A Funny Kind of Education

I’m reading Ross Mountney’s “A Funny Kind of Education”. It’s her account of taking her 5 and 9 year old daughters out of school where they were plagued by unhappiness and health issues. They live in rural England. It’s a very touching, honest and sometimes “laugh out loud” funny account of finding their own path to learning together.

She had contact from Education Otherwise, one of the home education support groups: “a whole community of other aliens. Nice to know there really are other people as weird as me.”

The Local Authority forms, which were sent to them for filling in asked about “subjects and learning rooms and tests and work schemes.”  The parents discuss the requirements. “They don’t seem appropriate to what we want to do at all,” her husband offers. Reflecting on it, she decides “we’ve taken the girls out of school so we can pay attention to their education rather than their schooling.”

When Ross speaks to the Education Otherwise helpline, it’s explained she doesn’t HAVE to fill in the forms and can ask for time to settle into the new learning approach.

She finds a family near her who are happy to meet up and discuss her concerns.

It’s what has struck me so often about this “community” or “tribe” we stumbled into… how generous people are with their time and talents, to encourage others who are tentatively taking the first steps into something that still remains quite counter-cultural.

When we started back in 1987, I had a family to observe with children a few years older than Darragh, and I could see how scheduled learning fitted in around family life. I read their wonderful John Holt books and nodded in agreement with his statements about observing young children’s hands-on approach to learning.. whether that was with his manual typewriter or cello or whatever he was busy with.

Probably the best reassurance a new home educator has, is access to a family who are LIVING their learning each day. (Ross comes full circle with this, and four years from beginning her home education adventure, she takes calls from nervous parents who are wondering if they should try educating at home for their families.)

For me, after companions on the journey, the next thing is to have first-hand accounts of families who have begun, often with great trepidation, as I did, wondering if this path was somehow going to deny a child some experience that they would need. The writers who have most inspired me are probably those who have been very honest about their mistakes, like Alison McKee in “Homeshooling our Children, Unschooling Ourselves”, who talks about how her son’s love of observing the seasonal changes in a particular patch of ground was almost killed by her insistence he RECORD what differences he witnessed.

Ross is very honest about that too. She recounts an exchange with her daughter where she tries to insist on learning being recorded and her daughter’s assurance that she KNOWS it and doesn’t need to prove that to anyone.

“Come on, it won’t take a minute, and you need something down on paper to show all the good things you learn,” mother cajoles.

“I don’t. I know what I’ve learned. And I want to do something else.”

Ross recounts a conversation with her “Home Ed best friend”:

“There’s so much chaos at home I wonder how much proper Home Ed is going on.”

To which her friend says:
“Course you’re doing proper education…The problem comes when you start to compare what you do to the education children do in schools where they produce lots of stuff which is often just to keep the children busy. ”

There are sad conversations with a friend whose children are struggling in school and have been written off by teachers, and of the mother’s attempts to have her child’s needs met within the system.

There are the struggles of daily life as Ross tries to get her own writing done around the constant questioning and companionship of her daughters. Her struggle with migraine she sees as her body saying she needs time to herself, and her husband and mother come up with solutions to take part of the care of the girls so she can have her own space.  This echoes what Jean Liedloff writes in “the Continuum Concept” where the author asserts that babies and young children don’t need fancy “educational ” toys and the newest gadgets, but rather to witness adults engaged in real activities as they go about their daily lives.

There are lovely descriptions of outdoor days and the seasonal changes in the world around them. There is fun and celebration, house moving, renovating, new beginnings, deaths; the circle of life.

“I’m fast learning that I need to rethink the timetable, scrap the school habits, stop being so bloody inflexible and see all the fantastic learning opportunities that are happening right under my nose… what the kids need is a caring, interested, encouraging and inspirational adult. No teaching required. Wish I’d never been a teacher… I’m a human being guiding other human beings on their path to becoming more human. Don’t need teacher skills to do that.”

AMEN to that!


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