the nature of any conventional school system, let alone the regime in Hong Kong - a land where you sit at a desk on someone's command, return with your completed hours of homework, and obey the rule of no running in the playground.

Um. If you want to keep the world habitable, best leave Tiger in the library, that's what I advise. Leave her for five hours with the book she chooses. Or with her sketchbook; happy anywhere. Denied those, but assaulted instead by bells! noise! people! pointless stuff! I don't rate any chances of survival.

Then Squirrel, standing there waiting, swinging her fish bag. School for her? Hmmm. I wouldn't. She knows her own mind. Don't assume she agrees, just because everyone else does. She wants to know why. What is the point? Why are you asking me? Who are you anyway? When she's suffered the shocked authority reactions, reprimands, detentions, and I've suffered the attempt at humiliation and the letters home, she would seek other, non-confronting, non-conforming ways to resist and survive the schooling years. She'd emerge at age 16, not fulfilled, not forgiving.

But Shark? She'd probably achieve in school, of sorts. She'd make friends, tell anyone what she thought, get straight to the point. She'd have a ready made audience for her lecture on dolphin habitats. But Shark, school is not always the best place to shine, nor is it a place that lets you follow your own path. I've taught there. I've seen that a bright kid to survive must slowly fade. Better to hide ambitions, shush the spark, quietly take unusual interests safely home.

But there's our practical problems too. Apart from the fact that I can't dance to an institutional 6am start. Neither can Dig. It's one of where our family goes. Together or apart? Could I put Shark in school, but tell her that today I've made it so that Tiger can head to the mountains? The amah will pick you up at three. By the way, the rest of us are poking rock pools, meeting for dinner, hiking old woods, making the playdates, attending the theatre. Maybe, Shark, you could join us at the weekend, after your homework?

On that basis, school might last 24 hours for the novelty.

So yes, we home educate. No school. It suits the bolshy parents. It suits the wild child. It suits the maverick fairy follower. It suits Shark. She makes her timetable and sets her clock. She wants to take examined courses, and we'll provide them in a way that suits her, and us.

Then is home education possible? It is, of course, even in Hong Kong. It either suits your own family, or it doesn't. We've believed that young kids need time to ask questions, find out answers, and explore the world; they need the space to make a mess, scatter sand, mud, paint, then build imaginary futures.

And what's the worst that can happen if you choose this life? They didn't like the museum, gallery, or theatre you took them to? They got wet and covered with mud in the woods and the fields? They met some independent minds from all walks of life in all places? Their handwriting is terrible? If that's the worst that can happen, then consider what you can achieve together, and how it can be the best.


Alex said...

Wonderfully elegant explanation for home education. I am reassured about our path again :)

March 17th said...

This sounds like the very, very best. How many adults do you know with lovely handwriting ? Now, those rock pools sound fabulous..x