The Grassroots Movement Revolutionising Education

For too long discussion about improving the education system has gone on. Tweaks are made here, tweaks are made there, but at the end of it, the system remains the same, the problems and inequalities continue. The reality is, the kind of change needed to address and overcome the fundamental issues inherent in the existing system are too significant to be achieved by the usual channels. It requires a bold and imaginative new way of thinking, it involves us stepping away from the system that exists altogether.

What would you do, if you were creating a system of education anew? I’m talking about a new build, rather than a restoration. If you were starting from scratch, right here and now, what would that education system look like? What type of environment and focus would you take? How would you go about creating the optimum environment for people to self-actualise, to explore their potential?

You may be thinking, this is fanciful pie in the sky nonsense. If you work within the education system you may be tired of ‘fixes’, you may struggle to see that another way is possible. Schooling and the current system of education is all we know, it’s what we take as the only legitimate place for learning to happen, and as central to childhood experience.

However we also know that the system that exists today is fundamentally flawed. It is outdated. Gradually we are waking up to the realisation that an authoritarian system of education is an obsolete concept. As avenues for connectivity and self-study have opened up via the platform that is the world wide web, we are becoming experienced in interest-led and self-directed learning. We can find our own news, our own answers, our own solutions to problems. The current system of schooling is becoming a performance and a distraction from the new systems of education that are emerging.

Not only is the current system of education a red herring, it is also becoming more and more apparent that it is detrimental. The high stakes, competitive and standardised model works against our mental health, sense of self, and social justice. Pitting humans against each other for the duration of their most formative years of life ingrains and normalises the idea that some people are winners and some are losers, it teaches individualism rather than offering an environment ripe for experimenting, and exploring methods of cooperation. It creates a narrow, ageist, classist, ableist, sexist and racist neoliberal version of ‘success’. It is in conflict with the new sharing economy and collaborative rather than competitive ways of living and working. It is bad for our health and our concepts of work/life balance.

And this is a pressing and urgent concern for parents who are considering the options available to their own children’s education. We often hear of the importance of ‘choice’ in education, but what choice is there really when each option is based on the same dysfunctional model? What choice is there when all routes lead to the traditional model of schooling?

So here we come, back to the concept of a new-build system. As the arguments for opting in to the existing model fall flat, we have not only a problem, but a great opportunity. What is possible to build in it’s place? What scope is there to change what currently exists, to craft and nurture something entirely new? And I’m not talking about the future here, I’m talking about the now. In this moment is another system possible, is it already out there?

What if I told you that at this very moment there are children who from birth have been given the space to pursue their learning in a personalised, self-directed way, and that there are children being deregistered from school to join them. To live and learn cooperatively, without grading or testing, where their peers, of all ages, are their allies not their competition. What if I told you that in these conditions children develop skills in reading, in writing, in researching and critical thinking, in creating, without a classroom, but through their own curiosity and intrinsic motivation. Where mistakes are embraced as essential for learning, where there are no wrong answers, wrong subjects, wrong or right times to do or achieve certain things. Where they can follow their interests and own unique developmental readiness in the supportive context of community.

We can not afford to wait for ‘someone else’ to fix and rebuild the education system. It just isn’t going to happen, no matter the campaigning, lobbying, reasoning or ranting. Every moment we spend wishing that things were different is time and energy lost that could be redirected to working with each other on the alternative available to us right now.

The term ‘home education’ is an unattractive one, that conjures images of a chalk board on the dining room wall. However, don’t be misled. Home education is a gateway out of a broken system. It is an opportunity to work together to create something better. Something fit for purpose in the 21st century. Once we are free from the confines and rigid thinking of school based learning, we can expand and explore the true potential meaning of education. It frees us to work collaboratively with each other and the young people whose lives we are really talking about here, for them to be equal partners in manifesting this ‘new way’. It gives us the opportunity to model what learning without traditional schooling looks like, to challenge and overcome false beliefs, social norms and values about the capabilities, status and agency of children and young people.

By stepping through the doorway of home education to new connections and communities both virtual and in real life, we find a grassroots movement that will lead the way to revolutionising education as we know it. And believe me, it’s already happening.

This article first appeared in the Huffington Post.

 

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Why do people home educate?

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This article first appeared in the Autumn 2016 edition of Salad Days

There are as many reasons as to why people decide to home educate as there are families home educating. Each family comes to the decision in their own time, and in their own way. Some families realise that home education is right for them before their children are school age, or even preschool age, others enter the school system and later decide that home ed is a better route for them.

We didn’t start out thinking we would home educate, but as our children approached school age and we researched and thought critically about the education system and how they would experience it, the more we looked for an alternative.

This led to us exploring how children learn and thrive without school, and gave us the confidence to create the opportunity for them to pursue their education outside of the classroom. Dissatisfaction with the existing education system is one of the most common reasons given by families for their decision to home ed.

For one local parent, key to their decision making was their desire to give their child the opportunity and freedom to continue exploring the world around them with the self-directed curiosity and enthusiasm that they had shown since birth. Why disrupt something that was already happening naturally?

Another family initially planned to home educate until their children were 7 years old, but observing how it had given them the time and space to develop, learn and grow, at their own pace and around the things that most interested them, decided to make it a long term plan.

‘Too much too soon’ was another reason given by parents – concern that formal learning starts too young. England has one of the youngest school starting ages in Europe, three years earlier than in Finland, for example, a country renowned for one of the most successful, progressive and learner focused education systems in the world.

Some families come to home educate because of their children having had negative experiences in school, whether that be bullying, inadequate support, or just that a traditional school environment is an uncomfortable fit.

The stress and restriction of standardised testing and assessment, seen by many parents and teachers as counterproductive to learning, was another reason given for opting to home ed. Through home education children are free to be themselves, and to be treated as individuals – they can pursue their own unique path to educational success.

Local parents also mentioned the opportunity home education offers in regards to respecting children’s rights, particularly children’s right to have their views and feelings listened to and taken seriously. Home education allows the best interests of the children to be prioritised above any other agenda.

With a thriving local home educating community, the option to home educate is more accessible than ever before. Families can decide to home educate knowing that they will be able to spend their time with other home educating families, that their children will be able to socialise with children of a range of ages, and participate in regular activities and events. Families have the opportunity to contribute their own creativity and skills to building a fantastic educational experience for their children.

Overcoming the shame of not going to school, and progressing education activism.

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I’m going to write about something quite painful today.

Painful, but important.

I’m going to talk about the shame that you can feel for doing something different to what others expect, to what you yourself expect. In this case, I’m going to talk about the shame of not going to school, of your children not going to school, of home education, but really this could apply to lots of different examples of diverging from the social narrative of ‘normal’.

As we live and grow, we internalise a lot of norms and values around us. They come to be the barometer by which we measure our selves and others, the indicators of good and bad, right and wrong, winning and losing. They tell us what we think we need to know to make the ‘right’ choices and to get life ‘right’.

There is a very strong social message about schooling, how important it is, the bad things that will happen if you don’t do school right, or heaven forbid if you don’t show up. This story is told through politics, through families, through international development strategies, through schooling experiences and school rules. The telling of it is pretty relentless, and any challenges to it are likely to end badly. We are told this story by people we love, they were told this story too, we’ve all been told it many, many times.

The story runs a pretty tight binary as well: school = good, not going to school = bad. There isn’t really any grey zone in the popular narrative of this.

The problem with social norms and values is, sometimes – maybe often times – their foundations are a bit shaky. They may come from a place that we don’t even know, a time generations before our own births. They may have been dreamed up by people without our best interests at heart. They may originate in other ideas that today we would totally disagree with. Only thing is, because of the way we learn and internalise norms and values, we can believe these things to be truths, that they tell us what is natural, what is normal, what is essential. When we think of them as ‘truths’ rather than as ideas, it can prevent us from thinking critically about them, from challenging them. When we believe in them and they are the basis of how we see ourselves and others, it makes it difficult to say, or to even realise that we can say: “Is this actually true?”

And if through circumstance, because our own critical thinking has been unlocked somehow from the standard model of norms and values – maybe because of our actual needs and being, or the needs and being of someone we know and care for, or because we are presented with information that radically challenges/undermines the norms and values around us, it can be painful.

It can be painful, and it can be scary.

And if we decide, on the basis of this information, to actually start living in a way that contrasts with the general social norms and values, although consciously we can know what we are doing makes complete sense to us, the subconscious internalisation of the norms and values that tell us it is wrong, risky, deviant, bad, can mean that we experience shame in living in a way that is most true to us.

We can feel shame or fear, even though we know what we are doing makes sense. Even though we know that based on the information we have, it is the path worth walking. We can know this on an intellectual basis. In terms of our heart though, we can still hurt by going against the norm. We can feel fearful, anxious. It can diminish our sense of self worth and challenge what we know of ourselves.

Lets talk about what happens when we move away from the education system, to create something else.

It is well documented, in many many places, that the existing education system that we have in the UK, is highly problematic. This is told to us by teachers, by educationalists, by headteachers, by psychologists, by students themselves, by parents, by mental health campaigners, by people from other countries with different systems, by people involved in alternative models education.

It makes complete sense to get to work on this. It makes complete sense to want something different for your own children, for society. It makes complete sense to do work to maybe change the system, probably to create something entirely different.

It makes sense to not want to send your children into the education system. It is a very rational and meaningful conclusion to reach.

Despite this, for the reasons given above, actually doing this work, making the decision as a family that you will do something other than school, to home educate, to manifest a new and different system of education to what currently exists, can cause us pain.

We learnt for lots and lots of years that not going to school was deviant, risky, likely to result in FAILURE. Even though we know that the existing system is troubled and flawed, deeply embedded in our subconscious is the feeling that not going to school is bad, and will result in bad things happening to us, and overcoming that feeling, the creeping sense of shame, can be a daily challenge.

There are certain things that I find helps with overcoming this feeling. Even as I write this now I can feel it lingering around my heart. That I am even writing about ‘not going to school’ triggers a little adrenaline. And the reality is that until we reach a point where there is a general awakening and acceptance across society that our education system needs radical change – a shift in the narrative, norms and values about schooling – we are likely to always feel a little of this. So what can we do to help?

For this I take guidance from other movements that are working at overcoming false social beliefs, norms and values, where something is being moved out of the ‘deviant’ and into the light.

Lets take the LGBT+ movement, for example. Being gay used to be a criminal offence, in our very recent history. Being trans has only in very very recent years started to gain socially transformative traction. What can we learn from the progress of LGBT+ folk that might help us in our own work?

Here are my thoughts:

  1. This can be a painful process, there is no way around that. We need to find ways to sit with that discomfort, to feel it, whilst knowing that it isn’t telling us that something is wrong.
  2. Self-care is important. Sometimes its worth putting ourselves out there, other times it makes more sense to work amongst ourselves, with like minded people that enable us to make progress rather than answer for and explain ourselves constantly. Community matters. Sometimes we need to just focus on ourselves and our own immediate families needs and to forget the wider context for a while.
  3. Being visible helps in ‘normalisation’. Showing up, sharing photos, living ‘without shame’ even if we feel scared inside, makes a difference. It gives others courage, it demonstrates another way, it fundamentally challenges peoples beliefs which can cause tipping points in progressing social norms.
  4. We can organise, cooperate, and support each other. There is a risk with trail blazing that the internalised/subconscious feelings of being deviant can prevent us from being open, honest and loving to each other. It can make us feel easily threatened and defensive. If we can move beyond that to working together, that has great potential consequences.
  5. We can educate ourselves to reassure ourselves that we are not alone. There is a long history to educational activism. People have been working on these issues in different ways, around the world, for many years. Connecting with that work, learning from what has already happened, what has already been thought about and done, can give us context to what is happening now and encourage us that we are not by any means the first or the only ones on this path. Knowing the history of the education system, alternatives to schooling, the history of childhood, can inspire us and help us reframing our own norms and beliefs.
  6. We can be compassionate and empathetic to those around us who may be unaware of the issues, who don’t understand life without school, or who feel stuck between a rock and a hard place because for whatever reason, separating from the existing education system isn’t an option at this time. School vs not school is a binary concept that is unhelpful, and frankly, unrealistic in the current circumstances> Because of the nature of the issue there is a lot of grey zone, it is’t as simple as black and white, right and wrong. Being aware of that can help mitigate the sense of frustration that things aren’t moving quickly enough, or that people just ‘aren’t getting it’, and frees us up to do what we can, from where we are, with what we have.

Keep on keeping on folks, wherever you are in your journey, however your work looks, small acts add up. And remember, if you’re not going to school, you are not alone.