Family & Education

We don’t need no education

Home-schooling four children, with a feral pre-schooler underfoot, is slowly destroying Josh Howie. For inspiration, he's thinking big


Father Working from home on laptop during quarantine. Little child girl make noise and distracts father from work on the kitchen office

I’ve often wondered how war reporters managed to file their columns under such inhospitable conditions, bullets whistling past, bombs shattering windows. However, writing this while homeschooling I finally have the answer:

ONE. maths. WORD. scream. AT. lunch. A. spellings. TIME. crash.

I’ve also often wondered what elements of their childhood my one-day grown-up children will moan to us about, and now I know the answer to that too. Last lockdown was no picnic, I wouldn’t risk the £200 fine, but this time with an additional child having graduated to school-age, it makes a total of four children in my Ofsted inadequate school. There’s also a feral pre-schooler running around here somewhere, responding only to the squeaky tones of Peppa Pig.

And so, as my psychotherapist wife works to reassure and console her clients over Zoom, down the corridor in the kitchen/classroom, a breakdown’s occurring much closer to home.

I have developed some skills during this process; navigating, scheduling and getting into the various Zoom classes and gaining access to the homework apps that need you to separately log in and out for each child, surely means a job in logistics beckons as my comedy career withers.

The coordination and dexterity required to keep the tower of iPads, iPhones and laptops charged would render a 1920s switchboard operator awestruck. Scanning the never-ending feed of four separate class WhatsApp groups to extract any pertinent information from the wailings of fellow parents is like reading code from The Matrix.

Yet, for all that, the only thing my children actually seem to have learnt during my teaching, is how high-pitched their father’s voice can reach in exasperation.

A teacher friend explained that in order to not dispirit your pupils you should never say “No, that’s the wrong answer,” rather, “Good, I see what you did there but…” The problem is, I can’t see what they did there. I repeatedly and patiently explained what to do. I held their hand through every step. So how did they get to THAT?

I wish I could stop taking it so personally. But every wrong answer, every misunderstood concept, every forgotten full-stop feels like an insult. An affront to my teaching, and deeper down, an affront to my genes.

For spiritual reassurance I look to the Torah. One of its main lessons is how difficult it is to teach your own children. I mean, I totally get how God felt at Mount Sinai.

He spends all that time writing down the Ten Commandments because the printer’s run out of ink, then after getting Moses to schlep them to the bottom of the mountain finds the children of Israel messing about. God didn’t say, “Good, I see what you did there creating a Golden Calf, and yes, you’re really good at art, but… I’m afraid it’s actually a false idol.” No, he threw a hissy fit, tore the tablets up and smote the worst offenders in an earthquake. Like I said, I totally get where he was coming from.

There are many talmudic explanations as to why the Israelites spent 40 years wandering the desert, but maybe it’s just that’s how long it took for us to finally learn all the commandments, all the while God doing his best to not raise his voice or openly scoff in disdain when our descendants got the answer wrong. “Why on earth would I say for eunuchs TO marry a daughter of Israel? I’m trying to get you lot to be as numerous as the stars, how’s that supposed to happen if you’re all off marrying eunuchs?! If you thought about it for even a second you’d see it just doesn’t make any sense! Okay, let’s all breathe. Sorry I lost my temper there. Why don’t we have another little walk about for a year or two while you think it through?”

Going by my lot, I don’t imagine Jews are the easiest people to teach. Incessant questions, obstinate behaviour, breaking for food every five minutes. No wonder Israel’s so eager to get those vaccines out if it means an end to home-schooling. Forget rising antisemitism, if it means I didn’t have to homeschool ever again I’d make aliyah tomorrow.

I’d assumed that home-schooling would suit the Jews. It brings together two pillars of our culture: Family and Education. But what I’ve learnt is they’re similarly charged magnets; proximity to each other makes them both repel. Hopefully this’ll all be over soon, at least before 40 years and the people of the book become the people of the iPad. And then we can give the gift every parent wants for their children. The only one that really matters. Freedom.


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