A Scenario for Change?… Paul Henderson

A Scenario for Change? Thanks to Paul for another thought-provoking contribution. Given the recent attacks on Elective Home Education this is a timely perspective. Government understandings of ‘suitable and efficient’ are severely limited and superficial in scope. They belong to the schooling world of minimal competency, shallow and high redundancy learning. Paul believes (as we do) in something more authentic, releveant, boundless in potential and deep.

Consider the following scenario set in the not too distant future.
Carmen, an autonomously home educated girl is served with a school attendance order because a local authority inspector deems her educational provision to be neither suitable nor efficient.

Once in school she complies with the needs of the system even though she perceives it to be
(a) violating her rights (she has no right to leave her desk, walk, talk, go to the toilet, learn what she wants to or indeed do anything at all without permission from her teacher),
(b) repressing her creativity (she is familiar with the works of authors such as Ken Robinson and John Taylor Gatto who have both described at length how schooling systematically kills creativity – e.g. if any creative endeavour is abruptly terminated by the shrill ringing of a bell it teaches that if any creative endeavour is not worth finishing then it is not worth starting) and (c) defiling her integrity (she believes that mechanised economy of scale education strips pupils of their sovereignty by reducing them down to mere numbers on a spread sheet).
At their first parent’s evening her parents are told that she has moderate learning difficulties, daydreams constantly, lacks imagination and, due to having been home educated, has large gaps in her knowledge which need to be filled with extra homework. Her parents reply that they had never noticed any of these traits; however the school puts that down to the fact that parents do not notice such matters since they are not qualified time served expert teachers.

Her parents put forward the following reasons for her appearing to have learning difficulties;
1. She is not used to being spoon-fed decontextualised learning outcomes. Normally she would learn about the real world when she was actually in the real world and not in state custody in a state run institution. She is used to extending her knowledge beyond her immediate surroundings by seeking out aficionados in the local community and beyond or surfing the Net for things that spark her imagination, gleaning information from pivotal sources who are experts in actually doing their subject rather than from a state programmed automaton desperately trying to breathe life into sterilised textbook factoids by listing real world examples and organising compulsory activities confined within an institution and calling it ‘active learning’, which bears very little resemblance to true real world active learning in which the learner actively defines his or her own learning content.
2. Perhaps the reason she daydreams all the time is that she is mentally opting out of her ‘educational’ environment as her only escape route.
3. Perhaps the reason behind her appearing to be lacking in imagination is that she has never had so many physical, time and cognitive constraints imposed on her creativity which act on her imagination in the same way a strait jacket would on her arms.
4. As far as having gaps in her knowledge is concerned she may well have gaps when it comes to having to demonstrate knowledge of state prescribed learning outcomes, however the learning outcomes that make up the curriculum are a drop in the ocean compared to what is knowable. What is knowable increases hugely on a daily basis; compared to what is knowable everybody has vast cavernous gaps in his or her knowledge. Carmen’s knowledge of extracurricular outcomes or outcomes that lie outwith exam board age-stage-locked expectations vastly outweighs her lack of knowledge of state prescribed outcomes due to her irrepressible intrinsically motivated urge to quench her thirst for knowledge related to areas of interest that spark her imagination and enhance her proclivities.
5. The most exciting things to learn are those that are personally meaningful, not widely known or recently unknowable; who wants to learn every last detail of what the state expects everybody else your age to know within an environment that gives only the slightest tick-box pedagogically contrived transparent regard for personally meaningful contexts? Everyone has huge gaps in their knowledge and always will, therefore the most valuable learning skills you can have are the autodidactic ones that allow you to independently recognise and fill gaps when you require them to be filled in order to achieve life-long self-defined learning objectives. Good autodidactic learning skills are the best vehicle for achieving the independence required to take your life where you want it to go; they put you firmly in the driving seat.

These reasons are rejected and ridiculed by the classroom teacher as complete nonsense. In her expert opinion extracurricular outcomes or outcomes that do not correspond to appropriate officially state sanctioned age-stage-locked assessments do not translate to league table success and therefore the acquisition of such outcomes is not deemed to be indicative of a suitable and efficient educational provision. Every expert teacher knows this; as far as she is concerned the key characteristic of good responsible parents is that they bow unquestioningly to the superior knowledge and wisdom of fully qualified expert teachers in the sound knowledge that they know best what is right for every child because every child matters. Straight ‘A’s job coupons are only delivered to those who can formally demonstrate knowledge and understanding of state prescribed outcomes appropriate to age, stage and academic level; only students able to demonstrate such state approved evidence of effective learning can succeed in the jobs market. Those that cannot or will not acquire such knowledge are destined for the scrapheap; what reasonable and responsible parent would wish that for their child? Carmen’s parents point out that, going by her logic, Bill Gates, Richard Branson and many others like them were destined for the scrapheap when they dropped out of formal education in order to pursue more personally meaningful aspirations. Their comment is disdainfully ignored.

Carmen’s parents then make a request for her not to sit any kind of formal assessment and instead be allowed to go to the library in order to practice her autodidactic learning skills while the rest of her class are revising for and sitting tests. Their request is flatly denied.

Later Carmen tells her parents that, even though she was initially regarded by her classmates as a weird homeschooler, she has managed to neutralise the many attacks by class bullies and is now slowly gaining respect for her quiet but confident stoicism, so much so that she has decided to put herself forward as a candidate for class rep in the forthcoming election. She is very excited about the prospect of campaigning for children’s rights within the classroom and is determined to win the support of her classmates in order to fight a Trojan horse style guerrilla war against schooling from within the system. She sees herself as a virus that could potentially infect the entire system. Throughout the last century well meaning liberal minded teachers and educationalists worldwide have made valiant attempts to do this without ever making the slightest bit of difference (much to their shame), but the system is designed to be teacher proof; the question that is most prominent in Carmen’s mind is how kid proof is it? At the end of the day teachers are merely public sector employees; they cannot bite the hand that feeds them without facing disciplinary action and educationalists who are looking to land the most lucrative consultant and research contracts soon learn to say what those who pull the purse strings want to hear. The common perception of schooling is that it exists to serve the needs of learners. What if those learners were to make it plain on mass that their needs were not being served? What if those learners were to make it plain on mass that they do not fear permanent exclusion from school? What if those learners were to make it plain on mass that they are fearless of any school disciplinary action? From comparing her school and home educated experiences Carmen concludes that schooling is deadly to any personally meaningful aspirations and in her campaign literature she lists what she regards as schooling’s 7 deadly sins.
1. Schooling inculcates social equality by grading its students thus making them unequal.
2. Schooling inculcates freedom and democratic values by incarcerating its students against their will, coercing them to work without pay and making the fulfilment of their most basic rights conditional on the approval of an unelected authority that enforces school rules through punishments and hollow rewards.
3. School anti-bullying policies are enforced using coercive behaviourist stimuli (bullying). Where pupils commit suicide because of school bullying or are physically, psychologically or sexually abused in school the school is never held to account for failing in its legal duty of care, yet if that same school is seen to be failing because of poor test results or slipping down in league tables then swift action is taken. This teaches pupils that their emotional, psychological and physical well being is of negligible importance compared to the school’s perceived ability to boost academic attainment.
4. Schooling meets individual student’s needs by implementing a one-size-fits-all, age-stage-locked curriculum that meets the needs of no single individual. The way it is implemented flies in the face of all our current understanding of the way we learn by going directly against the grain of the brain.
5. School teaches pupils about their community and the wider world by cutting them off from it. Pupils are incarcerated in institutions that teach social and emotional maturity through socially immature age segregated peer group socialising. Where rampant peer pressured materialistic consumerism and celebrity culture do not run unchecked they are pedagogically encouraged through the use of celebrity profiling and brand aware examples to illustrate prescribed learning outcomes.
6. School teaches independent learning and critical thinking by telling pupils what to learn and think through the imposition of a compulsory curriculum.
7. Schools advocate civil and human rights, good citizenship and respect for others while making the fulfilment of pupils’ wants, needs and rights conditional on approval by teachers. This strongly teaches that the rights of the many are not absolute and can only be respected when they are granted by the ultimate authority of the elite and unelected few.

The campaign also highlights that all rights should be equal and therefore if a home educated child has a right to see an education officer alone to convey whether he or she wants to be educated in school or by other means (with his or her choice being upheld by a court order) then all children should have this right otherwise it would not be an equal right.

Her campaign song is an edited version of ‘7’ by Prince. She chose this song because the chorus could be interpreted to be referring to her seven deadly sins of schooling and how they stand in the way of natural loving family bonds which at the end of the day are what children crave far more than rights. She sees the song as an anthem for the reunification of Family, life, learning and the community and also as a simple, effective and catchy vehicle to convey her message and mobilise support. Using a freeware audio editing tool she edits it down to the following.


[Chorus – A cappella]

All 7 and we’ll watch them fall
They stand in the way of love
And we will smoke them all
With an intellect and a savoir-faire
No one in the whole universe
Will ever compare
I am yours now and u are mine
And together we’ll love through
All space and time, so don’t cry
One day all 7 will die

[Chorus – accompanied]

There will be a new city with streets of gold
The young so educated they never grow old
And a, there will be no death 4 with every breath
The voice of many colours sings a song
That’s so bold
Sing it while we watch them fall – [Chorus] – [Outro – Fade]
©1992 Controversy Music – ASCAP

In the few months leading up to the election of class rep Carmen uses every opportunity to get her message across in a highly focussed, quietly confident, reasonable and dignified fashion. In her school daily diary she catalogues the incidents of fellow classmates’ spirits being crushed, educational needs not being met and rights being trampled over. In the fortnightly book club ten minute presentation that each pupil is required to give to the rest of the class she gives very favourable reviews of books by John Taylor Gatto, Roland Meighan, Clive Harber, John Abbot, Ken Robinson, Jan Fortune-Wood, Chris Shute, Alfie Khon and John Holt. She also decides to increase awareness of her campaign song and underlying message by copying the Facebook campaign that propelled ‘Killing in the Name’ to the 2009 Christmas number one in the UK pop charts.

Her Internet campaign quickly gains momentum with social networking sites buzzing as school kids throughout the land speculate on the possible consequences of her successful election. Within two weeks the campaign begins to take a life of its own way beyond its original purpose as ‘7’ enters the UK top ten. The wider community starts to take notice of what was previously dismissed as some kind of joke as ‘7’ rises even higher in the charts and reports of mass non-violent school disobedience becomes headline news. Crisis meetings are held at the very highest levels as parents throughout the land start screaming for answers. With floods of pupils pouring out of school gates right across the country the police try to manage the situation the best they can while the Army are put on standby to prepare for Marshall Law. To be continued…

Of course nothing even remotely like this ridiculous flight of fancy would ever happen in reality for a whole host of reasons, not least of which is that no one in their right mind would ever dream of issuing a school attendance order to heretical parents who have no belief in schooling and their highly self motivated, independent thinking, autonomously home educated, free spirited and occasionally rather naughty child… or would they?

Paul Henderson, April 2010

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