Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Under your nose

Don't know whether to come away brimming with smug satisfaction, or unplug my particularly obnoxious sluice of inner outrage to go and find the neighbour's cat, then kick it.

Talking about Start the Week on Radio 4. That one with Jay Griffiths, author with book to flog, sat at the Brighton Festival. (Yes, and me sat 200 miles away I already nurture a sense of exclusion, so I agree, not a good start.) Jay Griffiths is author and now, pronouncer of childhood. Probably doesn't have any children, so she can better pronounce a clear viewpoint, a firm opinion, and all the answers.

I should say, of course, that not having children triumphantly sucking the marrow out of your mother bones on a daily basis does not disqualify you from having an opinion about how children are brought up in 21st century society. Because if it did, the same principle would apply to me. I would be excluded from pronouncing upon, say, the culture of lawnmowers, on the basis that I do not own one.*

In fact, if I have to take sides, I am in Jay Griffiths' camp. She makes many points which in Grit's distorted world make very clear sense. I have met children who have never climbed a tree, or who think a timetable of 15 hours homework every week at age 11 is normal, so I have sympathies up for grabs with any author or public speaker prepared to tell the world that it is frankly wrong to exclude children from the outdoors, control their activities, schedule their days, or prevent them from any independent experience.

But she does not need to worry the world's indigenous cultures, peering over their woven bamboo screens, if she wants to explore theories about social nurturing of a child's will, or compare a child's free state with the way it is claimed we bring 'em up in England, i.e. destroying their spirits for the convenience of the adult world. No, she can stay at home, and come to a local home ed meet.

Jay, I recommend you pick a social where the autonomous wing, the far out crowd, and the followers of Our Lord Holt are all out, combined in glorious anarchic force with sticks, dog, and car battery.

She should know, and they all should know - those commentators and pronouncers about the life of the child in present-day Britain - that there exists an extensive community right here in England sucking on the breath of Blake. Those abstract Romantic notions about the purity, innocence and special sanctity of childhood are not so abstract: out here they are put into gruelling practice, every single bleeding day.

The result is sometimes actual blood, or at least a sordid chaotic mess, this explosion of an unstructured, child-led day. Risk-averse it ain't. But it is also deeply rationalised, explained and thought over in a wide philosophy of which Blake was only a part.

In the home ed world you can find not only a deep belief in the Romantic vision of the innocent child; you can see ideas about a child's imagination being as clear and pure as a spiritual awareness guiding the actual practice with the paint pots and glue; you can find parents observing in great detail how a child's innocent comment is in itself a social critique, and you will see, if you can last the afternoon, how the home ed child's learning is driven by, and initiated from, intimate contact with the out-of-doors. We didn't come by that slogan - The World is Our Classroom - on the basis of a ten-minute supervised asphalt playtime Monday to Friday.

So this is the bit that irks me, and makes me want to kick cats. Jay Griffiths should know how this long educational tradition of near-anarchy works in England, and the autonomous wing should shout louder and harder so that she, and others like her, know for sure how philosophies about childhood are being put into practice under her very nose, down her local community hall, on her high street, and in that field, the one she probably travelled past, on the way to Brighton.

* Lawnmowers are pointless. If you have a little bit of grass, get kids to cut it with nail scissors. And if you have a lot of grass, get a goat. 

(However! If you came to me and said, Grit, I have one of those lawnmowers you sit on and drive about, then I would probably want a go, and change my mind immediately.)

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