Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Getting From There To Here

Here we are!  Finally posting another entry on the "main" blog.  Incidentally, in case Healing Tree is wondering, I am currently overthinking the melothesia entry, which is why it hasn't emerged.

One of the weird things about my life is that I went from being completely against home education to being almost completely in favour of it in the space of about three years around the late '80s and early '90s, and I cannot clearly recollect the process, although I will try to work out what happened and how.

Early in my school life, when I was about six, in 1974, I can remember getting excited about a project we were doing called "My Book", which was supposed to be "all about you".  I don't know how I drew the conclusion, but I imagined it would be about anatomy and physiology, because at the time I understood my identity to be that of a human animal, and therefore a physical organism whose primary attributes were biological.  I was very disappointed to find it was about a much more obvious sense of "aboutness", which I don't recall but was much more boring to me.  Another incident was about bees, and again I expected much more detail than was actually presented.  In both cases, I was being presented with information which I already knew.  The academic side of school really bored me, and I saw it as a distraction from study.  I was rather bookish, but I did also do practical things outside of school, particularly biological stuff about protozoa, wildlife and the like, particularly focussed on aquatic freshwater animals.  In the areas I found interesting, I didn't learn anything new in the classroom in academic terms until I was doing A-levels, by which time I had lost interest and switched off academically.  It should be pointed out that in practical terms I did pick up a few things and in areas where I had little interest such as French and History I did learn something because I hadn't explored them myself, but the motivation was not there.  You can perhaps see the seeds of a future home edder in that lot.

Nonetheless I was heavily in favour of school.  I felt that it needed to be tinkered with a bit but that the principles were sound, and in about 1978 the idea seemed to be that they were moving towards being increasingly child-centred and using school as a place for educational resources accessed autonomously, so that was the kind of school I expected to be in favour of as an adult.  I even considered a career as a teacher quite seriously.  Even now, if schools were like that, I would probably think they were okay, if a bit superfluous.

However, the main reason I was in favour of school was that I was communist.  I felt that bringing children up in nuclear families led to children getting screwed up by their environment, and in fact not only did I approve of schools, but I disapproved of families.  I thought children should be taken away from their parents at birth and raised in state children's homes in order to avoid being indoctrinated by their parents.

My politics shifted from red to green in the mid-'80s,  When Cathy Cantwell posted me the Green Party manifesto in '86, I read it avidly from cover to cover and agreed with almost all of it.  The only things I disagreed with in the entire book were the discouragement of trade, because I felt redistribution of wealth from richer to poorer countries could not be achieved in any other way, and their support of home education, because I felt it would make it harder to break into the vicious circle of oppression which was destroying the planet.  At the time, I still accepted the idea that humans were powerful enough to wipe out all life on Earth, so the stakes were very high indeed.  Nonetheless I joined the Greens and got involved, eventually, because disagreeing with two policies, one of which I didn't expect to affect me directly due to me being convinced I was sterile due to being gender dysphoric and not wanting my body to "work" in that way.  Therefore to me at the time, children were just "out there" somewhere in an abstract kind of way, and not something I wanted to concern myself with.  I was also a little inclined towards voluntary human extinction, which is the idea that you don't have any children so that the planet does fine after the species has gracefully and peacefully vanished off its face.

While all this was going on in my personal political journey, government education policy was changing.  In fact, I approved of GCSEs because of their emphasis on coursework rather than just exams, but not particularly of the National Curriculum because it didn't seem locally determined enough.  I should point out that at the time I thought the UK and England should be broken up into regional states such as the Midlands, the North and so on, so a National Curriculum didn't make sense to me.

My political allegiances changed again in the late '80s as I became anarchist, and this is where things become a little confused.  I didn't think much about education of children because I had become quite cynical and thought the species would die out soon anyway.  There didn't seem to be much of a future and I certainly had no prospect of having children.  With 1991 and the first Gulf War, I entered utter despair because I couldn't believe the naivete of the general public.  It seemed that attitudes hadn't moved on since the First World War, and to have children would be to inflict existence upon them in a doomed world.  It would be cruel for them even to be born under those conditions.  Also, at the time I was blissfully single and not even considering sex, which in any case wouldn't yield any offspring.  It was only gradually that I came to realise that in fact I very probably had already conceived, but that's another story interesting here only as an illustration of how deeply I was in denial about the possibility of reproducing.

When I was twenty-four, in '92, I was working producing lesson plans on environmental issues based on the National Curriculum, and I noticed something quite startling.  Up until that point, I had assumed that the National Curriculum had been kind of "vamped up" and had more advanced content at appropriate ages than CSEs and GCEs, for example, had had.  However, I was most disappointed to find that in fact the opposite seemed to be the case.  It was just the same old story of stuff I'd known since I was seven.  It also gradually emerged that there were oversimplifications which were effectively lies, and I don't think it's okay to lie to children anyway, but it also makes learning inefficient by destroying trust and meaning you have to unlearn and relearn repeatedly.

I can't pinpoint it completely, but I suspect having a look at the National Curriculum was a factor in my about-face on home ed.  I realised that whereas parents might not be perfect (and at this point I wasn't thinking in terms of autonomy), they could hardly do a worse job than the government.  Also, once I realised having a child was something which was probably just going to happen regardless of my satisfaction or otherwise with the means whereby she would be brought into the world, I became very focussed on developments in schooling and, when asked at the time why we were considering home educating, I would answer that everything the government did to change education policy was another reason for doing so.

There are various ways of changing the world.  You cannot, of course, use your child as a vehicle for doing so, because it's her life.  However, if you have children, you are unusually strongly focussed on their needs and know them better than anyone else.  Moreover, children are where you can break into the circle of unhappiness down the generations.  The little bundle of joy God (or the Atheon) has lent you needs to become a bigger bundle of joy and to thrive from whatever life will chuck at it.  In order to do that, I needed to be a responsible parent and not hand her over to strangers, no matter how well-trained and well-intentioned they might be.  It was my fault she existed, so I needed to do what I could to maximise her chances of flourishing.  Consequently, we chose to present both children with the option of going to school or not, and they never chose to opt in.

It was really initially the revelation that the government wasn't really interested in educating children at all that did it.  Nevertheless, the freedom of children to attend school if they so choose is important.

I don't know if that explains why I completely changed my mind, but I do that sometimes, very suddenly.  I still don't know fully what happened, but it did.