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Responsible Homeschooling

I had an unsettling conversation this week with a young woman, a survivor of fundamentalist evangelical religion, who was homeschooled in the US, against her will, in such a way as to severely hamper her life chances due both to the paucity of the education, and the fact that – as anti-government fundamentalists – her parents had failed to obtain any documentation for her, including even birth certificate or social security number.

The discussion thread where this exchange took place was eventually shut down as it turned a little bit nasty, with all the homeschool parents defending their decision and defending homeschooling generally as superior to public (state) schooling, and all the damaged homeschool children shouting that the parents had no right to comment on the children’s stories.

I’ll admit that it did bring out the defensive in me. I remember, years ago, fighting battles to protect the rights of home educating parents in the UK against a government that was claiming it needed extra powers due to the risk of home education being used as a cover for abuse generally or child marriage specifically.

We won that last round of the battle, by showing that firstly the government and local authorities already have perfectly sufficient powers to act to protect children, and secondly that the allegation of home education being used to cover up child marriage was nonsense, since that particular abuse was being visited upon schooled children who were simply being taken abroad during the summer holidays.

Here is the thing though. I have no doubt that children are being abused under the cover of home education by religious fundamentalists in the UK even though the law is sufficient to prevent physical abuse, and here is why.

The kind of abuse that is most likely is neither viewed as abuse nor legally defined as abuse. The abuse is forcing children to be schooled in a way to which they do not consent.

Legally, children do not need to consent to education, either at home or at school. I’m sure that it’s clear that many if not most children who go to state school do not consent to it, and many would choose not to if they had a choice. But they do not have a choice.

School does not suit every child, and it is crucially important to have a legal alternative to school. Equally, home education does not suit every child and it is vitally important that parents do not force children to stay at home if they want to go to school.

I absolutely support responsible home education (although defining what constitutes ‘responsible’ warrants further discussion, as the option for unschooling or education which does not need to traditional qualifications needs to be taken into consideration), and I absolutely do not support any kind of home education which employs coercion or keeps children at home against their will.

It is important that we take these stories of homeschooled children seriously, and that we taken them on board when considering what kind, if any, regulation should be in place, whilst at the same time being aware that most parents protect the best interests of their children, and government regulation is often a very blunt instrument that can do more harm than good.

What is the best way to ensure children are safe? It is a continuing discussion. But I suspect that encouraging integration is helpful. One of the allegations made against us was that our children were “hidden”, but again we showed the claim to be false – we are out and about and in the world far more than schooled children.

One of the homeschooling mothers in the discussion mentioned that the state of Ohio has an open policy which enables homeschooled children to access all kinds of classes and resources through the schools. Sadly, the way things are set up in this country means that unless a child is registered at a school (and therefore under the school’s authority), we cannot access anything at all, despite the fact that we pay our taxes to fund schools in exactly the same way as other parents do.

Flexi-schooling is a rarely available compromise which requires the parents to register their children at school, but which allows them leave to attend part-time or intermittently. Sadly it is rare because it is not a right in law, but is up to the discretion of the head of the individual school. Some parents, additionally, are reluctant to register their children since it effectively means giving up authority.

Ultimately, it seems to me that the biggest problem lies in government viewing parents as the enemy (and obviously fundamentalist parents view the government as the enemy). It would be far more helpful if we were able to work together to make resources available for the benefit of all children – both those who thrive at school, and those who do not.

 

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Archive Post: Schome and Funny Things they Say

Ten years ago, we were involved with a group called Schome, a department of the Open University who were (and undoubtedly still are) researching alternative models of education. For that reason, they were terribly interested in home educators at the time, and invited us to share how and what we were learning.

My blog, or ‘bliki’ as it was called as it was on a wiki website, is here:

http://www.schome.ac.uk/wiki/User:Lillbjorne/bliki_2006

I found a little note in my archives called “Funny things they say” which recorded my eldest’s reaction to the PDA which Schome lent us in exchange for a review:

“Well, I think it’s a marvellous piece of technology, if only we could get it to work” (Dragon-tamer)

Truly, it wasn’t terribly successful, and you may remember that I have written about technology in education before. Certainly, all my attempts to encourage my children to use educational technologies and social media were met with less than enthusiasm.

As a proponent of non-coercive education, I think this is the crucial thing: if they’re curious and they find the technology useful, they will use it and benefit from it. But if we make them use it when they have no curiosity or innate desire to make use of it, they will not get the full benefit but may find such tools burdensome and not freeing. The same, of course, is true of books and reading and indeed any subject.

Your Desire Shall Be for your Husband

I have been contemplating my relationship with my husband recently. It is pretty good now overall but we have had our fair share of ups and downs, and for years I resented him – not because we had had miscarriages, of course that wasn’t his fault, but because he had decided, despite knowing that I desperately wanted another baby, to wait so long (7 years) between our last baby and trying again, by which time it was too late.

I think that probably I was too ill by the time we started trying again, although I didn’t realise until much later that that might have been a factor. (I read a couple of years ago that women with chronic conditions such as ME, Fibro, MS, PCOS etc. tend to experience miscarriage three times as often as healthy women) .

I have mentioned before that I am not yet at a point of acceptance, of being able to get some closure and say now we have finished building our family. But I have been thinking more and more lately about trying to work out for myself what the shape of my life should look like now going forward if there’s not going to be any babies in the picture. I’ll be 45 this year, so the chances now are next to zero – especially after 4 years of no conception at all (and obviously not using anything to prevent conception!) It’s not beyond the realms of possibility, but highly unlikely. I know that.

I remember once, before we started trying again in 2010, my husband asking me, “Why am I not enough for you?” That is to say, why do you need a baby as well? At the time I thought it was a ridiculous thing to say, the two things weren’t in the same category. But I wonder now whether there is something in it. What is it that makes women like me want babies, and keep wanting babies even with a big family? Well, as I’m sure I have mentioned before, I was raised on the Waltons / Little House on the Prairie as well as having family friends with a big family which seemed really idyllic which fed into the same fantasy. Large family life just seemed much more homely and loving and fulfilling than our quiet, standard small nuclear family. When I had my own family I knew which style I wanted to emulate, and it wasn’t what I had grown up with. But additionally, maybe also a kind of tender intimacy, feeling needed, having somebody to love and adore? (Come to that, why do most women not continually desire that?)

My husband had two sisters, so not a specially large or small family really and I don’t think he was fussed either way. But I do remember once discussing with him that I wanted ten children, and he actually agreed. I suspect now that he thought I was joking. (We have produced 9 in total though – including all our losses – so one more and I would let him off the hook!)

Obviously I have also had thoughts about having a career and started taking steps towards that, but there have been obstacles and it hasn’t happened so far. I have been toying with the idea of working but I think I am basically unemployable. I would be so unreliable with ME – most days I wake up in so much pain I can’t get up, and who would want to employ somebody who might need more sick days than work days? So I have begun to wonder about what sort of things I could do from home. But I would still be at home.

I’m not really convinced that I am cut out for housewifery. I may have the excuse of homeschooling and having the kids around all day and having lots of extra educational materials and books hanging around, but I do not keep a very tight ship. If burglars ever broke in, they might be forgiven for thinking they were too late and we had already been burgled. I wish we didn’t live in a mess but we do.

Perhaps if I were well enough I could take a bit more pride in the state of the place, try a bit harder to keep things ship-shape. But I don’t think I would find that very fulfilling, and sitting at home reading books all day for the most part does nag me with a twinge of guilt at times. So being at home without babies, now that my kids are nearing the end of their education, is beginning to feel a bit odd. What will I do when the children are grown and start to fly away?

I did start some serious writing projects, but I haven’t given them the time or effort to see if they could amount to anything yet. Too busy letting myself get distracted with blogging, although I have given facebook and twitter the boot recently and I have pleasantly surprised myself to find that I really wasn’t addicted at all. (It’s nice to be able to discover new things about yourself at a time when you’re beginning to feel old and staid and boring!)

Going back to my relationship with husband though, I have been thinking more about the necessity of adjusting to this different way of life as empty-nesters (actually I think it will be a long way off for us as youngest is still only 12 and eldest who is 20 seems to have no plans to leave to go somewhere he might need to cook and wash his own clothes). I know it’s not uncommon for some couples to grow apart and end up separating when the children are gone, but that is not something I want to happen to us.

I keep thinking about the phrase in Genesis in the Bible where God tells Eve, “Your desire shall be for your husband“. The context is that it is part of the ‘curse’ after the Fall, and I know that many anti-feminists interpret it to mean that part of the curse is that women desire power over their husbands. (Just as an aside, I posted a question about Christian feminism on a Christian forum recently, asking for reading recommendations, and wasn’t at all surprised to be told that the whole concept of Christian feminism was power-seeking and unChristian. Good grief.) Anyway, what was I saying?

Yep, I don’t honestly know what it means, what the relevance or significance might be to modern Christian women. Perhaps none at all. But I can’t stop thinking about the phrase somehow. I remember when we were first together, before we had children, he told me that he didn’t want me to let myself become dependent on him, because I was perfectly capable to look after myself. But inevitably, as a non-earning housewife and mother of course I did become dependent on him and I still am. I’m not actually too worried about that, as I don’t think it reflects my worth or capability, and I know that things can change in an instant – the universe turns on a pin, after all. There was a time when I went out to work and he stayed at home. It’s not inconceivable that the roles could reverse again. I might get well. (Pigs might fly, hopefully the former is more likely than the latter.)

But I would really just like to be satisfied. Content. With him. With our life as it is, without wanting or needing any babies, or a bigger house, or more money, or some great career or some other monumental success in my life. Is that lame? Or is it a reasonable way for a middle aged woman to think? Yuck! I hate that phrase, ‘middle-aged’. I’m just ‘mature’, right?! (Hahaha, who am I kidding!)

So we are back to gratefulness again. I am grateful. I am thankful. I have lots of good things in my life, and I am totally grateful that I do have such a good, faithful, long-suffering husband. He thinks I am crazy, but he still loves me, and thankfully he seems perfectly happy to accommodate my wish to keep quite a bit of baby-making practice going. 😀

 

Election Thoughts

Where to begin?

I wouldn’t normally stay up, but last night I caught the election fever and stayed up all through the night until 5:45 am when North Cornwall declared their result.

Right from the first Conservative wins of the night, I was astonished at the results, and this morning I am still amazed. It was quite, quite different to what I had anticipated.

Perhaps I hadn’t been paying attention – I was sure that Labour would do well, UKIP would gain a number of seats, and the only way the Conservatives would get back in would be to do a deal with SNP or UKIP, leading inevitably to a Labour-based coalition.

I’m sure nobody was surprised by the fact that the Lib-Dems did badly or that the SNP did well, but the degree to which the Lib-Dems have lost (and SNP have gained in Scotland) seem astounding.

That Labour did so badly and the Conservatives did so well, after five years of austerity, wrongly directed at the poorest and most vulnerable in society, is… well, mind-boggling really.

Let me say that, for myself, and for every other home educating family in the UK, I am mightily relieved that our liberty is not immediately threatened as it would unequivocally have been had Labour won. Ed Balls specifically told us that he would “finish the job” of eradicating us if Labour got back in. So the fact that Balls has been snipped is deeply satisfying.

But for hundreds of thousands of people – the poor, the disabled, the vulnerable, the mentally ill, the needy of every kind, I weep.

Personally, I was not able in conscience to vote either way – Labour has moved massively to the right, and both Labour and the Conservatives have moved massively towards authoritarianism in the last 20 years.

The Liberal Democrats were probably the most liberal in theory but of course, they lost my vote a while back for not doing what they promised, and not reining in the Conservatives.

UKIP were libertarian in some ways, and the most moral in others, but oh how careless they have been, attracting the worst elements in politics. A vote for them would have been out of the question.

I love the Greens for many of the things they stand for, but they are the most authoritarian of all.

Knowing that my vote would carry no weight anyway in this constituency (and for a whole host of other reasons that I’ll elaborate on if asked), I voted “NONE” of the above.

I did seriously consider voting for Mebyon Kernow – I wholeheartedly agree that Cornwall is under-represented and should have its own devolved parliament. So I’ll be watching and supporting them over the next five years and hoping that they develop into a non-authoritarian alternative.

Something I have been disturbed about in the run up to this election was the way in which Christians (on the left and right of the spectrum) spoke as though they believed that government can be the saviour, making everything right, and fair and stable (and moral!).

It can’t.

I loved Russell Brand’s Trews response to the election

[ https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=rRUQ6aPvs58 – note this link will take you away from this site as I am posting via mobile and haven’t figured out how to open a new tab. Bookmark before yougo! 🙂 ]

– recognising, I think, that compassion is the key, and realising that making government your saviour doesn’t bring about the spiritual awakening that is required for true revolution.

Perhaps, ironically, a government of oppression will bring about that awakening? As unpopular as they are, I think that the food banks are evidence of that. Good people will react with love and kindness when they see need.

(Some people will inevitably respond with hatred and violence instead – in words if not physically – and I think that it must be the Church’s role to speak up for and show compassion as an alternative Way)

But of course, the love and kindness of good people hasn’t been enough for the last five years.

What about the others? The rich, the bankers, the landlords, the moguls of big business, and even the “we’re alright” lot who are just comfortable enough themselves not to care about those of us who are not? (It would seem there are an awful lot of them!)

How can they be reached? I don’t believe that Labour would have oppressed them enough to have a spiritual awakening and see they’re in the wrong – quite the opposite in fact.

I always have to come back to the fact that the only ultimate answer, the only saviour, the only real alternative is Jesus – compassion personified. Thy Kingdom come.

Parenting Choices

Over Christmas, I had what almost amounted to an argument with a very old friend, on facebook (of course). I could rant and rave how facebook is the spawn of the devil and brings out the worst in everybody – which it does, but that isn’t the point I’m wanting to make this time.

Our almost argument was essentially over parenting styles.

Another, even older friend had re-posted a photo of a monkey with words along the lines of “I can’t wait until the monkeys go back to school (and I pity their teachers)”. Personally, I found the whole sentiment sad (what an indictment on society that mothers can’t spend two weeks’ holiday with their children without wishing them away) and bordering on offensive. (Perhaps I’m easily offended – maybe that’s the topic for another post…)

I re-posted it with words to the effect that “I find this really quite sad and offensive, and if you feel like this, I feel sorry for you.”

I had several mothers chime in with comments agreeing with me, and a couple from abroad who mentioned that the UK seems to be a very anti-child culture and the openness with which mothers speak so negatively about their children, even in front of their children, is really quite shocking.

My friend, however, posted a snarky comment to say that she did feel that way, and that it was quite normal for ‘normal’ parents to feel that way, and if I thought she was a bad parent, it was my problem.

Hmm.

I had never to my knowledge suggested that she was a bad parent or had made bad choices, so I suspect that there is a little bit of a conscience-prick (or cognitive dissonance?) happening to make her feel defensive, but here is the thing. We made very different and opposite choices.

We both have children with special needs. We both have a child with ADHD and very difficult behaviour. My friend sent her child to school and encountered enormous difficulties including suspensions and permanent exclusions, psychiatrists, CAMHS and medications, and getting the help she needed involved an enormous amount of fighting against the system to force the system to address the problem so that he could cope with the system. Actually I admire her tenacity and determination. It is not so much my friend’s parenting or parenting choices that I dislike so much as the system itself.

The choices I made involved avoiding the system altogether.

Special needs were not the initial reason that made us choose to home educate (my eldest son’s special needs were of a quite different nature) but by the time our third child came to ‘school age’ it was obvious that there was no way he could be squeezed into the box that the system required.

When his behaviour started to become difficult to manage, we did try to deal with GPs and CAMHS, but without success. But since he was home educated, I concluded, as I had done with my eldest (who has suspected Asperger’s but for whom we also failed to obtain a diagnosis or a Statement), that we would just continue to find solutions at home. For the most part, I believe that was the right decision for the children and learning at home has been a much calmer and better choice.

There is a ‘but’ though.

For me though, for my health and sanity, home education has possibly not been the best choice. It certainly hasn’t been the easiest choice. I have no doubt whatsoever that the stress level has contributed to my overall ill health and in as far as adrenal exhaustion may play a part in ME, I think that stress has broken me. Really. I am certainly not the person I was  – either physically or mentally / emotionally – as I was when I started out on this journey just over 15 years ago.

So my choice has come at a rather high price.

I have wondered seriously whether I am well enough to go forward with our plan to adopt. Right now, I do not feel that I am, and that feeling of failure just adds to my overall state of mind. My Plan A, to have more children, failed spectacularly, but now I wonder if my Plan B will fail. I don’t have a Plan C. Just be sad indefinitely?

However, would I do it again, even knowing what I know about how hard it is? Yes, I would. For my children’s sake, I would. I am glad I did. Would I home educate an adopted child? I have to say, despite everything that I know now, that I absolutely would.

From my observation, school for the most well-adjusted children is tough and often comes at the price of impacting the child’s personality and character negatively. For adopted children, who have already been through trauma, loss and worse, it has the potential to be downright abusive and even in the best cases seems to add another layer of trauma which inevitably adds to their overall difficulties.

Please don’t get me wrong. This is not intended to be a judgement on parents – especially adoptive parents – who choose school. I’m only looking from the outside, and I know that I don’t fully understand the special stresses that come with adopting a traumatised child. Home education is not the norm, and for most people, it can seem like an extreme solution. It involves one partner giving up their job, or a very difficult financial struggle. There is no ‘respite’ from home education, and I wouldn’t even suggest anybody try it unless they have a very supportive husband or extended support network. You will need a break, you will need support, and you will need a very strong sense of humour to be able to laugh when life and the state of the house is just so awful it’s ridiculous.

But for me, from a list of imperfect possible choices, home education seems to be the least bad, least damaging option, especially for children with special needs.

It’s Complicated…

torah1

I met with a lady yesterday, Alison, a newly ordained Deacon in the Church of England. One of the things that were on my list of things to do was to find myself a ‘Spiritual Director’ or mentor.  We had an amazing couple of things in common, one of which was home education – she had home educated her children (what are the chances?!).

She was very encouraging, and talked about how long and hard she had needed to fight in order to get to ordination.

“Don’t let them discourage you”, she said.

When she asked me about my vocation, and why the Church of England, I was able to say immediately how and why I felt I had been called, and why I am in the CofE. She said that I articulated that very well, which rather tickled me, as I did rather make it up on the spot.

But when she asked me why the Priesthood, as opposed to any other kind of Christian ministry, I was a little bit stumped. I tend to believe quite strongly in the Priesthood of all believers, which we discussed, and we agreed that this is a good argument in favour of women leaders / ministers / Priests.

But I realised that I do need to have a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Priest.

And I also realised that I am fudging things a bit. I am still Messianic, I am still evangelical. In fact, in many ways, I am still conservative, and as much as I embrace the traditionally liberal qualities of love, tolerance and social justice, I don’t think that will change. I don’t think those ‘liberal’ qualities are at all inconsistent with a conservative view of scripture.

But can I be consistent as a conservative, Messianic Jewish, evangelical, (Salvationist?!) not-really-feminist, woman Priest in the Church of England?

I don’t know. I hear the call, but I don’t know where it’s leading me. No decisions need to be made at this point; I am on a journey, so I will just keep taking small steps forward, and trust that I am following the right path.

I didn’t discuss all of these things with Alison. I think that, although I am keen to meet with her again, I really need to find somebody else to be a real ‘mentor’, even if she is willing to fulfill the official role of ‘Spiritual Director’. But I really need somebody who is familiar with, or has grappled with the same issues as I have to deal with.

So if you know any other conservative, Messianic Jewish, evangelical, not-really-feminist, women Priests in the Church of England, do please send them my way! (The Salvationist element is optional) 🙂