[Image stolen from Sherrie Adams’ blog / myspace page. She says: “I couldn’t wait for high school to be over so I could become an original person with my own thoughts and ideas … I am just saying they shouldn’t be manipulative and trick you into conventionalism. Anytime you are taught something without being shown all sides, that’s a form of manipulation. Whether it is intentional or not, it’s still fucked up.”]

When I heard recently about the new national curriculum for under-5s (see here, for example) I saw how, from next September, all children attending nursery and pre-school settings would be measured and assessed continuously against uniform learning goals that had been set nationally without reference to the needs or preferences of any individual child, and I congratulated myself on avoiding all that.

(My plan has pretty much always been to move Ariel to a childminder once nursery got too “schooly” – sometime during the next 6 to 9 months – precisely to avoid this kind of thing, because I just don’t want her to get into the school treadmill until she is old enough to make her own mind up and hold her own. I don’t think it would necessarily work badly for her, I just don’t think it would allow her to fly. And I want her to fly.)

But now I find out that this new national curriculum will apply across all childcare providers, even childminders. Children will be measured and scored across 13 different scales, to see if they can write sentences, look things up in books, do arithmetic, use a computer, memorise songs and perform hundreds of other tasks that (a) no five-year-old should be obliged to perform, whether for the purpose of proving how great his or her childcare is or otherwise and (b) many bright five-year-old will have long since mastered, in which case how much attention are they going to get exactly, when the assessment deadlines are looming and some other kid still hasn’t learned to “Respond to significant experiences, showing a range of feelings when appropriate” (and what the hell kind of learning goal is that anyway? who decides what feelings it is “appropriate” for a child of five to show? how are they planning to teach children what feelings they should show in response to what experiences? and has anyone thought about the consequences of training children to perform happy, sad, sorry, sympathetic, angry… really?)

For some children, for some families, no doubt this will be fine, or at least no different than what they already plan to do. Maybe it will even be fine for us. But why must it be compulsory? Why must a child be labelled a slow learner, or otherwise inadequate, just because he or she cannot or does not wish to read until he or she is older than five? Why must a child be pushed into doing Maths (capital M) before he or she is ready? Why can’t a family set their own learning goals?

From next September, if a family does want to set their own learning goals for children in the family, it is going to be illegal for them to do so unless at least one parent can afford to not work. It’s so depressing. There simply isn’t any legal form of childcare I can use where my daughter will be able to choose what to learn, and when. If I want to give her different opportunities I must either give up work or break the law.

And that really is where I’ve got to. I don’t want to send her to school. I don’t want her to end up being tricked into conventionalism. But I’m about ready to give up, because I have pretty much run out of ideas. I’m not a giving-up kind of person. I always knew that home education as single parent, combined with working, was going to be a challenge. I also knew that, somehow or other, I could make it work. Because I’m good at making things work. But now? I’m about ready to give up, before I’ve even begun.

This, from Philip Pullman (go read the whole thing here, it sums up in one beautiful lecture exactly how I feel about school education):

“I’m talking about fear. I’m talking about chronic anxiety, uncertainty, apprehension; it’s nothing so bracing as alarm, it’s not the sort of thing to make us stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood; this is more like a sort of low-level dread, with a quality like those disturbing sounds, almost below the threshold where you can hear them at all, but perceptible to some part of your mind, or perhaps to your body, so that you’re anxious but you don’t know why, or you’re uneasy but you can’t see a reason for it, or you feel faintly but permanently sick; it’s not bad enough to disable you, but it drains your energy, and it won’t go away, and in the end it begins to feel like part of the eternal condition of the world; and you come to think that life will consist of feeling sick until you die.

“In education now, anxiety is everywhere.

“It’s the government’s fear of the electorate: “We can’t fund small class sizes for every school, although we know that they would make the biggest difference of all, because we dare not put up taxes.”

“It’s the civil servant’s fear of losing control: “We dare not abandon this great juggernaut of authority, because then we would have no function.”

“It’s the minister’s fear of the press: “I dare not argue for greater educational freedom, because I’m terrified of the Daily Mail.”

“It’s the newspapers’ fear of the teaching profession: “We dare not trust the teachers. They are evil, politically motivated men and women, who, without iron control and constant supervision, would corrupt our children in a hundred different ways.”…

“It’s the head teacher’s fear of the league tables: “I dare not let that class take part in a theatre work-shop, because never mind what else they get out of it, their test results might suffer. I dare not let the school slip down the league.”…

It’s the children’s fear of the SATs; it’s the whole staff’s fear of the Ofsted inspection…

It’s the fear of silence and stillness and patience: “We must have results now! We cannot wait to see how these children will grow up! Interrogate them all! We must know at once!”

And I’m afraid too. Afraid and sad.
Because she’s just a little girl.
And it all seems so important.
And it all seems so wrong.

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