Monday, 24 August 2015

Chaucer School Closing

This is going to be a bit of a weird post for someone who home edded.  I have long said that our own experiences in schools are a big factor in our decision to facilitate our children's choice to go to school or not, and in theory to change their minds back and forth at any time.  They didn't choose to go, so the complications in continuing to facilitate that decision once schooling was involved didn't arise.  Sarada and I, of course, went to school.

My compulsory educational history involves an overcrowded village primary school, which was a fairly bad experience, a small village school, which was more positive, and a large but not overcrowded bilateral, which was both good and bad.  This last was the Geoffrey Chaucer School, and was at the time probably the closest thing Kent had to a state comprehensive school.

As of this July, the school I know as the Geoffrey Chaucer School has closed down due to "poor performance".  If you are going to buy completely into the concept of the quality of education being measurable by the methods Ofsted uses, this is probably entirely valid and the surprising things about it were that it wasn't closed down earlier and that it didn't seem to improve.  I only have the two data points, or rather the line followed by the point, of my time at the school and the fact of its closure.

My experience of the school was mixed.  In terms of exam results, it was not good.  My grade C at A-level RE was the highest grade anyone had ever achieved in that subject.  The majority of pupils entered for O-level German didn't even get grades, let alone pass.  There was also a major issue with the gender mix.  At the time, since Kent still had the 11+, but girls who passed went to a different school.  On the other hand, girls and boys who failed could go to the Chaucer non-selective stream but boys who passed went into the selective stream (oh, and so did I but that's another story), which to my mind seems to be a social experiment designed to see how thoroughly inter-gender relations can be messed with.  It's quite a bit more than bad.  It is in fact thoroughly appalling, but at least it's come to an end now.  Presumably it stopped years ago, but if it didn't the closure of the school will have brought it to an end, which is a good thing.  Unfortunately, if that is what's happened, it's a mere side-effect, which brings me to my point.

I enjoyed my time at the Chaucer.  I can't say I found it educational in terms of the explicit curriculum, but one thing my experience did not include much of was bullying.  In general, it was a friendly, genial place, doubtless helped by the affluence of its intake, but it was nonetheless so and just because of the crapulence of other places, there's no need for me to feel bad about my privilege if that privilege is just how it should be for everyone.  Again, this is my personal experience.  Other people's time there was doubtless less positive than mine.

I've noticed how much bullying seems to be part of many adults' past and of their children's present and although there was a lot of bad behaviour towards me back then, most of it doesn't fit the model of bullying.  There was very little of that at the Chaucer.  People were friendly to each other, there were good relationships between staff and pupils and social activities were inclusive.  Some of that might be nostalgia, so anyone else who has experience could chip in.

Unfortunately, none of that seems to have been taken into consideration in the closure of the school.  I may be wrong, but I find it hard to imagine a school with a major bullying problem but "good" exam results being closed down  for that reason.  The other way round is easy to imagine, and in fact I imagine it's relatively common.

All this is presumption of course.  However, a school out of which people tend to emerge emotionally messed up in any way is going to damage the prospects of its pupils just as much as one with a culture of exam-based underachievement.  My school did in fact have some issues there due to the gender mix, and it had terrible exam results, but in relative terms it was a social success judging by the people I still know who went there. Clearly my hostility to schooling per se is not going to lead me to  do more than damn with faint praise, but even so, the Chaucer was, at least for me and in my experience when I was there, a good school in terms of me being happy, having friends and generally having as good an experience as I could under the circumstances, even though I came out with pretty poor exam results, and in that sense it was by no means a failure.

I just wonder to what extent good schools with bad exam results get closed down and bad school with good exam results stay open, and what the consequences are for people who have attended them.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Why I Became A Herbalist

There's no one reason why I became a herbalist.  In fact, there are notably many reasons, which in a sense means it's probably the right thing for me to do unless they amount to rationalisations.  Here are a few of them, arranged in bullet points because I'm lazy:
  • It was an ethical and environmentally sustainable thing to do.  Up until that point, it had proven effectively impossible to find paid work which wasn't ideologically unsound in some way.  Plants just grow whether or not they're patented or otherwise appropriated by capitalism (or feudalism for that matter).  They can also have a very short supply chain, particularly if you're obtaining them directly yourself. This is why I have a bias towards using plants which are indigenous to this country and "weeds", i.e. plants which grow vigorously and are invasive under certain conditions.  Using local plants means there is no use of fossil fuels at all when I wildcraft them and there are also some who think that local plants are the most appropriate for local health conditions.  I didn't need to rely on the ethical decisions of anyone else to do it, so I wasn't trying to wash my hands of anything it was inappropriate to do so.
  • It was an extension of veganism, in two ways.  Given the use of animal procedures in medical research and in the derivation of certain drugs, it made sense to me to pursue medicine which was not tested on animals, or if it was, that testing had no connection to any money I was sending anywhere.  Nor is there anything like insulin derived from genetically modified organisms or premarin from mare's urine in this.
  • The other way in which it's an extension of veganism is that to me, herbalism is akin to dietetics.  In order to adopt a plant-based diet, I decided to research nutrition.  This got out of hand and ultimately turned into studying medicine.  When I initially went vegan, I decided to plan my diet from the ground up rather than just swapping products.  This hasn't quite stayed that way due to formerly fussy children.
  • My MA dissertation was into supervenience and dialectic.  This includes the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and therefore lends itself to holistic views of the world.  In a way, my academic work segued straight into herbalism, which considering I'm a philosopher might seem a bit strange.
  • It's a form of praxis.  Just as Yoga often involves a balance between the abstract and the concrete and radical political theory a similar combination of practical action and political philosophy, my approach to herbalism has a similar combination.  I'm a philosopher in a similar sense to that in which a table is a table, but I needed to anchor myself, and I did this with herbalism.
  • In the circumstances where the chips are down and some mishap befalls civilisation, I want to have useful skills and experience to help others and possibly use them for bargaining purposes.  Herbalism is this.
  • It was a way of acquiring medical knowledge, skills and experience without attempting to pursue the option of qualifying as a doctor, an option which is unavailable to me.
  • It meant I could help improve and maintain the well-being of those closest to me without recourse to having to trust strangers.
  • Ultimately, and I kept this very quiet because at the time I was thoroughly ground under the (flat) heel of the TERF jackboot, it gave me an option to alter my gender presentation if I couldn't resist it any longer, and of course in the end that's exactly what happened.
There's probably a lot more but that's all I can remember for now.