It is Back To School week. The week that, for a third of my life, filled me with the uneasy combination of dread and excitement. Dread because I hated almost every single element of school, excitement because I usually had a new pair of shoes I wanted to show off. (Although, never did own those magical treads from Clarkes that came with a key on the bottom to unlock the world of fairy princesses. NEGLECTED.)
How has Back to School week been for you? Are you wholly happy with it? Brilliant – head off and read about playing in the wild, if so, it’s about eating dirt basically grows your brain and stuff. If you aren’t fully stoked about your kids at school then read on.
I have in mind here people who question the education system but desire to be a part of it. Or parents who are Unschoolers in heart and spirit but who can’t, for whatever reason, keep kids at home.
I thought it would be good to have a discussion about how families can protect their school-attending children’s rights, curiosity and autonomy. I really believe there are ways of attending school without being institutionalised – but we need to be deliberate about it.
(A little musical interlude about my own motivation for this post, to the tune of The Hills Are Alive With the Sound Of Music: My heart is inspired by the world of unschooling! I didn’t like school and I don’t think my girls will go! But we have seen some great Forest Schools, so potentially we might create something like that! I really love it when kids get together, they do amazing things, driven by their innate curiosity. You’ll get, as you read on, that I am fairly cynical about schools. BUT, my husband is a teacher by trade, a really, really amazing one and I do believe there are schools out there that respect the rights of children and allow the child to lead in their own learning. I think they are just few and fair between. Sort of stopped singing about half way through that, got a bit serious pants, sorry.)
Stick up for your kids
My friend unschools most of her children, but her eldest attends the local primary. One day her school jumper had gone missing so the mum wrote a note and sent it in with her kid. But the teacher still wasn’t happy and forced her to wear a real raggedy, lost property jumper. Understandably my friend was pretty upset and rang up the principal and talked it through. She spoke specifically about her child’s rights and body autonomy and they had a really important discussion about how children are PEOPLE. Don’t be afraid of picking up the blower and defending your child. No one wants to be a pain in the arse but parents can change the culture of a school by reminding teacher’s that their students are human and have the accompanying rights.
Actually, be a pain in the arse. I mean, an INFLUENCER
Oh Lord, I know. Life is too busy. It is too hard to try and impact a school. But if there is anyway you can drop something in order to try and take on a new role as an influencer of your kid’s school DO IT! Take a thing you are really passionate about, say, encouraging schools to prioritise creativity and then try and work with the staff to change things. Have a screening at lunchtime – great Ted Talk about creativity and the education system here. Or perhaps you want to challenge all the superflous rules – send the Head articles about the schools in NZ that thrived when the rules were taken away. Be a pain in the arse, a good one. (Oops, sounds a bit rude.)
Ask questions and give feedback
Take the opportunity at Parent’s evening to ask questions about autonomy and human rights. If your children aren’t at school yet ask these questions at the open day. Reader, Emma, on my Facebook page says “Trust your gut when you visit, and look for approachable, committed teachers.” (Also, read this fantastic post about reception class and induction and the rights of the child.) Things I would want to know are whether children are always allowed to visit the toilet (or “drop their darlings at the launderette” as Ramona has begun to say) whenever they need it. Questions like these also inform the culture of a school. And when something great and rights-respecting happens give the school a whole heap of encouragement.
Encourage your kids to question everything
Bonnie, an unschooler at heart on Twitter says “My goal with my kids is to teach them to question EVERYTHING!! We are focused on advertising atm. Who, what, why etc..”
(Read more on Bonnie’s blog about the importance of asking questions.) It would be SUCH a shame, in order to minimise cognitive dissonance, to shut down discourse with kids about some of the , erm, interesting practices at school. What is the point of tests? Do they work? Why did the teacher keep everyone back? Why do I have to come from home from school and spend two more hours on school work? The questions might shed understanding on some of the things that happen, but it will also help your children have a healthy perspective on authority. Ideally they might be able to keep their heads down at school without accepting the code of compliancy into their spirits! There is also a chance that asking these questions could resolve some issues. Over on my Facebook page Deb says “My boys do not have to do homework unless they choose as I believe school hours are long enough and they need time to do activities of their choosing. The school has been ok with this. Interestingly the boys are at a similar level to their peers without any of the formal schooling behind them.” – AMAZING!
Be an open critic
By being a critic I don’t mean being destructively critical, but I mean allowing a space in your home for honest analysis, alongside your children. Be upfront with them about school, apologise that for now school is part of your lives, figure out ways to feel comfortable with it, together. Let honesty an integral part of your conversation about school. Tackle some of the dodgy things about school but celebrate with your kids when the school initiates something awesome.
Nurturing a child’s curiosity is directly related to us taking off our teach-y hat. They dont need us to correct them, to hand them info on a plate. We can be their partners in learning, to figure stuff out together. But the last thing they need is another teacher at home, using every opportunity to pass on some knowledge. There was a brilliant article in the Guardian on Saturday, an interview with Michael Rosen “Why curiosity is the key to life” … I liked this wee bit:
“Rosen recounts the story of David Attenborough finding an animal bone in the garden as a boy and taking it to his father, a GP, who pretended not to recognise it. Instead, they pored over zoology and anatomy books together: “They shared the excitement of discovery.””
But then, you SHOULD see your home as an alternative education
Education is different from teaching right? We can let our homes be site of learning an altogether different set of values. Celebrate non-compliance. Nurture solitude. Question praise and reward. Dismantle competition.
The lovely Jessica wrote this on my Facebook page– originally from Geez mag “If regular school trains kids to succumb to authority and conform to the demands of the market (i.e. a good education leads to a high-paying job) then what does an alternative education look like? What manner of education can help kids and grown ups criticize power structures and explore creativity that defies market values, honours personal autonomy and yet fosters affinities among groups?”
Consider part time schooling
And finally, on a very practical note, could Flexi-time be a real possibility for you. Your child splits time between school and home. They get more of your education and less of the schools, yet you still get to work.
I’ love this to be a start of discussion. Are you an unschooler-at-heart? How do you do it? Do visit my Facebook page where there has been some really cracking suggestions.