my life so far

My name is Wendy and I do the craft, school and university section of the Jamboree. I am one of a family of five, who now live in France and run a small publishing business, and a local magazine for the Brittany area where we live (www.thecbj.com).  My mother is called Lin, my father Gareth, my sister Bethan and my brother, Samuel. We have been at home learning together for the past fifteen years and here is an account of how we came to be doing this:

I was born in Bristol 21 years ago, but my first memories are of York, where we moved when I was very young.  My parents had always disliked the idea of school and so, when the time came, they sent me and my brother and sister to a Steiner school, where my father was teaching.  It was supposed to be a "good" school, but this, I maintain, it was not.  Better than others, maybe, but a little child cannot compare their school to others - it fell into the basic trap of separating parents from their children - which must be the most traumatic thing that can happen to a child.
  Despite this, I didn't have a 'bad' time at school. I was pretty good at most things, the teachers liked me, I had lots of friends, nobody bullied me in particular, and I was really the sort of child who adults could say about "she loves school", because no one could tell from the outside how it made me feel on the inside.  And how did it make me feel?  Very angry and frustrated most of the time - not even I guessed that it was school!  It was just something that disappeared in the holidays and the rest of the time made me argue with Bethan and Samuel and do every thing I could think of to annoy them.  When home education was suggested to me, it sounded like a good idea, and the feeling soon melted away.

I can't even begin to list the many advantages home has over school.  It would take up too much room and the home wins on every score.  School (at the very best) is a waste of time and the home has no limits to how good it can be.
    Once I was at home I stopped thinking about school and it was no longer an issue.  The morning was not something to be dreaded any more but something to look forward to.  Every day became exciting and fun.
    I forgot about all my old school friends and practically lost interest in them; I became best friends with my family instead.  Most of the time was spent in playing and playing and playing!  But we did lessons too, with our mother.  
    Perhaps the only downside to our way of life was the fact that our father went to work every day, and we saw little of him.  One parent is sufficient, but two create the necessary balance and I knew he wasn't happy with the arrangement.  So when, after a holiday to Brittany, we thought about moving there, it came as a welcome idea.

We bought a caravan, sold our house and set off for France with two pets: a guinea pig and a budgie.  It was the summer of 1994 and I was nine years old.  The weather was amazingly hot (for once!) and Brittany felt like heaven.  After a few weeks of fruitless searching for a house, we bought a piece of bramble-covered land where we planned to build one.  It was quite a mess, but the situation was beautiful, so we started work and lived in a caravan on site.

School Again
    I think it was my mother's idea that my sister and I could go to school in France.  The well-meant intention was, I suppose, to learn French, which is the reason why nearly all English people send their children to school here.  What they don't realise is, that school just isn't worth it - there simply has to be a more pleasurable way of learning a language.  However, my memory of school being pretty dim, I was quite keen to go.  The first morning was rather fun. The children were all nice and made me feel special because I was English.  Bethan's first morning was quite different.  She came back in tears and vowed never to go again, which she didn't.  But school for me was an interesting novelty, so I continued to go.
    It was surprising how quickly the novelty wore off.  The children were still nice, but I only spent the occasional half hour with them.  The rest of the time was spent in glazed-eyed boredom behind a desk, watching a man talking animatedly in a language that seemed as foreign to the other children as it did to myself. 

    The constant fighting and aggressive 'playing' of the children in the playground, distressed me, and when I would see one of them in tears, I was filled with such pity I nearly wept myself.  It seemed too sad to see only strangers there to comfort them, when somewhere they must have parents who loved them, but were oblivious of their needs.  The teacher spoke to us as if we were a herd of animals and treated us with no more respect.  Individual feelings were ignored just as they have to be when the ratio of children to adults is so unequal.
    To see others suffer became normal and, even worse, to feel myself suffer became normal.  The magic of life was leaking away.  Days with school had to be endured, not lived, until the days off came.  And the days off were spent in dreading the school days.  Days were spent waiting for night and nights were spent worrying about getting up in the morning.
   Before I had completed a term, I begged to leave and when the term was through I turned my back on the school forever, not without a pang of pity for all the other poor children I left behind. It just seemed too bad that they had to waste their precious childhoods in such an unloving, boring, prison-like environment, while I once again, would rediscover the magic of life, and the wonder of learning.


The Puppets
   It was Winter and the house was far from finished.  We rented a flat in the nearby town and every day my father cycled to our land and built a little more.  He was doing it single handed, and progress was very slow - I simply couldn't imagine it ever being finished!  Money was short and something had to be done.  For this reason we made a set of nine puppets, a stage, props, scenes, and put together Rapunzel, in English, to tour with in the French schools.  We spent the next few years doing this, on and off, whilst building the house the rest of the time.
    We did several tours round Brittany, in Paris and one in the South of France until the house was finished, and then we stopped. Puppeteering was fun, but the downsides were going into schools where we would usually get colds, and performing before an audience who were not there by choice.  We did our last show in 2000.

        Our land in 1996                      

The Publishing Business
   The next project was our present project, to publish books on education. In the past three years we have done six books, two websites, a magazine and we are now working on fractions books. You can read about our publications on-line.  Our hard work is starting to bear fruit.  We live in a traditional stone house in the beautiful Breton countryside, with a garden that is bringing us more fresh fruit and vegetables every year.  Each day I can spend as many hours as I please out of doors, and the rest of the time I can do all the things I most enjoy. 

    I don't have any qualifications in any subject, and at present I don't intend to get them. If the schools are inherently flawed, them so are universities. Until these establishments base their qualifications on creativity, originality, freedom, respect, individuality, and something more than repetition and trying to please others, then without trying to sound egotistical, I am not really interested. But I do not consider myself to be doing too badly. I can paint and draw in most mediums; I play the violin and the piano every day; I can speak French well enough, and I am learning Hindi.  I love cooking and baking, I can grow things in the garden and I have read (and, more importantly, enjoyed) English classics, such as Dickens, Austen and, of course, Shakespeare.  I know how to make embroideries, rag-rugs, baskets and I have begun wood carving.  I feel very experienced in the field of puppets, performing and theatre; I know quite a lot about house building, and increasingly more about publishing, writing, editing, proof-reading and illustrating books and magazines.  
    Above all, my desire to learn has not been quenched and the list continues to grow.  I know I am by no means especially clever or in any way more talented than anyone else, the difference is merely that I have been able to spend my time as I wished.  The periods of my life that I have spent in school have been some of the unhappiest, and it was impossible for me to do anything creative whilst going there
   Schools may well have the potential to be good, but how they are at the moment is simply inexcusable.  I am filled with sorrow when I think of all the years wasted within those walls and I sincerely hope that those who have been through the system will somehow realise the lies they were told every step of the way.
    Somehow I hope they will be able to find the strength to turn away from what people tell them to do and bring their own children up in whatever way they feel to be right.

 Photo: Bethan and I by the beehives

                                                        Below right: The house from over a neighbouring field  

  Gareth laying the table for lunch, outside our house.