Sunday, 30 September 2012

Why we must keep the Marshmallow-Throwers at bay

Earlier this week I wrote about the teaching union rep at the end of this clip, and it got me thinking yet again about the problems inherent in people in the government, both local and national, holding similar views about a broad and balanced curriculum, regardless of it not, by its very definition, being suited to the individual child. There's a quote that I love -

“Learning can only happen when a child is interested. If he’s not interested it’s like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it eating.”

If people from the government did come into our private homes to assess the education we were providing for our children, they would be people like this union man. (Or in fact they already are, where people do allow them in, sometimes in full knowledge of the law, and sometimes hoodwinked by those very people). They're ex teachers*, ex headteachers, education welfare departments, school improvement divisions. They know school, not home education. (And certainly not the sorts of home education that bear no resemblance to school at all.) They're people who spent the first eighteen or so years of their lives having marshmallows thrown at their heads, the next few being told how to throw them at other people's heads, and have been steadfastly throwing them at children's heads ever since. If you were, metaphorically, to show them a child go shopping, select some ingredients, cook a meal and eat it, they wouldn't know what had just happened. They just. Don't. Get it.

They see a child playing Minecraft for weeks on end? They will miss the reading, the socialising, the creativity, and all the amazing, varied and completely individualised things the child is learning. They will just notice the absence of projectile marshmallows, and assume the child is not learning.

They see a child lying on the grass watching the sky all morning? Again, no marshmallows lobbed relentlessly at the child's head, so no learning. They'll miss the child processing all he learnt the day before.

They see a child watching The Simpsons for a whole afternoon? They will miss the historical and cultural references they're taking in. Because no marshmallows, so no learning.

My home is metaphorical-marshmallow free. (Plenty of the real ones though!) So if these people came in ready to asses using their marshmallow-trajectory-centric beliefs, they would see nothing: not broad and balanced, nor suited to ability and aptitude. They'd miss my children designing and cooking their very own recipe for learning, with me facilitating. Because we don't do marshmallows, and marshmallows are all these people know.

*Disclaimer: I'm well aware that there are some teachers who are supportive of/interested in alternative educational models, and lots who go on to HE their own children. They're not, however, the ones who take jobs voluntarily monitoring and controlling these pesky home educators.


  1. Great post. Am thinking that despite not having to throw marshmallows, there can still be some skill in facilitating/offering an autonomous education, if only in trying to recognize when to become involved and when not to. Some children are just so busy, that's more or less just has to be there to listen occasionally, possibly offer tiny bits of one's apparently best theories here and there. Others want to involve one in their process a great deal more, which might mean that one has to be much more imaginative/creative with offering help/theories. Sometimes they muddle one with changing demands...we do have to be on the ball!

    1. Most definitely! I wouldn't want to give the impression that I think children should just be left to their own devices, I don't at all. Parents are best placed to be able to observe and really know their children, what they're interested in, what excites them, how they learn. A parent who does all this, facilitates what the child wants to do and know, and provides an exciting environment too, is better every time than someone who thinks the child needs teaching.