How and Why Home Education Works . Annie Weekes


Interview by David Jennings

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.

How did your "induction" as a home educator work?
Initially it was based on local contacts, such as with the Sydenham group. In 1999, the examples of home education that you could find online were mostly in the US, and those were mostly faith-based, so they didn't feel relevant to us. In the UK, there was an email list that I joined. Over the years that has grown, as more people came online, and it's splintered into lots of smaller, specialist lists.
When I started it felt like, after only a relatively short time, I knew most of the people who were active in home education and interested in sharing experiences. The first time I went to HESFES [the annual week-long summer gathering of home educators], it was such a relief. Just being in a field full of people I didn't have to explain myself to felt liberating and relaxing. Again, HESFES has expanded massively in the time we've been going to it. Wikipedia says it's grown from around 50 families in 1998 to around 1500 families in 2006.]

How about your boys — how do they keep in touch with their peers?
Annie Weekes (AW): The same way everyone else of their age does: mobile phones, Facebook, MSN Messenger.
This is actually one of the classic objections to home education that people always come up with is, What about socialisation? I've never quite worked out what they mean by that.
David Jennings (DJ): Do they mean being trained to be a good worker, and say Yes at the right time?
How do you manage to act like a normal human being in the world? Well, we live there, and we probably see more of it than most schoolchildren
Annie Weekes (AW): They do, but they tend to dress it up as, How do they ever get to meet people? Which has this kind of subtext of, How do you manage to act like a normal human being in the world? Well, we live there, and we probably see more of it than most schoolchildren. It's always framed as, How do you get to meet other kids? rather than, How do you learn to be a "good little worker"?

You made a bold decision, including a change of career path — so what have been the pluses and minuses of that for you?
It's really quite hard to say. For the first few years I was quite evangelical about it, naturally. You've only known me in my later, more jaded years! In a way, I don't even think of myself as a home educator now. I don't identify myself as one. School seems like a weird idea now: I can't imagine why people do it.

How far ahead do you plan? Do you know what you'll be doing with your boys when they start again?
[Annie's kids were visiting family at the time of the interview.]
AW: No. They haven't "stopped". Some people organise things with holidays, but we don't.
DJ: So it's heavily improvised?
AW: Entirely improvised. It's driven by what they're interested in. As I say, that's what can make it hard. Someone will appear downstairs at 11pm and say, "So, the Italians were invading Abyssinia in whenever, and…?" You think, Oh my god! Isn't Google working this evening? They don't really see the difference between learning and not learning any more than most adults do.
DJ: That's an important observation in itself.
AW: Is it?
DJ: Most people say that messing around on the internet to find stuff out is not learning. To which I say, Why not? And they say, "I suppose… but it's not really the same." Because the correspondence they've made is to pre-structured blocks of activity that lead to a qualification.
AW: A) you can't get a qualification for it, and B) almost the definition of learning seems to be that you don't enjoy doing it. Those are the two things that make it learning.
DJ: Or that someone other than you defines the outcome you're supposed to aim for.
AW: Exactly, and that seems to be what makes it real learning. There was a nice quote someone sent me by John Holt — the educator, not the reggae singer - "The difficulty with learning to trust our children is that first we have to learn to trust ourselves" in terms of defining their learning. And that's the same with adults
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