Thursday, 8 February 2018

A Social Justice Issue

I have been thinking about social justice a lot recently. Most of the issues I feel passionately about are issues of social justice ..... poverty, the environmental crisis, the dumping of our waste (& resulting toxins) in other parts of the world, gender equality .... Such issues (& I know there are many others!) stir our hearts because we care about our neighbours in the global village. We are none of us disconnected in our interconnected world. Today it was brought home to me again that unschooling is a social justice issue. But it is not seen as such, and remains shrouded in misunderstanding and misrepresentation.

One of the criticisms most often directed at unschooling is that it is a luxury choice for the middle classes, for those who can afford it. It is assumed, though often unspoken, that some parents would not be able to unschool, perhaps because they are not seen as being “educated” enough by the system they are seeking to escape. Or perhaps because it is too costly, and some folks will simply not have the means. I have long known that this is not true. Unschooling is a choice, a life path, like so many other choices. And there are parents who choose this path even though they are single, families who choose this way and live far more simply, parents who live on benefits yet long for something better for their children, a different way, who enjoy a whole new education alongside their offspring and are empowered by it. Unschoolers are a mighty diverse bunch. Seems to me that in fact, those deemed to have been failed by our current system of schooling, have the most to gain from unschooling, the whole process of deconstructing the self as defined by the powers-that-be. Freedom is actually a scary concept, isn't it? We talk as if we want people to be free, but free thinking can be frightening, threatening to the status quo; threatening to those who are pretty well served by the existing hierarchies, who find the world as it operates works pretty well for them. Do we really want people to be free?

Another question I am often asked is about aid initiatives in the so-called “developing world” .... Is it not a good thing to be providing schooling (education) to children in the name of aid and development? Of course, questions like this are multi-layered, and do not always have easy answers, but I think we have to be prepared to examine our motives, to begin with the people we are seeking to serve and to ask what their priorities for development would be, rather than imposing our own. And I think we have to be prepared to be wrong, to be challenged about solutions we may simply take for granted, to be open to rethinking the entire system of global development and the role of schooling in that.

To these questions speaks Manish Jain in Udaipur, India, reminding me that yes, unschooling is indeed a social justice issue. In my heart of hearts, I despise schooling and the way it shapes people into conformity and enslaves them to the way things are, to knowing their place in the scheme of things. As Manish says, "Using IQ tests and labelling millions of innocent children as ‘failures’ is one of the greatest crimes against humanity." Maybe you disagree with us both, and that’s OK, but I am thankful for voices like Manish Jain’s and for the reminder that all around the world, green shoots of alternative thinking are shooting up amongst the ruins of our failing systems of institutionalised schooling, kindred spirits whose words speak out for a different way, a better way, of raising human beings.

"After visiting and working in many villages in Africa and India, I noticed that schooling was a vehicle for spreading industrial monoculture. It was like an AIDs virus which destroyed the immune systems of local culture, and local commons and local common sense. ‘Educated’ students became ashamed of their traditions and their elders, they became emotionally and spiritually disconnected from their fields and forests, they became useless members of their local economy. The entire backbone of community life was disrupted. My own father was a victim of this. Today it has become very clear to me that the call for ‘educating the tribals’ is very much linked to an agenda of displacing tribal communities from their land (which are full of valuable natural resources).”

Read the whole interview with Manish Jain HERE.

Shikshanter: The People's Institute for Re-Thinking Education and Development

"The modern factory-schooling education system is one of the greatest crimes against humanity. One hundred years from now, we will look back at the violence of the culture of schooling and ask how could we have done this to innocent children."

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Give childhood back to children

If we want our offspring to have happy, productive and moral lives, we must allow more time for play, not less.
Because students spend nearly all of their time studying, they have little opportunity to be creative or discover their own passions.

"Play is the natural means by which children and other young mammals educate themselves. In hunter-gatherer bands, children are allowed to play and explore in their chosen ways all day long, every day, because the adults understand that this is how they practise the skills that they must acquire to become effective adults."

"We can't teach creativity, but we can drive it out of people through schooling that centres not on children's own questions but on questions dictated by an imposed curriculum that operates as if all questions have one right answer and everyone must learn the same things."

Wonderful piece by Dr Peter Gray. Read the full article HERE.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

On Rainforests, Palm Oil & Caring ......

To envisage the devastation of the world's rainforests, the extent of palm oil production and the effect of both on native people, Chris Packham's documentary is worth a watch .....

Chris' connection with this photograph resonated with me. I wrote the following on this blog in November (See A Road Trip) following a visit to the Eden Project .....

"The stories of the peoples of the rainforest, depicted in wonderful photographs around the Biome were particularly moving. Some of these tribes have had no contact with the outside world, and are endangered by the destruction of their native forests. I was particularly touched by this one extraordinary photograph of a young girl, taken the year I was born. She was described as being as at home in the forest as any child in a modern playground, and already knowledgeable about the flora and fauna around her. I look at this picture, and wonder if the girl is still alive; she would be older than me. And I think about the arrogance with which we condescend to native peoples, thinking we have so much to teach them, about civilisation. And as I gaze around me at this immersive rainforest experience, and think about all the riches of our planets' forests, all the resources they hold, many of which we have yet to discover, I wonder who really has more to teach. Do we not have so much to learn from native peoples in these majestic places?"

I always wanted to walk in a rainforest, sleep out in a rainforest ... And I did once, in my youth, when I was travelling around Australia. I slept one night in a hammock slung between two majestic trees - and it was noisy, and alive, and lonely - and wonderfully wild and remote and vast ... It felt so far from anywhere. Untouchable. Yet we are destroying it. The lungs of our planet. Beautiful wilderness, treasure trove of medicines and flora and fauna we haven't even discovered ....

Another post on this blog is relevant here: The Cultural Imperialism of Schooling. We should not educate our young people out of touch with the wild places, out of touch with the earth and the wilderness. "The question is not - How much does the youth know when he has finished his education - but how much does he care?" (Charlotte Mason)

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Ofsted's Bold Beginnings

If Ofsted's Bold Beginnings report is driven by concern that transition to Year 1 is difficult because the Early Learning goals are not aligned with the year 1 national curriculum, then why not make Year 1 more play-based rather than narrowing the curriculum in reception? If research and the experience of Nordic countries (and others) teach us that children are better equipped for learning if they start at age 7 after several years of learning negotiation, communication and risk-taking through play, particularly outdoors, why not extend learning-through-play further up our infant schools rather than pushing formal learning ever younger? Why do the powers-that-be continually fail to understand that children learn through play, it is their learning media? We could argue that all of us need more playtime in our lives to awaken and facilitate our creativity and problem-solving faculties. How vital this is for the youngest in our society.

Read more about Ofsted's Bold Beginnings report HERE.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

IF ...

If I can
ask my own questions,
try out my ideas,
experience what's around me,
share what I find;

If I have
plenty of time for
my special pace,
a nourishing space,
things to transform;

If you'll be
my patient friend,
my trusted guide,
fellow investigator,
partner in learning;

Then I will
explore the world,
discover my voice
and tell you what I know
in a hundred languages.

This poem was written by Pamela Houk with valuabel suggestions from Lella Gandini and the late Loris Malaguzzi.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Reggio Inspired

This term, I have been working with four other home educating Mums and our 9 children aged 5-11 to build a Reggio-inspired learning community. Reggio Emilia is an innovative, researchful and reflective approach to early years education which values the child as strong, capable and resilient with an innate capacity and deep curiosity for learning. The role of educator is one of lifelong learner, continually reflecting on and redefining their understanding of how children learn. In my experience and understanding, as children grow beyond the pre-school years, Reggio ideas grow into Project Based Learning as outlined in Lori Pickert's excellent book, "Project Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners." Of course, as most children in this country go to school, I am curious to explore how these ideas can be applied to education as children grow beyond their early years. I am particularly interested to explore the idea of collaborative learning which is so important in Reggio pedagogy, that is the way ideas spark in the relationships between children. As a home educator, it is great to witness and facilitate self-directed learning, but it is also important to learn in community and to see how learning develops within a group of children, how ideas spark between the individuals in a group of mixed ages, us Mums as well as the children. I do feel our group is quite experimental, and we are venturing together up a new path in our respective home educating journeys. It has felt rather like building an extended family, a learning community. This term has really been about gelling as a group and getting to know each other. We have simply met regularly, one morning each week, and provided a variety of contexts in which the children can play and learn and engage with one another, from meeting at my home and playing with Lego, to visiting our local transport museum, to meeting in our local library and making our own books, to attending an illustration workshop together. Our local art gallery opens a Reggio playspace to early learners once a month, and we have managed to book an early bird slot for our unusual group of older children which we have enjoyed 4 times this term. It has been interesting to observe the children's play in this space full of open-ended activities and creative possibilities. We have seen some lovely collaborative play, interestingly especially amongst the girls. I have observed the boys focusing in short bursts to build or construct things, then running around, using a lot of the space, before settling to a focused task again. I simply document this because it is what I have observed the children doing, undirected. It makes me think about how boys are required to sit for such long periods at school ....

As part of our learning this term, we Mums took the opportunity to attend a Sightlines Initiative network meeting at Madeley Nursery School, a setting I have long wanted to visit. It was lovely to be able to have a look around the learning space, and see how the children's project work is documented and displayed, as well as to hear some of the staff's stories and to catch something of their Reggio-inspired vision: child-led and challenging. Head teacher, Louise Lowings, spoke of valuing being a learner. She quoted Jerome Bruner who said, "We are storytelling creatures, and as children we acquire language to tell those stories we have inside us." Isn't this a powerful image of learning, granting children the means of expressing the stories carried within? I love this .... It is deeply respectful of the fact that ALL children carry stories within them. Central to Reggio philosophy is the belief that children are competent learners with an accessibility to ideas. "The important thing about this pedagogy is finding your voice," said Lou, and this is true for all of us, both the adults and children in the learning community.

One of the key questions for us in our new Reggio learning group has been how do we document our group learning? Even in our small group of 9 children, how do we select which pathways to follow? There are so many ideas buzzing in any group of children. How do we settle on a shared project idea? I know from Project-Based Learning and the ideas of Lori Pickert that, over time, as we engage in facilitating this kind of learning, we will get better at selecting those interests and questions which have the potential to lead on to deeper learning and sustained project work. But her advice is just to pick something and go for it. See what happens. If it flows, great. If not, try again. This is how we learn. We begin by seeing the potential. Learning happens in the relationship between the children - and the ideas. The stories emerge .... How do we catch them? We can select materials and make them available .... Materials which offer empathy to a particular idea, which have the plasticity to tell the stories. Children can explore many different ways of working with an idea expressing themselves through art, music, movement, photography, writing .... 100 languages, 100 ways of responding, of feeling. I loved the idea Madeley have adopted this year of holding their creative studio "in attesta" (in waiting) .... a place prepared in response to children's emerging stories and then opened to them; a place prepared to evolve and respond to evolving ideas. When revealed to children, such a space inspires quiet reverence; it is a space demonstrating respect for their ideas, a magical space, a place that sustains engagement. This is about educators planning and giving to children's learning, and there is an energy generated by being learners together in a community. One of the key quotes I came away with from my visit was, "We stopped instructing and started loving." If only more educational settings were able to embrace such an approach.

You can read Madeley Nursery's Principles, Values and Aims HERE.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The Right Brain Develops First

"Did you know that the right brain develops first? It does so by the time children are four years of age. The left brain, on the other hand, doesn’t fully come online until children are approximately seven years old; hence the first seven years being recognized as such a critical period in child development."

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” ~ Albert Einstein

"The Right Brain Developer First - Why Play is the Foundation for Academic Learning"