Cantering Along

Yes, it’s another “oh, haven’t posted for months, will have to bore everyone with what we’ve been doing” post. The art of regular blogging seems to have deserted me once and for all.

No matter. We’ve done stuff. Lots of stuff, in fact. Which has included (yes, I’m even going to resort to bullet points now, as time is short):

  • English – lots of precis work from a 1950s textbook. The ability to write, cut and edit to tight word counts is one of the few school taught skills which has actually served me well in my own career. Emily didn’t believe me when I said I used to enjoy precis work at school – so when we found a very old and very hard precis textbook in a charity shop, I bought it for fun. And watched my daughter prove that she’s even better at these than I was. Emily’s also been working on essay writing skills and has been reading a lot – current book on the go is “Opening Skinner’s Box: Great Psychology Experiments of the Twentieth Century.”
  • Psychology – Emily’s working her way through an undergraduate level psychology course book – an antiques centre find, funnily enough, even though it’s very recent. She’s on the consciousness chapter at the moment, about to start looking at dreaming.
  • Sociology – we’re finally coming to the end of a study of the sociology of the family, which has caused much hilarity. Emily loves sociology, but we’re really going to have to find a coursebook which doesn’t make the subject more mind numbing than your average paint drying exercise. We’re about to start on class stratification.
  • Linguistics – Emily’s devouring various linguistics related books, including a teach yourself book and “The Secret Life of Pronouns“. She’s enjoyed working through some of the problems given on the site of the Linguistics Olympiad too. We’ll find some proper resources for linguistics shortly.
  • Geography – of the British Isles and America, in particular. Better late than never.
  • History – we’re in the middle of a whistle stop tour of the 18th century around the world, plugging some gaps in areas which previous studies didn’t cover. Emily and Jon are reading one of the huge “life story of London” type books – can’t remember which one, but it’s apparently excellent.
  • Maths – *snort*. Well, I’ve found a book on the maths required for social science undergrads. We might even look at it at some point.
  • Science – electronics and biology mostly, particularly genetics at the moment.
  • Latin
  • Economics – we gave up on the GCSE economics syllabus some while ago in absolute disgust (too easy) and gave up on the A level textbooks we had a little while before that (too hard at the time). Still searching for a middle ground, but we’re probably ready to have another look at the A level texts.
  • Politics – yes. Political stuff. Indeed.
  • Arts – various bits of sewing. Attempts at craft-y stuff. The usual.

The point being that home ed is happening, and all is well. All is also going rather well on the business front, of which more another time. And all is going exceedingly well on the horse front, with Blue as adored and adorable as ever. Oh, and it snowed. And that’s about all I want to say. There. That was worth waiting for, wasn’t it?

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Christmas and 14th Birthday Catchup

Fantastic Christmas, with lots of craft-y stuff done throughout December. We’d missed out on doing much craft over the last couple of years, as Emily had gone off doing it, but she was keen this year and it was fun to get back to making decorations and the like. After Christmas, Emily was 14 on the 2nd January – my goodness, seems hard to believe! Every year since she was five, we’ve always decorated the dining room with a surprise theme for her birthday. At five it was princesses, six was ballet, seven was snow queen, eight was Harry Potter, nine was ancient Egypt, ten was jungle/butterflies/parrots (we got Lulu the day after her 10th birthday), eleven was disco, twelve was London, thirteen was vintage…. this year was books.

Anyone who knows Emily’s passion for books and reading will not be surprised to find that she was over the moon with this surprise. We decorated in secret with all manner of things made from book pages (from charity shop 10p books), inspired by lots of book page art I found on Pinterest – we had book page vines, book page wreaths, book page mobiles, book page letters, book page pom-pom ish bunting, a book page tablecloth and a huge “tree” (cut from the garden) covered in book page leaves🙂🙂 It took hours of effort, but it looked amazing when we were done – the photos don’t do it justice. Emily also had tiny miniature books on her birthday cake, each with readable pages. Naturally, she had a ton of books among her birthday presents……and has barely surfaced from the since.

In general oh-look-haven’t-blogged-for-months catchup terms: Home ed is going fantastically well, and Emily’s added linguistics to psychology as a new potential career choice. Lincolnshire County Council appear to have finally got the message and given up on their demands for “evidence” from us – a report was “due” in September 2012, but they’ve gone awfully quiet apart from the occasional email attaching revised policy documents for my information (not much of an improvement on the old documents, mind you, but still). Emily’s happy, healthy and glowing, and her hand eczema pretty much cleared up over the Autumn. Jon and I are full of positivity about a wide range of new projects/career interests. The writing market is really starting to pick up, and lots of new work is being commissioned from us. Emily still has Blue, of course – he’s been stabled at night throughout the autumn/winter, so the mucking out has added an extra hour to our horsey time each day, but he’s settled really well into it despite not enjoying being stabled as a general rule. Spring is on its way and he’ll be back to 24 hour turnout soon, I daresay. Among Emily’s Christmas presents was a bitless bridle which he’s really taken too; he seems a lot more relaxed without a bit and also a lot more energetic (if he can be both at the same time, which trust me, he can be). Looking forward to 2013 as it gets underway🙂

And so for the obligatory massive photo catchup, with some from Christmas and some from birthday. Ta-da! [Hmm. WordPress has decided to insert all these photos, full size, into a huge long list. Not what I had intended, but I’ve run out  of time to fix it now. If your page takes forever to load this lot, you’ll just have to take my word for it that they’re all lovely …….😉 ]

artscrafts

Gift baskets for home made sweets.

Gift baskets for home made sweets.

Emily and Blue ready for a Christmas ride - Blue's plumes in the plume holder invented by my Dad for his bridle.

Emily and Blue ready for a Christmas ride – Blue’s plumes in the plume holder invented by my Dad for his bridle.

Plaiting tinsel into the ever-patient Blue's mane.

Plaiting tinsel into the ever-patient Blue’s mane.

bokeh feltedornaments ginger1 gingerbread hanginghearts

Juliet.

Juliet.

Lulu.

Lulu.

Vintage Christmas tree - over 35 years old, this one.

Vintage Christmas tree – over 35 years old, this one.

Romeo.

Romeo.

Romeo.

Romeo.

santas

Severus.

Severus.

Lilith.

Lilith.

Severus.

Severus.

Lucifer.

Lucifer.

Lucifer.

Lucifer.

Lucifer.

Lucifer.

Lilith.

Lilith.

tree1 tree2 tree3 tree4 yulelog z1

Book page flowers...well, sort of...

Book page flowers…well, sort of…

z3

Book page vines.

Book page vines.

Book page vines.

Book page vines.

Book page mobiles.

Book page mobiles.

Presents underneath the book tree.

Presents underneath the book tree.

Book page vines.

Book page vines.

Book tree and book page tablecloth.

Book tree and book page tablecloth.

z10 z11 z12 z13 z14 z15

Severus helps with opening presents.

Severus helps with opening presents.

Lucifer and the book tree.

Lucifer and the book tree.

Lucifer and the book tree.

Lucifer and the book tree.

Playing Olympos.

Playing Olympos.

Miniature books on the birthday cake.

Miniature books on the birthday cake.

Emily's 14th birthday cake

Emily’s 14th birthday cake

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Plans for a “New Term”

Well, no, we don’t do “terms” – but there’s nothing like the whole “back to school” mania at the end of August every year to prompt a bit of taking stock. If she were in school, Emily would be just about to enter year 9 and would this year be taking “options” (at least, I’m assuming they still do that in the third year of secondary school) and deciding which subjects to drop and which subjects to take through to GCSE.

She isn’t in school, obviously – but she has spent some time this summer zeroing in further on where her interests and skills lie, and on where she thinks she might like to end up later in life. Mostly where she’d like to end up later in life is owning several of these and running a business where these figure largely…….

Kisses for Blue, Late August 2012

…but she has thankfully realised that this requires either a) a lottery win, b) successful self-employment of some kind or c) a well paying job, so academics which might lead to b or c are firmly back on her agenda. And we’re buying lottery tickets.

Fitting in said academics while caring for and riding Blue five days a week is still proving to be an interesting challenge for Emily; fitting all that in and caring for Jon’s (exceptionally grumpy) father, and writing full time, and maintaining collective family sanity…well, that’s proving a very challenging type of challenge for me and Jon, and I’m not entirely convinced we’ve fully got the hang of it.

Anyway, time management crises aside, we do have “a plan”. Neither Emily nor we are convinced of the value of doing GCSEs, so there’s no change in our position on that. We are all agreed, though, that Emily now settles down to some hefty work in her chosen subjects. These are: English, maths, English literature, psychology, sociology, law, biology, latin, French, photography and history. We’ve pretty much covered the whole of the GCSE-ish politics and economics courses over the last year, so we’re having a break from that, although Emily is interested in going back to politics/economics in a year or so, possibly as A levels, OU courses, or just under her own steam.

After a few years of fun Monday afternoons with my Dad, Emily’s also taking a break from IT projects with him – they were already working roughly at A level in some areas in any case, so she’s more than equipped with skills to pick that topic back up again later too.

Career-wise, it’s fairly clear that Emily’s most interested in a social sciences direction, with psychologist currently top of the list, closely followed by political researcher. Personally, I think she would make an outstanding barrister, but although she’s interested in law she’s not feeling the lurrve for that particular career path at the moment. I also think she’d thrive as a journalist or photographer, but having lived through the ups and downs (there have been a lot of downs….) of self employment via her parents, I think she’s quite keen on the luxury of a regular income, lol. Mind you, she’s 13 – anything could (and probably will) change!

For the moment, our Mondays-Fridays (when we’re not out/doing more exciting things) are settling into a pattern of a few hours work in the morning, followed by stables/riding, followed by lots of free time for Emily which I sometimes pinch (having come over all homeschooly) by giving her “homework” to do, which in turn she usually treats with the disdain it probably deserves.

Progress is being made. We have dutifully printed out the GCSE syllabi of the subjects on the list, and we’ve arranged them tidily into a big folder, in lovely plastic sleeves. All pristine and organised. Very unlike us. Even though she has no intention of sitting the exams, it’s a guide. Some topics are being ticked off these lists. An awful lot more work is being done which was never on the syllabi to being with and is far more interesting than the topics which are. Nothing to tick off there, then, but we cope😉 Sarcastic comments abound about how restrictive the history syllabus in particular is, particularly for a teen who’d quite like to do all of it and more, thanks very much, not have to pick and choose one topic from this six and one topic from that eight and one project which must fit such and such a criteria.

And so the “new term” is nearly upon us, and social media everywhere is full of parents rejoicing at the fact that they are nearly “shot of” their kids. We, on the other hand, are rejoicing that other people’s kids are back in the system they’ve chosen, leaving us free to explore our world in peace, in quiet, and without having to queue or fight the crowds. Which in turn gives us even more time to do this….. happy days🙂

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Happy to Report

…that normal service is being resumed. On the eve of my 41st birthday, things are going pretty well. Book’s due out soon, Emily’s happy, Jon’s happy, home ed is going swimmingly, future plans are shaping up nicely. Easy to forget sometimes how fortunate we are.

Emily and Blue, Late August 2012

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Chronology of a Complaint

[Just collecting in one place links to all the documentation regarding Lincolnshire County Council, in chronological order.]

Original complaint letter to Debbie Barnes, Director of Children’s Services – 16th April 2012

Reply from Debbie Barnes – 26th April 2012

Letter to Debbie Barnes seeking clarification of her response – 28th April 2012

Letter to my county councillor, Underwood Frost, seeking his advice – 1st May 2012 (no reply received)

Response from Debbie Barnes – 8th May 2012

Reply from Councillor Williams – 12th May 2012 – Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee, contacted by me for advice when no reply was received by my own councillor.

Letter to Lincs County Council Chief Executive Tony McArdle – 16th May 2012

Reply from McArdle – 18th May 2012

My response to McArdle – 18th May 2012

Lincolnshire County Council’s Final Response by David O’Connor – 1st June 2012

There were other emails at the beginning of the process, and in the final stages clarifying what they were going to look into, but this is the bulk of the material. Writing a submission to the Select Committee Inquiry concentrates the mind🙂

Posted in Home Education Law | Tagged

7 Lessons I Teach

[also at: Huffington Post]

Twenty one years ago, on being named New York State Teacher of the Year 1991, John Taylor Gatto made a famous and powerful speech denouncing the American school system and questioning its hidden curriculum, designed to produce generation after generation of helpless, powerless people. In the “Seven Lesson Schoolteacher”, Gatto talked about being paid to teach confusion, class position, indifference, emotional dependency, intellectual dependency, provisional self esteem and the notion that one can’t hide from the system. Britain’s school system, like America’s, has not deviated much from those seven lessons in the last twenty one years.

As a home educator, I see things rather differently. Inspired by Gatto’s speech, I believe there are seven lessons that most home educators teach their children, almost by default. I went to excellent schools and I shone academically. I didn’t, however, learn any of what follows; in fact, I didn’t learn some of these lessons myself until we took our six year old daughter out of school, eight years ago, and turned our backs on the damaging education system. I wonder how many adults reading this can truly say that their schooling embraced these seven principles, rather than the seven Gatto so eloquently described?

1. Intellectual Freedom

The first and probably most important lesson I teach is intellectual freedom. My teen daughter is more than capable of deciding where her interests and talents lie; at six, she was perfectly able, as all six years old are, of saying which topic she was most interested in at any given time, even if that changed by the day or by the hour. Why should that not be respected? It has been estimated that it takes at most 100 hours to teach children the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. During the rest of their “compulsory school years”, who cares if they prefer to learn about ancient Japan instead of volcanoes, or about neuroscience instead of crude oil? There are millions of things worth learning about, of course – and the national curriculum by default does not include most of them. Home educators cannot cover everything either – but that’s my point. We don’t have to. What most of us do do, however, is to listen to what our children want to learn and take steps to facilitate that within whatever kind of educational philosophy we have – instead of insisting that they spend hours studying something of no interest to them. My daughter’s intellectual freedom is important and will be respected.

2. Passion

If my daughter is absorbed in something, why would I force her to stop doing that at a set time and move on to something completely different? There are no school bells and timetables in our home. She may work on something for ten minutes. She may work on it, pretty much non stop, for ten days. If it’s important enough to her, she’ll pour her heart and soul and passion into it, and I will join in rather than interrupt. The regimented routines of the school day teach children that things are not important enough to be done properly, however much they might be enjoying them. The second lesson I teach, on the other hand, is that following a passion can never be wrong and should never be cut short to fit someone else’s idea of what you should be doing.

3. Context

Everything relates to everything else, in this beautiful, complex world of ours. Studying a topic or subject in isolation, or out of kilter with related areas, inhibits true understanding and learning. A schooled child will learn facts. Those facts are all too often underpinned by only the vaguest understanding of the wider issues. Particularly in the humanities subjects and perhaps most particularly of all in history, you cannot hope to make sense of a given area without exploring and understanding what happened before, what happened afterwards, and what was happening simultaneously elsewhere in the world. School doesn’t do that, for all the fine words about cross-curricular teaching. Most home educated children, on the other hand, learn in a more organic way and cannot help but pick up background, extended and related knowledge around the topic in hand. In life’s most controversial and complex issues, too, there is a context. These issues are never as simple as wrong or right; multiple sides to every story should be examined before one can reach an intelligent opinion or conclusion. The third lesson I teach is that everything has a context and that exploring that context is a productive thing to do.

4. Self Respect

My daughter’s self respect is not dependent on the behaviour of bullies, the whim of a teacher having a bad day, ticks on a piece of paper, badges, stickers, reward charts, applause in assembly, notes home from the school, grades in an exam or the termly school report. She does not have to judge herself based on what an unknown, unrelated, uninterested “expert” says about her, and she knows that we do not judge her either. She is not constantly tested, evaluated and examined, to be either found wanting and expected to try harder or to be found adequate and to give up in boredom. Instead, she measures her self-worth by her own standards and thereby sets up healthy self-esteem habits for life. She knows whether she has tried her best or not, and she is proud of her work or slightly abashed accordingly. She knows that she is free to set her own ambitions and that we will help her work towards them, rather than imposing our own ambitions onto her. The fourth lesson I teach is that only she can judge herself, and that when she does, it’s OK to do so kindly. Related to self respect, I also teach one of the hardest lessons for non home educators to grasp: that the “teacher” does not always know best, and does not always have the answer – but that the teacher can help you learn how to find the answer yourself. And that (whisper it) it’s by no means inconceivable that you might know more about a subject than your teacher does. And that this is a good thing.

5. Reality

When was the last time you had to ask to go to the toilet, put up with abuse because it was “character building” or limit yourself to mixing with people born within the same particular 12 months? School does not prepare children for anything other than life in school. Home education takes place in the real world, in real life, with all its ups, downs and glories. Home educated children mix with people of all ages and, by and large, enjoy far greater freedoms than schooled children do. The fifth and often overlooked lesson I teach is that we all live in the real world – and here it is, right around you. You don’t have to wait until you’re eighteen to join it.

6. Individuality

From uniforms and hair requirements to bullying of anyone “different” and petty rules designed to ensure control and compliance, schools are not very friendly places for those who refuse to subdue their individuality. My daughter has the freedom to be who she is, all day, every day, not just at weekends and during holidays. Aged seven, she spent a whole year living in a Harry Potter related fantasy world. Aged eight, she dyed her hair a gorgeous bright green. Aged thirteen, she favours Victorian fashions, despises much of pop culture, rides every day and is passionate about law, politics and psychology. She’s slightly eccentric – “odd”, I’m sure some would say in derisory tones – and completely herself. She’s never had to “fit in”, and why should she? The sixth lesson I teach is that individuality is a wonderful thing. Should it be lost at school, like mine was, it can take half a lifetime to get it back.

7. Insubordination

Such a negative word – but actually, it just means the opposite of subordination. My daughter is not subordinate to anyone, nor are we – nor are you. Yet the system teaches you that you are, and teaches you to accept authority without question. I on the other hand, teach, as my seventh lesson, the wisdom of disobedience. This involves learning to question, question, question. For a home educated teen making educational choices, it involves understanding that there are good and legitimate ways around many of the pointless hoops society expects its students to jump through; consider it lateral thinking 101. Wise disobedience also involves, of course, understanding when rules are a good idea, and when it’s sensible, healthy or just “right” to follow them and to toe the line. A healthy mistrust of authority, as opposed to a blind mistrust, is a very good thing, provided one has, as my daughter does, a clear understanding of morality, ethics and personal conduct. Wherever she chooses to carve out her future, she will never be cannon fodder, factory fodder or 21st century wage-slave fodder, and she will never accept injustice, untruths or misinformation. The seventh lesson I teach is perhaps the very opposite of what the school system teaches – indeed, the opposite of what the school system is designed to teach.

That schools teach such miserable lessons is not the fault of the teachers. Some recognise the faults in the system and do their best to overcome them, within the limitations of their employment. It’s not the fault of the parents, many of whom, as Gatto points out, have learnt the seven school lessons so well themselves that they’re unable to envisage anything different. And yes, a minority of lucky schooled children will also learn the seven more positive lessons I describe above, if they are very fortunate, and have strong-minded, passionate parents – but if they do, it will be despite their school education, not because of it.

Do you teach the same seven lessons as me, or do you teach different ones? What do you think are the most important lessons a home educated child learns?

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Water Balloon Photography

Fantastic photographs captured by Emily this morning in an experiment with shutter speeds – the split second of bursting of a water-filled balloon, capturing the instant that the water remains in a balloon shape before falling; you can even see the last remnants of the blue balloon still among the water shape on the right hand side. I love the second picture too, which missed the balloon shape instant but still caught the water in motion. Lots of fun doing this this morning – took quite a few attempts to get it right, but Emily is really proud of these. She also went on a poppy photography mission this morning, the gorgeous results of which I’ll add later. The flickr side bar on this blog has photos from last spring on it – she’s taken so many fantastic shots since then, but I can’t remember how to get the sidebar to update…. must remember to find out.

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