Monday, 6 February 2012



A Delicate Matter


First of all, to avoid annoying a lot of people i’m going to add a whole load of caveats to this, possibly to the extent that most of this entry will end up consisting of them.  Here we go.

I’m aware that people’s main concern is with their own families and that they understand their needs better than we do, “we” being those of us who are not them.  There are lots of different “wes”.  Moreover, we all have limited time and need to do various other things with our lives than sitting in front of anything as two-dimensional as a monitor or an inked sheet of paper.  Origami and paper aircraft, or making paper oneself, are of course completely different concerns.  In fact i have so much sympathy with this view that we dispensed with the television set as a distraction several years ago and it is also for this reason that i only reluctantly upload educational videos aimed at children on YouTube, although of course ones aimed at adults are another matter since we’re all past it and many of us have had our brains scrambled by schools, through no fault of the schools themselves of course.  There are many appropriate ways of learning.

Now for the more annoying bit.  Some of us are committed to autonomous education and many of us to the idea of encouraging independence in children.  It would also be nice if there was an attempt to address bias in subject matter.

Now, a few years ago, i started a home ed wiki with the following quote, often erroneously attributed to Nelson Mandela, on the home page:

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Incidentally, i fully acknowledge the theistic sledgehammer in the middle of the passage which, if i could be bothered, i would attempt to rephrase, but i think most people can look beyond this to a more agnostic or metaphysically realist reading.

I proceeded to produce a series of passages, sheets and the like on various subjects on which i was confident enough to feel i was able to make a positive contribution to education, such as various crafts, classical languages and the rest.  After making quite a few contributions, i became aware that i was the only person doing this.  This is a big problem for a wiki, since it’s supposed to be collaborative, and the bias present on that big Wiki is partly down to particular people not contributing to it.  Consequently, i deleted all of the content, as it was seriously biassed towards my perspective.

And the thing is, yes, people pay lip-service to the above inspirational quote, and may live it elsewhere in their lives, but they don’t seem to do it much online.

This is what i mean:  i often see people ask for links, or sharing links, to educational resources which other people have produced.  There is a place for this, and in some people’s approach to children’s education it can be appropriate, but do we really believe we are so inadequate and ignorant that we have to keep doing this?  We function in everyday life using the skills and knowledge we have learnt through our lives.

I would personally consider it a bad example to my children to rely largely on other people’s educational input because of the surely widely-held attitudes expressed above.  We often personally try to be autonomous, but also have more widely shared beliefs, probably at least explicitly expressed by others’ actions with their children, that we want them to become autonomous themselves.  If we provide resources ourselves, apart from it being intrinsically positive as a form of skill-sharing, there are a number of other positive results.

  • We demonstrate to our children that it can be better to do things self-sufficiently than to rely on others for information, which may or may not be accurate.
  • We address a bias in subject matter which may exist due to other people whose skills are in other areas contributing when we don’t – this is a major problem on Wikipedia, where for example faux scepticism tends to dominate in a number of areas.
  • We demonstrate to the world that we are a competent and positive learning community.

I understand that other messages are also important, such as asking for help when you need it and relying on others being OK, and also that many of us are under-confident in certain areas where there is no practical need for us to be, and i am as guilty as anyone in some of those, for instance poetry, knitting and driving are “beyond me”, with the emphasis on the quotes, but if we are to overcome this we all need to get out there and make our own resources.  We are all experts in living and that’s what we’re trying to help our children to do.  We need to be the threat of a good example to schools.  Maybe if we are, those who are involved with schools will see our stuff and recognise its quality, and the truth that almost all families home educate will become manifest in a broader sense.