Thursday, November 22, 2007

A queer notion

Being a home educator is a lot like being a lesbian.

I don’t want to offend anyone by saying this, but I have noticed several similarities over the years.

For example:
  • It's not normal.
  • Because it’s not normal, people who don’t know you think they can judge and condemn you for it
  • People who haven’t thought about it much find it impossible to imagine what you actually *do*
  • Some people’s parents and extended family find it hard to understand or accept
  • Because it’s not normal, it gives you an outsider’s perspective on the way things are usually done.
  • It shapes your life in a holistic way that is difficult to describe to people outside the relevant community

Another similarity is that there are often violent disagreements within the community about both politics and terminology. One such recent discussion on the UKHE email list is what prompted me to start thinking about this again.

Some people believe that our status as outsiders logically and inevitably puts us in a position of opposition to the existing institutions (eg marriage, school, capitalism), and that we should therefore all fight for their downfall.

Others think we should be aiming for acceptance and inclusion, and work in more respectable ways for law reform and equal rights.

Many of us are struggling along on the rocky path between these two peaks, engaging with society enough to represent our particular interests and defend the legal freedoms we have, while trying not to become corrupted and co-opted in the process.

And of course, there are many, in both communities, who do their best not to think about such things, and just get on with their lives.

For myself, I’m on the rocky path, but emotionally drawn towards the downfall-of-society side. For example, despite the conventional form of our family set-up, I’ve never supported the campaign for gay marriage, for the reasons given here. In fact, I think the example of marriage may also be instructive for home educators.

While LGBT activists have been lobbying for equal access to the institution of marriage, the rest of society has been slowly but surely abandoning and dismantling it. I think that’s good. I’m for diversity in household forms and respect for personal choices about relationships, not a single state-sanctioned family type, with everything else treated as a failure of some kind.

What puzzles me is, when is that going to happen to the institution of schooling? It’s clearly outmoded, oppressive and unfit for the purpose of enabling children to gain an education that fits them for the world we now live in. It seems to me that saying things like that in home education circles is commonplace and unremarkable, but saying it elsewhere is a bit taboo.

Do we have a particular insight because of our outsider status? Do we therefore have an obligation to share that with everyone else? How could we do that in a way that is not smug or aggressive, or that would actually have any effect?

I think it is undeniable that the world has changed for LGBT people in the last 20 years. Almost beyond recognition. Some things are as they ever were, and I wouldn’t want to pretend for a minute that there is no homophobic bullying in schools or workplaces, or that coming out is not still a hard process for many people. But there is definitely a different atmosphere in the air now. You just have to watch an episode of Doctor Who to see it!

I don’t really know how this has happened. I like to think the robust response of our community to the vile Section 28 had a part to play, but I also think that big social change is always partly a subterranean thing. It just seems to happen when we’re all looking in the other direction, and afterwards the new way of things seems as natural and solid as the old one did.

Maybe we’re on the verge of an earthquake in educational thinking, and we just can’t see it yet. Ah, well… we can but dream!


Pete said...

Well, I've previously compared notes with a few folks in polyamory circles... and yes, once you start from the position of questioning one "fundamental" of mainstream society, you tend to be more amenable to confronting many more...

Lisa G said...

I agree with Pete, I've found myself questioning more than one aspect of mainstream society since I first looked into then began home ed. It's been a very natural evolution for me as one thing has lead to another until now we're living a life that is much happier and simpler. I also cautiously think that we may possibly be on the edge of maybe a little earthquake in educational thinking as alternative ideas come into the mainstream a bit more, although I don't think the time is right for a big earthquake as there are still vast swathes of society (Daily Mail reader types???)who are happy with society's 'norms' and would probably like them enforced more robustly!

Allie said...

Gosh, love, you've got so mainstream!
"I don't want to offend anyone by saying this..."
Time was when you'd have been deeply offended at their offence and probably staged an immediate kiss-in. ;-)

Jenny said...

If theres going to be a Kiss in in protest can we all join in? Sounds like an enjoyable way to spend a day!
I completely agree about being an 'outsider' People I live near just dont know how to treat me and my poor children who dont go to the village school which "is very nice you know...?"(I beg to differ)
Education isnt about educating any longer IMO. Its about the governments drive to fill children with as mch information as possible and thoroughly as possible through the written word. Despite expert advice to the contrary( rather inconvenient for them) and its all part of a larger agenda to control and monitor everyone.
Well Im happy to be alternative!

Lucy said...

I don't want to offend anyone either but I was in stitches at this similarity:

"People who haven’t thought about it much find it impossible to imagine what you actually *do*"

I feel like I am on the verge of an earthquake. I've never completely conformed but it wasn't that noticable when it was just me and I expect people thought that I would just 'grow up' one day. Now that I have children, it's a bit more serious.

I suppose the similarities extend into us 'coming out' to our extended families. Looks of horror and disapproving sighs, care not to mention it and a hope that it is just a phase we are going through. Hopefully oneday they'll accept us home educating although I expect they'll still have secret feelings that it was all a bit of a shame.

Still giggling though.

'EF' said...

Over 'ere, no one under 65 raises an eyebrow about women marrying women or men marrying men, it's been acceptable for many a year, and marriage (anyway) is done very often over here (normally once career is established) so it's a big stamp of approval from the 'normal' people that this came to be.

So being lesbian raises even less of an eyebrow and it kind of isn't really as big an issue over here as it may be is in Blighty.

But mention that we home educate? Arghhhh! We get some really overt reactions. People are literally shook to their boots, nostrils flare, cheeks flush and rage is visibly held back. All sorts of crap come out of their mouths in the first instance and the next time a conversation is held a load more crap comes out that has obviously been mulled over and rehearsed.

Over here who one chooses to spend ones life living and loving with is a free for all, but education? As far as the Danes are concerned there is only one way to do *it* and that is the to be holed up in the school house for ten plus years.

Sometimes I think people really do see schooling as a necessary rite of passage...and that people know deep down that school has nothing to do with education, and that people know and accept it's about learning to be totally insensitive to the madness of the systems in this world.

Sorry. Am rambling.


Pearl said...

and some people are like that when we meet them for the first time and say we don't have a car.

Jax said...

it seems to me that many home educators don't seem to want to discuss schools and state education at all - I don't do that, so I can't possibly comment - so there isn't a crossover of information there at all, when I think that many of the things that home educators know could be very useful to mainstream educators. But there just isn't a dialog there at all.

Sad, really.

Tech said...

I don't know that it's that so much Jax, as that we are so used to being questioned about our choices that we are a bit more sensitive to not making an issue out of the different choices other parents make iyswim? I know that the people we know whose children go to school, don't want to discuss the ins and outs, successes and failures of HE/School so we don't bring it up, as otherwise it would lead to resentment and loss of friendships. As a conversation, it's a bit like religion really, I think; you don't discuss it in *polite company*, and really what is the point anyway, because people will only listen when they are ready to hear, and I think that more people are starting to open their ears and more importantly SEE the results a different kind of *education* can give. Eventually the system will fall - I lived in Berlin when the wall was up and very few people ever imagined we would see it come down in our lifetime, but we did - I suspect we may find that state run schooling may suffer the same fate, and sooner than we might think.

Gill said...

Far from giving offence, I think comparing lesbianism with home ed is a very good analogy and I really hope education follows a similar path to the one lesbianism has. But I'm not particularly confident that it will. Sexual/relationship freedom hasn't brought down the global economy as we know it, and educational freedom might.

Personally I think we'd still have a healthy economy if we had educational freedom - probably healthier. But there are vested interests working hard to prevent it, aren't there? Then again, there were vested interests working against gay rights and, as Tech said, the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come." (Victor Hugo)

- Gill (a Daily Mail reader who likes to keep up with what the Enemy wants us to think!)

HelenHaricot said...

I don't often comment, but I always read your posts, and really enjoy the analogies you make.
I think education is the one brick too far as far as the government is concerned, remove it or change it, and a lot of other bricks will topple down.

emma said...

We don't have a car either, Pearl :-)

I agree with Pete too. I've seen it in the AP circles - a lot of them go on to home education, or into the oddities of Steiner-Waldorf-land - in any case, they've gone against convention once in co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding blah blah blah and it opens the floodgates.

By the way, has everyone signed the ani-children's database petition?

Gill said...

Signed it, blogged it. Thanks Emma.