Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Home Educators, Truants and Social Control

Social engineering, I think that's what they call it.  Influencing society on a large scale. At least, that's the nice way to put it. It kinda sounds manipulative to me. But no, I'm mistaken right?

Social engineering is just done to help, isn't it To help the poor and criminal and other people who challenge the common good? Surely it's an acceptable aspect of democracy? And hey, surely it's well researched and well planned and carried out carefully by professionals alert to the possibility of misuse of power?

I mean, you can't get ordinary people to drive change just because you tell them to, can you? (let's ignore history for a while here)

You can't get ordinary members of the public to snoop on each other for nothing, can you? (let's, again, ignore history for a while here)

You think I'm kidding right?

Okay, I don't mean every member of the public snooping, just 4% to 5% of the population in that place. And yep, not snooping about everything, all of the time. Just snooping on children who are out in public between 9am and 3pm, Mondays to Fridays.

Not snooping on adults (unless they're with those children at that time and in those circumstances). Not snooping during school holidays (unless they're the holidays of people who are visiting that place and they don't happen to correlate with the local holidays). Not snooping to any end but just to ensure people are abiding by the law (unless that law doesn't apply to them because they are exercising their legal right to educate otherwise than at school)

What's that? You think I'm referring to truancy patrols? Nope, think again. Notice I said that it's ordinary members of the public who'll be doing the snooping. People doing a range of jobs from part time cleaner to full time librarian. People who will be encouraged by their employer to approach and question children they suspect of truanting.

And, of course, people usually don't do what their employer asks of them, do they? I mean, their job is safe if they turn down optional work, isn't it?

And hey, surely the children and adults targeted by such an initiative won't mind, will they? After all, it's just going to be ordinary folk sticking their ordinary noses into other ordinary folks' business? Ordinary folk like bus drivers and road sweepers and toilet attendants and art gallery guides and museum curators and park attendants and care assistants and shop workers and... well, yes, some of them will also be a mite more officious... people with professional job titles and an inflated sense of their own importance... LA "Officer" types convinced the title designates them an honorary policing role...

Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "Stranger Danger".

Yep. It's not a joke. There's a plan afoot, in at least one city, to encourage all council employees to act as unofficial truancy patrols. I'm not sure what the Unions will say, if anything. I'm not sure what all of those employees will say, if anything. But it is planned to happen this Autumn, in a city near you...

Sure, near is relative!

Frankly, it's about all I can do to joke about this because it's potential consequences are so insidious.

Certainly, I don't mind strangers approaching and asking my daughter or I why she's not at school. It's a chance to educate, to inform and sometimes to recruit. Meeting people who are curious or even snoopy is a natural consequence of living an alternative lifestyle (really, we're so radical - not).

We take it as it comes and like to think that we're a great advertisement for HE*.

But now that the prospect of being approached by someone because they've got their LA employee cap on looms... hmm, I'm feeling slightly less inclined to be so generous with my time...

Then I think, no, I know what I'll do. I'll pre-empt the situation. If we go anywhere or see anyone who looks like they're from the LA I'll corner them and hand them a leaflet about HE... with maybe a a few Orwellian quotes on the back so as to prompt reflection on the nature of their role.

And perhaps we'll start wearing badges and T-shirts and sweatshirts with HE slogans on them - "School is NOT Compulsory", "Home Educated and Happy", "Autonomous Freedom", "Home educated - Out and About", "Not Another Brick in the Wall", "Autonomy Rules", "Unschooled and Unaffected by SATS", "Educate Yourself - Stay Free", "Keep Calm and Home Educate", "Live, Learn, Liberate Yourself"... I can see us getting out the fabric paints tomorrow!

Or maybe we will take different routes to activities and avoid some altogether. Why give the council our business during school hours if they can't honour our hospitality by treating us with the same respect they extend to their other patrons? We might even send letters to some of those galleries and libraries and museums and leisure centres telling them why they've lost our custom.

I'm really not sure what we'll do if this takes off as it's planned to...

All I know right now is that it stinks to live in a country where we have learned so little from history that people who are supposed support the development of cohesive communities are out there pitting us against one another. These people are my neighbours, the representatives of my adopted city, stewards of public money. And now they're going to be Big Brothers, quite probably without even realising that's the mantle they've donned.

S'funny, when I started this blog I wasn't going to get political about HE. I've spent over 30 years campaigning for equal rights for so many of us that I was pretty burned out by the constant engagement with doublethink and politicking. Now here I am. Two posts in a row expressing my unhappiness with LA busybodies.

Why? Well I can't help thinking all this behaviour might be another step toward a Brave New World.

“A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.”

Yep, I hope I'm wrong.

*Daughter certainly is a good advertisment for HE - she was the only child at a recent friend's birthday party to approach the mother (of school-going child) and offer to help with setting out food and cleaning up.

She was also the first one on the dance floor and the most confident dancer (and yep, she dances well). What can I say, if dance can change the world, she'll be leading the revolution :-)

Friday, 20 June 2014

You Do Not Own This Child

Okay Mr/Ms Local Authority, here's how it is.

You do not own this child.
I do not own this child.
The father does not own this child.
The extended family does not own this child.
The friends do not own this child.
The neighbours do not own this child.

The state does not own this child.

And you, as a representative of the state, DO NOT OWN THIS CHILD.

You said in the letter (paraphrased) "We take a zero tolerance approach to truancy in this city in an attempt to ensure our children are making the most of their education."

I know, the children you were referring to are not my child. My child is as free as she can be given the limitations of this society. The fact that she is so free whilst the majority of children are trapped in lives they have not chosen is all the more reason to advocate for them. Let me remind you,


Even if you or your partner/s birthed or adopted them. Children are people, not property. Hell, you don't even really own property - you can't take it with you where you're ultimately headed.

Children are not here to be owned - to be enslaved. Make no mistake about it, when you talk about children in terms of ownership you are talking about children as slaves. I do not use the term lightly.  You do not have to put manacles on a person to enslave them. You enslave them by limiting their freedom, their choice - not for the protection of others or themselves but for the furtherment of your own agenda.

You trade their natural autonomy for the illusion of a future you merely believe in.

You trade their joy for a belief about tomorrow. A time that you cannot control. Those moments that your ego does not control despite your faith in it's strength. A place, a time, that is beyond here and now.

You trade their present for your own dreams and the dreams of others trapped by materialism.

Indeed, you are a gatekeeper for the privileged. You are protecting that privilege in exchange for the illusion that you will one day be a member of that 'elite'. That one day you will have power enough to make life obey you. That you will have power enough to escape the illness, the shock, the dismay, the heartache, the decay, and the death of all that you are and all that you love.

Well, you will never belong to that club because it does not exist. 

No, I'm not saying you can't live a different kind of life. I'm saying that anything you materially gain will be an illusion of importance over and above your fellow humans. You will never be a member of an elite because there is no real elite. We are born, we live, we die. The path may start in different places, it may wend it's way through different territories, but we all know where it's going. To one common end. Even the richest of the rich, the most powerful of all, cannot escape that fate.

All they can do is build monuments to an illusion of importance.

All they, and you, can do is build an ego-illusion of power on the backs of the weak, the ill, the disenfranchised, the dispossessed, the next generation.


Indeed, if there is ownership going on it is you who are the possessed. The property of a lie. The artefact of a historical untruth that you can be special. Psst, let me let you into the biggest truth of all. You are not special. The head of the LA is not special. The PM is not special. The queen is not special. Hell, those folks aside, even the best of us are not special.

We are life. Each and every one of us. And no one can own life.

So please, stop laying claim to it.

Leave the children alone - you do not own them.

They are the children of life itself.

Go outside.See that sky. The one we all live within. Tell her she can be possessed and watch what happens. Listen.

Do you hear it? Do you see it? The falling away of the "me" and "mine". The crumbling of the boundaries between you and her and us? The waking up to our shared aliveness. The very essence of your life asking you to let go of others so that you can let go of everything that keeps you from peace.

Stop. Wait. You are more than this enslaver.

Notice. We are all more than this.

Listen, and say if this is anything but the truth.

No one, and I mean no one, owns this child.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Education Resources and the Small Home

We live a life that is *not* an advertisement for minimalism!

We live in a 1930s ex-local authority house (in a street where around half the houses are still council owned). It has reasonable size gardens but the rooms... well, they are certainly don't have Georgian proportions!

It certainly doesn't look, from the outside, like a "home educator's house"... come on now, you know what I mean, the stereotype middle class house with a nice car or two in the driveway, neat garden, well maintained, clean windows, and probably a glimpse of a piano through the front window... and, ideally, a paddock with resident pony (or two) at the back...

Yes, I'm smiling :-)

This is a home educators home though! With overgrown hedges (what can I say, when it's sunny-hedge-cutting-weather we usually want to be doing stuff other than hedge cutting!). With frequently grubby windows (can't justify the expense of a window cleaner). With no driveway or garage (I wish!). With no piano or paddock or poshness at all...

What we do have is a rather overstuffed space that speaks loudly of our interests and passions.  Overflowing bookshelves, storage boxes nearly everywhere, part completed projects frequently adorning horizontal surfaces, drawers and cabinets of supplies that are full of rocks and shells and chemistry kits and dessicated insects...

We have mobiles galore!

We have posters and homemade artwork and a precarious mountain of board games... we have just-in-case thrifted supplies for art and science and math and gardening and nearly every topic you can name... we have virtual resources, audio resources, visual resources, 3D and 2D resources, vintage and new resources... we have books, books, books... of course, we have toys... and we have a constantly space juggling mommy with a Tetris-tuned mind managing it all!

The Music Basket

The (Main) Science Drawers
The Encyclopaedia Stack
Shelf 1 of CDs (outnumbered by MP3s by zillions)
A Rock Cabinet
A Few Board/Card Games
Drawer 2 of 3 Math Supply Drawers
Nature Shelf No 1
Box 1 of the DSi Game Collection

And that's just an overview...

Do you 'need' all this to home educate? No.

However, if you and your child/ren have wide ranging interests, keeping the collections limited can be difficult. With a curriculum you can buy what you need for the year and get rid of it at the year's end (or put it in the basement/garage/attic till the next child reaches that 'stage'). But with autonomous education there is no telling when something will be discovered, requested or used. So, here, when opportunities to acquire (cheaply) arise, those opportunities are taken. And the resources are made available until they are wanted (or their disposal is agreed upon with Cupcake).

Do I ever reduce, re-use, recycle? Of course. Things are moved on sometimes.
However, many of these items are so fiercely protected by Cupcake- even if they've never been used! I have the distinct impression it's because she can imagine herself using them 'one' day. Will she? I don't know. I only know that I want to have it there for her if she wants to use it. Hmm, sure, if you can afford to pop online (to buy something new) whenever a request comes up that would reduce the clutter aspect. However, not all of us have that privilege and yet we want to broadly home educate too.

So, I have acquired bargain resources here and there since Cupcake was a toddler. I've rarely spent  more than 50p for a book, £1 for a board game, £3 for a science kit, £1 for a musical instrument or CD,  £5 maximum for a DSi game. The exception to our economical home ed' is birthdays. There are usually a couple of new 'educational' things for Cupcake's birthday (as well as toys, clothes etc.)

For the last birthday there was a molecule model set and a couple of new science activity books. For the next, considering her current passions, I'm planning on microscope supplies (prepared slides and the kit to make your own). If they aren't used? Well, they aren't used! This is about providing opportunities to learn and only Cupcake can discover if such things fit her learning style or not.

Do I dream of an orderly, airy, beautiful home? Sure, sometimes. But frankly, it isn't home education that has created the material inequalities that mean I am unable to create the spacious-home visions of my imagination...

Do I sound ungrateful? I'm not, I assure you.

I know that one day the shelves will be more bare. One day the plastic boxes will be passed on to the charity shop. One day there will be fewer sets of drawers in the dining room. And one day I will look back on this cluttered home as a place of promise and adventure and activity that I was lucky enough to be able to provide for my one and only, beautiful, clever, absolutely deserving, child.

Make no mistake about it - I grouch about the comparative (often unappreciated) wealth of many of my home educating peers and I see how materially rich I am in comparison to my parents, my siblings, many of my neighbours, and the millions of my fellow humans in destitute and dire circumstances.

I take none of this for granted. I am blessed - God or no God - I am blessed.

So, I do my best to fit it all in - with lots of organisation, some exasperation, and an appreciation for the bohemian-shabby-chic-jumble-sale style that results.

Besides, Cupcake loves her busy, colourful, home and it's treasure-trove of curiosities. I love Cupcake. Ergo, I love my home and all therein.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Computer Gaming and Home Education

Cupcake sits beside me, squealing with excitement at National Geographic having added an underwater adventure element to their Animal Jam game. It's not long after four in the afternoon and she'll probably play games for another couple of hours.

We do a lot of gaming here. We all have our own computer. Mommy and daddy have two each actually (a desktop and laptop for him, a desktop and netbook for me). Hmm, come to that Cupcake also has two laptops.

Yes, she has two computers and no, we aren't wealthy!

She has a distinctly clunky laptop that was once state-of-the art... until it was cast off by her dad's company in the early noughties. That was her first computer. When she was about three or four she started playing Windows 95/98 CD-Rom games on it - they were easy to pick up for next to nothing at car boot sales and needed no internet access.

She still keeps and plays some of those games - Thomas the Tank Engine, My Little Pony and Clifford the Big Red Dog games were favourites. Her favouritest of all though, were games by Fisher Price. There was one called 'Petshop' that was played many, many times. I still have the tune in my head...

Then, when Cupcake was about five and a half we bought her a used laptop running the Vista operating system. It was web connected but we didn't want her using the search function until she'd become more internet safety conscious. So, to start her off, I searched for links to websites she'd probably enjoy and that I knew were pretty safe. Of course, many of those websites were game websites or had a game element to them.

I set up folders on her computer desktop to manage these shortcuts - 'Animals', 'Planet Earth', 'Favourite Characters', 'Create', 'Girl Stuff', 'Seasonal', 'Learn', 'Watch' and so on. I customised the folder icons with cute graphics and helped her select a desktop wallpaper. I also added various PDF downloads to relevant folders so that she could print off colouring or wordsearch or maze activities if she wished. We did a few on-line internet safety activities together and then... whoosh... away she went. IT independent and on-line.

Don't get me wrong, She is rarely alone on her computer for long. I haven't just put her out into the big online-world and left her to it. I know paedophiles (sadly, that isn't just an expression) and I know how devious and self serving such repressively-damaged people can be (both online and for real). My hyper-aware sensibilities wouldn't let me just leave her to it.

So, she is web independent but she is also observed and coached to act wisely.

Here's how it works. My desk sits at right angles to hers so I can be busy *and* easily glance over at what she's doing. I don't have to intrude. We share this space and sometimes pass comments on what each other is up to as if we are colleagues working on different projects whilst sharing an office. Just a moment ago I stopped and asked her, "How's it going" and got back a quick, "Good". I can see she is really enjoying the new elements of her game. I can also see she is type-talking to other gamers and that the role-playing is within the usual bounds of her game play. No further comment required.

And if I was concerned? Well, I'd do what I tell her she can do with *me* if she is ever concerned about *my* choices. I'd ask a few questions to judge if my perception was correct, then (if necessary) I'd express my concerns and listen to her reply. Then we'd talk a little more... and so on... until resolution and hugs.

So far, I've only felt I had to do that two or three times in as many years. That's significantly less times than she has come to me upset at some on-line interaction that has crossed her own sense of acceptable behaviour from others (e.g. people abruptly ending a conversation). I figure we're doing well...

As for internet searches, she can and does do those sometimes now. She has agreed to parental controls being turned on (I have explained that you can't unsee something once seen and she's imaginative enough to know there is stuff on-line she really doesn't want to see - like people hurting animals). We've also spent lots of time discussing how to get good search results (specificity, specificity, specificity). However, more often than not, she doesn't web-search; she sticks to the sites in those desktop folders, the websites we've discovered together, or the sites I've sent her links to...

Sent her? Oh yes, she has had her own e-mail account since she was six. Boy oh boy, have I had some *looks* flash my way (and comments too) once people hear she has her own email account...

As it is, I manage the account (my password) and automatically receive copies of messages entering and leaving the account. So it's all good really. She learns to use email, she can receive messages direct from distant family members and friends, she can experience spam early in her life... What? What? Well, a local craft shop sent far too many advertising emails to her after she'd signed up for their info instore - she was soon asking how to unsubscribe and use the spam and trash folders! More power to her media awareness and the distinction between wants and needs...

I look over again... she's on the LEGO website now. It'll soon be dinner time and she'll probably stop then to join me in eating and maybe watching a little TV.

She has sometimes gamed through dinner though (usually when gaming with her dad)... at first, in the face of a request to keep playing I'd give her a plate of sandwiches, vegetable croutons, cheese sticks, crackers, apple slices, and so on... finger food to facilitate her game play. Then she made it clear she was still prepared to eat hot food whilst playing... so she's also had egg and chips or pasta bake or sausage casserole whilst online. Luckily, she really doesn't mind her food going cold and can eat old chips as if they were freshly cooked (ugh!).

My daughter, the gamer...

And no, the gaming doesn't stop there. We have a Wii system she uses frequently and she has a DSi XL too...

And no, she doesn't play only games on the computer... or the Wii... or the DSi... or the tablet computer, come to that.

Still, I'll talk about those elements of our techy life another time. For now, here's a link to an article that just might encourage you to review your perception of the role of computer games in your child's development.

'Gamers More Likely to Be Social and Educated than Non-Gamers.'

CD-Rom Games for young Cupcake

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

A Week in Home Education

Lately, Cupcake has turned some kinda corner about academic work - or "book-learning!" as it was called when I was growing up (my family are working class Irish and "book-learning" was a term of some derision compared to the value of learning naturally... yes, yes, autonomous learning isn't much of a shift of perception for me).

Cupcake has recently drawn up a schedule, of sorts, for academic activities. She has planned and is asking to do a couple of hours part-guided learning two or three times a week - often right after rising! Getting my brain into gear at 7 or 7.30am so that I can help her learn about volcanoes or do an art activity is proving a challenge given that until recently she was insisting on going to bed late and getting up nearer 9am.

Still, this is what happens when you value all forms of learning isn't it? They wax and wane into and out of the child's focus. It's never predictable, is it, this lack of curriculum? :-)

Anyhow, here is what Cupcake's been up to over the last week or so...

Vet outings with an injured cat.
Drawing a picture of mommy.
Learning about cloud types and characteristics.
Painting pictures of horses.
Examining plant and insect specimens under a microscope.
Visiting a cousin for her birthday.
Going to the beach.
Watching Pokemon episodes.
Completing a detailed prehistoric timeline.
Discussing the possibility of a catastrophic geological event that might eliminate human life... and what might evolve afterwards.
Reading another "Humphrey" book.
Learning to count binary on her fingers.*
Making a feathered crown (inspired by a native American doll).
Doing earth science and paleontology interactives online.
Learning about volcanoes.
Playing LEGO board games with friends.
Discussing concepts of gods and godesses - historic and current.
Watching Bill Nye (The Science Guy) episodes on YouTube.
Beginning "The Adventures of Penrose - The Mathematical cat"
Gardening - cutting hedges, weeding, watering, and planting sprouted onions from the pantry.
Bouncing on trampolines.
Visiting a farm as part of the Open Farms weekend with daddy (and discussing the animal welfare of production animals upon her return home to me)
Discussing the role of women in medieval times.
Playing with Pokemon figures and a fairy castle.
Selecting and planning summer day trips to living history events (one about vikings, one about WWI, one about WWII, one about the War of the Roses...)
Painting face masks of a koala bear and a fox.
Scrapbooking months of saved paper ephemera.
Learning about human and animal anatomy (both skeletal and internal organs).
Watching natural history programmes.
Discussing relative wealth and child poverty in the northern hemisphere.
Dance classes (awaiting medals for recent exam passes).
Learning about plate tectonics.
Playing board and card games with mommy.
Making mudcakes.
Identifying garden insects.
Playing with medieval character figures.
Going to a park with daddy - to play ball and frisbee.
Discussing non-duality and relative perceptions of existence.
Park meetups with other home educators.
Playing Wizard 101.
Reading trivia books (and bombarding mommy with "Did you know..." statements-disguised-as-questions)
Learning about deforestation and lamenting human folly.
Watching "Farscape" reruns with mommy.
Reading a book about dolls throughout history.
Drawing mandalas.
Going to Pokemon club.

 Recent conversations :

"Mommy, will you play 'Pharmacies' with me?"
"Um yeah, sure baby... but you don't really have any toys for playing that, do you?"
"Don't worry mommy, come see..."
Upon entering her bedroom here's what I see...

She'd raided the bathroom cabinet for pharmacy supplies...

"You are such a lucky mommy!"
"Oh yes, why's that baby?"
"Well, you get to home educate me and to sleep with me!" (mommy groans a little)

Later still ...

"I've been thinking about what will happen if you die mommy." (mommy startles)
"Oh, really? And what have you concluded?"
"I've decided that if daddy finds me a new mommy and she wants to send me to school, I'll go..."
"Oh really?.."
"Yes, and then I'll be so difficult they'll have to expel me and I'll get to be home educated again!" (mommy groans a little more)

 *The link to the binary-counting-using-your-fingers handout is somewhere on this astonishing page full of links to downloadable educational materials.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

What Home Education Looks Like

Some snaps taken in recent months. Please note, she does spend at least half the week in social activities, but I don't like to share photographs of others unless I've got their permission - hence, the lack of other other people in the photos.

Just dispelling any presumptions about the socialisation of home educated children!

Painting (inspired by Animal Jam)
The afternoon it snowed

Being a scientist at the Big Bang science event
The winter Olympics recreated

A winter picnic (Cupcake's idea)
Taking her daughter to watch the frogs in our pond
Playing Junior Brain Trainer on her DSi
Being a cautious otter receiving food from a human
Running a Chinese restaurant
Taking mommy to lunch on her birthday
Spotting dogs dressed for St Patrick's Day
Writing in one of her notebooks

Monday, 7 April 2014

Snapshot of Autonomous Education

She is sat by me now. Making play food from Play-Doh. My reading and typing being interrupted every couple of minutes by requests for food orders, by offers of work, by explanations of recipes.

I wonder how many school-going children still play with Play-Doh at eight years old? Certainly, the marketing machine does it's best to move children from one 'stage' of childhood to another as soon as possible. Well, Cupcake's not falling for it. Nope. She mostly just adds passions at present. Some things are gradually sloughed off but not Play-Doh, not yet.

Actually, many of the significant passions of her early years remain. Barney the dinosaur, Dora the Explorer, Maisy mouse... they all still have a part to play in her life. And dinosaurs...

This morning we worked on a Dinosaur lapbook. A project that got started quite some time ago then laid aside. Today there was writing, discussion about pronounciation guides, drawing, colouring, discussion about handwriting and grammar, a graph about dinosaur heights completed, discussion about using a book index, research on coprolites, then several chapters of a dinosaur story book were read. The plan is that the lapbook will be completed tomorrow morning... but I'm not counting my dinosaurs until they're hatched.

At lunchtime we ate in front of the TV when we discovered that not only an episode of Pokemon was broadcast but also a Pokemon movie. Cupcake was delighted. I, on the other hand, was frustrated. Why is it that Pokemon is rarely subtitled?

Catching up on Pokemon on ITV Player
And back to this moment... Turns out there is maths in Play-Doh! I've just been interrupted with pricing details for Play-Doh sweeties. Then there was the conversation a moment ago about how to cut a pizza into thirds (she got out her wooden fraction blocks as a guide). She says she is her own boss... hang on, I've just been offered a partnership! Half the profits apparently for doing half the work.

Seems blogging must wait once again...