Homeschool follow up

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So it seems I have caused a bit of a stirring with my controversial views and I wanted to set some things straight…

Firstly, I am not meaning to cause offence to anyone who has chosen (or is intending to) to send their children to school. I have friends who are far better parents than I could ever hope to be who have children in mainstream schools and they are doing just fine. I also know there are brilliant teachers out there, the best. We all long for these teachers and if our children were lucky enough to have one for each subject, along with more one-on-one time and a intellectual and emotional connection with each one too, then they would sail through each subject. But how likely is that?
Like any choice that is different from the ‘norm’ my thoughts are bound to raise some eyebrows. I do believe that the school system is outdated and is no longer designed with the best interest of the pupils’ individual needs. I think things were bad when I was at school (twenty odd years ago), and that it has got worse, and will continue to do so. I am generally talking about high schools. There are many amazing primary schools in my area. However I have a lot of friends with children in secondary school and not one of them has a happy story to tell. One just the other day was telling me about how her daughter got stabbed with a pen (quite severely) and the school denied any responsibility for this as ‘no-one saw what happened’. I have another who’s child is being hugely bullied; she has met with the teachers, head teacher and parents of the children causing problems. The school say that the bulling isn’t ‘severe enough for them to take action’. They have more serious issues to deal with like weapons, rape and drugs. I could go on, I have tons of examples. The thing is, if my children have a super time in primary school and the hit these kinds of troubles in secondary school, how can I tear them out of the system then? How I can I justify pulling them away from any friendships made and dividing them so consciously and brutally? This will cause so much difficulty for all of us. I genuinely believe these problems will arise at some point and there will be nothing I can do to stop them. So I feel that homeschooling from the very beginning is the only fair way it can be done. It will be ordinary to them and I will work hard to meet others where that is also their normality so that they don’t feel like they are missing out.
My experiences of school have affected my views of course but they have not tainted them. I experienced many school settings as I moved a lot as a child. My main two examples of teenage educational settings (both of which failed me as a student) are interesting. One was a large comprehensive (2500 kids) split over two buildings. And the other was a small, country private school.
The first was intense. I was bullied from the start. Many people were. It’s fair to say I’ve always been fairly eccentric and people at that age don’t like it my experince. The girls would all buy the exact same pairs of shoes and hair bands and wear make up and smoke. I was ridiculed for not doing any of those things. Really, hugely ridiculed. So much so that I needed a distraction. I soon discovered that if I was ‘naughty’ and acted out to the teachers, people would laugh at me instead of picking on me. I then had people saying ‘Vikki, dare you to do this’ and I would! I was now likeable. I also would make fun of people less popular than myself (only in front of the mean kids which is worse than all the time really) so I looked tough. I learned many life lessons, none of them good as I was shaping to be a not very nice person. I learnt hardly anything when it came to school academia.
So concerned at my behaviour and bad reports etc my family decided to place me in a private setting. As far as my image went, this was fantastic for me. I was now able to become whoever I wanted. I made meaningful friendships. However, the school had no hope for me from the moment I began. A school like that is very precious about ‘success’ and ‘results’. They were worried about me lowering their averages. Not many people pay for a school that don’t offer excellent averages. So with every given opportunity I was suspended and at one point they tried to expel me over very little. Fortunately my family prevented that from happening. So I made it out with to quote one of my teachers, ‘surprisingly good results’. They were so convinced that I was going to fail that they didn’t want to teach me. In some classes, all I would have to do was walk through the door before being asked to leave. Sure I had a cheeky attitude but I was not a bad kid. I did leave school believing that I was though. In fact I thought I was pretty worthless. And that did not give me the courage to really try anything else educationally.
I know that not everyone’s experiences mirror mine but I can’t help but think my children are bound to have (already do) possess some of my (and our family’s) eccentricities. I want to embrace them rather than make them feel ashamed of who they are. I don’t want them to conform to the standards that someone, somewhere has decided is correct. I want them to grow into well rounded, helpful and kind people with an open mind and a passion for learning. Give me a school that can guarantee they will try their hardest to achieve this which each and every student?
Secondly (back to my last blog), I definitely allowed my anger at the growth and horror caused by capitalism to take over my main points. My fears of schools changing for the worse are caused by this, but I do realise it is a separate issue. I also suffer from anxiety so it’s safe to say that these thoughts may overwhelm me and keep me up at night on a regular basis so I know I have to evaluate them frequently. It does not make them all completely irrational though.
Thirdly, I am not intending to shelter my children from anything; quite the opposite. My eldest daughter is only three so I am only just starting my research and plans for our educational journey. I am reading heaps of books by fascinating and inspirational authors such as Alfie Kohn, John Holt, Maria Motessori and Rudolf Steiner to name a few. There are many home ed groups in my surrounding areas and I am planning to meet as many like minded people as I can and help develop the community. I feel there is a higher chance of building something wonderful for education locally outside the grip of school than in it when there are so many people to go through. I am planning to offer free music and cooking classes to children in the same situation as mine once a week with the hope to inspire others into sharing their talents with our children. I plan to bring accomplished friends in for days here and there to teach my children skills such as knitting, sewing, shooting, fishing, climbing, sailing, horse riding, building, carpentry and what ever else might be on offer. I also intend to en-roll my girls in any groups they wish to join. Susannah is starting a dance class next week. There are also drama groups, gym classes, sports teams and all sorts that we can look into depending on their interests. There are also local forest schools that we can attend every now and then to develop their nature skills. That’s the social side of things explained.
As far as the life lessons school gives: let me be clear, I am not at all wanting to raise my children wearing blinkers. But what kind of lessons of enormous value will they be missing out on exactly? The only one I see is how to survive (if they do) under huge amounts of unnecessary pressure. As far as knowing about the troubles in the world, to start with, we already have a lot of stories in our direct life that proves how different  one life experience can be from the next. We are also going to do community work once a month to meet all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds with the intention to teach my girls that anyone can end up anywhere and to never to judge. We are going to keep a daily journal for ‘random acts of kindness’. They will have to take it in turns to think of something kind we can do each day for another person. This will hopefully show how easy it is to be there for others when one puts their mind to it. A valuable life lesson that schools most certainly do not focus on.  I want compassion to be their main attribute to anything they do. I feel it’s the most important trait any person can possess. Without compassion there is no room for growth or change. Without compassion, everything else one does is inconsequential. Without compassion, the world and everything in it has no worth.
A last huge pro to home-schooling is being able to chose how we learn. We can take trips, meet people from around the world, any time, any where. I will be there to help with every struggle educationally and emotionally. Not only will that make my understanding of my children a deeper one but I will be able to be actively involved when we hit any walls (which of course we will).
I have no doubt that my gorgeous, intelligent and funny girls would survive with Muzz and me as parents through the manic school system. (Which compared to many countries I accept that we are extremely lucky to have). We could guide them the best way we know how.
But to me, survival is not enough. I want my children to reach their full potentials, intellectually and as human beings. I am not saying I can absolutely do that, that is a massive assumption. But I am willing to sacrifice everything to try. Because I think I have a better chance of achieving that than anywhere or anyone else as far as my kids are concerned. Maybe I am crazy, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
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A new years resolution that did wonders

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A new years resolution that did wonders

 

So a few years ago my friend Tessa (who seems to be coming up a lot in my posts, probably because she is one of my most thought provoking friends) introduced me to the idea of living without competition. To the possibility of raising our children without teaching them to think in a competitive way. Intriguing…

 

Naturally I got defensive to begin with and said in response:

 

“Well I don’t think there is any harm in gentle competition”

 

But as soon as I uttered the words, I began to doubt that they were true. What I love about Tessa is that she never pushes these things. She plants the seed and leaves it with you. Being a naturally obsessive person I spent a few sleepless nights mulling this concept over. When I thought about it that much, I could not find a single example where being competitive did me any favours. In fact, it brought out my ugliest traits.

 

I suppose my first introduction to the antagonistic drive of needing to win was introduced through good old sibling rivalry. My brother Jim and I were always compared and spent many of our childhood years, fighting for the spotlight when it came to school and home. I remember the intense emotions so clearly. A mixture of pure awe at a person and unshakable jealousy. I don’t think this is a healthy way for anyone to begin their life. Yet so many siblings start off the same way.

 

This feeling whatever it was; this melancholy fervor that made me need to be better than others, remained with me. It never made a ‘fun’ evening of board games end well. I was often compared to Monica from friends. Sticking it to the loser if I did well and raging if I didn’t. Embarassing.

 

There are two sides to being competitive: One where you behave obnoxiously and are desperate to beat everyone (and have that be noticed) to feel good about yourself. The other where you know you have no chance of winning so you give up before you’ve even started. I have definitely experienced both, most of my life so far. And neither bring out the best in me.

 

I honestly think this is why so many kids loathe sport at school. Rather than teaching children the art of the pastime fairly and indeed the true, noble path to competing, schools generally search for kids with ‘potential’. Because they want their cabinets filled with trophies. All the average children are ignored and below average in my experience tend to irritate the teachers.

 

I was never picked for any team, ever. So I hated P.E. It made me feel bad about myself. So naturally I rebelled. Imagine a scenario though where teams were not the important part of school sports though? Where children are all being taught fairly and filled with the spirit of friendly competition. Where they are given the opportunity to take part and develop a passion for a sport even though they aren’t the best. Imagine all children being at ease with losing sometimes. And more importantly being used to that without it being and kind of tragedy or personal failure. Surely that’s a valuable lesson for us all to learn? And where better than the sports field?

 

I’m not going to bang on about educational settings here but i do want to give one more example where they often (I think) encourage children to perceive each other as rivals rather than peers:

 

Placing children in ‘sets’ for classes.

 

In my opinion, most children don’t actually know what they are ‘good’ at. They are told. By their parents and by their teachers. Placing a child in a ‘bottom’ set for anything is code for saying “You are shit at this”. I remember the feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing that came with being placed in one of those lower settings well. Most teenagers are familiar with these emotions. I think this is one of the factors. Again, for me, it made me give up without even trying- my philosophy being “why bother if I’m crap? I’ll just mess around until I enter a class that I’m good at.”

 

I also realise that my reasons for misbehaving in these classes was down to feeling incompetent. Making people laugh made me feel better about myself. So rather than sitting there sadly hating myself for being ‘stupid’ (which is what I thought I was thanks to the set placings), I was ‘naughty’. The looks of hatred and yells of impatience from the teacher confirmed these two things- 1) I was indeed a bad kid 2) And a stupid one. A vicious cycle that did me no favours in those classes, or for my well being as I developed as a person. If people view you as ‘bad’ you start to see yourself that way. Same with intelligence. So I think this idea helps create the kids with low self-esteem and attitude problems and often, it doesn’t change for them.

 

This was the environment that first made me resent learning. And all kids are born with the desire to learn, are they not?

 

In the higher sets I liked the work. But this is where the atmosphere was most competitive. We were all secretly thinking, “We are all great at this cause we are in here, but who is the best?”

 

Who could get the best grades?

 

Who could answer questions first?

 

Who could answer questions the best?

 

Etc etc.

 

The amount of straight A friends I have that suffer with huge anxiety is very interesting. They can’t sleep during exam time. They shake, cry, sweat with panic and work, work, work. And if they don’t get that A, they hate themselves. Completely. They are ashamed! What kind of world are we living in?! Shouldn’t learning go back to being that drive and passion we were all born with? Not a constant strive to do better than last time? Or better than everyone else? It’s not healthy.

 

So after tossing and turning for nights on end. I decided that being competitive for me (and probably most) is a horrible trait engrained by nurture, not nature. Therefore, I could eliminate it from my personality. I could retrain my brain to no longer think that way.

 

You know what? It worked.

 

Obviously the people around me have a lifetime’s worth of evidence to contradict me here, but with any change, it takes time. It’s been three years. In another ten, people will no longer see me as a maniac that needs to win. I am confident of that.

 

The way I did it was by focusing on the feeling after winning when ever I started to feel the gut stab and horrendous desire to ‘outdo’ others. I concentrated on the fact that no-one actually cares. The axiom that I can’t scroll back in my mind and work out who won which game and when? Because ultimately it doesn’t matter, it has never mattered. I realised the people I am drawn to are not people that need to beat others at things but people who want to learn throughout their lives regardless of what others think of them. That is the kind of person I long to be. Someone who is at ease with my intelligence and feeds my intellect at my own pace and relishes it. I strive to grow into someone who admires others without envy. Someone who can laugh at myself if I do a bad job at something. I want my children to possess this qualities too. And I am a main influence to them!

Since this revelation, I am actually growing more secure in my own abilities. I now embrace this strange, relaxed freedom that comes with not needing to be the best, or funniest, or skinniest, or smartest etc etc. I am definitely less judgemental of others which makes me more compelled by people. I genuinely want everyone to succeed! It feels so warm and wonderful. I even have a better body image and expectation for myself and others. All in all, I am a happier, healthier person without competition.

 

Also (I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant) my eldest daughter, she is glowing from these changes already. Susannah is three, so she came just at the right time. If she loses at a game she still enjoys it and wants to play again! I hope I can keep this going for her. I feel so proud when she sings “wah wah wah wah’ with a big smile on her face as she slides her playing counter down a snake rather than up a ladder.

 

Another thought that occured to me is that most things are subjective anyway. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and all that. If we apply this logic to most situations, no-one is bad or great at anything. We are all different and interesting. So next time a friend shows us a painting that we think is terrible, maybe we should try and see it for what it is, a little piece of them, instead of trying to rate whether it is any good. If it makes the person doing it happy then who bloody cares?

 

Anyway, there is a reason that people often die before anyone appreciates their work. Because people are stuck in their ways. So I reckon, what ever we enjoy we should do it with bells on even if the people around us, the critics, our parents or teachers tell us we are terrible at it. They can all go jump. Because we are all entitled to revel in things regardless of other people’s standards.

 

If we could all learn to love what we do and cherish doing it, and feel the same to the people around us, maybe we would all be more confident, laugh more and take bigger leaps. Because honestly, who are we to judge anyway? We might not be right about everything…