As a father of two boys aged six and three, I haven’t found it easy to make time to read. Indeed, it’s ironic that only when you become a parent do you realise that there is so much to learn and yet, for our family at least, so little time.
However, when my brother and his wife withdrew their three children from the state primary school late into the summer term, I sat up and took notice. After reading The Call to Brilliance, this couple, despite having a fledgling yet ambitious mail-order business, had chosen to take on educating their children themselves.
It was a tremendous surprise to me, and so I felt compelled to read the book that had changed the direction of their lives so profoundly.
Perhaps their example gave me the faith I required to push through the initial twenty pages. The author, Resa Steindel Brown, is an American and, in my judgement, the way she interpreted the world she inhabited was over-simplistic and without evidence. But the conviction with which she wrote is undeniable and her observations of people’s behaviour astute and sensitive.
As I have already hinted, I am not an expert on books about education and raising children. My own experience of learning was very average: I attended state primary and secondary school and had a happy experience at both. But my father was a graduate of Summerhill, a free school then run by the extraordinary A.S. Neill, and his strong views about child education probably filtered through into my psyche and rendered me a soft target to any notion of childcentred learning.
The Call to Brilliance is the story of Steindel Brown’s journey through the educational minefield as she searched for the establishment she felt her three children should enter. After visiting all manner and styles of schooling, she realised she had best try to teach them herself. With the courage and determination of an explorer, she dived into the process of home education. What made her experience so remarkable was her willingness to listen to her children and to observe them. They led her on the journey, their actions and behaviour informed her of what they were interested in, and the more she stepped out of their way, the stronger their enthusiasm for learning became.
Luckily for Steindel Brown, she met other parents who were also interested in an alternative to the current pickings of education and they joined forces to create a learning community. In this unique space, the children were utterly trusted to discover their own interests and passions. And, on being offered this opportunity, they took it wholeheartedly and excelled.
One of Steindel Brown’s sons had completed the equivalent to A levels by the age of fourteen and went on to study and lecture in computer engineering at the state college. If she had had only the one child, then I would probably have argued that he was a prodigy, but the proof of the success of this approach to learning was compelling. Here were so many children excelling way beyond the ‘norm’ and going on to university to follow their passion.
I was constantly moved by the insights into how children can develop a love of learning that gives them wings to fly, how unpredictable these children’s journeys were and how joyful their existence was. I was in tears on several occasions. No tests, no grades, no homework, no competition; every child creating her own goals and achieving her own targets; every child understanding why he is learning what he is learning and having no fear of making mistakes. This is, truly, the alternative approach to learning that resonates with me.
The current educational system in the UK and across the Western world was designed for an industrial age 150 years ago. True education must be about providing children with a safe and stimulating environment, where they can uncover their brilliance. Through this book I have discovered a passion and a road map to provide my two boys with an opportunity to shine. And, thankfully, I am not doing it alone. I am fortunate to live in a community of learners that is embracing many of the ideas that Steindel Brown describes.
It is with uncertainty that I write this review, as I am not skilled in the art of writing and fear my style and opinion will put other parents off. How different my life could have been had I experienced the sort of education that I wish for my children!
Dahlan Lassalle Dahlan lives in Lewes, East Sussex and his children attend Lewes New School.
The Call to Brilliance: A True Story to Inspire Parents and Educators by Resa Steindel Brown, published by Fredric Press.
First published in issue 14 of JUNO. Accurate at the time this issue went to print.