Only half joking about homeschooling

It's easy to think about opting kids out of school. But...

It's easy to think about opting kids out of school. We think about our precious little individuals and imagine them ground up in that machinery.

But there's a huge amount of hubris in imagining that we can do a better job. I know nothing about education in the States but quite a lot about the UK. As a child myself I assumed I would grow up to be a teacher. My mother was, for 35 years. Dad was - he and my mum met working at the school I would later attend. My aunt was. Now my sister and my sister-in-law are.

Here's the thing: Teachers care so much. More than anyone they understand the limits of the system, and its failures. They take on those burdens. They care deeply about children and childhood. They have worked tremendously hard to become educators. (Obviously there are stressed, embittered, and overwhelmed exceptions who should not be in the profession for their own sake.)

And yet the lure of homeschooling or unschooling remains strong. The education system is cutting edge in many areas and dismally lacking in others. Phonics: fantastic. Dance: not so much. The more a child tends away from the average - in either direction - the more of a struggle it might be. Of course, all parents think their child is far from average, so that doesn't help a dispassionate discussion.

When I talk about my nieces going to school in just a few years - too young - to be drilled in how to answer standardised tests - I'm only half joking when I talk about homeschooling.


I have a general theory that you have to be in it to win it. You have to be part of something to make it better. Whether that's the EU or the education system. Turning your back on the thing that needs improving isn't helpful - not least to other people who don't have the option. Only a certain type of person can even consider homeschooling their kids.

A compromise then. And one that the village can help with, not just parents.

To work with and for our schools, as part of the community invested in helping grow great kids. To encourage those kids in all their interests. To keep showing them lifelong learning. To value educators, to value parents. To creating the time, space, and skills, for home to be the main learning environment. To learn about and challenge government policy and keep nudging the system in a better direction.

What do you buy a two year old anyway?

I'm pretty sure two year old people can't conceptualise being born, or celebrating the anniversary of that.

Within the next week my two nieces are turning two years old. And since the last issue of WATV a nephew has joined their ranks. It's fine, I like batching my tasks.

I'm pretty sure two year old people can't conceptualise being born, or celebrating the anniversary of that.

I interviewed one nearly two year old on the subject. She told me she was eighty five years old (this was also the number of stickers she dumped out the box onto the floor, and the result when she took my temperature.) She reported that her mother was the youngest person in the room. When asked if she knew what a birthday was she said yes, but declined to elaborate further.

Which is to say, at this point, she doesn't have a clue. Other people's birthdays are just weird things that happen sometimes. Filed under all the other inexplicable things that make up the world a toddler lives in.

And yet there's a lot of pressure around it all. A Pinterest-worthy party, presents, are they hitting their milestones, presents!

So, presents. There's a lot to take into account.

Yesterday I was searching through cheque books so we don't accidentally give the newcomer more or less than his sister. Setting a precedent is useful for yourself from the beginning. I calculated I may well have nine niblings when the dust settles. Which inevitability leads to budgetting issues. Also, depending on your family's propensity for drama, these discrepancies could lead to recriminations.

Speaking of the rest of the family, that's another factor. Got a lot of family spoiling them? Or not so much? Grandparents always buying clothes, or massively age-inappropriate sports equipment? Maybe go the other way. Mostly long distance people sending cheques? Maybe go the other way.

One of my nieces lives in a flat in London. One lives in a picturesque cottage in the countryside with a dedicated playroom. You bet I am calculating available floor space and factoring that into any gifts.

It doesn't matter the child rearing philosophy - I do as I'm told. Doesn't mean I'm going to buy an 18-rated video for an eight year old because their parents would let them play it. But if there's a "no plastic" rule - or any kind of rule - I follow it. An innocent kid's birthday ain't the time to get into it.

This is a weird source of contention that never occurred to me, but it really helps to go into this with no expectations. I'm not even expecting a thank you. Certainly not from the kid, and not even the parents. No strings attached, not even emotionally.

There's a lot of money spent on kids and sometimes I think that needs to be spent on the parents or the family infrastructure. There must be some parents watching their children getting hundreds of pounds worth of gifts that they play with once, with a terrible sinking feeling when family finances are being stretched to the limits.

What do two year olds want? I imagine that my nieces, on their second birthdays, will want what they always want. Which is to be listened to, played with, and given attention. They are not going to remember this day, but we all will. It'd be nice to think I acquitted myself with mindfulness, care, patience, and love.

As a bonus, here are some of my ideas for birthday presents for two year olds:

  • Spotify Family so everyone can keep their own algorithm pure and clean. Or similar subscription.

  • A family trip / day out / weekend away. Some form of experience.

  • Something mission-critical as decided by parents, or a contribution towards it. These kids they be growing, breaking things, and hoovering up resources all over the place.

  • Housework. I'd get my sister a cleaner and a laundry service in a heartbeat if I thought she would ever consent to the idea. A one-off clean the week before a kids birthday (especially if a party is being hosted at home) is effectively gifting a child a less-stressed parent.

  • A donation to a relevant or meaningful charity. I've got a recommendation below.

  • A cheque. Either for the kid's savings fund, or for the parents to get what they actually need once the dust has settled.

  • A babysitting IOU. A home DIY IOU. An errand-running IOU. Any sort of IOU you think would be helpful.

  • A photoshoot by yourself. Less about the camera, more about being a patient and happy-to-oblige Instagram boyfriend. Or a photoshoot by an actual photographer, which is more about the camera, and the art and skill.

  • Organising / helping to organise the party.

I love Unicef's Inspired Gifts where you can buy vaccinations, maternity and medical equipment, school supplies, food and nutrition, and support Unicef's amazing work. It's easy to find gifts that match the developments in the kid's life like being born, having vaccinations, going to school and such.

Dickensian inequality in 21st century Britain

Poverty hits children disproportionately hard.

Poverty hits children disproportionately hard. In London, the most unequal city in Britain, 37% of children live below the poverty line. 45,000 children live in temporary accommodation in the capital.

This is a new scale we are approaching here. Many of us have our own experiences with childhood poverty, or some level of financial strain. Many of us still do. But to have one in four children across the country living in poverty is staggering and revolting.

My nieces are approaching their third birthdays and bafflingly this means the search for school places begins soon. There is a whole madness of battling for school places because apparently we are content to have this wild inequality and gamed system rather than ensuring that all schools are well-funded and provide a great education.

Plus, schools in the most disadvantaged areas are having to pick up the slack from austerity. When we say "schools" of course we mean the individuals within them. Teachers and schools are constantly being exhorted to do more, and yet are doing so much unacknowledged work that ought not be necessary.

Conditions children are living in have been described as Dickensian. Schools are feeding children and washing their clothes.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation's new report looks at the links between poverty, child abuse, and neglect. Plus, JRF have lots of information and great guides like this on how to talk about poverty constructively. And yes, that Rowntree. A big philanthropist in the Victorian era it is horrifying that this work is still so necessary in the 21st century.

Child Poverty Action Group "work to understand what causes poverty, the impact it has on children's lives, and how it can be solved."

Trust for London highlights the stark inequality in the UK's capital with data that is accessible and wide-ranging.

Lest we forget, a UN envoy was in the UK last year and produced a damning report that is a stain on the government. In a common Western hypocrisy we would wring our hands if such a report came out of an African country or elsewhere in the world. What massive action has been taken? None.

Personally, I recently started a monthly donation to GiveDirectly for their Basic Income work. There's a leverage in myself in the UK being able to provide a basic monthly income to someone in Kenya. That's a difference in living standards that upsets me, so I'm going to make the most of it in revenge.

Ultimately, I'd like We Are The Village to take a role in supporting the work that these charities and others do. For now, thank you for reading, and if you enjoy WATV you can subscribe to show your support and get future issues by email.

Value what you want valued

Walking the walk, reframing praise, and banishing "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

I'm not so middle class that I was forced into piano lessons when I was a kid. But I know people who had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the stool. Like music lessons were a punishment. Which is sad - especially when you consider the regret so many adults have about not playing an instrument. But also, a completely logical assumption when a kid has to endure scales and no-one else around them is playing.

I guess the parental thought process goes like this: I never had piano lessons as a child but now I wish I could play piano, so in their 'best interests' I am going to force my kids to.

Clearly, this doesn't work.

What might work? Well, you getting piano lessons, probably. That addresses the root of the problem - one's own regret - without dragging some poor unsuspecting child into it. But also, if a kid sees you getting lessons the chances of them wanting to play too have gone up significantly.

Babies learn by copying, but so do kids. So do adults, I suspect. They learn attitudes and values. Like generosity, kindness, and curiosity. They learn to value what they see valued.

Love what you do in front of the kids in your life is about inspiring through our own actions. The author, Austin Kleon, just did a "How I Parent" on Lifehacker. I love his work and I love this very generous, inclusive form of parenting.

Also, this tweet:

Can I make a gentle suggestion? Instead of saying, “Glad I’m not trying to raise a kid right now,” say something like, “Godspeed to anyone trying to raise a kid right now.” We need the encouragement. Also? You ARE raising my kids. You’re making the world they’re growing up in.

That final part is the very essence of We Are The Village.

The conclusion of the power (and peril) of praising your kids is to nurture a growth mindset. I catch myself all the time trying to come up with alternative praise for my niece. I want her - and all kids - to understand that trying hard is better than being smart.

If you're interested, Carol Dweck's Mindset is all about this growth mindset. Pairs well with Grit by Angela Duckworth.

Stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up, says Adam Grant.

it forces kids to define themselves in terms of work. When you’re asked what you want to be when you grow up, it’s not socially acceptable to say, “A father,” or, “A mother,” let alone, “A person of integrity.” This might be one of the reasons many parents say their most important value for their children is to care about others, yet their kids believe that top value is success.

Which loops us back round to the beginning. We can be that person walking the walk and embodying the values we want kids to care about.

Yet another reason why a village is best - to expose kids to different people, different lives, and different values.

Climate strikes and educational inequality

How education can inspire and lift up our young people.

The school climate strikes last Friday saw over 2000 protests in 125 countries. Instigator, 16 year old Greta Thunberg, is nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. If you haven't seen her TED Talk, if you haven't been reading about the movement - there are your links, and there are more to follow.

If a young person in your life is inspired to think about climate change or take action you can be ready to support them. This is a passion that is going to save us all and we need to be there for future generations.

School news! Not the kind of stuff found in your regular school newsletters.

Wired has a pair of excellent articles about climate change and the future: The climate apocalypse is now and it's happening to you, and Kids and teens strike against adults' climate screw-ups.

“Today’s babies, by adulthood, will live on a planet without an Arctic. Prevalence of heatstroke and extreme weather will have redefined global labour and production beyond recognition.”

Young Minds are a charity working for young people's mental health. They are seizing on Ofsted's update to emphasise how important it is that schools take mental health seriously and that this should be part of the inspection. Their deeply affecting accompanying video is less than two minutes long but packs a serious punch.

CityLab is mostly America-focussed and a lot of concepts aren't necessarily relevant to other countries but this article on How richer neighbourhoods drive educational inequality is a fascinating read. It turns the narrative of inequality on its head.

" challenges a central assumption that poor areas, and the people who live in them, are the problems. To solve disparities, therefore, a single-minded focus on pouring resources into disadvantaged neighborhood may not just be ineffective, but also counterproductive."

Monique W. Morris's TED Talk Why Black girls are targeted for punishment at school - and how to change that addresses the biases that Black girls experience in education and how that makes schools a threatening place. She also specifically talks about what concerned adults can do to address this and take a more active role in schools.

"Responding to the lived, complex, and historical trauma that our students face requires all of us who believe in the promise of children and adolescence to build relationships, learning materials, human and financial resources, and other tools that provide children with an opportunity to heal so that they can learn."

Plus, We Are The Village's Twitter machine is up and running, highlighting news stories and articles: @wearethevllgco. Get more links like this by following along.

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