Bearing in mind the nature of our lifestyle, it probably goes without saying that Caesar, Xoë, and Roxanne are all home-schooled. Caesar once spent about two weeks at a school in St Helena, in the South Atlantic. Xoë has sampled both the English school curriculum as applied in St Helena and that of a Spanish school. Two weeks of each was quite sufficient to enable her to form an opinion of The System. Based on the reports received from her elders, Roxanne has decided that she will keep right away from formal education.
Despite the fact that none of them has been to school the kids all seem to do okay, as this website surely demonstrates. It was built by Caesar, whose skills with the computer are already legendary amongst family and friends.
Caesar is entirely self-taught in this arena. He has had to be, because his shipmates hardly know a server from an ISP, or a file from a folder. (In fact, to be honest, the senior officers couldn’t tell you what any of those four words mean, in the context of a computer.)
Caesar had his first computer when he was 10 years old and built his first website – for the local Sea Scouts – at the age of 13. Besides being au fait with the various computing lingos he also writes his own software. If you want a top quality, hand-crafted site, drop him line.
Much of the writing on the Mollymawk website is by Roxanne, and if you want to see real live examples of home schooling in action then all you need to do is read her articles. Most of them are about the wildlife that we have met on our travels, but some are about our adventures.
Roxanne has also written a book. Two Gulls and a Girl is about a seagull colony which Roxanne studies when she was ten years old and about the gulls which she hand-reared on the boat.
She is now working on another, much more ambitious and complicated project… Watch this space!
School of Life
My approach to the children’s education has always been laid back, and over the years it has become progressively looser. Essentially, I have come to the conclusion that kids are largely capable of teaching themselves.
It is true that Caesar would not be able to hold a pen and write his name had he been left to his own devices, and driving him to write an essay was always like trying to persuade a donkey to trot. By the same token, Xoë and Roxanne, if we had left them in peace, would still not know that there are 365 days in a year or that seven sevens are forty-nine.
The three Rs, being essential elements of a rounded education, had to be hammered in where necessary… but it is a fact that knowledge acquired in such a manner is invariably superficial. When we actually want to know about something then the learning takes root within us and becomes part of us, whereas information scattered on the surface soon withers. Thus, Xoë, Roxanne, and I are never going to be able to remember, from one week to the next, about radio waves and amps and volts – having had these things explained to me a hundred times I am just going to have to accept the fact that my mind does not contain the right kind of soil for this kind of stuff to prosper – and Caesar and Nick are never going to paint pictures or write poems.
(Despite the fact that he had always had access to paints, paper, crayons and so forth, Caesar had already decided, by the age of five, that he couldn’t draw and didn’t want to anyway!)
Having acknowledged these facts we can get on with the business of learning about the things that our minds are suited towards studying.
Caesar may have struggled to produce even one page of writing about Columbus’ Voyage Across the Atlantic, when he was ten years old, but nobody had to show the boy how to wire up a circuit and install the lights in our boat. He found that out for himself.
And although she has never been very enthusiastic about writing for her brother’s pet website, no one has ever had to drive Xoë to write about the things that she actually wants to write about.
And no one aboard this little ship knows even half as much about snails, toads, grasshoppers, and fish as Roxanne.
All the while that the kids were growing up and learning – and not learning – I wondered whether I was doing the right thing. Perhaps I should push harder to get them into those uncomfortbale moulds…? Push the square-peg-Caesar into writing essays, and push the round-peg-Xoë into learning her times tables…
What would happen when they wanted to go to university? Was I denying them the privilege of Further Education?
No, of course not.
When push came to shove then the older two kids just had to knuckle down and learn how to cope with those other, hated subjects. In order to gain admission to a university they needed to demonstrate an acceptable level of ability in both English and Maths; and so Caesar had to write piles of essays on demand, and Xoë had to get her head around algebra, trignometry, and logarithums.
It’s surprising how much more a person can learn when he, or she, wants to learn it, and needs to learn it. Xoë ended up scoring a B in the maths exam and Caesar actually got an A for English literature!
In the event, having got his GCSEs and A-levels, Caesar decided that he would prefer to pursue a career as a computer programmer and website designer – and sailor; but Xoë, having gained her laurels, promptly jumped ship and she is now embarking on a course at a London university.
What Roxanne will choose to do remains to be seen, but in any event, I think we can say for sure now that the lazy laid-back School-of-Life method of home-schooling works.
For a fuller description of our home-schooling philosophy, you might like to look at the Sea School article.