IMAGINE LIVING DIFFERENTLY,
LEARNING, CREATING, GROWING ....
WITHOUT SCHOOLING.


Friday, 31 March 2017

On Diversity & What it Means to be British


Last weekend I was able to attend a day organised by The Centre for Personalised Education in Walsall looking at Alternative Educational Futures. There I heard Dr Rachel Sara Lewis speak about Radicalisation in Education. It was a moving and powerful talk. She spoke about the responsibility now given to schools and teachers - on top of all their other responsibilities - by the Prevent Strategy, and the dangers of criminalising young people for things they are not even aware of. She described how a culture that refers to young people as "the other" can actually lead to further isolation and risks of radicalisation. Radicalisation can be defined as "a deranged quest for identity". She spoke of a schooling system which neglects the individual and the right to develop one's own identity. She spoke about racism in schools as a black, British, Muslim, qualified teacher, home educating mother - with a doctorate. It was fascinating .... and challenging .... and thought provoking.

There followed an interesting talk by Dr Harriet Pattison considering post-internationalism, identity and the fundamental British values David Cameron spoke of, which were so quickly integrated into the National Curriculum. Do you know what they are? What do you think they should be? This in itself is an interesting question .... isn't it? Were we consulted? And would we agree - all of us - across lines of class, race and culture - on these shared values, which are quintessentially British?

Should you be in any doubt, according to the guidance from the DfE, the fundamental British values which schools should promote are:

Democracy
The rule of law
Individual liberty
Mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs

I was surprised that freedom if speech is not on the list, a freedom we have clearly seen slip away in recent years. Are there values you think ought to be on that list that are not?

How do we imagine schools are to impart these values? Does veiling certain children with suspicion, segregating, penalising and isolating them help foster the unity and tolerance we desire?

One of the things about the racist backlash after the EU Referendum was the surprise of the white liberal middle classes that such attitudes should exist in "their" Britain. Any person of colour in this country knows racism exists, lurking beneath the veneer of political correctness. My husband encounters it frequently in the classrooms he walks into as an Asian teacher. Dr Lewis encounters it frequently every time she is stopped in her car and questioned about her identity. Are such incidents surprising to those of us with white skin? I think one of the most fundamental of British values is our unwillingness to talk about uncomfortable subjects, to ignore the elephants in the room, to politely cover over any perceived offence. But our silence or our ignorance about these issues doesn't make them go away.

Interestingly, the list above includes individual liberty, and I am thankful for that. It is a liberty which means I can freely choose to home educate my children. But does this liberty extend into schools? Dr Lewis seemed to be implying not. Not when a girl can be taken aside and questioned in accordance with Prevent for choosing to wear hijab in her teens. Indeed, for home educators of different cultural backgrounds, enculturisation can be a strong argument for choosing to educate their children alternatively, to impart a positive self-identity and a sense of pride and happiness in being who they are, from where they're from, but British. Indeed, to impart these very British values we deem to hold so dear.

A few recent articles came to mind as I listened to Dr Lewis speak ....

1) Black American families take school into their own hands
I read this article about the growing number of African American families choosing to home educate, and was particularly struck by a comment from the mother featured who remembered her son telling her "Mom, I love being black. I just love the colour of my skin." She goes on to say, "a lot of children — especially African American children — don't grow up feeling that way about themselves." By failing to give children that sense of feeling good about themselves - about who they are - we could argue schools are failing.

2) Quarter of English state primary schools are "ethnically segregated"
One of the things I have noticed in our city in recent years is the opening of several new faith schools - one for Muslim girls, and one for Sikh children. Whilst we might agree that it is important to respond to calls from faith communities for appropriate schooling, I feel a sadness that other secondary schools in our city lose the diversity that these students would bring to mixed school communities. Of course, we can argue this about more established CofE and Catholic schools, too. And the government cannot be seen to allow the Christian schools, but not give the same privileges to those of other faiths. So, what solution? The sacred / secular divide such as is found in France to keep religion out of schools certainly doesn't seem to have helped community cohesion any more positively there.

3) How to defeat terrorists? True extremism
This article was published in the Guardian at the end of 2016. I read it then, and as a person of faith, was struck by what the article concludes: "The implication of the theologically illiterate Prevent strategy, for instance, is that if religious people were a bit less religious they would be a lot less dangerous ... As Jonathan Swift famously explained: “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” Which is why I want religious people to be more extreme in their faith, not less; to put aside their own boiling inadequacy and to trust in God’s greatness and that he knows what he is doing."

If we consider home educating families of faith, or of ethnic diversity, why the need to shroud their motives with suspicion? Maybe what they want is to pour into their children enough love, enough self-belief, enough self-worth, enough radical faith, hope and, yes, in some cases, religion, that actually they would know who they are, where they come from, what their place is in the world, how and why to love their neighbour as themselves, to truly respect those of different faiths and beliefs and to demonstrate an individual liberty which is not threatened by the other, or by being 'other' but which dreams, as Martin Luther King so famously said, "that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character."

UK National Champions

Yesterday, our family travelled down to Silverstone to support our eldest son in the F1 in Schools competition. The team he is a part of progressed through the regional rounds of the competition in the Autumn, and have been preparing themselves for the Nationals this week. Our son was recruited to the team not long after joining the engineering Academy in September. He was given the role of Design Engineer, and is the youngest on the team.

F1 in Schools is a fantastic piece of project based learning, which suits our son's learning style really well. The team have had to gather sponsorship, create & build a team image, design and produce and test a racing car using CAD (computer aided design) with the help of their sponsors, set up a display stand, give a verbal presentation, race the car & then endure the scrutiny of the judges' cross-examining. The specifications are very precise, filling 30 pages, and it is important not to break any of the critical regulations. Our son has loved the project, and worked hard at it. This term, particularly, it has been the one thing which has really kept him going into school because he enjoys it, and I am thankful to their mentor who, following a career in industry, voluntarily gives his time to support young engineers at the Academy.

Yesterday, we watched their team, Academy Racing, win the national knockout competition. The previous day they had already won the contest for the fastest car. At the awards ceremony in the later afternoon, they received these two awards with pride. Then we watched as many of the other fantastic teams received awards for Team Image, Best Verbal Presentation, Best Engineered Car, Research and Development etc. Tension mounted as the time drew near to hear which teams had won third, second and first place to be UK National Champions and compete in the world finals this autumn in Kuala Lumpur. Although we knew they had a chance, somehow we couldn't imagine that they would actually have won ..... But they did! We couldn't believe it. It was very exciting. I felt super proud of them all, and my heart delights in seeing my son succeeding in a field he is - and has always been - passionate and enthusiastic about.

You can watch the Awards Ceremony here; from 55-57 minutes, you can see Academy Racing awarded knockout competition winners and fastest car. And then at 1:23.00, they are crowned national champions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=882M_QlIOnw

Coincidentally, I saw this article in the press today: Teach 'problem solving' to produce engineers, schools urged. How is it that I, as someone who is not remotely interested in engineering, have managed to raise an exceptional engineer - outside of school? Interestingly, this article quotes the Royal Academy of Engineering as saying, "A focus on "playful experimentation" could boost learning throughout UK schools". The article also says three pilot schemes to unite the worlds of education and engineering, prompted teachers "to step back and allow the children to experiment and make mistakes." Allowing children to play, experiment, tinker, make mistakes, figure things out for themselves, exceed our expectations, reach beyond us - and to find their own unique gifts and passions - is what independent learning is all about.






Saturday, 18 March 2017

Emergent Writing 4

Yesterday, we were up on the community allotment planting seeds. My youngest son took great delight in planting a couple of trays to take home to be his very own. He chose to plant peas and spring onions. As we plant, we label the seed trays by writing what we have planted on lollipop sticks and dating them. So, smallest son's trays, too, needed to be duly labeled. He carefully copied the date (17/3) and then asked me to write the words 'Pea' and 'Onion' for him to copy carefully on to his sticks. Writing with real meaning and purpose, and all on his own initiative .....



Monday, 27 February 2017

New Topic

With perfect timing for a new half term, and the changing season, my smallest son was full of questions about seeds today ....

"What are seeds?" "Where do they come from?" "What are seeds made of?" "How are they made?" "Who made them?"

He was not satisfied with simple answers ... We went on to youtube and found videos about germination, plant reproduction, photosynthesis, time lapse seed growth ... some of which he watched several times. We got out a book we have about a seed growing ... I shall have to look for more.

This is the way a new topic emerges. As we looked at the plant embryo within the seed, our conversation moved on to human embryos, and we compared some images ... Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow. It was such a rich discussion, and now we shall be able to focus our enquiries, activities, reading and excursions around this new area of fascination, building the web of understanding, starting with the child's questions.


Emergent Writing 3

My littlest son's best friend is 8, and when he came to play recently, the two of them had a games contest. They played various board games and his friend made a score sheet to record who won each game - first to 5. Inspired, my little son, who is almost 5, wanted to play games with me the other day, and he made a score sheet in the same way as he had seen his friend doing. When children have friends of different ages, they learn so much from one another. And it was interesting to see my son using written code to record meaningful information. You probably can't make sense of what he has written, but he wrote the initial letters of his name and mine, and then numbers 1-5 beside our names as we won games respectively. His squiggles made complete sense to him, and because I offered no comment, criticism or correction, he was perfectly satisfied with what he had written. I have every confidence that, in time, with exposure to letters and numbers, he will perfect his ability to write accurately. But I love to see his developing understanding of writing to convey meaning, and his active participation in this process of communication.


(It's upside down!)

Free Range to Battery Farmed

First day back after the half term break, and my eldest boy looked thoroughly miserable. It was hard work cajoling him into school this morning. He has begun to refer to it as 'the prison' in spite of the Principal's suggested steps to help accommodate his desire for more independent learning. I think our son knows as well as anyone that these concessions do not really amount to much because, at the end of the day, the Academy has to be 'teaching' him in order to be seen to be fulfilling their professional duties. In spite of the fact that just two generations ago, young people of fourteen were out at work, making their independent way in the world, we now insist on keeping our young people 'protected' in the confines of school until age 18. Whilst this may keep the government's unemployment figures down, I do not believe it helps our young people to develop into creative, resilient, self-motivated, hopeful individuals. My son's academy has no outdoor space, and we have come to realise this is a problem for him. He needs to be outside at some times during the day, just for a bit of space and fresh air. You wouldn't think that is too much to ask. However, his request to be allowed to leave the premises during break or lunchtime (with parental permission) can only be granted if a parent can collect him and take responsibility for him. He knows this is unlikely to be workable, the breaks are so short. And so he feels confined and imprisoned. I know he feels he is wasting his time, that he can work so much more productively outside of school. And although he is communicating his needs clearly, no-one is really listening. Except that I am. And because of my own beliefs, I am becoming less convinced that the positive reasons to be in there are enough to keep him there. As I listen to him, this picture from one of Jamie Oliver's cookbooks comes to my mind .... I mean, if you are a chicken who only knows the battery cage, you don't know any different; you wouldn't ask any questions, the cage is just the way life is. But if you are used to being free range, what on earth would you make of the cage and the overcrowding, the smell and the suffocating monotony? Wouldn't you long for the great outdoors, too, and those happy days you spent scuffling around in the earth in the fresh air? Lovely fresh eggs were then just a natural product of your lifestyle. Now, you are assessed by the number and size of your eggs; it seems a nonsense ... How can you produce eggs of quality in the confined environment of the cage? Everyone knows free range eggs taste better!

What if they spend their whole childhood playing?

What if they spend their whole childhood playing?
So what if they did?