Friday, 18 September 2009

A wonderful thing about home education

One of the most enjoyable features of home education is having sufficient time to cover any minor point of interest which might crop up in painstaking and exhaustive detail, rather than having to skim over it quickly in order to reach the next section of the curriculum. This can be very revealing and often tends to show school based education in a poor light. Science is a good example of this, particularly when some classic experiment which we all take for granted apparently goes wrong.

For instance, everybody is familiar with the image of Galileo dropping two weights, one large and heavy and the other small and light, from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We also know of course what happened; both weights hit the ground at precisely the same time. A marvellous triumph of the empirical method over outdated and faulty theory! This story is to be found in practically every children's book of science. Uncritically, they repeat the account of the weights hitting the ground together. It is so obvious that only an idiot would bother to test the idea by recreating the experiment.....

Well, I'm an idiot and when my daughter was ten, we tested this experiment and were astounded to discover that the heavier weight always hits the ground first. We started with a large rock and a pebble and then moved on to a five kilo and hundred gram weights. We repeated the test again and again, varying all the conditions, but regardless of how we carried it out, the heavier weight always reached the ground before the lighter one! We spent a couple of days at this. Ah, the unlimited time available for such pursuits in the world of the home educating parent! It became apparent that all the school textbooks and every popular children's book of science were quite simply wrong. Why had nobody noticed? The answer is of course that when somebody is writing a school textbook, he does not actually go to the trouble of testing all that he writes. He just copies what other writers of science books have written before. Like a lazy high school student, he is effectively plagiarising by cut and paste. This is quite a shocking realisation, especially when one considers how reliant the average school pupil is upon these books for basic knowledge of the world.

In the case of the falling weights, it was necessary to track down and read Galileo's own account of this experiment in order to clear up the problem. In "Two New Sciences", published in 1638, he says, "A cannon ball weighing one or two hundred pounds, or even more, will not reach the ground by as much as a span ahead of a musket ball weighing only half a pound." In other words, Galileo himself knew perfectly well that the heavier object would hit the ground a little before the light one.

There are so many other examples of this sort of thing, that one hardly knows where to begin. In schools, of course, the syllabus is pursued at breakneck speed, flitting from one topic to another with barely time to draw breath so that every part of the curriculum can be covered in the allotted time. There just isn't time to check whether what is being taught is really true, which in this case it manifestly was not. The best part of this from an educational standpoint, was that my ten year old daughter learned for herself that no matter how many authoritative books state something as a cast iron fact, it is always worth checking for one's self. You might say that this was the beginning of her cynicism, for from that time onwards she got into the habit of asking herself, "How does he know that?" or, "Why should I take this person's word for this?" I believe that in most people, this attitude develops considerably later than the age of ten!

The school system depends upon the unquestioning acceptance of what is taught. Despite all the cant about collaborative learning and suchlike which trainee teachers are taught, the fact remains that there simply isn't enough time in schools to question what is found in textbooks and handouts. Imagine thirty children challenging every received dogma that is foisted off on them. What effect would that have upon a carefully contrived timetable? Another mark for home education!


  1. I remember at primary school, asking if the countries were all joined up at one time, as it looked like they were. I was practically laughed at. Oh - turns out they were! It as called Pangea. And maths was a NIGHTMARE - because they'd give us a formula, but I'd keep asking why? how? I wanted to see beyond the formula and really understand, but in the end, the teacher would say, you need to just accept it. I think I lost interest at that point.

  2. This is interesting. I wonder to what extent home educating one's children is a rational, carefully thought out decision and how far it is caused by a visceral dislike of conventional schooling. I like to think that I weighed up the pros and cons impartially and reached a cooly balanced verdict, but the fact that I hated school and was always in trouble must surely have had some bearing on the matter. I wonder whether other parents also have strong feelings about school which might have influenced their attitude towards home education. Or to put it another way, are there any home educating parents here who did not loathe school?

  3. I didn't mind school, so maybe that's why I've always been open to the idea of my children going to school if they wanted to. I do have family who hated school and truanted lots though so I've seen both sides of the issue.

  4. this hotel serves up wonderfull duck in orange source uncle Badman would like it the chess is going very well to nice win this morning shame Ed Balls is not here to see!
    Did you see uncle Badman has wrote to all LEA apealing for help to back up his crazy claims about home education he wants the LEA to help him he got the facts upside down ahh here is the pudding its a shame Badman not here wanted to tell him to F off!

  5. Funnily enough, despite plenty of examples of terrible education, I actually loved school. I loved the whole process, routine, timetables, socialising, uniform, feeling of belonging, sense of place, friends, music, lots of talking and getting into trouble, playtimes and lunchtimes, being a prefect, having the run of the place, arguing with teachers.

    I really adored it, and I assumed my children would too.

    I was disappointed in a way when it turned out that they didn't, and that it wasn't working for them.

    But at the same time, I will always try to do the best for my children, and I could see that the best was home education. So you could definately say that I was a reluctant home educator.

    However, fast forward to now (I started over 4 years ago) and I can see that the benefits extend far beyond their 'education' but has literally transformed my very grumpy, irritable, angry and defensive five year old boy into a lovely, caring and funny nine year old who doesn't have the thick wall of defense around him anymore.

    My gregarious daughter, who was becoming math phobic and thought she was unlikeable because of bullying, and was always in tears at the slightest thing, is back to her bubbly, confident, encouraging, bossy self, and enjoys math. She can laugh at herself now and often does.

    In one way, academic achievements pale into insignificance compared to the developments in their personalities. You can be qualified to your eyeballs, but if you don't know how, or can't get on with people, it will get you nowhere and many schooled children from estate areas such as mine, simply don't have the interpersonal skills employers are looking for.