Saturday 27 February 2016

Small hands needed

Synchronicity alert: in the last week I've completed 2 separate questionnaires about the practice of home education HE.  Both were compiled by students who are completing an M.Ed with a report on that minority end of education business.  Must be in the air? Actually, if you take the long view, HE is always just over the horizon for most people and periodically a journalist (radio or print, rather rarely TV) will think that they can make s story out of the practice.  These stories often wheel out the usual suspects by contacting the families who were willing to let journos into their lives a few months ago.  They contact those families because they feature on the first page of Google hits with "home education family ireland" - try it? - that is rather lazy-arsed journalism and the interest lasts about 36 hours before sinking beneath the waves of next-trendy-things. What would be more interesting would be to hunt out a HE family that didn't want to be interviewed about their practice: millennials living in a cave surrounded by beans and ammo; couples in the throes of divorce; families who have a school bell and distinctive uniforms. We are qualified to do the questionnaires because our girls Dau.I and Dau.II never went to school and are now holding down jobs, paying taxes, voting in elections and contributing to society.We have taken the bell through.

Doing such a questionnaire is an excuse for reflection and it usually brings a warm glow. Our girls learned-by-doing a lot of the time because nobody at home had any patience with curriculum or lesson-plans. With my very expensive education, I know that you can have too much of a good thing; or if not that, I find that a small amount of knowledge puts me ahead of most other folks on the block . . . if I want to get ahead of my neighbours. No point in getting a hernia with heavy intellectual lifting when a small amount of focussed attention, judicious reading or watching some videos will be quite enough for everyday requirements. An awful lot of school work is marking time clocking off the days: neither conceptually challenging nor particularly interesting and so a HE life spares you from 5 hours a day of being bored.

If you're a child on a farrrrm, you can't sit on the sofa all day: the stove will run out of logs and there will be no eggs to make cakes. The Da will be off-site at money work, the Mammy will be busy at the kitchen table claiming subsidies from Brussels. And even if it's wet outside you know that the orphan lambs need feeding, so you shrug on a coat, make up some Lamlac formula and find shelter behind the shed for the 16 seconds it takes the lambs suck a 500ml bottle dry.  As the girls got older most of their age cohort signed up for school: either at the start of Secondary School or for the final push towards the High School Leaving Certificate, so eventually they were almost the only ones left outside the school-gates. As their cohort sailed or drifted into main-stream, another generation of HE kids appeared on the block. Some nights, the parents of these youngsters tossed and turned through the "3am tick-ticks" worrying whether they had failed to provide sensibly/adequately for the future by embracing the home-ed option. We've all been there, but it's just the anxiety spilling over: if it wasn't the Home Ed, it would be the gutters, or what colour to paint the kitchen, or getting the brakes on the car serviced.

Several of these parents told me that they could scotch the night-time worries if they looked to Dau.I and Dau.II. If they turned out alright, and plainly they had, then their young Jimmy and Anita would turn out alright as well. In growing without schooling they would acquire skills that are rare in this world because there isn't time to learn them in school: the days in school are filled brimful with conditional clauses, County Cork, calculus, Charles the Bald, Charles the Bold, catechism and climate change. Rare attributes assure employment even if that amounts only to coming in on time & working your shift, owning and solving problems, being kind, and not losing your temper (too often). “All you have to do to educate a child is leave him alone and teach him to read. The rest is brainwashing.” - Ellen Gilchrist.  Actually, Ellen, not even that: they teach themselves to read.

This is all really a set up for a delightful short vid-clip that's gone a bit viral. Our girls never did this particular procedure but they did similar stuff when the occasion demanded because each was recognised from an early age as an important cog in the works of a working farmlet and they grew into the responsibilities as they out-grew each pair of wellington boots. Three-year-old delivers lamb "Put your hand in . . . can you feel the feet . . . can you feet the nose . . . now pull . . . now pull the other foot . . ." Hey, it's a girl!

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