Like much of the country, I have been following events in Westminster over the last few weeks with increasing disquiet. I am not going to comment, here on Brexit, but on the language used by politicians. I was brought up to be polite – indeed, I can remember my mother telling me that if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. I have a feeling that some prominent politicians could do with that advice at the moment!
But this whole train of thought reminded me of George Orwell. Orwell, the great British writer of the first half of the twentieth century, is one of my favourite authors. Although best remembered these days for books like ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’, he was also a prolific essay-writer. In one of his essays, ‘Politics and the English Language’, written in 1946, Orwell argued (amongst other things) that the choice of words to describe things was important, and that it was possible to virtually ‘anaesthetize a portion of one’s brain’ by allowing mis-used words to mis-shape our understanding. Topical advice in these days, it seems!
The reason I have mentioned Orwell and his concerns about our usage of language (over an above my gripe at politicians who should know better) is because of one simple phrase or word – depending upon how one writes it – ‘home-schooling’. For almost thirty years I have loathed that term as a description of what Lyn and I ‘did’ with our children at home. We did not run a school at home nor did we behave like aspiring teachers marshalling our class of three or four. Home-schooling was the wrong word because that was not what we did nor was it what we wanted to do. I have to admit that I also disliked the term ‘home education’ though with less vehemence, it must be said. To me, home education sounded like we locked the door and tried our hardest to keep the world out. This was not an accurate description of what went on either. For us, Roland Meighan’s phrase ‘home-based learning’ best suited what we tried to do. Our home was certainly a place where lots of learning took place, but equally a great deal of learning occurred whilst in the car, or visiting friends or when we were shopping. In fact, looking back on those years of home-based learning, I am pretty sure that most learning took place away from the home – simply because most time was spent away from a desk or kitchen table.
Although this changes during the secondary years, and in particular during the final years preparing for IGCSEs, it is still important, in my opinion, to recognise that running a school in our homes is not what we are about and that whatever our children’s ages, we should find time to do learning away from the desk and the home.
In my opinion, it is also vital to acknowledge Orwell’s concerns and recognise that language is important – for parents as well as politicians.