Friday, 16 October 2009

Who's 'Jerusalem' is this, anyway?

I went to Boy #1's school assembly this week. As his parent I have a standing invitation to attend, so I try and go when I can. It's powerful stuff, watching all those bright and open faces paying attention to their headmaster (or not, as the case might be), singing the school song, fidgeting when it goes on too long, pinching each other, listening to the band or the choir or whatever is 'on show' that week.

Boy #1's is not a church or even slightly religious school - with 52 different nationalities it would be hard-pushed to find one religion in the ascendant over the others - but it is most definitely a British school, in the traditional sense. In fact, not a British school, since I have no experience of Scots, Welsh or Northern Irish schools, but an English school, if I'm honest. And they sing English hymns, one of which - 'Jerusalem' - appears every week.

'Jerusalem' is a Marmite hymn, I think. You either love it or hate it, and I love it. Well, I can take or leave the first verse, but the second makes me fill up every time. Don't know the words? Here they are...

'Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of Fire!

I will not cease from mental fight;
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Til we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land'

Why do I love that? Because it's symbolic. It's about a state of mind rather than a state per se. For 'England' read 'your home', which could be anywhere. It's about taking where you are and trying to make it better, it's about constantly striving to to make a difference, at least to me. Like so much poetry - which, by the way, is what 'Jerusalem' was originally - it's all about the individual's interpretation. And also because it is not representative - to me, at least - of only one Jerusalem (or Mecca, or Delhi, or Beijing or New York). It can be about anyone's Jerusalem.

Now, I am not going to get all patriotic and jingo-istic here. But I would like to point out that in the past, a lot of different interpretations of 'Jerusalem' have been given house-room in the UK. People moved here from all over the world because they were allowed - almost more than anywhere else - to live as they chose within the framework of society. Of course you could say, well that's no freedom at all, 'within the framework of society', but I beg to disagree. Not for nothing has the phrase 'An Englishman's home is his castle' been in common use since before 1628, and enshrined in law since around the same time.

Which makes the increasing levels of control and censorship (think; cctv cameras - 4.2 million in the UK at last count - think; id cards; think; biometrics on your passport) that we all blindly accept seem even worse to me. Cut to the chase, PM. What's the point of all this wittering, I hear you ask? Well, I've been checking in on Grit's blog recently. She has been documenting the current government push to control us, by persuading people that home education is intrinsicially wrong. Never mind that there might not be much other choice for a child. Never mind that they may have been bullied at their local school and that the educational establishment has run out of alternatives. Never mind, in fact, that it's a parent's right to decide what is the best educational choice for their child.

"What? Those home-ed people? She's fighting their corner?" I hear you mutter. Well, yes, actually. In the interests of full disclosure, I don't home educate, because I don't feel I have to. But I fully sympathise with those who feel it's their only choice, and this is the type of treatment home educators are currently facing:

'Basically, they require home educators to request to home educate, register, and apply annually for a 'licence'. Home educators have no power to prevent access to the home, must submit to monitoring, and are required to give up their child to interview alone (police and social workers don't have that power). The government is in effect outlawing autonomous education - which can be a play-based education - while making home ed appear too disreputable or threatening for parents to choose.'

There isn't space here to go into all the implications of what Graham Badman's select committee are trying to push through, and I don't pretend - as an outsider to this debate - to understand each and every back and forward. I suggest you visit Grit's blog to take a closer look, and if you are inspired to take any action go sign the petition here to reject the report currently under consideration. What I do know is that this just doesn't seem fair; children who have been failed by school based education in the UK, are being forced back into it because it doesn't fit with the government's plans that their parents have made alternative arrangements.

I can't help but wonder where this madness is going to end. Soviet-style schooling, where all individual choice and preference is removed from the equation? Because let's be frank, whilst it might seem a wonderful dream to imagine a country with equal education opportunities for all, it is well-documented that there was a pecking order even in the glory days of communism; all schools were equal but some - invariably the ones attended by the children of Party luminaries - were more equal than others.

Surely, even if you don't agree with the choice to educate children at home or in establishments not funded by the government (i.e. privately), you are open to the fact that in an ostensibly free and democratic society, there should be a choice in the first place?


  1. I wholly agree. While I am very happy with my children's school, I am a little in awe of parents who choose to educate at home. I mean, it's not an easy option.

    Surely, if the child is receiving a full and rounded education then that should be the only criteria to be met?

    Afterall, a government can only look at the masses, not at individuals, so they should be grateful that there are parents out there who agree to jump through hoops because they feel they can provide the appropriate learning environment for their child?

    Grrrr, these thongs make me so mad.

  2. I totally agree with Jo. And isn't it also the case that many of the teens who have qualified to go to university early (say, 16) have predominantly been home schooled?

    Fantastically written PM. It has given me food for thought and i will check out Grit's blog. I for one certainly am thankful that I do not have to homeschool. But at the same time, it should not mean that I shouldn't have the option as my child's parent.

  3. Fantastic post, PM. There is far too much control being exerted over all aspects of how we treat our chlidren. It's not just homeschooling (on which I agree with you - it should be the parent's choice).

    I can't believe, for example, that there is a 'curriculum' now for pre-schoolers. All it means is that preschool staff spend hours ticking boxes and filling in forms rather than actually playing with the children, which is what they should be doing. In general I have been a fan of New Labour (although now quite glad I'm out of it and don't have to vote for anyone in the next election) but this is one area in which things have definitely gone too far.

    By the way, I love Jerusalem too and have never understood why people think it is jingoistic - surely it's just about standing up for what you believe in....

  4. Blimey. How would they cope with the American movement for 'home unschooling'. Yup, you read that right. ie people who think that academic knowledge and skills come far enough down the list of important things in life, that they choose to bring up their children in an 'unschool' environment.

    I'm not quite sure I said that right - I'm not an expert.

    What's up with Jo's thongs?

    And NVG is so right on preschool education. With a 12 year old, I have experienced pre-curriculum and post-curriculum, and frankly, I'm not sure the curriculum made any difference except for lots of ticked boxes, as she says.

  5. I think freedom of choice is becoming an oxymoron in today's Britain. A very sad state of affairs.

  6. thank you for raising the issue, pm! i loved your post; written from the heart, passionate, and true. i may be biased, but i still want to see choice for us all!

  7. My thongs are fine Iota. Honest. I was just a bit annoyed because one of them called another a rude name and they were having a bit of a slanging match in my wash basket.

    P.s. I don't wear thongs really.

  8. This may not be a popular comment but, while I totally agree with the right to home-school, in the interests of the children (who sometimes don't have a say in it), there needs to be some "checking" to make sure this is, in fact being done.
    I was researching this whole thing recently (in the US) and am astonished to find that parents don't have to have any qualifications whatsoever in most states, and there are no checks on the kids to see if they are being educated at all. And if they aren't being educated, it's truancy.
    Like every other area of child welfare, there needs to be an overview to make sure that children are being fed, nourished and educated. Obviously, I'm not agreeing with the uber control suggested in the post, but I also don't think it should be completely un-checked.
    Oh and BTW, my hats off to those parents who choose to do this. I can't think of anything more difficult.

  9. I have already heard about this and it is very very worrying. I am hopping MAD about it

  10. @Expat mum the Local authorities and social services already have power to intervene in either education or welfare cases. Local authorities can make informal enquiries as to educational provision, and if they are not satisfied by what a parent tells them, they can escalate it right the way up to court and a school attendance order if they feel so inclined.

    Social services can of course intervene if they have any suspicions of welfare neglect (the fed and clothed aspect). This review is born out of local authorities wanting more and easier powers, and to be able to impose standards of education that don't even apply in schools - in no school does each child have an annual statement of intent which inspectors then come back a year later to check have been satisfied. That's what they are recommending for home educators - in effect an annual licensing scheme.

    Does that put any of your doubts/ worries to rest?

    If anyone wants to get really involved, there is a consultation on the recommendations of the report that closes this Monday, 19/10/09 23.45 If you google for home education consultation you'll find plenty of explanation as to what it's all about and what home educators feel about it.

    @PM fabulous post, and thanks for your support.

    (another Grit fan).

  11. Hi Expat Mum,
    I just wanted to reassure you that local authorities do make enquiries about what home ed parents are doing and if the parents is neglecting the child, educationally or otherwise, they have powers to require the parent to send the child to school or to apply for an educational supervision order. The trouble is, as it so often seems to be, is that LAs don't make use of the powers they have and instead are clamouring for even more. The way I see it, instead of providing a safety net for the rare cases where the parent fails, what they want to do is put everyone in the net. I don't really understand it because the authorities already miss too many cases of real neglect and I don't see how adding thousands of perfectly happy and healthy home educated children to their caseloads is going to help anyone - least of all the ones who really need it!

  12. Thanks Jo. And - thongs? (oh, just saw your follow-up. I knew you meant things...)

    Thanks Nicola. I don't know on the university attendance although I suspect that after home-schooling a child until they're 16, a parent might well be quite keen on the idea of their leaving for uni early.

    NVG, yes, that early years curriculum freaks me out too. What are they thinking?

    Iota, I have no idea how they would cope. Badly, I expect.

    Sharon, I don't want to paranoid by Orwell might have had a point.

    Grit, thanks for bringing it to our attention. It's one of those issues that people don't notice until it's too late - and then we're told - well, you had your chance to change it...

    EPM, only popular comments here, obviously... No, seriously, as I said I don't pretend to understand all the issues and it is important to consider both sides of the argument.

    MH, MAD House mad or just MAD?

    Jax, thanks, for the visit and being nice about the post.

    Georgie, thanks for the visit and for commenting.

  13. @PM, great post, thanks, it's good to hear discussion outside the immediate HE community.

    @Expat Mum, I'd be interested to hear your reaction if the government decided you had to submit your meal plans for your children to an inspector once a month. If they considered your meals didn't match their requirements (or if you didn't comply, or you disagreed with what they considered healthy) then your children would be forced to eat all their meals at state-run canteens. Your children would also have to be weighed and measured by their inspector in your home without any right of refusal.

    Sounds absurd?

    Of course it does, because deciding what to feed your children is your responsibility.

    But, so is deciding how they should be educated. It is a freedom enshrined in the law of this country, one that we may soon lose for ever.

    So no, I don't think there should be "some checking" on my children's diet of either knowledge or food.

    Chris (home-educating dad of 2)


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