Monday, 31 October 2011

At last we can lay it to rest

Grit's misery whinge-fest is almost complete.

Only one plastic pumpkin head, one half-chewed gingerbread house daubed with the special hell that is black icing, and 2,456 items of cheap candy to dispose of in the trash, and I can be done and dusted until next year.

But first, the party. Better get it over with. In a process which feels not unlike clubbing baby seals or beating up the Labrador, Squirrel makes me prepare by dressing me up. She says we must decide between the horns...

or the bats.

When they have chosen, and humiliated me better than I can do for myself, I get my own back. I say now you have chosen my lovely costume, if you want to go to this party, you're walking. It's a two-hour hike, over the mountain, past the glorious concrete factory, through the splendid building site, and round the amazing fish farms, so get your boots on.

Squirrel retaliates by insisting that I wear my horns of shame. I get one over on her by smiling all the way.

And then we arrive! Admittedly not before I have had a little grizzle about how I would be happier if Hallowe'en were about poetic slants of shadows, shades of light, strange unbidden noises, gentle curling leaves, and familiar nature, taking us by surprise. Not blood and splatter, for which there is no need. No one takes any notice of me.

There's more delight to be had with a spooky theme beach party alongside a dozen home ed kids than with ole mama misery guts.

See? There was a three-line whip on the costumes, and there was no escape.

But I get a little of my wish too, because when it's done, we have to walk a while to catch a ferry: up the hill, down to the bay, in the quiet and the dark, through the humid jungle night.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

We have ways of making you enjoy yourself.

I am living in a twilight of unremitting pain now, thanks to the fun I can have at Hallowe'en.

Honestly, this is one reason why I never wanted to send the kids to school.

At the nursery Shark, Squirrel and Tiger attended for those disastrous months, preparations for any cultural event started weeks in advance.

Worse, we were supposed to be grateful; the staff probably reminded me daily of how they'd relieved me of a job. No they hadn't. They only added to my job, because every day the kids were at nursery, I spent my time undoing the damage.

Take Christmas. The staff started that the day after Bonfire Night. The nursery supervisor? (The enormous one with the big arms and narrowed stare, who I will call Gloria.) She was in charge of the wall display. She simply left the tinsel in place. She had previously used it for the Catherine Wheel, and before that, the summer sun on the beach party. November, she merely supplemented it with a 5cwt tub of glitter.

We parents had to ooh and aah at this amazing demonstration of creative thinking, then say nicely, Thank you Gloria, and not add under my breath, for being such a pointless arse.

I would collect my kids, usually hiding in the toilets or quivering miserably by the door, and there would be Gloria, waiting to lay home the message about the magic that is Christmas (i.e. whipping the 3 year olds into a froth of disappointment every day for six weeks).

Out would come a folded bit of paper stuck over with glitter. Gloria would be permitting no doubt about this matter, but yelling 'Hand it over. It's lovely mummy isn't it? LOOK. MUMMY THINKS IT'S LOVELY.' She lacked only the tenderness of an iron bar.

And the entire ordeal of celebration from November 6th to January 6th was totally for the benefit of Gloria and the nursery staff. They would doll themselves up in yards of tinsel come December, start consuming large blocks of brown-coloured lard, and force the school administrator to wear reindeer antlers. Of course they claimed it was entirely for the benefit of the children.

No it wasn't. Suffering a relentless enforcement to enjoy the Laws of Festivity in Gloria's god-given righteous way, and impose it all on my kids from November to January, was like a violation of my soul.

Now look. I've got well off the track. Probably a defense mechanism.

It is just that I see the same thing happen over Hallowe'en. Only this time I can't escape with my indignation. I cannot seem to opt out the prescribed ways of enjoying myself.

Look here. We haven't even reached the party yet.

For a woman who has gone out her way to avoid particular identifiers of mainstream culture (yes, call me anti-social, who cares, the world needs fruit loops), this is all pretty hard to bear.

I do not expect sympathy.

But I would like some. Tomorrow I have to wear the clip-on horns.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

The awful preparations begin

Hallowe'en is coming.

Did you know that?

If you live in America, no doubt you do. Admit it, you have been on tenterhooks, waiting to realise this fantastic ceremony for the last 363 days. At this point, you probably need nailing down to the ground and tying up with ropes.

I have satisfactorily avoided the worst of Hallowe'en for years. When I have faced it, I have made it English, of course, so the evening has started with tea and biscuits and there hasn't been much else, apart from a little light whining. When the children have forced my hand, then I have turned it into someone else's problem.

Of course I have dabbled, but only where educationally essential, with Samhain. (Child-friendly version: ceremoniously put two plastic Early Learning Centre cows in a cold oven to mark driving cattle through fire then say that is enough. Colour in a picture of a Celt.)

But all that happy and deliberate ignorance and avoidance has come to a sad end. I have now found that I can escape this junction of time no longer.

The reason is simple. I am surrounded by Americans, and other enthusiasts of the genre. There is no way out. Now even I have horns.

The children of course are beside themselves, annoyingly thrilled at the prospect of extracting candy from the neighbours simply by turning up with a plastic bucket. (I have banned that. I am insisting on coconut shells.)

And the costumes. Godhelpme, the costumes. Today I am pressed into service, thrashing between streets and gutters of Hong Kong grovelling in the ten dollar bins like an old tramp in the park.

The purpose is all miserable, as is the experience. I am scrounging cheap factory reject clothing, so three seamstresses can scurry back to their ateliers and convert discarded nylon into a bat, witch, and some half-baked idea about a demon cat.

But I must salvage something from disaster, and simultaneously claim it is life enriching.

Now I can say with absolute certainty that today has been very good and a brilliant opportunity for our ongoing education.

The children can, for example, practice their sewing, then revisit the following ideas: Customs around the world, Changing seasons, and Why are the Americans so completely crazy for this horrible event?

(Don't ask me, I have no idea.)

The saving moment of a weary day crawling through Sheung Wan's factory rejects.
Being distracted by a stationery store.
Discovering these little gems up the backstreets of old Hong Kong
is like discovering a pot of gold at the foot of a rainbow.

Well, only if you are a stationery enthusiast, and not a Hallowe'en aficionado.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Because you're worth it

Oh, I've had a fun day, catching up on those home education discussion lists!

You school-choosing people who imagine that home educators cannot socialise?

Pah! How wrong you are.

Those lists remind me how socially skilled home educators need to be. They must possess the diplomacy, tact, and social negotiating powers of Kofi Annan simply to navigate a route from one taxing minute to the next, and thus avoid a big bust-up before bedtime.

Fortunately, I am unimpeded by social skills, so here's a quick guide to some character types you can meet in home education discussion land.*

See if you can spot them by what they might say!**

The autonomously righteous.
'We simply need to keep the true spirit of home education, which is pure freedom, unimpeded by control, state, or funding.' (Approach carefully. These people may actually levitate on the power of an educational theorem alone. And don't ask if they draw child benefit because you will be struck dead.)

The paranoid-conspiracists.
'Didja see that? The state is out to GET US. Sure you know why. Shh. This list is monitored. We sussed the trafficking. Schools, children. See? Those education officers? In league. Just watch. Adoption agencies, welfare, police, courts. High ranking officials? Sewn up. And don't go near the shed. They can do things with lasers.' (Whisper Bilderberg, then stand back and watch them run.)

The ylang ylang brigade.
'Let us go back to our wisdoms here and tap into our natural energies. Remember, our mother teaching state is intuitive. Children grow and learn in peace and harmony with all the world if only we relax and let our mindsets go free.' (And next time they set themselves on fire with a scented candle, please don't sit and watch. It is not part of the energy flow.)

The lawyers.
'Hey, folks! Reading through the Education Guidance to Authorities (clauses 3 to 5) I note that the reference in clause 2.56 to the 1978 Act may or may not affect the clause 7.8.9 in the amendments to the 2004 Act. Can we have an opinion on this please? England and Wales only, obviously!' (How I wish these people just had big, scary, tattooed arms, plus a couple of rottweilers.)

The philosophers.
'Has anyone thought about this? Surely now is the point to consider the constraints of individual education and empowerment within a controlled system experiencing hierarchical societal pressures.' (No one else knows what they're they're on either. Freaks.)

The naive.
'Wow! I've discovered this amazing group! It's like, incredible! Have you seen these people? They don't send their kids to school! Can you imagine this! They're like one big happy family!'

The Marxists.
'It's clear now, how capitalism wrought education. We are nothing, nothing more than slave animals trained to better perform tricks for our masters. We are nothing, our children are taken, their futures are sold, we are only the powerless mutants chained to service greed. God, sometimes I get so depressed.'

The disciples of specious pseudo-educational theories.
'Hey everyone! I need to share this with you! My child fits perfectly into the Associative-Introvert-Judging personality type which requires the intertwining of gross motor activities at intervals with reflection in a non-combative group where the walls are best painted yellow. Why don't schools seem to know about this?!'

The people who really wish Tinkertop was at school.
'Would anyone like to review this curriculum I bought? It has eight stages, assessment, and 12 controlled assignments. I have to put in place a timetable and what we've called homework study period (she does that 7-9pm, otherwise no TV!). Say, has anyone been to the Local Authority with this model? I think it would be very good if they gave us funding!'

The wolf (entering discussion stage left, in costume).
'Hi! I'm new to this group! We've home schooled my daughter to Grade IV. We are so delighted that she is now accepted to medical school! She is aged 14 and we achieved this incredible result in a three-step teaching programme available to download at only $33.99 monthly subscription over here!' (Moderator has deleted link.)

The people we all should worry about.
'Actually deriving problems from loopholes to gain the acceptability of authorities with common organisational goals requiring new approaches for the fundamental organising in systems for underpinning of social structures. That means sometimes we all have to wear the hat.' (You can guess that schools are so very happy they don't have to deal with this one.)

The judgemental.
'No, I'm not saying everyone should educate like me. Really, it's not a problem, not at all, it's just that I think what they are doing is wrong and maybe misguided and let's face it, who are they to impose their ideas on me? I mean, what they choose is affecting me. I am only saying this to share my concerns and is not in any way negative.'

The offended.
'Was it only me? Did anyone else find that word offensive? Actually, I found the whole d... post offensive.'***

*See how varied we are out here? And I never get on to the religious, political, nor founding-father types.

**Not drawn from the lists, obviously. Would I be that WRONG?

*** Just before the offended get offended and the lawyers take me to court, I am proud to say, that in my time, I have belonged to nearly all these groups. Which is why I love 'em, this big, happy family.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Come with us to the Peak

We all need to relax, right? We can't slog away with population density and carbon groups all the time. Some days we need to fill our lungs with pure Hong Kong air!

First, catch the ferry to Central. It's relaxing, I promise. Nothing to do but stare out to the harbour passing by.

Then run and catch the bus, number 15, Pier 4. But DO NOT sit in our favourite seats otherwise we will stare at you with menacing scowls and mutter curses at you under our breath.

Ha! Good choice. Now you can relax!

The number 15 winds towards the Peak; I recommend you double-check the seat belt, and let's pray the driver didn't turn up at 5am saying I can have a go at that! Drank 18 cans of Stoutbeer until 2am when my girlfriend threw me out. The eye injury? Nothing.

Phew! Arrived safely!

We must stop here for general fooling about and redeeming the monkey stickers. (That won't make any sense, but you opted to come with us today. Now this is what it's like.)

Enough of a rest! Now, WALK.

This is excellent bum and thigh exercise. And if Hong Kong weren't so polluted it would be a great view.

Five minute rest, then off we go again...

Ta dah!

Here you are! The gardens at the top of the Peak! The grown ups might loll about somewhere.

But the feral kids can climb trees, whittle wood into spears, and strew leaves all over the pavilions because this is a hide out. Just make sure you dodge the park wardens. They have a mean Chinese stare.

So! Three hours runabout! Feeling better? Now you can call this next stage orienteering, because you must find your own way back to Central. Take the tram, bus, minibus, taxi, or walk.

If you get lost, we can always wait for you at the ferry.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Happy and bleak

I sent this article over by email. I received one back in return.

It's clear to me. We out-of-school educators, we won the argument on learning.

Schools can be grim, joyless, factory places; childhood thieves and spirit crushers.

They deal in mass systems, handle lives with minimum cost and maximum efficiency, order everyone in rigid structures and call it individual.

To say they are accountable, show you better that the system works, they intrude into your family, make daily, pointless demands, and thus control the hours and every days of pupils, parents, teachers.

And shutting your children away from the community! We have observed that for years, we people in your High Street. While we have been hiring public halls, taking over common spaces, using your libraries, museums, parks and high streets for learning, we watched the schooled children dressed to a kind and shut in boxes. Who's part of the community there?

So yeah, we won. The home educators were right. School is outdated. The world moved on.

I won't expect that people like me - gripers and misery guts - we who pull kids out from this system and holler from the sidelines, we won't enjoy any credit for shaping ideas about education.

I doubt any thanks will come to any of us for pointing out missed opportunities and putting the pressure on schools to change, even though in my world I've watched people turn lives upside-down, sacrifice friends, and chuck up careers to put into action what they believed in, what they feel is right in bones and hearts.

Nope, not us. It'll be mainstream educationalists in institutions who advance social theories and tell you the way forward. Thousands of inconvenient parents since Joy Baker will be swept away. We're the threatening ones, potential abusers, cranks, outsiders, freaks and loners, remember? Institutions need to keep control, and they don't do that by thanking the opposition.

But I think, in the next stage, the argument won't be about what education should look like. Glance over to some of the guiding ideas in our world. You can see what it's going to look like.

The argument will be about how much state/corporate involvement do you want in your lives.

The state/corporate will seek to assume control over knowledge in new and more fundamental ways than at present. They'll worm down to the organisation, access, and flow of knowledge. They'll want to structure it, order it, supervise it. They'll assume a role as regulator and monitor. When it is accessed by the young, the state/corporate will call it education.

Anyone might welcome that, or not. But where's the line? Where's the cut-off point? At which point will you say enough? A child's learning - their time, play, freedom to ask, explore, think, discover for themselves - this belongs to the child, and not to governments, nor corporates.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Assignment day

Spent the hours eating biscuits and rummaging around YouTube for videos on population. Somehow neither were satisfying but both seemed necessary.

Surprisingly, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are sticking with the routine I've set up for this IGCSE syllabus, even when they complain about it. Tiger will indulge in her favourite whine, then ask 'Can I do geography with you now?'.

So I've set up a slightly school-at-home approach, driven because I have three kids the same age following the same course, and inevitably the learning shapes itself in the form of a class. I even set this up for them to click about and support our discussions. I guess if you have one child following a syllabus the experience is entirely different.

When we have days like today, I feel there has been quite a turnabout from recent years, which sort of shows me how quickly children change and how much their growing and learning needs keep you on your toes. One minute it's all run about in autonomy and anarchy, and the next it's sit nicely at the table, look at the syllabus, and write population density in your workbook.

The irony is, we spent a significant time exploring anarchy while we were signed in to a school-based scheme. And now we're doing the bit that looks like school-at-home while running around town being blatantly illegal.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Another way in

A normal/strange sort of day in which it seems appropriate to show you a photograph of the teacher-mama conversing in dramatic manner with a plastic fish.

I'm not sure I can explain much more.

Except to say, this is how home educating days can pass.

I often think, it is pointless trying to make the normal strange.

I need to make the strange normal.

But I am sure that for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, it was simply another great day's out-and-about education.

Learning the uses of minced fish.

And what products come from shells.

But I bet that fish, chicken and plant diseases are sure to be useful.

As is a tour round bamboo...

travels through the solar system...

...and rocks. Because whatever we do, I always make time for rocks.

Well I shall bring the lot together. I'll call it an alternative route into a Geography IGCSE syllabus.

With all thanks to the Lions Nature Education Centre, Sai Kung.