I’ve been working a lot this week and struggling to keep up with everything but it’s been a good week. Evelyn Glennie came to play with us at Ten Tors for the new Contempory Music Festival in Plymouth. It was lovely to see everyone properly again and to get the chance to rehearse properly (three and a half days for one concert, unlike our usual one session on the day) as they had the funding which contempory music and a big name can attract.
We then had an extraordinary couple of days, as although I can’t go in to details, we reported a crime to the police two years ago and we had some good news on that score on Sunday just when we’d thought they were going to give up on it.
THEN… yesterday we found out that Oscar has won a place at the mixed Grammar School as he did pass their 11+ exam. Now we just have to work out how we feel about it all…
Of course I’m chuffed because he wanted it, but I have always been terrified at the thought of his having to cope with what would happen to his self esteem if he didn’t pass. However, I have always questioned why he wanted to go for it though as I don’t think the motivation was school at the end of it strangely enough. I think that as soon as Oscar heard that there was such thing as an 11+ exam he wanted to pass it and it is partly that sort of competitiveness that makes me think he could enjoy the right school. It is not as if he is desperate to go to school, particularly as he has such good friends amongst the home edders but he has always kept one eye on school and it has always been important to him to know he is keeping up with where his peers in school would be. He’s a very outward looking sort of chap and I feel trying school will be important for him. He is intruiged by it and open to it and I have never taken an anti-school line, although we have spoken about some possible negative aspects particularly when he was younger and less “comfortable” with being different as a home edder.
In my opinion, I don’t think now is necessarily the ideal time for him to go to school (although I wonder if I might always think that!) but I can certainly envisage a time in the next couple of years when I think he would gain an awful lot from broadening his horizons in the way I could imagine the right school might do for him, and as we can’t be at all sure that there would be any places in any school he might want to go to by then, then I think now has to be the time. It’s also obviously the time when everyone would be new to the school also. Lucas has never been drawn to school and I can’t imagine him wanting to go so I am picturing us following different choices with each child. Oscar is a very different child to Lucas and he has always gained an enormous amount from the stimulation of the company of others, and is spurred on by seeing what other people do. He is less self motivated in that way than Lucas is, who is happier developing his own interests. I think it is partly this which has made me feel more at ease with the way Lucas learns at home than Oscar but I am also always thinking that Oscar simply highlights my own limitations in the way I facilitate their learning. Or maybe it is as simple as the fact I make more mistakes with my first child! Arrrghh!
I do find it hard to envisage life tied to a school these days (just a quick glimpse at the website tonight and looking at the uniform and curriculum filled me with a sort of dread) and I already am starting to feel nostalgic about our free and easy home ed life which is a little premature with another six months to go. We had bought some lemonade for tonight which we told him was to commiserate or celebrate but we didn’t know which it would be and Lucas said quietly “Commiserate” and I asked why and he said “Because I don’t want him to go,” but he said it without any self-pity or drama and didn’t refer to it again. He seemed happy enough the rest of the evening but I do feel very sad thinking of them being separated and the effect it may have on their relationship. I do think they have developed a special bond from spending so much time together and I only see that as a good and very natural thing. Still, I won’t try guessing at how things will change.
It sounds as if I am only thinking negatively which is ridiculous. He can try school in the knowledge that he can come back to home education if he wants to. Nothing need be for ever. This is his choice just as everything has been his choice so far and will carry on to be so. In this way he can really see what school is like for himself. I’m also hoping (is this naive?) that we can get good help and advice there with his dyslexia. Actually I have a lot of hopes, most notably that he carries on learning there with the enthusiasm, inventiveness and joy that he does already and that they inspire him with new passions for things.
I have a lot of dreads too, not least that he will have to encounter the sort of behaviour that he comes across in his various clubs and activities. At the moment he can shrug this off as something that is too small a part of his life to bother him. For instance, at drama tonight some boys who had got in to the Boys Grammar and said “Churston is the gay school” to Oscar (he chose to go for the mixed Grammar instead). He never encounters such comments amongst the home ed scene.
If I look at what has happened up until now, I just feel so pleased that he has had these years to focus on these vital aspects of childhood: time with family and friends, space to develop at his own pace, choices about what he learns and just time really. Time to focus on everything he enjoys, even down to developing skills in music and sports. He has done such a little amount of the sort of “academic work” that a child in school would have done and he’s not exceptional so I think it just reaffirms how much can be done in far less time than they have in school. So why is he going to school?… (Can you tell this thought is on a loop in my head?)
Funnily enough, Oscar, apart from the initial pleasure in passing, has hardly mentioned it since. They have both been far more excited about talking about “Mr Angry Pants” as they call the chap who came to do a workshop on Space and Rockets at Acorns on Monday. Yes, the workshop I booked, so it was all my fault.
The day was information packed and enjoyable in many ways but the chap running it was like a cross between my old headmaster (the one who threatened me with the slipper) and an Army General. They had never come across anything like it. He arrived armed with attitude and faced the small group of 12 children aged between 7-14 as if he was going in to battle.
The kids behaved impeccably and yet he saw or created problems in everything. When he went in to the field to shoot their rockets to see which worked the best, he misdirected one and it went over the hedge and he said “Tough”, and never apologised or suggested a remedy. He constantly humiliated them and told them off, for nothing. He told one of them not to ask any more questions and never once got drawn in to any questions that didn’t directly fit with where he wanted to go. He said he would only say the instructions once and made a big deal about it if he thought they’d misunderstood something. He even gave them a massive lecture about not minimising their use of paper when cutting something out and also said, “Here are 6 rolls of cellotape, I want 6 back, and if you lose the end of the cellotape it’s your problem.” Some of the children were only seven don’t forget.
I was also so struck by his manner, as our children are used to discussing opinions, not just being presented with extreme opinions stated as facts, such as: “Winning is the only option, coming second is being a loser,” or “Obama is a nasty man” (for cutting funding to a space programme) or “All schools should use rewards and punishment, that’s where they are going wrong.” One of the older ones even responded to the last comment (bravely) saying they had tried rewards in Acorns but felt it was like giving a dog a bone and that they had felt demeaned and distracted by the reward system so had voted against it. He just ignored her comment.
I was most struck though by how well the children behaved. They were always respectful towards him, supportive of each other with any humiliation (even if nothing was said between them it was palpable) and carried on answering questions even when they had been knocked back. They also listened carefully and attentively throughout even though he only gave them 1/2 hr break for lunch in the whole day.
Sharona and I called a chat with them after he’d gone and they all said something positive and something negative about the day and I was so impressed at how they were able to assess the positive things while also describing very eloquently why they found his style of teaching unneccessary, “arrogant” and “controlling.” One girl said she felt she was being force-fed something that she was interested in any way.
From my point of view I could see that my boys got a lot out of the day and that they found much of the content stimulating and interesting and I also think it’s done them no harm to encounter a very different way of teaching, if only that it makes them appreciate what they are used to! They have certainly talked about hardly anything else since and I think it’s been a bonding experience for the group! Not quite what I had in mind when I booked the workshop – I’m staying well clear in future!