29 September 02010

Home rules: Annie Weekes on how and why home education works

Annie Weekes in The Bishop, East Dulwich

When I first wrote about what I'm now calling Agile Learning, just over a year ago, I started off with some quotes from my friend Guy (sample: "learning is simple; it's one of the few things we can't help ourselves from doing"). Guy and his partner Annie educate their two boys, now young teenagers, at home. Having teased them about being anarchists, I thought I should find out a bit more about how home education is (self) organised.

My discussion with Annie is a deliberate switch from the theoretical and occasionally abstract drift of recent Agile Learning interviews (1, 2). We concentrate on the decision to home educate, the variety of approaches and the learning environment (in the broadest sense of that term).

This interview differs in other ways, as well. It was even more relaxed and informal than my usual approach. I've known Annie and her family as friends for seven years; they live a few minutes' walk from my house, and, for this discussion, we met in the nearest pub. My concession to professionalism was to drink in half-pints. I had sent Annie a set of questions in advance, but, as friends in a pub are wont to do, we wandered around the topics. At first, when I listened back to my recording, I felt awkward about this lack of discipline. But by the end it felt like an entirely appropriate approach to the topics: form follows content. Please bear this in mind when when reading. Another factor is that it's important to depersonalise any details relating to children — so I've had to edit the several references Annie and I made to her children.

Other anxieties also stalked me throughout the discussion. As we began, Annie told me how many parents in our social milieu displayed a curiosity, bordering on suspicion and denial, about the home education road her family has gone down. I scanned my memory of previous chats to assess whether she meant me. Then Annie told me how more researchers seem to be taking an interest in home educators recently, dressing up everyday reportage with references to Michel Foucault and Thomas Kuhn. Another shot across the bows.

Just about every interview I do these days (I've got two more recorded, but not yet transcribed) seems to start with Ivan Illich, and this was no exception. Annie and Guy didn't set out to be home educators, but neither were they unprepared. Annie had read Illich's Deschooling Society at school, although at that stage it was an academic, rather than a personal, interest. A long-term resident of South-East London, Annie's contact with Camberwell Small School and the Sydenham Home Educators group left her, and Guy, with the feeling that, if school didn't work out for their newly born children, there was a viable alternative.

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