Sunday, November 18, 2007

A curriculum or a dance?

The other day I had one of those, slightly awkward, conversations that most home educators will recognise. I bumped into someone I used to see quite a lot when the kids were younger – but haven’t seen for a couple of years. She asked me if we were still ‘home schooling’ and told me that she was studying for a PGCE. I told her that we were, and that we were very happy with it. When I mentioned that P had decided not to apply to any senior schools she said,
“Won’t it all get rather advanced now?”

That’s the point where the conversation got tricky. The problem, of course, is that we seem to be on a different educational planet these days. We do know, more or less, what the kids in school are doing, but it just isn’t relevant to us. Our children’s education is not a linear progression from ‘easy’ to ‘difficult’. I am frequently amazed at how it swings about – how their interests are fluid. Their ability to grasp things is also not predictable. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that if the children show stress and confusion then that is not the moment to be learning that thing. Their learning has its own timetable. When the moment is right they grasp things extremely fast.

When I wrote that we were “beachcombing for an education” – three years ago – I had no idea how true that was, and would continue to be. Both the children pick up snippets all the time. Here are three questions P asked yesterday:
“What is a heart transplant?”
“What are lorgnettes?”
“What is a dominatrix?” (!)
I think that these are the older child equivalent of “What DAT?” from a toddler. The mission is the same – the acquisition of knowledge. Every question asked, book read, web site visited, place travelled to, is part of their education. It is as ‘advanced’ as they feel like making it that day.

Pearlie might join in with a discussion on the morality of charity or the different ice creams available at the cafe. She might spend an hour or two reading all about Sally Lockhart’s Victorian adventures or Lady Grace’s sleuthing around the Tudor court – or pick up an old Mr Majeika she read when she was six. When she watches TV it might be Basil Brush but she’s also keen on Have I Got News for You. That’s what I do too – sometimes I challenge myself and sometimes I enjoy the comfort of something familiar. She’s also out a lot – working on collaborative things with friends, or playing and chatting. She’s much too busy to be ploughing through someone else’s curriculum. And that is why I don’t worry that she is getting older and we won’t ‘manage’. If P wants to know about something then she’ll find out – that’s what she does. That’s what we all do.

I suspect that the person I was speaking to the other day was anxious that there would be gaps if we allowed the children to define their own education. Other people have said this to me. What if we “leave something out”, something “vital” or “important”?

So, I was pondering all this as I walked around a single floor of the library where I work. I was thinking about curricula. And the library laughed at me. Every aisle just seemed to let out a guffaw. The internet is vast, as we all know, but on your screen at any time is just a screen’s worth of information. We tend to keep to our own, well trodden, paths in cyberspace. We forget the vastness of human knowledge. But on just those shelves of a small university library was more information than you could assimilate in years of reading. It was a great warm hug of mirth. How can anyone worry that there are gaps in an education? Of course there are gaps. Any education is simply a path, or perhaps a dance, through all there is to know.

A library holds out its hand and says,
“Come and have a dance with me.”

That’s what we do each day. The dance evolves as the children grow up. There are new steps. There is a moment of being swept into the arms of an author, spinning in their reality. There is an intricate slow foxtrot with a complex idea. There is a raucous family barn dance of argument. There is a slow rumba, held close to something familiar. There is just rocking, drifting in thoughts to the music inside. That’s what our learning consists of. All of us. There is no way I can, or want to, remove the children and present them with a sheet – every footfall marked out for them. There is no need.

That is what I will try to remember when I find myself burbling into the blank face of someone who asks about the ‘home schooling’. When they ask about education, curriculum, goals, targets, essential knowledge, keeping up, and all the rest. I think what I might say next time is,
“Oh, we just dance.”

They’ll think I’m mad – but they probably think I am anyway.


Nic said...

I love that idea, it's probably the best description of what we do too, we dance :).

Clare said...

Your post captures the organic nature of children's learning so beautifully. It's so sad that the world seems to think that the only way a child will grow up is if they are programmed with a standardised set of information like a robot. How much more fulfilled our children could be if we just let them follow their own dance steps.

Tech said...

What a lovely post Allie! Will be printing this off for posterity.

ruth said...

"We forget the vastness of human knowledge. But on just those shelves of a small university library was more information than you could assimilate in years of reading. It was a great warm hug of mirth."

Thanks for that. For all of it. I needed reminding

Beth said...

What a terrific post! You have beautifully captured how I feel about life, education, childhood and lifelong learning, and more!

It's so hard to be articulate in the moment -- when verbally challenged -- isn't it?

Em said...

very lovely post indeed. Thank you.

Lisa G said...

What a brilliant post, I loved it and also found it very reassuring as well, we dance, what a wonderful description of home ed!

Gill said...

I enjoyed reading that too Allie. It also made me think of Gatto's "It’s just impossible for education and schooling ever to be the same thing," because when you seek to restrict and define a curriculum in advance, you're into the realm of schooling and moving away from real learning. I'm increasingly refusing to talk about 'learning' and 'education' in the same context as the word 'school' because it doesn't make sense.

Jenny said...

What a beautiful and thought provoking post! Sophie has also expressed a wish not to go back to school next year despite all the children her age "going up to big school" and I identified with alot of what you posted. Youve left me with a beautiful image to reflect on
Many thanks!

Anonymous said...

That is one of the best posts I have read, that describes exactly what we do.

Late last night Hetty's questions were
"What is the placenta and how does it work?"
"How can a ventilator breath for you?"
"Will you help me find out about the realities of ethical banking?"

I went and made a strong cup of tea to stay awake to answer what i could and to help her research the rest, as that was the moment she needed to know!

regards Julie

grit said...

beautifully written, thank you!

Sam said...

Thank you. I love to dance, and that's such a wonderful way of thinking about what we do everyday. :)