Artillery Row

Amateur Educators

How the inexperienced home-schoolers are coping

Most of us are not experienced home educators – we do not have the years of practice of Pauline and Crawford Gribben.  It has thus fallen to millions of amateurs to ensure the next generation are not barbarians. To behave as if the Easter Holidays have started early is a poor show. Those holidays look likely to drift on beyond when the Summer Term is due to start. What if they keep on drifting and the Summer Term never actually materialises?  Surely the nation’s parents will not just allow their offspring to stare mindlessly at pop videos on their iPhones continuously through those weeks and months.

Thus home education is the challenge we must rise to. My wife and I have two children – both girls, aged 11 and 12. We apply a division of labour with tuition. My wife teaches science and mathematics – that is because I find both subjects baffling. Neither of us really speaks French – so that will sadly have to slide, one must be realistic. Granny is good at Latin but she is prohibited from visiting.

It has thus fallen to millions of amateurs to ensure the next generation are not barbarians

My role is to read my daughter’s history books. We have started with Lady Callcott’s Little Arthur’s History of England. Then onto H.E. Marshall’s Our Island Story.  Then it will be Our Empire Story also by H.E. Marshall. I am rather enjoying it.

But I don’t have time to read all day. Banning screens completely is unrealistic. Better to allow a couple of hours but insist it is good stuff. We are fond of Carry On films and my daughters have already seen Carry on Cleo and Don’t Lose Your Head – while these offer a patriotic perspective of important periods there is a lack of factual rigour. So instead the girls can sit down and watch David Starkey’s Monarchy series from the DVD boxset. If they were a bit older (or if I had sons) I would put on Jeremy Isaacs’s World At War series. The trouble is some of the footage is just too upsetting for them – the scenes of the holocaust, of course, but also the British POWs reduced to living skeletons after being captured by the Japanese.

Art? I have agreed to let each of them paint my portrait. A prize can be awarded to the winner – a roll of lavatory paper perhaps… For a broader understanding of the subject, I will read them Beauty by Roger Scruton and they can watch Lord Clark’s TV series Civilisation.

Citizenship classes? I am letting them watch Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister – instructive as well as entertaining. We are listening to some of the great uplifting speeches that have recordings available on YouTube or Spotify. Churchill obviously. But some American oratory helps. Martin Luther King. John F Kennedy. There is Ronald Reagan’s inaugural address: “Those who say that we are in a time when there are no heroes just don’t know where to look. You can see heroes every day going in and out of factory gates. Others, a handful in number, produce enough food to feed all of us and then the world beyond. You meet heroes across a counter – and they are on both sides of that counter. There are entrepreneurs with faith in themselves and faith in an idea who create new jobs, new wealth and opportunity. They are individuals and families whose taxes support the Government and whose voluntary gifts support church, charity, culture, art, and education. Their patriotism is quiet but deep. Their values sustain our national life.”

Music? We are doing lots of singing (printing out lyrics not reading them off the computer.) But also lots of listening. It’s fine to have Classic FM on in the bathroom or the kitchen. But to appreciate classical music properly my daughters must listen to whole symphonies and concertos without interruption or distraction. This is the imperative that I pledge to achieve.

For the lighter stuff we all dance. Not just waving our arms about but proper dancing. There is a good posture drive going on with my daughters walking up and down with books on their heads. I am already encouraging them to curtsy – useful given the handshaking ban.

Sport? Our local park has metal ping pong tables next to the playground. We have to turn up with bats and balls. The only problem is if there is any wind and then the balls blow away.

Theology? We are part of the elite one per cent of the population who are regular attenders of our local Anglican church. The snag is that services are not taking place due to the emergency. So we have readings at home from the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer – not volumes we tend to encounter at Church. I am also reading from the CS Lewis volumes, Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters.

The coming weeks will see a drive for clear speech and good diction in my household. The glottal stop must be defeated. The weapon will be reciting poetry. Another reason to learn poetry will be to raise morale – so there will be discrimination in favour of poems likely to achieve this. The closing line of Tennyson’s Ulysses must be a priority:

“Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are,we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

That must be proclaimed faultlessly and confidently upstairs and downstairs.  Never waste a crisis. These extra weeks, perhaps months, while our children are off
school is a chance for them to really learn something. Let’s make the most of it.

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