Friday, 6 May 2011

We sometimes meet the public

Meeting people on our travels is always fascinating. Watching, and wondering, which idea hits them first?

Sliding eyes say, it's my triplet set. But maybe not. On a school weekday morning, when three impossibly huge kids are striding, gunshoot-coral style, down your High Street, it could be the other thought. The one that whispers, Truants. Condoned truancy. You'd never believe the brass neck on the mother.

When I see that fleeting expression of hesitation and confusion, I like to imagine how those thoughts, the fused triplets/truants, short-circuits the brain. I like to think any neighbourhood watcher knows pretty quickly, they're off their safe zone.

Who can blame them? They're facing the unorthodox. From here, there's no dignified exit. I think most people pass by then, watching us, but leaving us alone.

But sometimes, circumstances draw us into an engagement. Shops, parks, libraries, walks. After the pleasantries are exchanged - the unseasonable weather, holes in the road, Tesco plans for world domination - the subject turns slyly to the questions someone really wants to ask. No school today?

I try to be generous, nod in the direction of my children and say, Of course you'll know they're home educated. So many people choose that now, don't they?

If I take that approach, I usually receive a slow nod or a nervous smile. If I have a particularly persistent questioner, they'll itch to ask, but not know how, maybe say bluntly, How do they socialise? Do they ever go out?

I try and preempt that one too, and sometimes shout, Hey, kids! Do I ever unlock you from the kitchen table? Shark will tut and roll her eyes. Squirrel will look the other way. Tiger will scowl. My interrogator will look nervous.

So, for the benefit of people passing me today, seeing all this unashamed, unrepentant marching about small towns England, Yes, home ed kids do indeed socialise. They do indeed, go out.

Here they are, mucking about in a community room near you with a bucket of K'Nex and someone from Sussex University doing their stuff, but failing in my opinion to talk quite enough about potential energy and forces. Never mind, here is the evidence.

Yes, home ed children are exactly like your children. They muck about with K'Nex, argue about the roller coaster, and hurl objects at their siblings. They have friends, sleepovers, playdates and disappear en masse on the field outside.

Yes, too, for all the rest. Education out of school is a normal part of our society. Yes, hundreds of families choose it. Yes, we've probably hired your village hall, scout hut, and community room. Yes, you can see what we do, every day, on a High Street near you. Yes, it's now so damn ordinary, you won't have a problem finding someone that's chosen this route. How many thousands to age seven? How many thousands for all the primary years?

Best stop there. Don't say Do you keep up with school? Did I bring my soap box?

Yes, I did. Kids have a love of learning, but the business of school funding drives classroom practice and makes it dull. Yes, look at how teachers must make kids perform like honking seals; yes, see how league tables skew local schools; how the drills of the pre-school curriculum, SATs, and the never-ending worksheets deliver a body blow to independent approach. Yes, the bleedinealthnsafety too; the death knell to all the pre-school mud and mess.

Yes, I agree. Next time, it's better just to let us pass by. Leave me alone to get on with it. Try not to stop me, and then even better don't open the debate with, No school today?