Welcome to the book blog of writer and creative writing tutor, Diane Paul.

Thanks to the publishers and kind PR people who send me books and releases about their clients' books for review. Press releases and review copies of fiction and non-fiction are always welcome. (No sci-fi, fantasy or erotica please.)

Due to the barrage of requests from self-published authors for reviews, I'm unable to deal with them all, although I'm sometimes drawn to non-fiction for the subject matter. And because I love print books, the smell, the touch of the paper and the sight of the words, I don't have an electronic reader or review e-books.

E-mail to: bookblogforbookworms@keywordeditorial.com for the postal address.

My writing website: http://www.keywordeditorial.com/

Thursday, 6 February 2014

So, What's Wrong With School? 125 reasons not to send your kids

According to Home Education UK, it is estimated that around 60,000 children in the UK are being home educated. That’s roughly about 0.6 per cent of the population. It’s perfectly legal and parents don’t have to be qualified teachers to educate their own children. They can teach what they like and they don’t need to follow the National Curriculum.

Manchester mother of two, Jessica Mwanzia taught her children at home . Now, aged 17 and 20, they are studying courses ranging from accountancy to film and enjoy karate, gardening and doing voluntary work.

'My son left school aged five,' she told me. 'The preceding two years were spent battling with two different schools in an unsuccessful attempt to get his needs met.’ Jessica believed her experiences to be unique and saw herself as a failed parent with a failed child. But as she became part of the home education community, she found other ways to raise and educate children. ‘By listening to many parents, I became shocked by the stories I heard of children’s school experiences. Some were truly horrific: bullying, violence, injustice and labelling seemed commonplace; boredom almost universal,’ she said.

She began collecting anecdotal information and news items and reading books that looked critically at the institution that shapes most of our lives. Jessica herself is highly qualified with a BSc, PGCE and an MEd. She trained to teach in the 1980s ‘when child-focus was already on the wane. Children seemed to be an obstacle to the delivery of a curriculum dictated from on high’.

The results of her research and her views on our education system today have resulted in ‘So, What’s Wrong With School?’ It’s quite a tome and written in a semi-academic style but it’s worth reading if you want to know more about the subject, especially if you’re a parent disillusioned with the current educational system and wanting to investigate alternatives.

Jessica argues that much that is learned in schools is outdated, useless and out of context. And she is concerned about what children learn about themselves when they are told they are failures. ‘The rigidity and limitations of the curriculum, getting more so by the day, limits what children can become,’ she says.

Her book looks at how school can separate children from their own needs and from each other through competition, age segregation and setting. ‘Isolating children from their parents and other adults, apart from teachers, gives children a skewed view of the world.’ She examines the culture of school and how it influences wider cultures worldwide. ‘Bullying, exclusions, injustice, dishonesty and blame-shifting are seen as the underbelly of the institution.’ Myths about children, reward and punishment and about the evidence underlying what happens in a school are questioned. She believes that schools are failing children through institutionalising and focussing on the needs of the corporate world, rather than on childrens’ needs.

Teachers are found wanting: ‘undermined, overwhelmed, sick and absent, the low morale of the teaching profession is seen to contribute to a more negative experience for the children in their charge.’

The chapter ‘Numbering Our Children’ looks at the impact of continual measurement. ‘The damaging effect of continually being tested, from toddlerhood through to the teenage years, is put in the context of the drive for more and more numbers to attach to children like tags in a sale, so they, their teachers and schools can be ranked.’

Adverse effects on children’s health looks at sick buildings, safety, exercise and food. Mental health ranges from stress and anxiety to the growing number of children on psychiatric drugs. ‘Some groups are particularly harmed by school,’ says Jessica, as she looks at the ramifications for boys, girls, for those who are gay, poor or from a minority group.

She looks at the impact on us financially, on the natural world, children and society at large. And if this sounds like a pretty bleak picture, with which not everyone may agree, she ends on a more positive note as she suggests the way forward, from home education and alternative schools to positive changes in mainstream schools.

‘So What’s Wrong with School?’ adopts an ideological and political slant to a topical subject. Jessica admits it may not be a comfortable read. ‘It’s certainly a challenge to what we’ve been led to believe.’ Parents and teachers, take note.

I’ve certainly noticed a steady decline in literacy standards and that’s not just from the children. On TV particularly, the standard of spelling on captioned material is appalling and I’m sick of hearing announcers saying ‘he was stood’ and ‘she was sat’; then there’s the pronounciation of droring for drawing and the misuse of adverbs such as literally when the meaning is clearly not literally or so obviously so that its use isn’t appropriate; or pacifically instead of specifically. I always thought the Pacific was an ocean. Primary school is the place to learn how to speak and spell English and for some, this obviously isn’t happening. ‘Draw Liners’ it said on a packet of drawer liners I spotted in a well-known department store last week. What many people don't realise is that words spelt differently mean different things, so yes, it is important to spell accurately or some unwary shoppers might end up buying draw liners for quite the wrong purpose. So maybe Jessica’s ideas aren’t that far-fetched.

And I dare you to find a spelling mistake in the above paragraph! (And beginning sentences with 'and' or 'but' is journalistic licence.)

You can buy a paperback copy of ‘So What’s Wrong With School? 125 Reasons not to send your kids by Jessica Mwanzia through this link:

www.lulu.com/commerce/index.php?fBuyContent=13639070 price £4.80
or direct from Jessica’s website: http://sowhatswrongwithschool.wordpress.com
Like on facebook www.facebook.com/SoWhatsWrongWithSchool
You can contact Jessica at jmwanzia@phonecoop.coop

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