Although its not something I’ll have to worry about for a good while yet, the thorny subject of what kind of education I would want for my child, is hovering at the edge of my mind. I have always maintained that school is basically a lottery, in which having a good teacher, cooperative classmates, and the opportunity to be individual are all elements that may or may not be present, and over which students and parents have little control.
I base this on my own education, which began in a tiny village school – a great place as I dimly remember, which I left at least literate. Middle school (a local peculiarity 8-11yrs, I think) was a peculiar mixture of some extremely good, and some extremely old and largely unpleasant teachers, at the end of their post-war careers, but overall the experience seemed to be grand.
And so to comprehensive school, which was a curious mixture of truly awful, and then really quite good once they let me do what I wanted to. The first couple of years entailed randomly mixing several schools worth of children with varying abilities. The result? Two years of serious disruption. Our first english teacher committed suicide, and I vividly remember her replacement being pelted with paper on one occasion. Suffice to say it wasn’t a warm and nurturing learning environment. Oh and I took up smoking, so that I would have something in common with the guys who lurked outside the gates and were most likely to rearrange my person in some way.
It was at least character building.
Then we got streamed, and it all changed. No more teacher baiting. I got to study all sorts of odd subjects – how many people get to study Design and Technology, Music, and Horse Studies, alongside Physics?
What I lacked in focus, I definitely made up for in breadth.
And your point is? I hear you cry…
My point is that I got to do most of this in spite of the education system. Mainly because my mother badgered, cadjoled and generally argued with the system. WHY can’t he study physics and music, etc. In the end I did a couple of O Levels in my own time – Chemistry and Biology, and I went off every Thursday night to do my Horse Studies course.
Then came A Levels, and I did half of my Design and Technology course in our outhouse at home, not to mention all the drawing.
So I realised that education isn’t just something that happens at school, under the control of the teaching staff. Some of my best education happened because my parents were open to alternatives, and because I was allowed to do my own thing.
Yes, but what is the point?
Okay – the point is that the more I learn about education systems, the more I am convinced that mainstream education isn’t something I would want for my own children. Ken Robinson makes the point most eloquently, in his TED talk, and I’ve long admired the Steiner schools approach to educating.
This leads me to home schooling. Now many parents I’ve spoken to say that by the time comes for home schooling, you can’t wait to find a school so that you can have some peace and quiet for a few hours each day.
That may be true, but on balance I think I might be tempted to take a chance. Firstly I have a morbid loathing of testing. I got tested at 15. That was it, and it was enough. These days the entire system seems geared to testing, and it really doesn’t appeal, thanks. I was fortunate that my comprehensive school still taught cookery, woodwork and metalwork, all too rare nowadays. Now I did back up my practical skills with a fair bit of drilling holes in the family furniture, but it all helped.
Currently my understanding of home schooling is sketchy, but the idea certainly seems like an attractive one, and on first glance, my fears about raising a hermit are unfounded – there are, it appears many ways to allow kids to socialise, and they need not end up being the odd one out.
Suddenly, wanting to do the best thing, is terribly important, and its not an experiment that you particularly want to go horribly wrong. I wonder what other people do?
Suggestions on a postcard please, dear reader….