I have recently heard myself explaining several times that I view my daughters' education as my responsibility, and that the primary school down the road is who I have outsourced it to. They are our education provider. Just like with any supplier, I review it, I amend it, and if we can't work out differences, it's a contract I'm prepared to revoke.We're lucky that their school is flexible, and that we have a lot of educational philosophy in common.
I am very familiar with the home-educating scene. We practice a bit of something in this house which is more like co-educating. Elena goes to school and does the main bit, and I keep an eye on it and supplement it at home.
My sister has taught three of her four children to read - the fourth is only three years old - and my other sister is preparing to home educate her daughter. They tell me of the ups and downs.
I love the story of my sister bumping into the local school's headteacher ('principal'). The first sister, Jennifer, hit a hard patch in their family circumstances a few years back and as a family they decided to try the local primary school for the eldest two children. It didn't work out - the education system in the southern US is really suffering - so when things settled down at home, the two came back to learning round the kitchen table. The headteacher was livid that Jennifer had taken the children back out of mainstream education, and gave her a very hard time.
One day Jennifer sat with Elias, who was around 8 at the time, helping him with his reading in a public place. The headteacher walked by, saw her guiding him, and let loose with the biggest tirade of I-told-you-so insults she could muster. She attacked my sister's ability to teach, judged that she was holding him back, and announced condescendingly that any child of his age should be able to read independently.
Jennifer and Elias listened patiently to the whole thing. Then Jennifer held up the book, and showed her that they were studying GREEK.
A friend who was round yesterday, however, commented 'I'm sending Abi to school. Why aren't they doing their job, why should I have to do more at home?'
Here's why - and it's like with everything else.
'Doing your job' is the minimum. It's the entry price to even be in the game. 'Doing your job' means you don't get in trouble, but it doesn't let you or anyone else enjoy the thrill of discovering it, of making meaning out of it, of adding some of yourself to it and making something new out of it.
'Doing your job' is what another friend is doing: her son tries harder with his reading than probably any other child in the class. But he understands the rules, and he will not stray out of them. If his mum offers him another book to read, he tells her: 'I can't read that until I finish the green level, and then the blue, and then the orange, and then the white.' The child won't pick up a book if his teacher hasn't deliberately assigned it to him.
There's GOT to be more than just 'following the rules.' Take an independent step: think about what the rules are trying to achieve, in their pared-down, sterilised, homogenised way. It is meant to be about establishing a love of independent reading.
I may have been holding Elena back 'academically', actually, because I often forget to send her reading books back to school (I only became aware of their expectation when she came home with a reward sticker for having remembered it! - they'd been going on our shelf), and I rarely note her reading in her reading diary. But she reads number plates, poetry, backs of shampoo bottles, encyclopedias, warnings on petrol pumps, novels... you can't stop the child reading. Exactly what I wanted.
She doesn't get full marks for trying. She doesn't have a full reading diary. But the love of reading, writing and learning has got hold of her.
What are we actually trying to achieve with our rules? By all means observe them, but think about the place they come from, what they were intended to achieve, and then find your own way through them, and beyond.