Friday, 30 September 2011

Does the SAHM show?

Apart from being made to, by the typhoon, we are staying a lot inside the house.

I do not like it. Rock carvings are whispering to me. There are green woolly hills to climb, and remote places of Hong Kong to trek, far flung away, further away than our wobbly island.

Dangling the delights of exploration in front of the children is not working. Strange. They usually take up the bait willingly, so it's disconcerting to have them ask to stay home instead. Here they want to stitch dolly clothes or sigh, while they say, 'I must complete my science assignment' in a tone that expresses only delight at the cares of a grown up responsibility.

Of course I'm trying to reconcile myself to these housebound affairs. I have to consider that part of me moved to get to this point. The place where the kids stop rolling around hunting zebras and start taking up some studious focus for themselves. Now we're here, I'm missing what went before. We humans, we want things different, and when they are, we want them back the same.

I'm to blame. I'm inculcating habits of serious swotty study by monkishly reading paragraphs of geography text books for the IGCSE syllabus.

But I'm lacing the day too with extracts of Jung Chang's Wild Swans. Dig is suspicious. What does he take me for? Sure I'm not reading it all aloud! Not the ejaculations, severed limbs, prostitution and random misogynist brutality. Yes, most of the stuff that made the book a best seller in the first place, and had the world wondering what China was made of. But there's woman story and heritage telling in it too. I'm reading those bits.

Then I'm amusing myself with the craft. Not the pagan worship type, the making notebooks type. I made three.

The photos are crap, which allows me to say the notebooks themselves are, of course, beautiful to handle; soft leather, silver thread stitching, natural found objects, plastic jewels, you get the idea, mix of permanent and ephemera, the enduring and the transitory etc etc. Sadly the paper inside is not hand-made, nor woven, because it should be. It's just ordinary plain copier paper.

I do not know whether to make 200 of them and embark on a business studies project with the gritlets (i.e. sit by the roadside and try and sell them to tourists who visit the island, while giving lessons on profit, loss, more loss, bankruptcy) or just give the books away. You can tell me which I should do, if you like. I am easily led.

In other news, I met the neighbours. We have new neighbours. (Is this the third set?) I don't expect they'll stay very long.

And I met more expats in a bar! Good grief, they were miserable, even more down-in-the-dumpers than me. I threw back a glass of wine and started showing off. I thought I would cheer them up with my witty routine of how to squeeze children through car windows. After five minutes they looked like they wanted to kill themselves. Dig brought me home in disgrace.

But because I am today a bit bored - thus fit perfectly into the stereotype of a tedious Stay-At-Home-Mother - I am refining my image of middle-aged woman with no friends, and trying my misery twitting again. Twitter is useful, really; it puts me into news items that otherwise I would miss. But I'm not very good at it. I am still challenged by everything. Like its time requirements. Someone tweets to you and you are supposed to reply? What, instantly? Not three weeks later?

The most exciting news is that I remain happily distracted by things like graphs of gloom. You should all go visit gweipo and her six-week slump. I am obsessed by this, and am carrying a printing of this graph around with me, so I can calculate average wavelengths of depression and elevation. I have to get my fun somewhere.

Now look at all that pointless prose. I write too much into the computer. It's sad. I should shut up and post a daily picture instead. Like this one.

The children made a sculpture out of my washing line. It sort of explores what it is to be a washing line; then it works to defeat the point. I like it. Out of the ordinary comes something intriguing.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Cyclone Nesat

Cyclone Nesat came to our island in Hong Kong last night. The wind first, furious, rattling the windows, banging at the doors, throwing its weight against the walls. It wouldn't let go, but gripped the metal that holds the roof canopy in place. It shook, hard. I swear I felt the floors shudder.

That's how it went on, all night long while I lay in bed: boom, rattle, thud, boom, rattle, thud. I thought, any minute now, the cyclone wind will break through the wide glass doors, the ones I sleep next to. It'll smash its way in, and rip in vengeance around the room. Then the bedsheet won't offer any protection.

In the dark hours past two I must have dozed, because my eyes suddenly opened with an instinctive shock. A sound I knew but never heard before. A booming timber crack: the tallest tree, next to the house. Branches slumped, heavy against the windows. I waited for the glass to give way, to snap in two like a shot rings out, but there was nothing, only a moment of quiet, followed by a sigh; a long, soft, slippery shush as the tree went down, ending in a whoomph as the trunk bounced against the earth.

Then came the rain. Oh, my goodness, the rain. How much rain can any house take? Floodwater of rain, hosing the walls, sluicing the ground. I thought, crossing my fingers, maybe the water signals the end, and here's the sound of guilt and penitence, washing the bloodied scene, removing all traces of leaves, branches, fallen trees, creating the world all fresh, as if harm had never been.

But the water only brought more evidence, debris scuddering along our balcony. The torn remains of someone's canvas roof. Ripped pieces of plastic awning. Frayed lengths of string, twine, a strip of wire that maybe someone had used in hope to hold down a treasure they couldn't carry indoors.

By morning, the sounds were the same, boom, rattle, thud, but I took comfort from the sky and the low grey light. I crept up to windows to watch the rain stream down and the trees twirl. I saw what the cyclone had done to the neighbour's roof, and wondered about ours. I didn't dare go up and look.

The children woke and rattled the house from the insides. The screens of computers told us the weather was Warning 8, two steps away from mortal matters and evacuation. Keep your children away from windows. Huddle them on sheltered sides of the house. I looked at Shark, Tiger, Squirrel, bouncing irrepressibly around sofas, edged fractious by interrupted sleep, squealing with alternate delight and horror at the storm outside. I couldn't bear to think about Warning 10.

With nothing else to do, but fret about the point when a house can break, I made jokes. The ferries had stopped with the deep sea swell. Hong Kong was closed down, shuttered up. No way on or off our outlying island. Even the emergency helicopter won't get through. Help! We're trapped on an island in a storm! And one of us is a tickler!

I wriggled my fingers around Tiger's ribs, and her face changed from fret to giggle. Dig, with his impeccable sense of timing, announced he'd read there was indeed a poisoner on the island; two dogs had died only the day before from food laced with paraquat. Everyone went quiet.

No going out. No supplies, no shops, no breakfast. I rummaged around cupboards and quietly regretted our practice of shopping for what we need, when we want to eat. I found flour, sugar and butter, and made a great bright fuss about the resulting home-baked scones. But no-one particularly wanted to eat them. Made restless with the storm we spent our time watching the world outside through satellite screens, studying in slow and steady detail the rolling cyclone eye, willing it to veer south, west, away from us. Biting our nails, towards mainland China.

By afternoon, the storm had lessened, but Warning 8 was still in force. Dig said it should be Warning 3, but in Hong Kong even the weather is subject to politics. The government doesn't want three million people wondering at midday if they should go to the office. So the day stays cancelled, even though the cyclone's arms are spinning away, the danger passed.

Dig went out to regard the little town, ignoring my cautious peering at the window and asking, Is it safe? I wanted him to do what he always does: outline sensible plans, draw up policies, provide clear strategies for damage limitation. No need. He comes back with eye witness reports. The shop at the corner was open. They had no bread, few vegetables, a little fruit, but they were still selling beer, cereal and dried noodle, so all not lost, and here's pasta for dinner.

Then it's all over, except the gusts and squalls of the normal sub-tropics. Mrs Li, the shopkeeper, rolling back the shutters of her all-purpose grocery store, says 'Big wind huh?' and tuts. What do you expect? It's the season. You wide-eyed foreign devils, you make such a fuss of it all. Like no-one ever experienced a typhoon before.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Seeing is believing

I laughed.

Admittedly, it was hollow. Because before we set off walking over the hills to a far-flung birthday party, I flicked into Internet Land. It doesn't change, does it? So I see home educated children are 'not seen'. No, not ever!

I thought, I see them everywhere. I can't go to the ruddy toilet without a home ed kid barging in. You should open your eyes.

But I'm helpful! I could make it true, nearly, if I tried.

And if I exempted this morning's shopkeepers, passers by, and the old man by the cart selling the marrows and death lilies in Lamma Island mainstreet.

But if I say, 'Today my children have not been seen by a local authority contact in England', then Yes! That is true! They'd need damn good vision to clap eyes on us today, on our island south of China.

Here we are, walking a mountain track that leads round to a fishing village and on, scalloping the bays, up over the hill, and down the steps to the shore. It takes two strong walking hours to reach our destination.

A small community, two dozen people. Not much else. No shops. One jetty, one bar. About as close to Robinson Crusoe as I'd ever like to live. Even here I'd have to exclude thirteen home ed kids, plus their parents.

But on the way, we weren't seen, unless you count these workmen doing something with a storm drain, and they weren't interested.

But to reassure the unhappy commenter, who thought that home educated children might never be seen again, then here's a photograph of the party. Or rather the cake that we enjoyed in celebration of the birthday boy.

And here's a snap of three party goers! Looking glum, thanks to being made to walk another 45 minutes back over the hill to catch a local ferry.

But I wouldn't want that concerned commenter to imagine now that home education (even if it's visible in the South China Sea) is all mountain hike, beach fun, and party games!

No. We have to be serious. This is an educational blog. I'll set a challenge to help us learn. We'd like to find out what this spider is. We saw it. On our two hour hike to a semi deserted tropical house with a beach.

Shut up about the photo. It's about 4-6 cm long, and arranges its legs in a X (no kissing). It spins a curious web, constructed with concertinaed white silk, also in a X (absolutely no kissing).

What is it?

You could occupy your mind, commentator, with that, rather than wondering whether today we have been seen.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Jacob's Creek did all the talking

Wasted several hours again today, thinking what I started in my head, yesterday. Deliberating on theory, practice and implications of autonomous education vs institutionalised learning.

In the end I thought fuckit.

Who gives a toss these days about hippy-shit filosophy like that? Who wants to spend time, wondering about pedagogy and practice? Is anyone doing this stuff anymore in those intellectual centres of energy, the Postgraduate Departments of Education? What are they doing now to encourage questioning of educational discourse? Or did they all just roll over to talk about how to raise standards? At least in the one I attended they were brave enough to bus in Mary Warnock and wave about a second-hand copy of Deschooling Society. Do teachers even read that anymore?

Probably not. I don't think anyone really wants to think these things now, much beyond my own weird community.

Not the poor lot of teachers who have to deal with Ofsted inspections alongside Kirk Hammerhead, Drug Lord of 3B. Not the Local Authority Jobsworthy either, who needs to show a line manager they're ticking the boxes to meet the annual appraisal. Not central government, certainly. Neither the educational solutions management team who must sell a package of taught MAs to improve the gross sales figures by Thursday. And not the parents, who want the kids to get jobs, buy houses, leave home, and when are you going provide the grandchild?

So, wasted time, then.

No-one's interested here, either, in my tedious educational filosophising. Dig is working, and Shark, Squirrel and Tiger don't want to discuss pedagogy. They want to embroider a fish, a horse, and a whale.

So I had a consoling talk with a half-bot of Jacob's Creek. They persuaded me to the following conclusions. That more parents should be anarchists. That education should be wrestled well away from Ofsted and politicians. That schools should employ passionate practitioners and those frankly wacko teachers who are confident or bizarre enough to take risks. Because mainstream thinking on this subject is busted. (Jacob's Creek said that.) I agreed. The majority of the population is duped into school which they have come to believe is a word synonymous with education and which is in turn reduces their thinking to two concerns:

1) Passing exams.

These are merely in place to occupy active and bright young brains with thoughtless, procedural memorising of material. Exams do not invite inquiry, nor reward provocative thinking. They are not there so students and teachers can look around the world and ask questions. Exams never want you to stop and say, 'Hang on a minute, what am I doing?'

2) Something else.

Actually, I can't remember what Jacob's Creek said next about this question I asked, i.e. What is school there for?

Maybe doing the same that everyone else does because everyone does it. Or summat. Whatever.

Say hello to his lovely red wine.

But you can bet, before I forgot it, that Jacob's observation was a blinder, and goes to prove how knowledge is alive, how delightful its discovery, and probably how the most useful lessons in life are not the ones you sat down in class to receive (nor can be found again if I finish off his bottle).

Monday, 26 September 2011

Going round again

The Royal Institution held an Unconference. Bravo.

The RI is an old institution connecting us ordinary folk with the miracles of science.

I like them. A lot. They only really, really upset me once. But we kissed and made up.* So now they're on my list, along with the Royal Academy, of organisations who will be delighted to receive our annual friendship contribution.

One point of their Unconference was to have no agenda. But to give over space to have teenage kids discuss and shape research.

Yes, it broadly suits the RI. They should have a mission to support individual inquiry, autonomous research and independent thinking, given their leading light - Faraday - was self-taught. (These days, such autonomous, self-directed learning might be described under those regrettable words: home educated.)

So at first I thought Unconference? Good.

Any approach where learners take possession of physical space, exchange ideas, collaboratively create ways to shape the environment, and take responsibility for what happens next - must be good.

But then I began to think about this boundary - where autonomous, self-directed learning meets any institution - and I thought, does it work? Can any institution ever open itself up to autonomous learning?

This article about the Unconference from the RI demonstrates something of the problem. Okay, it's probably not fair to pick on it, because I don't want to fight the RI again. Not unless they try and levy additional charges for home ed kids, or go out their way to exclude the home ed voice.

For a start, in this article, the language, it's about permission. It's the RI's 'invitation' and we have to overcome our disbelief to 'trust'. To make sense of what the Unconference is, we first have to agree to the values of the institution, and conspire with the view that any unconference is a bat shit crazy idea. 'Handing over learning, experimentation, organisation and argument to young people? That crazy! What on earth will they do to trash the place?!'

Hmm. There's the institution, defining the territory, organising the understanding. No matter what line is given about freedom of inquiry, the event still starts with lectures and requires outcomes.

Which is sort of not the point of learning freedom. In the landscape of autonomy, of self-directed learning, the starting point is usually the other way round.

In autonomy land, you start off by assuming the creative freedoms of individuals. Then you stand out the way while they're pursuing their paths. Which means that handing over learning to kids is not crazy or shocking. It's daily, normal, natural, if you've ever watched a little kid play.

With freedom to explore, the initiative, experimentation, control, is all owned by the learner. They become the expert. Like all experts, they gain knowledge from direct experience and practical testing. They are open about their limits. They know when to say, This is the boundary of my knowledge; now I reached the limit, and I need to collaborate, talk, and mix ideas from someone else's brain to help me go on further.

That is ownership of learning. That is scholarship. That is unconference. Organisation, structure and control comes from the individual. Frankly, it matters not a jot whether the person engaged with it is aged fifteen, five, or fifty. And the idea that anyone must seek permission for this process of inquiry, or wait for an invitation to do it, is ludicrous.

So I feel a teensy bit frustrated. Not at the RI. They're giving up their building space, fair enough, and exploring this meeting point of institutional control / individual freedom, so that's good enough for me.

But frustrated because I want it to be normal - this assumption that people already have control. People already have the power to learn, teach, organise themselves, specify what they need, control their own agendas, and shape how they learn. I'd like to see more people meeting in public spaces; taking them over for those purposes.

I don't know why we don't see more of that. Maybe people are given to think that they don't already have the responsibility and ownership over themselves. Maybe, in the absence of them just taking that responsibility, I have to look to the existing institutions like schools to support those ideas about autonomy and learning freedom.

But that's not going to happen, is it? It can't ever happen, for that assumption, my daily starting point, to become a normal part of any institution.

The thing is, in a model of learner autonomy, there is a sort of intrinsic anarchy. You cannot control a person who controls their own intellectual path. I tried it, with Squirrel! What I found was that people with their interests and discoveries cannot sit easily inside a place which, by external pressures of organisation, may demand that they shape, formulate, or present their thoughts in particular ways, for products, outcomes, results.

Bugger. I'm going round in circles. There's no conclusion. I'll just dither here on the lines between individual autonomy and institutional requirements. I'll swing about a few more years, wrangling Squirrel's unique and peculiar interests with the mainstream specifics of an exam syllabus. I'll argue the toss between restrictions of institutions and freedoms of individuals. Backwards and forwards I'll flip, chasing my own tail.

Better then, be glad. However well or badly they do it, whatever profit or gain sits somewhere down the line, an institution like the RI handles a basic idea of learner autonomy and offers some space for teenage thinkers to take control.

I hope the RI succeeds. And makes it totally clear that their next Unconference is also open to home ed kids.

* See? I don't bear grudges.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Friends like these

Our good friend Rachel arrives in town! This is great news! And we find so many ways to welcome her!

Like, ignore her completely. When we have done that, then hastily arranged to meet up, Ace Tour Guide Grit welcomes her with great ceremony! Mostly by wearing dark glasses and jumping out from behind a pillar where she has been lurking incognito.

But from then on, it is a whirlwind day!

First, frog marching the innocent and obliging visitor round the old pot museum while the Ace Tour Guide delivers a lecture on glazing.

The Grit itinerary next causes our happy, long-suffering friend to be assaulted with a near-dead turtle, then led on a hopeless and misconceived tour of the back streets of Hong Kong markets.

Here, with increasing alarm, the Ace Tour Guide realises she is unable to navigate her way out of the stalls selling sex aids, assortments of plastic penises, strange unknowable things, thongs and vibrators. (Not that I took more than fleeting note of all of those.)

To complete this fantastic tour, the rapidly wilting, possibly silently despairing, but always agreeable and kind Rachel is dragged off to a backstreet Indian restaurant, from where she is thrown to scowling triplets, fleeced by a Mong Kok stallholder, then bundled into a taxi with a touching memento of her day (a $3 rabbit, dead).

Really, it is not the way it should go!

If we were to properly measure our delight in seeing Rachel drop from the sky, and honour her amiable and agreeable nature, she should be welcomed with singing flutes and dancing lions, transported on a night-time harbour trip, banqueted as guest of honour at the Shangri La, then given a gift bag from Shanghai Tang.

This would reflect our enjoyment when receiving visitors from other worlds! But no. There are firmer connections, for the gentle Rachel is now part of the wider Grit network of far-flung friends and thus can be treated with casual hellos and comfortable see you laters. Which, in a way, is even more delightful than the lions.

Of course, if you, like the lovely Rachel, are passing through Hong Kong, you are welcome to enjoy one of Grit's Fantastic Ace Tour Guides too. (I think we have been there before.)

Now available to known and friendly bloggers!

(However, please do not inform me of your travel plans through Hong Kong if you are an insane, knife-wielding murderer whose prime ambition is to scatter my limbs in Victoria Harbour.)

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Promises much, delivers little

Thanks to my role in the new home educational regime (which you can be sure I will be quickly amending, or go berserk), I have now sat for a further 8 hours with a numb arse and an intractable problem involving a straw.

However, since I have been thinking of more conventional schooling matters, I show you this.

Grit's school report.

So long as you show me something of yours. In the comments box, please, and not waved in my face via Skype, as I read some members of the teaching profession are now driven to do.

Never fails to set high expectations. From which point we can all be consistently underwhelmed. Grade D.

Terrible. Is unable to handle rudimentary calculations. Is unlikely to become a functioning member of society. Can only hope to marry money. Grade U.

Fair. In the past year, has conducted intensive studies of moths, ants, cockroaches and millipedes. However, must learn that correct scientific study excludes spraying subjects with DDT, or hitting them with hammers while screaming DIE DIE DIE. Grade D.

Has enthusiasm, but demonstrates no understanding whatsoever. Continues to insist that electricity is brought by invisible unicorns in their magic horns. Cannot be entered for further examination in this subject. Grade U.

Over-confident. Shows no ability to hypothesise or even plan basic experiments safely. The laboratory table has still not recovered from the acid. Grade U.

Extremely poor. Seems to think buying a takeaway pizza is a substitute for Latin. Grade U.

Shows engagement with field studies yet demonstrates spasms of silly behaviour, limited spatial awareness, and terrible sense of direction. Constantly asking for GPS support even in rudimentary conditions. Needs full-time supervision. Grade D.

Belligerent. Frequently picks fights with seniors and teaching staff. Refuses to accept authority. Must realise that over-confidence in this area will gain few admirers. Grade E.

Dangerous near all musical instruments thanks to profound lack of talent crossed with enthusiasm to discover 'what it does'. Listening skills also poor. They must improve beyond 1989 and Frazier Chorus. Grade U.

The worst-performing pupil in the history of humanity with no redeeming features whatsoever. The dance mistress has now removed the iPod after legal advice on matters of Public Safety. Grade Zero.

Domestic Science
Sloppy. Needs to understand that an ingredient range can be greater than two onions and a tin of tomatoes. This term, have had to confiscate cooking sherry and gin. Grade F.

Too fond of playing the fool. Must stop inciting fellow classmates to commit dangerous and criminal acts with paint. Otherwise, drew a fair picture of a wombat. Grade D.

Tries hard in English conduct skills. Making progress in awkward silences, apologising, exhibiting embarrassing behaviour. Employing techniques of scowling and shouting at foreigners to good practical effect. Random acts of violence are improving although need better focus. Grade D.

Physical Education
Suspension given as a result of sulky, uncooperative behaviour. Hiding the basket ball then lying about its whereabouts fails to grasp the essentials of sporting play. Clearly not a team player. Grade U.

Far too easily led by others into regrettable company and ill advised acts. Lacking in charm, modesty, restraint. Bottoms are not that funny. And telling Ms Whittleberg to Bugger Off and Take The Pussy With Her has been a low point. Grade U.

We are sad to report that extremely little progress has been made this term and we are unlikely to be seeing a scholar in the making.

However, this lack of achievement or ambition has, on occasions, been tempered by the maintenance of a cheerful disposition. We suggest focusing on this quality as a means to offset the character problems which remain deep-rooted.

Despite every indication to the contrary, we hope for better next term, and request that the outstanding invoice for repairs to the bathroom door is settled in full, immediately.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Birthday satisfactions

Remarkable day, thanks to an extraordinary show of cooperation between triplets.

And for me, no sobbing, no arguments, no screaming, no panic attacks, no sarcasm, no picking offence, and no dramatic over-reaction to the slightest provocation. Mostly because I woke up with a mountain of a headache, took heavy medication, and passed out until 3pm.

But high-quality head dosage has a side effect. It left me in fine fettle for the evening's entertainment.

The kids and Dig led me up to the roof after dark where, instead of throwing me off, they revealed their labours of the day (apart from the peace and quiet): three nearly inflated balloons, an origami Happy Birthday hanging, a ribbon tied to a chair to mark ceremonial seating, plus two dozen chopped up potato pieces skewered with candles. Shark baked chocolate smash.

I was properly made a fuss of, then showered with gin, pliers, and two Mong Kok watches to match the dead zebra bag.

I had nothing to do, but enjoy it all.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

This is how things sit

I am no good at 'sitting happiness in'. This, I read, is an old Manchu custom of Imperial China.

Basically, 'sitting happiness in' is the etiquette that requires women to sit motionless for hours and shut the fuck up. By this method, they can reveal their tranquil loveliness, show their inner calm, and demonstrate the dignity to be had with absence of restlessness. Hmm.

Well, I'm trying it. It's making my legs ache, my stomach tighten, and my backside go numb. If I don't move soon I may lash out with the only things to hand. Half a pack of Philadelphia and a discarded banana skin.

I did not start this out of choice. I have now foolishly shifted our style of home ed from me running about outdoors, yattering on and on about everything, to me sitting still at the dining table, alternately emailing assignments to little grits, discussing whether you can put a valve on a straw, and watching videos on population.

So I am struggling. With both the sitting still, and, um, the happiness. And we have been less than a month on this model.

The children, by contrast, are not struggling at all. They are happily sitting down and shutting up for hours. All of them, at this moment, are enthusiastically at work on a design project to create a drinks carton that contains a handle and a sealable straw. Even Squirrel now says the new weekly assignments system is good because she has freedom to control her own stuff and go to the library when she wants. She only intermittently breaks this pattern to enjoy dramatic fist fights with siblings over a set of pink pencils.

But it is hard on me. I feel restless, even though I am required to seek solutions for intricate design problems to do with straws. I swear, this would tax Mr Dyson. But really, today I want to be on a tram or a boat or up a mountainside looking at bugs.

Maybe I can hope. Maybe the next stage of this educational model a la Grit means I can pass over the assignments on Monday, stash food in the fridge, put fifty quid on the side, and leave them all to it until next Sunday.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

But I forgive myself. (Frequently.)

After yesterday's pleasurable indulgence I wouldn't want anyone to think that my main motives, driving this home ed life, are to take delight in my capacity for mischief making, and secretly enjoy the expression I can bring about on someone's face.

I deny nearly both of those.

What fundamentally drives me to live life without the institution of school is not petty spite. Of course not! It's that I have to put into practice what I believe in. (Oh holy! Get out the nails!)

But I accept that being able to put something into practice is no measure of how strongly we might believe in it, or even want it to happen.

Which means, I just met someone who looked at the happy-go-lucky grit and the adorable free-range gritlets, then imagined a similar life for their mini-humans, led without school.

They can imagine this life is about perfect. They even imagine it working for themselves. They know how learning outside the walls is no hindrance to a person's happinesses, successes, well-being. Most importantly (because we have not yet come to the promised land) they could ride out the suspicions and negative judgements that can be employed in a trice by neighbours, media, government.

But for a load of reasons, they can't put their belief and strong arm righteousness into practice, and give up school.

So I want to tell them, don't be sad about that. We home educators only look like we're in perfect joy! It's not all roses on this side of the fence.

Because how many of us live a pure ideology? And is that even desirable? Most people make a mish-mashery of compromise. Either that or maybe blow themselves up with the effort of bringing it all together.

So the autonomous-leaning might have to implement a structure and a timetable, because without that, their partner, pursuing them through the courts, will have the kids back in school. Then I've sat next to crumbled pieces of parent who say, We don't want to home educate, but having been through what the school system did, now there's no real choice.

It's probably no help right now, but maybe it's also what I'm motivated by (apart from petty spite), and that's freedom of choice. To have your kid experience and learn the way they want and need; to choose the service or support you want, and freedom not to choose, too; to live it the way you want, as you want it.

I don't have any ideological commitment beyond that. I have not much judgement to make about any school, flexi-school, nor home-school agreement. I have my suspicions about faith schools - I fear organisational control - and I have my suspicions about free schools - I fear organised capitalism - but if they suit, then how can I argue?

So spare my fingers and toes and nail my flag to freedom of choice.

But don't expect me always to stand under it.

Because sometimes I really have to do things in spite of myself. I must deny it all, choose regrettably, make bad judgements.

In this semi-tropical, money-happy paradise, where air con is every breath you take, the trees hang thick with the pollutants from Shenzhen, and the water churns with plastic, I take the kids here.

Yes, I can take the kids to the ice-in-the-tropics skating experience, while hand on heart believing I should be helping create a balanced and harmonious environment, one that's sustainable, both kind to us and to the planet.

We're all driven, somewhere along the line, into the arms of compromise.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

And I can see Chemistry in prep

Thanks to my fretting - how can a kid sit a GCSE exam when they've never stepped foot inside a school? - Victoriana popped into my mind.

Victoriana is one member of my extended family who adopts certain righteous standards of living. She thinks all children should go to school FULL STOP. Shut up. They should be forced, okay? What is wrong with you?

I am in the conflict-avoiding wing of the family. (True! It's true! Arguments find me! I don't go looking!)

But maybe you can imagine that me and Victoriana have had some issues about the school/home ed landscape. And maybe I should report my sense of relief that I no longer need to creep about when I'm visiting family in the house where she lives. Because she now anticipates the argument and drives off in a huff before we get there. Mostly so she doesn't have to be near my feral, knuckle-dragging, home ed kids. Or me, because I am 'rude, stupid, childish'. (Credit to the woman! She has my character nailed!)

Now Victoriana's thoughts on education are reasonably up to date, don't get me wrong. No longer should the early morning punishment regime of naked swimming in the cold water pool be given by the house master. Of course not! We move with the times! Caning was always going to be enough.

But in the flow of her argument it follows that kids need their minds controlled, their ambitions outlined, and their habits formed for the benefit of people who have to be near them. To achieve these ends, all kids, even home ed ones, must eventually attend a school where they can submit themselves to the proper GCSE exam regime.

Either that, or become prostitutes. This is the choice, and it is plain and simple.

This has formed a little of my thinking about future careers in prostitution. But as Shark says she quite likes the idea of first taking exams for English, History, Geography, Science, etc. etc., I feel duty-bound to consider the exam options in our own playful, non-conforming, home education way.

So now I'm actively looking for models of how to take GCSEs without ever needing to go to a school before exam day.

Yes, we can easily find like minds to play with.

Thank goodness someone's willing to lead some workshops.
And we should be able to find an age-appropriate syllabus
to guide us through some territory.

Having an adult or two around who've followed chemistry before
is always helpful. Parents are wise and wonderful people, aren't they?

And passionate people can think up ways to make ideas fun.
There's singalong too, helping out.

Videos, of course. And Khan Academy.

Plus our own inventive and practical home ed history of making bath bombs,
volcanoes, and unwise experiments involving oil down the toilet and citric acid
all over the bathroom floor.

Indeed, I bet we can do all these, and more,
yet still take in a great view on the way home from class.

So I can see routes ahead to exams without school, oh yes I can.

And it is not that I am engaged in any war with Victoriana, of course not!

It's just that I DON'T WANT HER TO WIN.

Monday, 19 September 2011

The exams debate

So, I had a bit of a crisis.

Nah. Not social/sexual/psychological/marital/financial. I can have those any time, any day of the week. Not even worth mentioning. But this! This is a home educational crisis! My soul bleeds, wounded by home ed.

But I know these feelings. I've been here before.

Like, kid age 4. I packed the mini-humans into nursery. Or tried to. Six weeks fruitlessly persuading Tiger, Shark and Squirrel that they really wanted to sit in a room with a strange woman shaped like a fridge, lit by strip lights, and rearrange flashcards on a table. Oh yes.

Actually, they wanted to cavort outside in knickers and wellington boots while the sun shone merrily and the soil in the garden was just begging to be dug up and the holes filled with water.

The kids won, of course, by visceral means and direct action. Tiger clung to my ankles and bawled, Shark locked herself in the toilet, and Squirrel took off all her clothes in a brilliant, masterful, stroke of silent protest.

Or howabout the time I realised the error of my ways, kid age 7 through to 9. Not strictly a crisis then. More a prolonged, tortured struggle between child autonomy and mama structure. I had a great thing going in unit studies and themed weeks, but slowly it was whittled away by child-led preference.

For this period I'm still resisting the label autonomy in preference for the one which reads anarchy.

But this time, come age 11, I'm experienced enough in the ways of the home ed world to recognise the crisis as it happens.

The upshot is, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are now on a weekly assignment list which includes working through an IGCSE Geography syllabus. It has been a sort of seismic shift of thinking; we have all made demands, outlined ambitions, swapped mentalities and Shark threatened me with a good hiding.

The very useful home ed exams yahoo group is holding my hand and giving me a cuddle, Dig agreed to buy 200 more computers, and I have come out of hiding from the bedroom to sit at the dining table, outlining key points about Malthus.

Much to my surprise, one month in, I can report our new style of home ed is still working very well. Each week I email a list of assignments in the spirit of 'don't care when you do them, but this is what you can do if you want'; Tiger declares it all good fun, Shark says it suits her timetable perfectly, and Squirrel sometimes gets dressed.

Well, all of this shows a thing or ten. That in home ed we can all take comfort from the experience of others. That I do not expect adventures in the woods to end anytime soon. That home ed in any form can work if the kids want it and enjoy it. That I'm still not in charge. And what great exam resources you can find on the internet.

Sunday, 18 September 2011


Occasionally I meet someone who asks about home ed. Soon enough that word pops out in their list of fears. Socialisation.

It's true. It's a fear. Usually, that's all. The reality is, most places you live are rich with opportunities to get out and about, aren't they? You don't have to join with other home ed groups, although once you start seeing them, you'll be tripping over them, wondering why you never saw them before. Because they're everywhere. Even here, in Hong Kong, where home school is illegal.

But I wonder if those parents, picking out the S-word with a special wild-eyed look of dread, have a model in their mind, not of what education could look like, nor of the life of their child, but of what they assume a home educating mother's social life must be like.

Whether the words they're silently fretting upon are, 'locked in the house with kids all day long'.

I can't tell anyone how they'll manage daily life with kids around, nor tell you how you'll feel it's best to handle the responsibilities of education.

But from my perspective, the home ed world has probably been a life saver of socialisation.

In the conventional, school-attending world, I would have been out on a limb. For a start, I couldn't have tolerated the tedious lunchbox chat and bizarre idea that we all shared the same assumptions. Crikey, I had enough problems with BritMums! And that's filtered through a screen! I wouldn't have lasted a day at the real school gate, when the chat was over and the knives came out.

By Monday tea-time it would be obvious. I'd be the loner. Never complying with school requests. I would have asked Why? Arms crossed, bolshy stare, I wouldn't have seen the point, or rather I would, and undermined it. With no self-control I would blab my childish scorn. Mocking the system by bottom jokes would become a favoured technique. By Tuesday I would have made myself Public Enemy No. 1.

Work would not have provided enough of a range. I'm not an office woman, nor a person who likes to live by the clock, nor very agreeable when it comes to complying with someone else's requests. Not unless a shed load of cash appeared as part of the trade, and somehow, with my skills set, I doubt it.

Now I'm observing the trailing spouse world. I consider how little I could socialise here, too. I'm not a natural-born, country-cruising expat. I don't engage in competitive Dior. I don't employ a maid, so I'm not in need of a support group to whine about her. I don't play squash. I don't use shopping malls (except for the toilets). The monitoring of each other's salaries and husbands and cars and pools would have driven me to madness.

Maybe I would be lost and alone in all those worlds.

But here, in this home ed life, I'm not alone, not friendless, not locked in the house with kids all day long.

Here is an immediate welcoming group; we have strong interests and values coinciding. Here, these intelligent, no-nonsense women get straight to the heart of the matter. They expect a coherent argument. They have opinions and ideas to share. They nod in immediate understanding when someone speaks about choices of education, social norms, cultural conflicts, or how to manage kids abroad when kids don't want to go. They see the deal on wage-earning absent partners who are supporting these rounds of walks and meet ups and groups, all in the name of the offspring's education. We nod in understanding of that cover, too.

These home ed groups can be so straightforwardly welcoming in fact, that last year, I think I had a little problem. The bizarre idea that to like people in Hong Kong was a kind of betrayal to the people I grew older with in England. I suffered Badman and Balls with those English women, and simply to go off and fall in love with someone else's good sense, why that is tantamount to disloyalty.

This year, stepping between these places, England and Hong Kong, I discovered what I probably instinctively knew. That the home ed world, wherever it is, is astonishingly open and welcoming. It's tolerant and sociable. You can leave the kids to go form their own friendship groups, while you'll meet people happy to share ideas, time, and kindnesses.

Then, in answer to that question, What do you do about socialisation? don't fret. Because your child won't be alone, and neither will you.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Thinking thinking

I am liking this one. A thinking skills exam paper.

Liking an exam paper! I reveal my nerdy, girly swot, knees-together inner core here, huh?

But this is different! No, really! The questions are interesting! It's all about assessing arguments of plastic waste and finding out where the statue is.

I am sure stuff like this is the answer to home education. Even though I don't know what the question is.

But I like it. And I wrestle Squirrel to have a go.

Squirrel remains, at 9am, subdued and bleary-eyed (probably from the Tixylix-vodka mix the night before), but in a perfect proto-language state for me to seize the moment, and embark on this new, parentally-misconceived home ed project, where working through the entire 50 questions in 1 hour 30 minutes seems like a breeze.

Because by now, out of bed two hours earlier and three black coffees in, I am all ebullient enthusiasm about an exam paper that puzzles over high-speed vehicles and traffic cameras.

And wow, do I feel smug. My parent-educator identity is considering how a worthy paragraph on what speed a Volvo is travelling is of infinitely more value in oh so many uncountable ways, than the back of a cereal box advertising a plastic space lord.

By Question 3, Squirrel's face is sinking into the cornflakes, but I can see the social prestige my little girls could acquire by mastering this thinking skills lark. My ambitions are boundless. With clear thinking, who knows? Straight into Oxbridge, then with the right social contacts my low-born offspring can be projected to the literati of British society. To levels even beyond Melyvn Bragg.

Imagine. Squirrel, after doing her daily thinking exercises for the next five years, will evolve beyond knuckle-dragging her way into Mark One, and slide gracefully into the cultured Donna Karan-dressed power networks of the creative, thinking elite.

Give it a mere ten years and Tiger will be propped up on Newsnight delivering nuanced and complex reasonings about serious and worthy matters, such as women in the Renaissance, or badger culls.

Shark will power her way through the social and cultural intelligentsia to change the way this world thinks about seaweed.

Then my superego really kicks in. Because of course. It is the answer. Acquiring thinking skills is the key to persuasion, politics, and power.

I bet they do not give these thinking skills exam papers to the future workforce slaving away in the factory comp at the end of the road; but I'm certain all the public schools get their future politicians to swot up on stuff like this as part of their entitlement training for PPE and striding about the world, ruling it like they think it's theirs.

Breathe deep, Squirrel, because you're just about to meet them, eyeball-to-eyeball.

Well, Squirrel has wandered off now to acquire thinking skills in her own way. By dressing Arseface in a plastic bag, strapping her to a cardboard box, and chucking her off the roof.

Hmm. I have no one to play with. Maybe you'd like to have a go.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Sleepover (not mine)

No, it wasn't me, fleeing the house with a badly-packed suitcase flung in my wake.

It was Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. They invited a friend to sleep the night on a pink fold-out bed.

Jo accepted the kind offer. She is same age eleven, schooled, and is a dead ringer for Shark in the way she twists her body and pats her tummy.

Indeed she looks so alike, out the corner of my eye, that for an hour I didn't realise she was actually here, in the house. I just assumed Shark was moving about a lot.

The sleepover went fine. I have no smashed up chandeliers, broken TV sets, or head wounds to report. Likewise, I avoided poisoning someone else's kid with salmonella, psychologically scarring her with my strange mama ways, or ending the evening at a hospital bed, apologising profusely for how our unfamiliar stairs turn sideways.

And I think the behaviour was normal. Chewing through packets of biscuits, lolling over the sofa, demanding drinks with ice and watching crap on a screen. Maybe that was me, because the kids all went to bed about 10.30, earlier than normal round here. The house was a lot quieter through the evening too, so maybe there is something in that theory: the one which says your house will be in balance if you have kids to occupy each other two by two, with no odd ones left out.

Well, it should all show, if anyone ever wondered, that home ed kids are totally normal. They're like all other kids. Showing the same weird instincts, irrational reasonings and bizarre desires for wanting sleepovers in the first place.

Unless of course we found the only kid in Hong Kong batty enough to want to spend their evening in a room full of triplets with a pile of chocolate biscuits and a heap of bad movies.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Swimming soaked my brain


Hong Kong sometimes does stuff better than England.

dammitdammitdammit. England, why oh why did you do this to me? What did you do with your swimming pools? You crapped on your outdoor lido heritage, then ripped up all the fun pools for miles around and bashed them all into institutional, attainment targeted, no-fun rectangles, made for tedious machine-drilled school swimming lessons!

But you should take a lesson from the Kowloon Park Public Swimming Pool. This place is something. Imagine two indoor pools for lane swimming, add professional dive pool, plus three large, super curvy outdoor leisure pools; the outdoor pools on three split levels, with paddling, shallows, water walks, islands, sitting areas and columns and waterfalls and everything. Except slides. Big fail on the water slides. But super clean changing rooms, open designs, great facilities and four of us get in for less than a fiver.

Even misery grit goes swimming. THAT'S HOW GOOD IT IS.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


Here's a shocker.

Then a large part of me thinks, doesn't the glossing, filling in, making up, using assumptions happen anyway, if you're gripped by the drama of composing those words, and paid a good salary to do it?

But maybe I'm not so forgiving; because here I am, about to jump on the bandwagon of recrimination, dig up the past, etc etc. In mitigation, I'll admit the indefensible: enjoying, amongst it all, that naughty moment of Schadenfreude.

You can probably guess why. (Surely it can't be that I harbour injustices, nor seek level scores for tiny grudges and petty resentments! No way!)

It was the one article Johann wrote that I've always held in a special place.

The article driven by a writerly need to provide an eye-popping, roller-coaster of a read. The one where home educated children made it to the top of the list for totally unwatched kids heading towards criminality.

Our turn for the 'polemicising'; the demonstration of our 'errors and idiocies', showing up our 'wrongs', so that we can 'get it right' and 'reduce our wrongdoing'.

And it was a great read. Didn't matter that sticking the knife in the home ed world didn't help the article make the serious points it could have made.

On the home ed issues, the writer failed to think through the implications, missed the points about law, misrepresented kids and parents, confused roles of welfare and education, glossed over legal parental duties, showed scant understanding of key issues in special needs, education, or indeed, having responsibility for kids, and so helped undermine the important points to make about minors held in prison and detention centres. A big fail.

Of course I could not hold people to account for one article. I wouldn't stand up to scrutiny for a second!

But once again
, thanks, Johann. Score levelled. Please make your writing great with incision and precision rather than through cheap shots with kids.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance

We go out and find a dancing fire dragon!

How dedicated am I!

You see, for your edification and delight, there's nothing I won't do! I'll immerse myself in Chinese culture. For you, I'll put in the leg work. I'll ride the Hong Kong ferries, walk the streets, and take the trams. I'll locate the best street festivity for the Mid Autumn Festival, and bring it right here to you!

Oh let my blog swell with pride at the photographs I can present for you!

Well, I haven't got any photographs of a dancing fire dragon. You'll just have to imagine it.

Dig has had a hand in this. He very kindly deinstalled the program I used to transfer the pictures from camera to computer and, as a little bonus, or just to make sure, secreted the camera on his desk and lost it.

But because, like me, he also goes the extra mile to be so very helpful, he has also complained about Sony Ericsson as well! Stealing his life!

While I contemplate a suitable reward for Dig, maybe kneecapping, or locking in a cupboard and starving to death, you could see a picture of this fantastic dancing fire dragony spectacle over here.

It didn't look a bit like that to me.

It looked a bit more like this.

If you want to read a story about the origins of the fire dragon, because frankly I can't be bothered to write it out now, you could also go here.

Enjoy. And take delight in how much we will do for you, dear reader, simply for your satisfaction. Say, we might bring you a Chinese moon dance next, DIY style, with mop bucket and curtain rail.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Mid Autumn Festival

Oh dear. There it goes again. Turning into a Hong Kong whining blog.

Here's something different.

Grit is invited to an expat party, even though she denies being an expat. It is good fun, because it involves dressing up in glow sticks, drinking a great deal, and sitting on the beach after dark, watching the Chinese dig holes in the sand and fill them with burning wax candles in celebration of the moon.

Moon cakes however, I draw the line. Right there, at jellied bean paste. Unless you want me to start the whining all over again.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Government Fun Day

When I write my next words, a deadly streak of lightening will tear apart the sky. My mother's dead but immortal rolling pin will bear down between the rips asunder, and give me a damn good thrashing.

Because what I am about to say, Mother Ghost, is that this government-controlled fun atmosphere is the logical end for your Labour Party.

The Labour Party was Mother Ghost's unerring party of choice, thanks to the behaviour of the Tories in the 1920s depression. (I told you our family don't bear grudges.)

It was also the party I also stupidly voted for, like a turkey for Christmas in 1997, and never will again. (The Greens and their fairies worth fighting for attract my natural hippie vote, but even they can be a bit dodgy.)

Anyway, while I now dive under the blows of the Sturdy Pastry Help, I will make the next point, and it is this.

What is important, is that in England, if you do not like the Labour Party (as people so clearly showed) then there is some freedom of choice and a system of voting. (Even if, to do it, you must show your unforgivable disloyalty to your trade-unioned, Labour-hugging family.)

But how glad I am that voting exists. At least it creates some sort of means by which you can chuck the buggers out.

Unlike Hong Kong. Hong Kong is ultimately a colony of Beijing, China, and no-one messes with them.

Now, if you want to imagine the style of local government this system produces down here, in this particular SAR, then conjure up the controlling social mentality of the Labour Party together with the property-developing, stitch-up merchants of the Tories.

And that's how it stays: whatever superficial gloss is given, the government still owns all the land, continues to side with property interests, manages the economy for an engineered result of society, never allows Beijing to be upset, creates the terms of your engagement, controls the parameters of protest, and organises what you do in the high street, and this includes the FUN.

Fun round here has a social, useful, organised point. Take this example, from a poster pinned up on the ferry pier announcing tonight's government-sponsored party. Seriously, I cannot tell the difference between this poster and a school lesson plan for PSE, as to be monitored by Ofsted and reported on as part of your end-of-term teaching appraisal. It is the sort of atmos, isn't it, that the Labour Party so loved to bring to us all:

Event: Mid Autumn Festival Community Party

Purpose: To spread entertainment activities and increase traditional festival atmosphere.

Content: Singing, guessing lantern riddles, booth games, lucky draw.

We only lack the information to tell us how the teacher will lead the activities, and give a time allocation for each one.

Well of course we have to go along to this community fixture, if only to join in the happy fun in the usual Chinese manner.

Even if we weren't really invited. Well, we English people were not signalled as part of the community. Despite the posters in English, the event was entirely Cantonese-speaking. Clearly, we either had to be married into the family or needed to show willing in a lot more phrases than thank you, sorry, and toilet.

So the point of this post is - apart from the fact that now I have a dented head, thanks to the betrayal of my mother's loyalty and thus no longer deserve the place of daughter - be glad you have a system of voting.

You should use it, always, because imagine what life would be like for you now, if the Labour Party was still in power, and in control of all the fun in England.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Where Buster Keaton can take you

One thing Hong Kong does, all through the year, is run arts festivals.

They'll pick a theme and often buy in the content from overseas. In that way, Hong Kong sits on the international touring circuit. So we get the opportunity to enjoy theatre from the west, orchestra, musicians, ballet and dance, all with high-value production work throughout.

Home grown talent is here too, of course. I haven't lived here long enough, nor seen enough of those performers to give you names.

It might be a misconception I have, but I think Hong Kong would give you the sort of performance which is about excellence, rather than radical creativity.

For example, I never think that Hong Kong produces the type of artists that the west can produce.

Because isn't there a place in western culture for those artists who find a social boundary, then walk along it? Probably involving knitting needles sticking out of their trouser pockets while their head is wrapped in tin foil.

These people might explore a boundary that most of us never imagined was there, or we never articulated that line, until it was brought to our attention by a bloke standing still and holding a piece of string. At home I might roll my eyes, and tut. Out here though, it's much more important to me that a society can produce art that explores our sensitive points, our unspoken assumptions or hidden vulnerabilities.

Hong Kong does not seem to do that type of performance. I doubt whether they can. The arts education and culture here seems to be geared towards supervised output, perfection of end product, and completion of creative idea in a manner that can be identified as bringing benefit to society. So it's all about conformity, and avoiding anything that smacks of social discord.

So the range and quality of graphic design, designed to communicate sponsored events, is excellent. But there's not much poke-you-in-the-eyeball conceptual art. And there's certainly no exploring social attitudes by hanging yourself upside down in a lift shaft copied from one at the HSBC and calling that art. Nope. That would be too radical, too provocative; the supporting money would fear it might suggest how society and its values were less than beneficial.

I'm musing really, but it is something to put in a blog post. (Hey! Who knows? I might come back to develop a theory of art and society by teatime!)

Anyway, I haven't got anything else but arty thinks. Because we sat in a dark room. We took the kids to the festival celebrating the work of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and watched One Week, The Playhouse, and The Goat.

Which afterwards set me wandering on film history, visual arts, how provocation changes over time, which art styles slide into mainstream, what stays on the boundaries, where the money flows, Steve McQueen's Deadpan, Stuckism, and what art is for anyway.

Well it was either that or wonder what I should cook for dinner.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Passing judgements, picking fights, and nurturing grudges

I am coming late to recognise Simon Webb's blog.

Admittedly, I am a bit of a coward to say this only now, after the fact. He stopped writing the damned thing. It sure pissed me off when it was alive. I hope he doesn't resurrect it from the dead.

What I found about Simon's blog - apart from how his confrontational, provocative, judgemental stance made me want to stab the computer - was that some of the home ed issues he referred to are fundamentally interesting and worthwhile ones to raise.

I don't know whether he covered them all, but I'd say of course these issues are worth thinking about as you make the decision to provide any type of education for your kids.

What do you want from school, what do you want from home ed, what do you want for your child, what involvement do you want the local authority to have? Your family values, your social networks, the composition of local school/home ed groups, the availability of transport, local sports and arts, libraries, clubs, computers. Then, you and your child together. Confidence/doubt, religious/secular, dis/ability, gifted kids, one-to-one teaching, non-coercive education, TCS (oh my god).

You can add legal jib, provision for statemented children, whether it's important to you to consider class, ethnic mix, composition of groups male/female. Try politics of school/home ed, your national and international connections, travel likes, and employment needs, finance, lifestyle choices, where can it all lead. Home ed/school for one year? Two years? All primary? Switch between the two? Right through to secondary, college, university, and do you or your child value that grade A pass? Or not?

It's your freedom of choice to consider it all, and more. Thank goodness we have this freedom; it's worth protecting, for anyone involved in education.

In fact I think it's a basic parental duty to explore these ideas; more worthwhile than fretting over put-up arguments over issues about teaching structure or child autonomy. These straw men are often a little pointless when you get into the home ed world, because most parents will try, over many years of learning, both those positions, which may both include school-at-home and running wild about woods, because the needs, wants and ideas of parents and kids change.

Well, I am not on campaign against any one aspect of education. I am on campaign against peddled misinformation, lack of imagination, and plain ignorance. Against the words 'compulsory school age'. Against every automatic assumption that now your child is aged 2/3/4 they must choose school, and so must you. Against anyone who chooses only one way because they never thought of any other option.

I want people to think, and choose education actively, whatever you choose, school/home/something in between. I want people to know that you can create your choice. If you want flexi-school, and there isn't a scheme, then you can make one happen. If you want autonomous, you'll find it. If you want private tutors at home, you can get those too.

So if you are thinking educational options, then of course go to homeedheretic. Ignore the fights; take away the issues. But then I'd recommend reading a host of blogs too. For the goss on all educational approaches, hazards, benefits, doubts, worries, everything. Calibrate the lot, one against the other.

And certainly don't alight only on grit's day. Because when I mentioned passing judgements, picking fights and nurturing grudges, I wasn't meaning Simon's blog.

Thursday, 8 September 2011


Crawling through the Night Market of Mong Kok is one of those Hong Kong experiences we must inflict on ourselves regularly.

I do not know why we do it. It takes two hours, we invariably split up in five directions, I get fleeced, the kids lose all sense of responsibility over twenty dollars, and Dig is extruded from the other end starving and short tempered.

And it is not as if we buy much that is useful. This time, a splat ball shaped like an egg (Dig) a picture of a bee (Squirrel), another watch (Tiger), a hair comb (Shark) and an extremely beautiful and classy handbag that was a total bargain and nothing should be said against it, and No it does not make me look like I am carrying a dead zebra under my arm, now shut up (Grit).

Maybe we just do it so we can say, We survived the crawl through Mong Kok. And yes, the bags are a bit pricey but who in their right mind could refuse a sales patter that began Hello Missy Missy Beautiful Missy?

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Ten great ways to handle the pain!

So far, I'm thinking, all I can say is woo hoo! I am coping far better this year than last.

Perspective is a great gift. So is heading over the hill, another year older. I find, even though the experiences and circumstances are no less shittier, the view of them is wider.

But - although we know what a depressive miserable old bastard Grit can be - I am yet driven to reflect, and turn my own sad ways into something useful! (See? I am so good to the people of Planet Earth!)

Thus, here are Grit's well-earned, top ten tips for climbing through depressive ditches. Those timeless pits of misery dug by life, and made accidentally worse by those who never see how truly crap it is. They just shovel in extra shit as you're scrabbling up for air.

1. Walk
Preferably outside the house walls. Pacing the walls on the inside merely irritates everyone. Anyway, walking out of doors means you must...

2. Wear clothes
Go the whole hog! In fact dress the hog in knickers, shoes (could be matching but not essential), clean vest with no tomato stains, skirt. Force eye make-up on the hog, with lashings of lip gloss on the hairy hoggy lips.

3. Think
Stuff the positive pretence. Realistic assessment of pros-cons, advantages-disadvantages works best for ole steel-eyed Grit, with cold, hard, uncomfortable, squirming, laser-beam scrutiny on all faults, flaws, and weaknesses, compared to strengths, successes and necessities. Leads to all round view of options, strategies, risk management. Then, after the brutal assessment...

4. Choose vice
Alcohol, in grit's case. Sad. Gin, specifically.

5. Take it out on something
Some might recommend cushions, pillows, or Postman Pat. But this is where one's own body also comes in handy. I hear physical exercise is a more socially acceptable way of externalising and owning pain than self mutilation, self abuse or self starvation. What the hell. It's all coping. And accommodating social niceties are not high priorities when you're face down in a gutter.

6. Ignore all negative judgements
Maybe there are people who murmur, 'I will never do anything as unacceptable as that' or 'How rude'. Maybe even, 'Unforgivable'. Think, how there is hope for them! Maybe they can yet learn to be human, and have a little life crisis for themselves.

7. Find a friend worse off than you
Sue (not her real name) is a case in point. Sue always cheers me up. She lives more chaotically than me! Broke? Unhinged? Given to acts of random violence? Child off the rails? Kitchen blew up? Meet Sue. Always a circumstance to make me laugh out loud. It's no coincidence she's exploring the stand up circuit. In her words: I exist so people can think, 'Thank God I'm not her'.

8. Fantasise
Delightful, delicious, dangerous, delusional, daydreams. Hands off them, they're all mine, perfectly tailored for me, controlled by me, and no-one's having any of them.

9. Laugh
Because in my experience people do not like the company of a miserable bastard. Not even me. I find smiling easy. Meaning it is still sometimes hard.

10. Be honest
The English say it like this:
How are you
Very well thank you

It should go like this:
How are you
Well, I had the urge to string myself up. I gave it 24 hours, ate a decent meal, and popped a happy pill. I feel a bit better now, thanks

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Brought to you by brutal reality

Here is something educational. A photograph of Squirrel, lying face down on a computer simulation model, crashing it into a canyon. (I particularly like the way my professional photography skills have captured the comatose Chinese guard, propped up in the corner, balancing industrial metalware on his head.)

Let's call that evidence of learning, provided today at the Hong Kong Science Museum. What about? I don't know. Forces and motion for her; endurance for me, since she has hogged that machine for an hour while I've stood here, holding her backpack, having stupidly promised to watch her.

Now I recommend we leave Squirrel well alone, in case she bites.

I can stand here until eternity gives up, and turn my memory to this instead.

(Please do not make that point about being a tad late. What is grit's day after all, except light years ahead and miles behind?)

Because it is odd, but true, that sometimes this list rolls into my mind, like a marble across an empty floor. I am amused to think of it, as I partake of another lunch-on-the-move, where I grit my teeth, try not to fall over, and throw tasty dried bread at my own face in our wonder-fuelled journey through our rich educational landscape.

So (while Squirrel crashes into the canyon for the 245th time), and I fumble in my handbag for the stale crackers covered in fluff, here are grit's top ten recommended picnic sites!

1. The M1, just past junction 34. At 80mph, where we can all enjoy our favourite jam sandwiches, packet of swiss rolls, and broken cream crackers from Lidl.

2. Any cheap-shit vending machine. With additional complaining about the price of a packet of crisps.

3. Covertly, quietly, under the table, in any upmarket Museum cafe, or indeed any place that charges a tenner for a half-pot of tea and a dog biscuit. They deserve it.

4. Demonstrably, loudly, over the table, anywhere. Okay, when I am surrounded by a bunch of other warrior women doing exactly the same thing, so there is safety in numbers. Anyway, the large numbers of feral home ed kids already intimidated the management.

5. In the street, ripping open the packet of raisin buns outside 7-11, CircleK, Tesco Express, or any corner shop or convenience store. Any street in the world.

6. The National Maritime Museum Cafe, London, England. Bang in front of the cashier, under the menacing sign which strictly prohibits consumption of any food not bought in the restaurant.

Say, Squirrel, you can recommend a Peasants Revolt themed lunch here! You can march over there, sit next to the blackboard promising orange confection at a fiver a slice, then rip the lid off your fairy picnic box, to enjoy your strawberry jam sandwich in plain unambiguous view, while the rest of the family hide round the corner, preparing outraged speeches on special diets and nonsense about teacup allergy and E-numbers.

7. On any public transport, including those that forbid eating and drinking. You would not like to see Tiger in a hunger-driven rage. Even the jobsworthy trying to nick us would pay the fifty quid fine himself rather than have his glasses punched down his throat.

8. Back of the car with the lid up. By the side of the road, layby, grass verge, car park, in a field, who cares, so long as there is a jam sandwich in the picnic basket.

9. Up trees.

10. In any museum, standing up, waiting for Squirrel to crash her forces and motion teaching device, while you are starving, because this morning you forgot to eat breakfast, what with the laundry to drop off and ferry to catch and frankly, if you do not eat this cracker now retrieved from the handbag floor covered in bits, then you might just as well lie down and die.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Not back to school party

Rats to those pesky home educators! This week they'll be sprinkling smugness and goldfish cracker crumbs across the land!

Because just as those schoolies are trekking back to institutions everywhere, we alternative educators are living it up.

We're living it large with the Ken Robinson dream: challenging your assumptions, creating our experiences, forwarding new cultures, learning with our own hands and minds, showing you the way, and having a fantastic time with a plastic blow up killer whale.

Happy Not Back to School parties everywhere! Roll on another free thinking year!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

China gets it right (and wrong)

I have a weakness for old pots.

I may have mentioned that before. It doesn't matter if those old pots are used up, smashed, or scarred. Whether they are complete, entire, or come with legs and lugs.

I have a special, foolish fondness, for ancient, dug-out-the-ground, the older-the-better pots. Watching those, I can ooh and ahhh and lose track of just how many grandmothers can you count? Stirring those cauldrons? Track them back, in their thousands, passing this way since their time to mine.

Then I fancy that old pots talk to me; primeval speak. They whisper sustaining food and spiced warm drink; they ring with echoes of people and ways of life and death. I'd like to lay my hands on those pots. We're just the same. We eat, we love, no different. We can turn love to hate. We can withhold; lose nourishment. Or give away too much, leaving everything scoured out and empty.

Maybe old pots remind me of all people everywhere. All shapes and sizes. Chipped and scarred, busted and cracked. With lips, necks, feet. They are bellies. They are lungs, filled up. They are wombs, heavy, empty. They are breasts, bums, bladders. They pose. Sad, dumpty, funny, composed, don't touch me, touch me lots.

It's not surprising then, with my love of the 'umble clay pot, that I have a rejoicing time of it, down at Hong Kong's Heritage Discovery Centre.

And what a heritage. China, in its neolithic period, was knocking out cooking pots with fine patterns and functional necks. I'm told that's about six thousand years ago. Glazing followed shortly afterwards, in China's bronze age, and from that point no-one stopped them growing from pottery strength to complete ceramic mastery. Except Mao.

Well, here, in Hong Kong, they have the neolithic Tung Wan Tsai archaeological site, explained and presented at the Discovery Centre, to help me communicate my passions to the kids about bone ornaments, stone rings, and pottery cauldrons.

And the site at Penny's Bay, Lantau Island, where they found mountains of discarded blue glaze Ming dynasty porcelain; dumped, possibly, as damaged goods on the way from the kilns in Guangzhou to the markets in Southeast Asia. Beautifully presented.

For once, China gets everything right. I am blissed out on old pots, from six thousand years ago, to last century, in an atmosphere which allows for devotional study, calm contemplation, and rich imagining.

Perfect. Except for one thing.

They called it a Discovery Centre.

Maybe I had a bad experience somewhere, but if you say to me Discovery Centre, I conjure up a dark, dank place with all the style and charm of a disused underpass.

There might be some hastily-erected panels, which wobble threatening at the fearful sounds of hammering and concrete churning. I pass the entire time fretting about asbestos, and trying not to breathe. If the Discovery Centre is going all out for the child vote, there may be knobs to bash and buttons to thump. These will be broken, along with the computer games. It is just as well. They will be bewilderingly pointless, with no merit, educational or otherwise. They will soon have me wishing, that in the near pitch-black dark, I could have the type of leg injury which would require air lifting to hospital. That would be salvation.

So if they had called this place not Discovery Centre, but Archeology Museum, or even Old Crocks and Pots Museum, I would have been here one year ago, like a shot.

As it was, I missed it for an entire twelve months, and I'm kicking myself.