I have many teacher friends, and to a person I have to say that they are dedicated, hard-working, professional, lovely people. I have no axe to grind with teachers - I think they are doing an already difficult job in an increasingly close-to-impossible system. The system however - well, that's a different matter. It will be obvious to anyone who has read my blog posts that I consider the boys and I to be well rid of the 'system' So, if I say negative stuff about school nowadays, I am absolutely not putting down the teachers involved, particuarly those who I personally know.
That said, (you knew this was coming, right?) I've been thinking... from an HE point of view, the modern education system uses what seems like a kind of lazy way to train children. Bear with me: remember I said all the teachers I know are hard-working etc etc - and I believe that. However, a conversation I had yesterday brought me along a certain train of thought (it's quite lengthy as I've been trying to dredge up some sort of coherence amongst all the thoughts spinning around in my head - but hold on and hopefully we'll get there in the end)...
You see, education and life in general are basically one-and-the-same. You can't put your child's education in one box, and 'how we bring them up' in another box. It's all the same. The more I learn about how my children differ from each other, the more I realise that it impacts everything, not just how I take responsibility for providing each of them with an education. Just as most parents can see the physical differences between their children, so most of us can tell the differences between what they like or dislike (eg one is dark and enjoys science; one has blue eyes and enjoys art; one has a mischievous grin and enjoys computers - etc). That much I would consider to be fairly basic knowledge. However, since we started out on our Home Ed journey, I have had the luxury of time to spend getting to know them on another level - ie what makes them tick; what motivates them; how do they learn. This is NOT easy! We've been doing this for three months now, and I feel like I'm just beginning to scratch the surface. This is why I think deschooling is invaluable - it gives time to get to know your child again more deeply. It's an intense (and totally rewarding) learning curve - but every time I get a new little revelation about one of the boys, it impacts everything: how we relate, how I can best inspire him, how I can help him etc.
For example, take Eldest. Having been at school for the longest, there were many things I felt I needed to rediscover about him. In the last three months I have realised more clearly that he is one who likes to share his experiences - he really values connection. This impacts everything about the way we relate: if I need to deal with bad behaviour, he needs to know that I'm still on his side (so we often hug while chatting as he finds it much easier to accept what I'm saying, even when it's a correction); if he's struggling with a concept he's learning and sees me as the one with superior knowledge, it puts him off and he gives up, not even asking me - but if I draw alongside him and we learn together, he is really encouraged to persevere. However, Middle is different. He is Mr Focus. Whatever he is focusing on has his entire attention. If I need to deal with bad behaviour, I have to interrupt his pattern first - to get his attention. I can hug him and chat as much as I like, but if I haven't helped him to switch off from whatever he's locked on to, he simply won't hear me. Once I've helped him to switch focus (eye contact helps a lot), there is usually little else that needs addressing. If I can get his focus on any one thing, he'll generally stick with that - whether academic learning or behaviourally.
So - there is no 'one system for all' mindset: there are as many variations in ways to train children as there are children, it would seem. And this is hard work. Even with just three children to educate, learning what makes them tick, what they like or dislike, favourite subjects, how to motivate them etc - this is all really time-intensive. Multiply that by the amount of children in an average-sized school class, and it instantly becomes untenable - and that's even before you add in all the lesson plans, evaluation forms, SATS preparation & other endless administrative demands. So there has to be a 'one-size-fits-all' system in place to allow teachers to focus on their class's education. Practically they just can't make allowances for individual personalities. Even in my last school, where there was a real emphasis on treating children as individuals academically (using workbooks and one-to-one tutorials where needed to allow them to progress at their own pace), when it came to character training, they were all expected to confirm to the school system. And basically, most school systems come down to the same system of coercion (behave as we dictate or be penalised with demerits/ time-outs etc) and bribery (if you behave well by our standards you will be rewarded with merits/ stars/ smiles). There just isn't the time or space to allow for a child who had a sleepless night or has just hit a developmental slump, let alone someone whose personality doesn't fit easily into the acceptable-school-behaviour box. Even SENCOs have a limited amount of leeway regarding their students' behaviour. And this is what I consider 'lazy' (by Home Ed standards): imposing one basic system on a group of widely-differing personalities. Forgiveable in school? Yes: it's pretty much impossible to treat children in the class as individuals in the same way that I am learning to at home. In class you can't have a system of demerits for the handful of children who respond to it, plus a different system for a few more etc etc.
But now we are at home? Well, much as an easy start to the day with a lay-in and pancakes for breakfast may sound lazy to those who have to do the sergeant major bit every morning to get everyone out of the house on time, home education is not for those who like the easy option. I feel it would be lazy of me to resort to coercing compliance out of the boys - kind of taking the easy way out by dictating obedience rather than being involved with them and encouraging them as individuals on a daily basis. It takes dedication, hard work and patience to stay connected with them... but boy, is it ever worth it! There may be times when I need them to respond to a short sharp "no", but generally we're in the process of renewing our minds - turning our backs on the old 'lazy' system of coercion and bribery - and instead putting the focus on encouragement. How can I encourage my boys to overcome weaknesses, whether academic or character-wise? Do I penalise, threaten or bribe? Well I can, if I want to train them to conform. But I don't - I want them to grow. That's not to say that Hubby and I will neglect their social training either: they will be taught how to eat with cutlery, to share their possessions, to be kind etc - because all of those values are really important to us. But when they hit difficulties as they grow, the way I behave will have a big impact - and I want to be one who has taken the time to find out how each one of them is best encouraged, whether by goal-setting, or by learning alongside, or any number of other ways that I haven't yet discovered.
Easy? Not at all - it'll take a lifetime. I've got to say though: what a ride!