I’m guessing if you watched Channel 4’s documentary Feral Families last night, you’ve got a lot to say about it. We’ll it just so happens so have I…
After the show I logged onto Twitter to see an overwhelming amount of comments from people who truly believe in the state education and cannot see life from any other point of view. Personally, I find this awfully narrow minded. We removed our children for various reasons, but this doesn’t mean I think school doesn’t work for other children. In fact, this whole concept of education is about choice.
I’m going to say it again, education (whether in school or otherwise) is still 100% the responsibility of parents. So regardless of where your child’s learning takes place, in the classroom or in the woods, their happiness, well being and education is down to you.
I’d like to look over some of the things I viewed in the programme, as well as the comments on twitter and some articles online to try and work out why so many people have their knickers (I hate that word but had to use it) in a twist…
1. Learning to read and write.
Okay, so there were a few things I picked up on with this via twitter and various articles online. There was a 13 year old on the programme who was taken out of school because it was failing him and now he uses his phone to write. People are going crazy over this, using the ‘club’ scene as a massive reference point. Firstly, he was removed because nobody had helped him when it came to literacy, otherwise he would have left school being able to read and write, right?! Secondly, I understand he is dyslexic and regardless of what people think, I’ve met children in school (when I used to volunteer) and one child who was dyslexic really struggled. If they didn’t have the volunteers, improvements would not be made because children are expected to constantly be at a certain level at a certain age. This always baffles me because when I trained to be a teacher there was a massive emphasis on differentiation, yet the tests were all the same. That’s great for your self esteem… But not really.
Thirdly, I’d like to point out that regardless of my BA or MA l in English and Creative Writing, I think I’d make an error like this if I had a film crew watching and recording me. Also, I am hopeless at filling out forms by hand; I literally forget dates and names and always ask Warren to do it if possible because forms actually freak me out. But it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy writing by hand, I love it. I put it down to years of tests, exams, the silence, the red crosses and the pressure. Always the pressure to succeed…
People are also getting worked up because his mother, Jenna, wants to take him travelling. What now..?! Travelling, nah… You don’t wanna do that. You wanna stay home, continue with your tutor and, as his grandad suggested, make trouble in town with other kids your own age. Yeah, about that…
Nobody cares about this part, they only care about his tutor, his literacy, about results. Nobody cares that he’s not in the local bus stop drinking cider and causing trouble (yes, I did this), nobody cares about his happiness or mental well being.
Kids, without dyslexia, can learn to read between any age, right up to 13 (probably beyond) and apart from us as parents reading to and with them, they don’t need phonics or to be well versed in Shakespeare by the age of 11 (I’d secretly love this for mine though, but I imagine they’ll go for something a bit more modern such as Nick Hornby!) to be literate. We read most days together and Molly taught herself to read aged six and she’s fabulous at it! She did that though, we just supported her. We encouraged a love of books and words and listened to her and she did all the hard work. And guess what? She is fab at it!
Kids need passions; loves and hates and all that’s in between. This will shape their futures, and will form passionate, confident, righteous adults. And you know what, reading might not be a passion. Or it may be bloody hard because of dyslexia. Slaying people for their differences, well it’s not exactly going to help, is it?!
2. No rules.
Gah. This annoyed me no end. Firstly, radical unschooling (not extreme!) is based on no arbitrary rules. Things like, you’ve not eaten your dinner so you’re not getting pudding, don’t exist. The way I like to explain it is, if you’ve had a shit day and you’ve come home grumpy, you’re not going to deprive yourself of a beer or a bar of chocolate are you?! But this is how some parents work. Not radical unschoolers. From what I know, and I’m learning everyday, radical unschoolers focus on a child’s autonomy. If they’re hungry they can eat, if they are tired they can sleep etc. Letting children be in control of their wants and needs without backwards black mail (eat your dinner and you’ll get ice cream). They’re not saying, yes of course, run into the road or jump off a cliff, but they are saying give your body and mind what it needs and we will support you. It’s a difficult concept for conformists to grasp, I’m getting there with it slowly after years of conforming, but I know people who just don’t get it. Perhaps they’re scared of it or perhaps they’re too ingrained with memories of their own childhood to see it any other way.
For everyone out there up in arms about this documentary, I ask you: do you really believe that the stories haven’t been sensationalised? TV channels want views, they want to stir up feeling and opinions because it gets them more views and more publicity. Open your eyes and try not to view it through black and white vision.
I also hear, from my good friend twitter, that the producer of the programme has become a home educator. If this is true then we should be asking why…
I’m not quite sure why people think going to school, college and university makes you employable. Trust me, it doesn’t. It makes you skint and leaves you in a lot of debt. Also, home educated kids can take G.C.S.E’s, but the parent(s) have to find a provider and pay for them. Not only that but a lot of home educated kids learn a lot of life skills along their journey, which has more of an impact on skillful career prospects. I recently met a home educated adult who worked in childcare, and within the online community I know of many who loved their childhood and went on to do things with their lives, without being ‘dole scum’. It’s a sad world we live in when we think an hour in a hall and a piece of paper is all we’re worth.
This is my final talking point and, oh boy, did I save the best til last… Firstly, during the programme we didn’t see any home ed groups hanging out or going on trips. I have no idea what kind of involvement anyone of the families have with these kinds of things, but I very well imagine that no group in their right mind would have agreed to a visit from Channel 4 to document socialisation. Not in a million years. Let me also add, my children and all the home ed children I meet are deeply sociable. With adults and children alike. A child may be shy or confident regardless of schooling (that’s called personality), but home ed kids interact with an array of people on a daily basis, socialisation is part of their way of life. It’s crazy to think these children don’t socialise, because believe me, mine can have just as in depth conversations with others as me, maybe even more so!
Also, please don’t forget, there is no one way with home education. The same can be said for different schools. Each family tends to follow a path that suits them, from following the National Curriculum to their personalised structured learning to unschooling and many variations in between. Don’t let this documentary make you think this is the only way, there’s so much diversity out there and talking and engaging with other people is the only way to truly learn about the subject of home education. Basing your thoughts on home ed through a TV programme is probably not the best idea.
So these are my initial thoughts and responses, I may have more (I know I will) and I may write more (I may not), but for now I’d just like to say, don’t believe everything your fed from the media and try to refrain from being judgemental, we’re too guilty of this and if we just opened our eyes a little we may be able to see things from another point of view.