Regular readers will probably know that I am very enthusiastic about home education. There can be difficulties though and we should not allow ourselves to be blind to them. When conducted in a thoughtful and planned way, home education is astonishingly effective; far more efficient than school based education. When undertaken in a desultory or haphazard fashion though, the results can be dire. Take history, for example. The great thing about this for home educators is that it can be brought to life in the most exciting way imaginable by visits to castles, museums, re-enactments, battlefields and a hundred other different locations. Not for the home educated child, the once a term visit to a museum or stately home! These frequent, even daily visits can be followed up with Horrible History books and home based activities. The subject is tremendously enjoyable for both parents and children and I defy any school to make history as much fun as it can be for home educated children. On the other hand, learning about history can be absolutely disastrous for home educated children if little or no thought is given to it.
I was looking yesterday at a blog on home education kept by a fairly well-known parent; her name is not important. She was writing about how she took the opportunity to teach her children some history by reading out to them some interesting facts that she had read on the internet about life in England during the 16th Century. I have actually seen the document she quoted used before by home educators as a teaching resource. Here it is:
The next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water temperature isn't just how you like it, think about how things used to be. Here are some facts about the 1500s:
Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June.. However, since they were starting to smell . ...... . Brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting Married.
Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it.. Hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the Bath water!"
Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof... Hence the saying "It's raining cats and dogs."
There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.
The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, "Dirt poor." The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence: a thresh hold.
In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire.. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme: Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old. Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, "bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and chew the fat.
Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.
Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the upper crust.
Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would Sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial.. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a wake.
England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive... So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift.) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, saved by the bell or was considered a dead ringer.
And that's the truth....Now, whoever said History was boring
Now read as a series of jokes; this is quite funny. I won’t go through every point, this is a spoof which has been circulating on the internet for fourteen years or so. It appeared a few months after the film Shakespeare in Love was released and is thought to have been inspired by it. The horrifying thing is, this home educating mother thought that this was a factual account of life in Tudor England and encouraged her children to believe this nonsense. This highlights a danger with home education.
The history taught in schools is specified by the National Curriculum. For the Tudor period at key Stage 2, this means;
Britain and the wider world in Tudor times
10. A study of some significant events and individuals, including Tudor monarchs, who shaped this period and of the everyday lives of men, women and children from different sections of society.
We can be pretty confident that children being taught about the 16th Century in schools will not be told that wakes were held in case the dead person should wake up! Nor are they likely to be learning that dogs lived on the roof in old England… This is the problem with home education. There is nothing to prevent ignorant parents from teaching their children all sorts of rubbish and persuading them that it is true. Some only use the internet, rather than books, and will, as this mother did, regard a history lesson as consisting of passing on collections of urban myths to their kids.
What can be done about this, is another matter. I am very much afraid that nothing can be done without interfering to an alarming extent with family life. After all, we would none of us wish to see home educating parents compelled to teach their children set texts and required to follow the National Curriculum. I suppose that this then is the price of freedom; that parents should be at liberty to misinform their kids if they wish to do so. It is a something of a tragedy though, because when this happens, it is the children who suffer and some are bound to grow up with their heads full of foolishness that their parents have fed them in this way.
In short, this is the nature of the problem; that at school, children will be exposed to facts and largely accurate information about Tudor England, while at home they may only be encouraged to listen to old wives’ tales and urban myths. As I say, there is nothing to be done about this. Even regular visits would not uncover this sort of thing. It is well though that home educators bear in mind their responsibility towards their children; a far greater moral responsibility than that borne by the parents of children attending school.