My Daughter Is in a Class of Her Own Now

By Bartholomew, James | The Spectator, September 16, 2006 | Go to article overview

My Daughter Is in a Class of Her Own Now


Bartholomew, James, The Spectator


Unlike most nine-year-olds, my daughter Alex is not back at school. She is not having last-minute morning rushes to find her self-losing shoes. She is not getting used to a new classroom or meeting a new form teacher.

For during this term at least, I am going to home-educate her.

Alex has been at good private schools.

Most recently she has been at a warmly encouraging one with an outstanding headmistress (who has been very good about what I am doing). Before that, she was at a school noted for its academic and sporting success.

But by the time you read this, Alex and I will be in a little cottage outside Aix-enProvence, staying with an old friend who lives with her bee-keeper boyfriend. The first objective of our home-education will be for Alex to learn French.

Of course, in theory, she has already been learning French for five years and more. At the particularly academic school, she had, I think, three French lessons a week. But a few months ago I asked her and her 12-year-old sister, who is now at one of London's top private secondary schools, to conjugate the verbs être and avoir. Neither of them got close. Even the best private schools, or most of them, don't seem to teach French grammar any more.

You might wonder what do they do in French classes? I am not sure, but I remember the day my elder daughter's French homework at the 'academic' preparatory school consisted of finding pictures of tourist sites on the internet, drawing them and colouring them in. That reflects something about how French is taught these days -- and many other subjects. Another great educational tool of our time seems to be papier-mâché.

I would like Alex to have some notion of English grammar, too. My children often say things like, 'There is loads of . . .' and 'I could of gone on the trip'. They have little idea about nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. As for their spelling. . . .

I don't want to give the impression that I will be a Gradgrind. We will have some fun, too. Alex loves to paint. We will go to the major Cézanne exhibition in Aix and see his paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire. Then we will see the mountain itself from the same viewpoint that he used. I hope we will settle down to paint it ourselves -- perhaps copying Cézanne's technique.

One of the joys of home-education is that one has the freedom to pursue things that already excite a child. Alex is fascinated by bugs. She likes shells and stones. I hope to use these interests to lead us into natural history.

While in Provence we will also go to Arles to see the amphitheatre and other Roman remains. We will learn some Roman history. History is still taught in schools and better, I think, than most subjects. But it has been squeezed into fewer lessons to make way for Information Technology, Design Technology and any other 'technology' that 'educationists' can think up.

I have the idea, which some may think eccentric, of giving Alex a big picture of the past, starting with the creation of the universe, going through the development of the surface of the Earth and then on through the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans to the present. Perhaps that will prove over-ambitious. But having been repeatedly taught the 'Tudors 'n' Stuarts' through my childhood, I want her to get an idea of the big narrative sweep. …

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