[Note: I wrote this post back in February and at the time I felt rather deflated. However, our girls’ school has proved to actually be very helpful and supportive. They have been encouraging towards our girls, flexible in supporting our ever-changing travel plans and have promised to help keep our girls in touch with the curriculum the rest of their class will be working on. Fergus, September, 2013)]
I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting from my girls’ school regarding our imminent World trip, but it wasn’t “nothing at all”.
Perhaps I was unrealistic to expect the teacher to share my enthusiasm for the adventure we’re all about to embark upon – and, to be fair, she was… just not in regards to my girls’ education.
Her advice amounted to:
“What will the girls be missing”
“You’ll have to look up Key Stage 2 online.”
“Are there any resources the school could provide to help us?”
“No. We can’t give resources to non-attending pupils.”
“Any other advice?”
“With all due respect you aren’t trained teachers. Next year will cover a lot of ground and I think you’ll struggle to prepare them for returning to school.”
I don’t know; maybe I have an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. It was all honestly given advice… but without any appreciation of the broader learning I imagine taking place.
I can recall returning home from living in Malaysia when I was 9 and finding to my bewilderment that my best friend had never left Lancashire, let alone the UK. He’d never seen legless beggars on wheeled carts, monkeys stealing tourists’ ice creams from overhanging branches, cobras dropping from trees in rubber plantations; he’d never looked down from a train window to see bullet-holes scattered across the side of the carriage, never kept geckos in his pocket or hunted bull-frogs under his stilted house; never been immersed in a thousand strange languages, eaten strange foods, smelled strange odours, been forced to not take a single day for granted; never known what it is to carry everything you need in a backpack. Never, in short, seen how wide and astonishing the World is.
And how brilliant it is to travel when you are too young to shoulder the responsibility for arrangements, too innocent to worry about risks, naive enough to be constantly and wonderfully surprised, and to greet strangeness with interest not fear. An adult traveller can never capture the wonder a child traveller experiences.
Which is not to say that experience is a replacement for learning. We won’t be abandoning formal education altogether. it’s just that there’s more for a child to learn than is contained in the National Curriculum – and many things that can’t be taught in a classroom, or with 30 kids to one teacher.
And every parent knows how much harder it can be to motivate and control your own kids. We don’t have the distance that lets a teacher bring down the weight of authority onto a child. Our kids feel freer to answer back, dig in heels and push boundaries.
So, I shan’t pretend that I’m not daunted by taking on the responsibility of becoming a teacher as well as a parent. And I don’t kid myself that it’ll be easy. I’m not unaware that there are some things that are better taught in a classroom.
But I still feel confident that, with or without support from outside, my girls will come back from a year in Asia having learned lessons that will set them up well for the rest of their lives. They will have a broader perspective on the World and will hopefully have been through enough surprises and experiences that they can approach life in the relaxed and easy manner of people who have seen the bigger picture (or at least seen legless beggars on trolleys and can be glad for what they have).
(The title, by the way, is from First Day at School by Roger McGough; a wonderful poem about the fear brought by starting school.)