Am I Normal?

Well, not normal to our neighbours, to my in-laws, to some friends nor to random strangers who hang out in the the world at large.

We do a number of things which seem to separate us from the normal ones. Here are a few which have been noted by those folks mentioned above.

We live in a small house with a large family.
We have jumped off the train called regular salaried work.
We stopped going shopping for things that were not food.
Only one of our four children goes to school.
We like green-ness in our garden; not decking and paving slabs.
Our children play out in the street on bikes.
We have at various times eschewed nappies, babycages, stairgates, pushchairs, safety latches on kitchen cupboards, reins, harnesses and corner protectors.

I don’t think any of those things is particularly offensive to anyone else but home educating seems to offend the sensibilities of all sorts of people.

Why is home educating so odd? Why is it not accepted as just another choice in the educational spectrum and considered to be a reasonable choice to make? I get that lots of people might think that they couldn’t do it or that they don’t want to do it but I don’t want to spend hours of my day chained to a desk and other people think that doing that is normal.

Home education and home educators have been forced into the spotlight in the last year or so and pilloried personally and collectively by a number of organisations including the media, the government, the NSPCC and the opinionated man or woman in the street. I think that in part, this deluge of suspicion and criticism comes from ignorance and the other part comes from a desire to control what is currently unfettered by tick-boxes and management-speak. Whilst this is very frustrating and makes lots of us (quite rightly) hopping mad with rage, the spotlight offers society a chance to see something new and learn from it.

Every time a normal home educator (which we all are) talks about home education with someone else it becomes a little bit more normal. Every time a newspaper story shows normal looking people enjoying life with their children and learning alongside them, not sending them to school it becomes a little bit more normal. All the people who saw home educators at all the bubble blowing events across the country last year saw that the bubble blowers were just like them: normal.

Putting up small posters about home education on noticeboards in public places alongside flyers for nearly new sales, local events and toddler groups will, I hope, add to the normalising of home education in the minds of local people. It may also show families whose children are suffering at school that they could choose a different path which may help their child and the family as a whole.

Who knows whose Gran might see a poster and then at some point later when she finds out that her grandchild is being home educated is able to say “Oh I saw a poster about that in so-and-so and it seems that there are lots of things you can join in with locally and people who can help you” instead of “What? Is that even legal?”

If the no nappies thing is on your list of not normal, go and have a look here to see how normal it is.


10 Comments to “Am I Normal?”

  1. We fall in the catagory of not normal to others too!!! Plenty of people think we are odd…but then I think they are odd for allowing their kids to graze on packets of crisps and chocolate bars, for spending such a vast amount on the latest console and games to go wih it each time a new one comes out, for saying that she HAS to work, that they can’t afford for her not to, yet they spend hundreds of pounds on pre packed processed food, BECAUSE she isn’t at home to cook from scratch , so to speak. The list is endless isn’t it. Yet those people are considered to be normal and we aren’t. So unfair. I’m all for passing the owrd around about HE because up until 3 and a hlf years ago, I didn’t know you could, and it was a close friend that actually enlightened me…and I worked as a TA in school!!
    So put up those posters and talk to all those non- believers…it can’t do any harm, can it?!!

  2. I prefer to celebrate my not-normalness. The dictionary defines normal as :’conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; regular.’ and quite frankly I don’t think I want to aspire to THAT.

    In principle I think the leaflets are a fab idea. But something about actively promoting home education in our area is still niggling me at the back of my head (or in my gut), I just can’t work out what, or why.

  3. I don’t want to be that kind of normal either!

    I’m not talking about being normal as a person rather that one of the choices I make should become more normal; not outside most people’s understanding and therefore dangerous.

  4. But it seems that whenever a minority interest/group becomes ‘normal’ in the eyes of others, it becomes somehow corrupted. I’m not sure how this happens – perhaps once it becomes normal, it becomes popular, once it becomes popular, it becomes fashionable, and then like any fashion or popular trend it only has a certain lifepan before the backlash strikes.

    I can think of plenty of examples:
    fringe music that beomces popular and fashionable and then later is ridiculed and destroyed;
    small festivals becoming huge monstrous commercial enterprises as a consequence of their popularity; grass roots voluntary organisations that become top-heavy ignorant bureaucratic monsters;
    ordinary people who become headline celebrities, loved by all and then later slated and hated;
    a quiet rural campsite that becomes a victim of its own popularity and ends up becoming nothing more than a theme park. Etc etc..

    Are there exceptions to this? Perhaps. But I think the increasing popularity of home education (and its gradual move towards being considered as ‘normal’) has been the main catalyst for government attempts at intervention.

    Don’t get me wrong, I hate the ignorance and predudice against HE and I don’t want HE to be reserved like some elite club for ‘those in the know’, but I see the move towards HE being considered ‘normal’ or ‘mainstream’ as the thing that will finally destroy all that is good about it. Small really is beautiful.

    • Nothing stays the same.

      We are in the middle of massive social change away from the old ways and towards new flexible ways enabled by technology. Businesses are changing, people and families are changing and education has been lagging behind. However things go after 6th May, new schools are on their way. The demand for charter schools or free schools from parents disillusioned by the state schools will not die down and the state/fee paying dichotomy in education is going to have to give. Stepping out of the state system into something else is going to become an option for many families who previously thought that the school at the end of the road was their only choice.

      I think the catalyst for government intervention has been a knee-jerk reaction to two cases which I will not name but of which I am sure you are aware. Added to that reaction is the control freak nature of this current government who think that nothing can be done unless it has been done according to the government -provided checklist then witnessed and ticked by a government official. (See hospitals, schools, libraries, play schemes, toddler groups, childminders, nurseries etcetera).

      One thing that has grown from a minority view to a normal one is the green movement: tree hugger used to be a pejorative term; few people were able to recycle or knew what that was; there was lead in all petrol; newspapers were printed on virgin paper; CFCs were in every aerosol can. Now almost all politics has a green shade: kerbside recycling is normal; waste reduction is normal; unleaded petrol is just the opposite of diesel; the move toward green energy is normal; taking canvas bags to the supermarket is normal too.

      Perhaps the original greens are unhappy with the normalising of some of their ideas but society as a whole has benefited from this change in thinking and many are now drawn to thinking harder about their consumer choices from organic veg to ethically sourced clothes and fair trade chocolate, bananas and coffee.

      I feel that home education may become just one strand of several alternatives to state education without much changing. I don’t want to stop other people home educating in order to keep the movement “small” because I don’t want to prevent other families finding a better way to live and learn together. The home ed community is no more permanent than a school cohort. Once children move out of home or go to work the community loses a few people and others come in behind. To try and pull up the drawbridge now would mean that there are fewer people to learn from and fewer people to share good times with in the future. We are all creative/talented/motivated enough to keep our lives different to others in many, many ways which will protect the diversity of HE.

      My last thought on this right now is this: HE is either exclusive or it is inclusive, it cannot be both at once. School is exclusive of many children and there has to be another choice. HE has to be inclusive – to all comers.

      Wanting to keep it small feels to me like those who say we have too many children and we are damaging the planet by helping overpopulation. Those miserable folks might need the skills of one of my four children at some point in their lives. Or their one child might fall in love with one of our four and live happily ever after? Do they want to make me choose which one I should have chosen not to have. Who knows who me might meet in the HE community in the next five years and bump our lives onto a little side track which brings us happiness?

  5. Hmmm…I don’t disagree with what you’re saying, it’s all very rational. But I don’t feel that rational about it 🙂

    I think ‘inclusive’ is a very ‘political speak’ term. I don’t see how it can easily be applied to home ed, because we are not one movement or organistion or scheme. We are diverse, we have different ideas of what we would tolerate among others. Can any such group be entirely inclusive? Surely there will always be exceptions. Most groups that I have come across have rules, even when they say they are inclusive, they are inclusive only up to a point. So I guess you could say that I believe that all groups of people are exclusive to some degree (though they may give the appearance of being inclusive).

    I’m not convinced that the government intervention was entirely triggered by those two cases, as (correct me if I am wrong) some of the HE consultations were before those cases came to light. I remember discussions about the government threat, right back in 2005/6 at HESFES.

    I agree it’s totally selfish and unreasonable to expect HE to stay small. But if I’m honest, right now I feel childishly selfish and unreasonable 🙂 Only 18 months ago I wouldn’t have thought like that – I wanted the whole world to know about HE and I wanted to share it with everyone. I would have been the first person putting up posters!

    However the past year with Badman et al has made me feel selfish about HE, I want to preserve it for my family, I don’t want everyone taking it over and changing it (unrealistic yeah). I feel threatened and defensive and I’m going to guard my nest. I don’t think my response is necessarily the right thing to do, but it feels very primal, not logical.

    I was trying to think of an analogy and kinda came up with this:
    We know there are people in this country with inadequate housing, but would we offer to share our bedrooms with them..? Perhaps if they were family or friends, or even friends of friends. But if they were a complete stranger that we knew nothing about, would we advertise our bedroom, would we welcome them into our house with our children..? The generous, compassionate answer would be ‘yes’, but I wonder what the honest answer of most people would be.

  6. My weird irrational fear is that the very stick they are using to beat us with (ie ‘those’ 2 cases) may give people ‘like that’ (ie bastards) the idea that they could in fact hide their children away and do all those awful things that currently noone genuinely linked to HE has blinking done. And then the persecution would start all over again ten-fold. So, while I’m still all for ‘spreading the word’ in a ‘normal’ chit-chat with the people you come across and on library noticeboards etc, my original pleasure that all the media coverage may have reached those in need has turned to a sort of panic.

    As you can see – in my usual two minds about everything. If not three…….

  7. A lot of rational people ‘get’ that spending six hours out of the house every day doesn’t stop kids being hurt by their families. They are more horrified that Social Services see kids and don’t take them away from their parents which is a bit of a turn around from the 80s and 90s. Madness, madness, madness.

    The media is a fickle thing and we will always do better by putting our own truth forward.

  8. Perhaps this is why the public don’t like us. They don’t mind what we do so long as it doesn’t bother them. This may be a case for leaflets, but NOT bubble blowing etc.

    • My good friend of old visited today and we were discussing something like this. Why is it that people like to whinge and complain but they also don’t like to do something about the problem?

      The hypothesis we came up with is that English people in particular don’t like to be seen to be making a fuss or inconveniencing other people. This could explain why no-one is blockading Ellesmere Port to protest at crazy fuel prices this time any why everyone wants the Union to do something but not many people are willing to stand as reps or do a little bit to disseminate information etc. Parents say they don’t like homework but then make their kids do it and also ask teachers to provide it. We pulled up all sorts of odd pointless whinges like this.

      Perhaps as everyone was hacked off with the fuel protests last time, no-one wants to be the one who causes all that inconvenience again. In the Union example everyone says they are very busy and can’t find time to help but they still want someone else to put themselves out and stick their head above the parapet. The homework one is because no-one wants to confront the school/head/governors/teachers because they don’t want to make a fuss or be fingered as a trouble maker.

      This was just musings in Betjeman’s park in Wantage while watching the kids try to climb a tree so nothing scientific but it hangs well with this: “people who don’t go along with a task for justifiable moral reasons are typically rejected by the group, even when the individuals in the group might otherwise agree with their moral stand.” (From the place you quoted.)

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