Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Socialisation quote of the day

I really like this one. It is an affirmation of something I wrote in this post

From Sue Fairhead at Education Otherwise :

People, on the whole, are social creatures. Being sociable is part of our nature. If we allow children to develop in their own way, they will begin to relate to other people when they are ready. Clearly children do need to meet people in order to be sociable, but home educators don't tend to be isolated from the community! A child is just as likely - if not more so - to be sociable with one or two people he meets at home than with a class of 30 children who just happen to be the same age as he is. More importantly, he is far more in control of his social life than he would be in school. Parents - who know their children best - can observe, and encourage, and introduce a shy child to other people at relaxed times, in safe environments rather than forcing them into situations where they may become withdrawn, or angry, or upset.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Homeschooling and freedom of religion in Germany

I've been thinking about this issue the last few days and today I heard a story that backed up my feelings. I reckon that religious homeschoolers here have been shooting themselves in the collective foot, and pretty much messing it up for everyone else, by arguing for their right to homeschool along the lines of freedom of religion.

This is an argument that has worked incredibly well in the USA, but it doesn't cut it in Germany. Although freedom of religion is theoretically recognised here, for a number of reasons it is pretty much ignored in the educational sector. One reason is that the government is terrified of hordes of (Christian and Muslim) fundamentalists taking their children out of the school and creating parallel societies where the children's constitutional rights are ignored. Really, German educationalists must be need their heads read if they think that their school system doesn't give rise to parallel societies. Anyone who has read about the rise of Neo-Nazism in the schools, or the immigrant gangs of various nationalities that make life difficult in inner-city schools, should know better.

When a family, like the one in Hamburg, says that their daughters are going to be nothing other than wives and mothers, the average German shudders because they are losing the opportunity to achieve their full potential. Well as a university graduate who has spent the last twelve and a half years bearing, breastfeeding and bonding (my mother-in-law used to call my LLL friends the B-ladies) with my four children, I can think of a lot worse things than just being a wife and mother. But then I'm not your average German - well I'm not even German for a start.

I heard about a case recently in our state where the judge declared that until the European court of Human Rights heard one of the German homeschooling cases pending there, he was suspending the proceedings against the family in question. Although this is a religious homeschooling family, they decided to play down the role of their strong Christian beliefs in their decision to homeschool. During the case, the judge apparently commented that if religion had been an issue here, he would not have been so inclined to find for the family.

There are many other good reasons to homeschool and religious homeschoolers who start out with their beliefs as their driving motivation soon find this out. If they have any sense, they will do as the family above did and play up the other reasons their chilren are home-educated instead of making it all about their religious beliefs.

Animal School

This is a really lovely fable.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Coming out of the closet

We received a letter from the local school yesterday. I had semi been expecting something like this, because our third child has to be registered at the school for the school year 2007-2008. (It's so far in advance so they can check their level of German and give them a whole year's worth of tuition so no-one supposedly starts school with a language disadvantage).

I had phoned and spoken to the Director of the school, telling her that we wouldn't be registering him because we didn't intend to be here any more by the time he was due to start school and she asked me to write a letter stating that, for her records, which I did. I was sort of hoping that that would be the end of the story but obviously not. Two years ago we had the same story with my daughter, with the school insisting she attend even if we were only staying for a short time. When we received notification of a fine we officially left Germany for the UK. When my husband's working contract was renewed for another year, we registered officially as resident here, but didn't hear anything more from the school. Till now.

The biggest surprise about the letter is how positive it is. In contrast to two years ago, when all they had to say was, "Send your child to school or else!" this time it stated that our children are Schulpflichtig (have a duty to attend school) and if I want to avoid prosecution I should apply to the State department of education for exemption from compulsory school attendance.

In one of my very first posts on this blog, I bitched about how nothing has changed in Germany on the homeschooling front. Maybe I'm wrong.

At least this means that I don't have to sneak around with my kids during school times. We can be out and about and open about it now. And I can start doing some serious advocacy work, contacting politicians and suchlike. Maybe even the odd TV appearance ;-). Lol, I think my preteen son would die of embarrassment if a TV crew were to come along to film him at his Yugioh league day, as they did with my friend's sons during their cathedral boys' choir practice.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Socialisation quote of the day

This one is a beaut. It's originally from this post at Jennifer's really pretty blog (I just love her pink stripes). Thanks to Henry Cate for pointing to it. Henry also has a link to an article by the author of the quote and an interview with him.

"Accusing a homeschool kid of missing out on socialization is like accusing a work-at-home entrepreneur of missing out on corporate politics." --Perry Marshall

Friday, May 26, 2006

Socialisation quote of the day

I have decided that every time I come across a good quote about homeschooling and socialisation I would save it so that I can have a collection of statements at hand to use in the event that I am talking to school officials, politicians, writing letters to editors or just debating with anti-homeschooling types. Then I thought that it would be fun to post these quotes on my blog so that others can also enjoy and use them. Maybe the title "Socialisation quote of the day" is a bit ambitious, implying that in a year's time I will have amassed 365 of them, but I'll give it a good bash.

So here is my first quote. It was in a comment by momofmine on this blog entry.

So how will my kids assimilate into a diverse society? Simple, they won't have to as they're already a part of it.

Essential science lesson

I really enjoyed this posting where Jake highlights many peoples' misunderstanding of how science works.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

My mother-in-law is at it again!

Not satisfied with rearranging my furniture every time she comes to visit, my mother-in-law, that interfering shopping receptacle, has gone and booked us on a cruise from Genoa down the west coast of Africa. Damn her. Doesn't she realise that I have no interest in spending 20 days relaxing in the sunshine, being waited on hand and foot while sampling a variety of Italian dishes (no I didn't mean the sailors).

By the way, just in case anyone gets the wrong idea, I like it when my mil rearranges my furniture. She has tons better taste than I do.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Don't you just love it...

when your three old, who got woken up way too early by his older brother, spends the whole afternoon being clingy and whiney (compounded by the fact that this one decided that he was a baby dragon and so refused to speak a word all afternoon, communicating only in squeaks and grunts), and then doesn't fall asleep on the way home at 6.30pm as you'd hoped, which makes him overtired and then he goes crazy till he finally collapses just after 10pm. Goodnight.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

And the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest is ... Mordor (oops, I mean Finland)

That celebration of inanity, that refuge of the talentless, that hive of musical and lyrical cliches, the Eurovision Song Contest, has cult status in our household. Every year we sit down and yawn and groan our way through over 20 mostly insipid performances.

Tonight it was dh and Rowena and Adrian and I (Leo was asleep and Robbie was doing his first professional stint as a babysitter for our neighbours, where he was watching the Eurovision on his own). Watching the results being announced makes for a great geography lesson. Each of the 37 countries who entered the contest gets to vote (people phone in or sms their vote for all countries but their own) for its top 10 of the 22 countries that performed in the final tonight. Our favourite game is to guess in advance, for which neighbour a country is going to give its top vote. For instance, it's pretty likely that Belarus will give its top vote (and 12 points) to Russia, or that ex-Yugoslavian republics will vote for the other ex-Yugoslavian republics. Russia in particular seems to benefit from this as there are many Russians living in various Eastern European countries. Another thing that comes through quite clearly is which countries have a large Turkish population (the Netherlands and Germany) as these two countries voted strongly for the absolutely awful Turkish number.

The clear winner was Finland, though, no favouritism there. Just about every country gave one of their strongest votes to the monster rockers. I don't know if I would use the word refreshing, but it was great to see a group win that didn't have half a dozen sexy female dancers gyrating in the background.

Here are some titbits from interviews with the band's lead singer :
Here are more highlights from Mr. Lordi.

“You know, we are meat eaters in a vegetarian cafĂ©,” said Mr. Lordi when asked how the band feels to be in Eurovision.
Surely Lordi and Christianity don’t go together? Sure they do. “I am a member of a church and our drummer Kita actually wrote and played some church music.”
“I don’t want to burn in hell, I want to go to heaven.”
When Finnish TV invited Lordi to take part in Eurovision, Mr. Lordi thought that they’d got the wrong number.
“We think we look pretty. We look like monsters.”
“Lordi is actually my nickname. It was given to me by friends.“
“We toured last year through the whole of Europe. And we toured extensively in Germany.”
“Our future plan is to get back to our normal heavy metal routines.”

Thursday, May 18, 2006

My pool date

Does the title sound alluring? Actually, the date was with my 12 year old son. A friend who owed me hours of babysitting and wanted to unload some of them before her vacation in England (she must have just touched down as I write this) offered to babysit for me one afternoon before she left. Funny enough, I didn't have any great need to go off and do something alone.

Then I remembered that Robbie had mentioned that he would like to play pool with me without us being distracted by the two little ones. Rowena was visiting another friend yesterday afternoon so I left the two little ones with my friend and off we went to a local indoor playplace to hog one of their two pool tables for a couple of hours. We had a really lovely time. I can't really describe the feeling of joy that came over me, watching Robbie having such a good time and my undivided attention. I surprised him (and me) with my not being a total dodo at pool. Maybe I could log it as a geometry lesson.

That was generally the high point of Robbie's day yesterday. In the morning he went to the ENT for an allergy test (negative) where he was diagnosed with unusually large adenoids. You should have seen his face when the doctor told us. Rowena had been there the previous week, with the same texts and diagnosis and the doctor had recommended that they be removed surgically, as they are causing her to struggle in sporting activities.

In the evening he played in a soccer match, which his team lost after getting some really unfair offside calls from the referee. There were a couple of grandfathers there who were way better mannered than the last time. Then later, Robbie watched his favourites, Arsenal, getting clobbered by Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League final.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Murphy strikes again

One homeschooling family we know has three children, two of whom love playing music. It's almost impossible for them to walk past the piano without banging away on it and they will spontaneously pick up their violins and practise them. What a dream, children who don't need to be reminded and nagged to practise their musical instruments. But what a recipe for conflict that is when they have a big brother who can't stand music playing, especially when he is trying hard to study for his big exams. Why does life have to be so complicated?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Promoting normal socialisation

I just read this post, about dealing with people who criticise homeschooling. Regarding the socialisation question, Meg says :
Public schools are an artificial environment forcing kids to socialize in ways that aren’t natural. It is much more natural to find a group of people that share common interests with you and hang out with them. Within that group, participants will vary in regards to both age and abilities. The older/more experienced people take over the leadership roles and model acceptable behaviors to the rest. Younger/beginners are usually encouraged because the leaders think that their activity has value and want to share. Being out of the normal synch (as in an older beginner) is not viewed as weird because of the group being such a mix.

Sounds just like the Yugioh gaming afternoon (or as my dh calls it, Geeks club) that Robbie goes to twice a week.

Interview with Pat Farenga

One of the people, whom I would love to see visit Germany and talk about homeschooling and unschooling in particular is Pat Farenga. He took over the reins at Growing Without Schooling after John Holt died. One thing I would like to ask Pat is why John Holt felt that it was better to support the cause of unschooling rather than helping children learn at their own pace within the school system, and whether he had any opinions on the democratic schools.

Here is an interview with Pat. Some of his comments really jumped out at me, one of them being this :
I’m now concerned about our society deciding to support “womb to tomb education,” with all sorts of certificates and classes being required before we can join or do anything as adults. I see how this benefits educationists, but this benefit has the cost of undermining one’s “pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.” But, we seem, as a society, more willing than I ever thought to give up those pursuits in the name education. That ties in with what I was writing about the value of education.

I think this comment of Pat's addresses my question above :
Now, there are many niches to place your children in. But only homeschooling allows learning to be viewed as an embedded activity in the natural world of families and communities, rather than as a prdouct made by teaching children in a special place where nothing but learning is supposed to occur.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Doc's Sunrise Rants

I always enjoy listening to or reading the kind of people who don't take any crap. The type of person who calls a spade a shovel. I think it's because I wish I was like that. Doc is just one such person.

Not just is her blog really entertaining and enlightening reading (I learnt things I only suspected about raw milk) but it is also loaded with resources. My favourites list has swollen considerably with just some of her links. So if you're openminded and looking for some interesting reading, I would suggest you pop over to her blog.
BTW you have to scroll way down before you can see the column on the right with archives, recent posts, etc.

Sibling contacts

Earlier this week we visited a homeschooling family we'd never met before. They live over an hour and a half drive away from us.

Yesterday I received an email from the mother. She mentioned that her 14 year old son had commented on Robbie's willing involvedness with his younger brothers. He said that he had never seen any of his (schooled) friends show such understanding of and patience with their younger siblings. It's not the first time I've heard this kind of comment about Robbie. My neighbour has also compared him to the other older boys who live around here. She says that they don't want to have anything to do with their younger siblings, especially when their friends are around.

I guess that this is just just some of that necessary socialisation that schoolkids have to go through. The school teaches us acceptance and tolerance (to quote one school official) but just not for our little brothers and sisters.

I've been wanting to blog about this for a while...

but I decided to wait. A couple of months ago I took the kids swimming, during school times (one of my daring moments). They were the only children in the pool and a photographer wandering around asked if she could take some pictures of them. It was going to be for the swimming pool's new website.

I've been waiting for the pictures to come up so that I could post about it and link to them at the same time. So here they are. Click on the pictures if you want to enlarge them.

Here is Rowena cuddling up to the spitting fish fountain in the baby pool. Actually she was pumping it to make the water come out.

If you enlarge this picture you can see Rowena in the background, going off to answer the call of nature. On the left are Adrian and Leo's abandoned armbands.

Rowena again. The caption underneath says "One of the little participants of our courses". That's a laugh.

Here is Adrian, unfortunately with his back to the camera. Note the goggles. Adrian loves wearing things on his head (belts, caps, scarves, helmets, etc). He never actually puts the goggles over his eyes.

I think we really did these guys a favour, coming to the pool during school hours. Otherwise they would have had just a bunch of old people to photograph and the pictures would have been even more boring than they were.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Hooligan Grandpas and ambitious parents

I watched a soccer match that Robbie played in today. He is goalkeeper in the local under-13 team and they were playing against one of their big rivals. I feel so sorry for the boys in that team. The parents and trainers are more interesting than a soap opera, but unfortunately it is the young players who get the brunt of their anger, when they do something wrong or just aren't up to scratch.

Last season this team and ours were practically neck-and-neck for second place in the the discrict league, but so far this season they haven't been faring too well, as our boys have won the last two games against them. I wasn't able to watch those games, so I was keen to see if the adults were still the same competitive assholes.

Boy, did they put on a show! Early in the game, after two boys sandwiched our top player in as he was heading for their goal and then fouled him, as he lay injured on the ground, the trainer of the other team yelled to one of the boys, "Don't feel bad, you did well!" Well, even if it was an accident, I think it's pretty bad form to praise a player for injuring someone else. At least the father who managed to piss me off at every game last season by telling his son how stupid he was every time he made a mistake was no longer there, but there was another prize asshole to take his place. A grandfather there kept verbally berating the players, complaining at the referee and having little tantrums. In the second half the referee had a tantrum himself and banned the grandfather from the pitch after the latter grabbed (I suppose) his grandson and shook him after he made some mistake. The way these people behave, one would suppose that their children are playing in the first division, or something.

We get these parents at ice skating too, like the father who beat up the trainer of our club a couple of months back because his daughter was excluded from the State team after she failed to fulfil the requirements for attending practices. I actually feel sorry for these people, the parents as well as the children. They must be really insecure that every win or loss of their child reflects on themselves. They don't realise how much harm they are doing, not just to their relationships with their children but also to their own health. I would have loved to have put a blood pressure cuff on that grandpa this evening.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Sudbury vs unschooling or maybe not

Last week I didn't post much because most of my computer time was taken up with responding to some posts on a German email list that I'm on. German not being my first language (or even my second) it always takes twice as long to type as in English because I have to keep looking up the right words, correct my grammar and often I don't succeed in expressing myself nearly as clearly as I want to.

In spite of all this, when I feel strongly about something I take the time to get involved in the discussions. This particular list is one that has been set up to discuss practical ways of achieving freedom in education in Germany and members come from the whole spectrum of educational alternatives, from religious Christian homeschoolers through unschoolers to those who are interested in democratic schools (eg the Sudbury or Summerhill model) to children's rights advocates.

There is a remarkable sense of openness and cohesion among the various types of homeschoolers in Germany at the moment. The feeling here is that we need to stick together and support each other. We can't afford to let ourselves be divided into bickering fractions based on our differing motives or methods. Many people straddle various camps, for example religious fundamentalists who practise unschooling or current unschoolers who started out with a more structured form of homeschooling.

Many of those who advocate the Sudbury system, however, seem to have a problem accepting homeschoolers and this is where some conflict arises. For one, many are saddled with the same prejudices about homeschoolers as the general public. In his book, "Free at last - the Sudbury Valley School" , Daniel Greenberg writes (my translation into English from the German translation), For example, there is the question of whether unschooling enables the childen to find their way in society, when the children are at home for most of the time. Of course there are cases where the parents of unschoolers visit each other a few times a week to give their children social contacts.

So here we have the idea that the most unschoolers only get the opportunity to stretch their social wings within the social circle that their parents have appointed for them. That's not the way I experience it. Currently both my eldest children are often off exploring their own interests and interacting with their friends with not a supervising parent in sight, and that's nothing rare among unschoolers, as far as I know.

Another issue is that many Sudbury types seem to subscribe to a worldview that perceives parental influence as something negative and undesirable. Although I agree that young people need to have a place where they can explore unfettered by parental influence, I think that for a healthy development a strong, healthy bond to the primary caregiver is necessary. Then letting go and enabling the child to experience independence at its own pace, as one does with a toddler, will do the rest.

I have nothing against Sudbury schools. I think that they are, like homeschooling (in its different forms) another great educational alternative which suits the needs of different people.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The value of education?

I recently read something by the well-known magician and sceptic, James Randi, that got me thinking about the whole issue of whether "educated" people are really better off than "less educated" ones.

Randi wrote :
Education only provides a student with a framework for discovering the facts, but it does not force the student to use that framework. An education only makes you educated, it doesn’t necessarily make you smart; you have to get that way on your own. By “smart,” I mean “able to apply knowledge to the real world.” Give me a kid from the slums as a survival assistant in a disaster, rather than a half-dozen PhDs. The academics would still be writing a paper on how to find some food, while we two survivors were already digesting our meal.

I had a friend at school whose brother was diagnosed as "learning disabled" and went to the school whose pupils were the butt of everyone else's jokes. Jason ended up getting trained as a hairdresser and went on to become a successful young businessman. In the meantime his sister, who had been getting top marks all the way at school, went off the rails, experimenting with sex, drugs and alcohol.

An education can be a wonderful tool, a stepping stone to a fulfilling, successful life. However I think that there is so much value placed on getting an education that it becomes a means to an end. Parents are so often devastated when their children opt out of the ideal path they had envisioned them following, instead of asking whether the new path is a better one for their child than the old one.

Sitting and memorising facts and practising drills might be useful for some types of jobs but in general I don't feel that it prepares one for life. In many cases "getting an education" can be a cover for emotional lack of security or feelings of inadequacy. Someone I know recently moved out of the communal house he had been sharing with some other supposedly like-minded individuals. One of the things that frustrated him was that a bunch of intellectuals living under one roof were incapable of getting on with each other. It seems that many people who regard themselves as high on knowledge and intelligence are pretty short on commonsense and general life skills.

Update : Here's an article called Five Reasons to Skip College. I just love number three. I got the link from Chris O'Donnell's blog. I'm busy scouring it to find that I don't link to homeschoolblogger.com graphic, but I'm just getting sidetracked the whole time.

Another Update : Via Henry Cate, mother of eight, Sherry, discusses whether college is the right decision for everyone.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Maybe there's hope

My friend whose two young sons refuse to go to school had a meeting with the education authorities of the state of Bremen, where she lives. It was apparently quite positive and they are trying hard to reach an understanding and a compromise that both sides can live with. My friend has firmly stated that she will not send her sons to school and that if it comes to the crunch their family will leave the country (with lots of publicity, of course) and they have told her that they will not be imposing fines on her. It seems that the publicity that they have been getting up to now (which has been overwhelmingly positive) has made them think twice about coming on all neanderthal, as has been tried elsewhere in Germany.

18th Carnival of Homeschooling: A Cornucopia of Wisdom

Swing by the 18th Carnival of Homeschooling. As usual, there is some great reading and as a bonus (modest wink), yours truly is included this week.