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January 07, 2003

From Daryl Cobranchi comes news of Karate classes for homeschoolers. Interesting. Entrepreneurs advertising their wares direct to homeschoolers. Sports activities are an obvious niche market here. Homeschoolers tend to be rather intellectual types, not given to instructing children in the delights of violent physical activity, or so I guess. So, send them to some classes. Have them join a local sports team.

There's recently been a row buzzing along in the USA about whether homeschooled children should be entitled to participate in school sports teams. I can't for the life of me see why they should have any such "right", but the USA being the litigation-mad place that it is, it apparently suits some people to claim such a right. However, what homeschooled children clearly should be allowed to do is apply for membership of sports teams/clubs/classes that are happy to welcome them. Classes like these Karate lessons.

At one of the places where I was helping out my friend who ran the Kumon maths centre, there were sometimes Karate classes going on in the room next door. Some kind of "martial art", anyway. The guy in charge was as excellent a teacher as I've ever caught a glimpse of in action.

First, he was in charge and he did things his way, without serious challenge. Polite request when confused, yes, often. Challenge never. This was because, at any moment, he could decide that any particular misbehaving child was more trouble than the money his parents were parting with, and exclude him. Or her, because there were quite a few girls taking part. End of all "discipline problems" right there. Everyone present behaved impeccably. Any newcomer who thought he could make mischief never stood a chance.

What struck me, so to speak, about these "martial arts" classes was that although the children present may have supposed that all there were learning was how to be more violent, what they were really learning was no less than civilisation itself.

The children were all told to get changed into their Karate kit in an orderly fashion, and to put their regular clothes in sensible little heaps. They all lined up the way he said. They all turned up on time. They left the place impeccably clean when they'd finished, all helping to make sure that all was ship-shape and properly closed-up when they left.

Were these children being "coerced"? Certainly not. They didn't have to be there, any more than The Man had to teach them Karate if he didn't want to. If they wanted out, then out they could go, with no blots on their copybooks or markings-down on their CVs.

What I remember with the most pleasure about those Karate kids were the splendid ceremonial greetings that The Man taught them, of the kind they did before and after all their Karate contests. Hands together Indian-style (or small Christian child praying) combined with a Japanese style bow. Whenever I met any of them, they and I would take great pleasure in thus greeting one another.

As I say, these children may have thought that all they were learning was how to be more violent. What they were really learning was how to control their own violence, how to apply it only when that was appropriate, and in an appropriate way. And more fundamentally, they were learning how true authority is exercised for the time being by someone whose authority they recognised applying it to them, but in the future, you may be sure, by their older selves, when their turn comes to hand the torch of civilisation on to the next generation.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:30 PM
Category: Home education

Homeschooled children have plenty of time and opportunity for physical activity- they don't have to join a class or team to do so. Those I am familiar with meet, either planned or spontaneously, for general playing around, smacking around a ball with a bat, shooting hoops, hitting the ole tennis ball, walks/hikes/biking/skating, off to a climbing gym, you name it. In the US, there are usually community programs that sponser various sorts of teams, if they do want to play on a team sport.

Big population centers will no doubt spawn specific homeschooler-oriented classes. Those of us in the hinterlands make do on our own, as usual.

As for the right for a child to be involved with a class or group activity with the local government school, my first thought is for all those school taxes we pay- why shouldn't we have the option to attend a class here or there? Or does our unwillingness to buy into the system disqualify our right?

The issue as to whether or not those children in the paid-for karate class are in a state of coercion or not- I would suspect that there are at least some who are. In any class, I'm guessing there is at least one who didn't want to take the class but mummy or daddy think the child should, so there they are. And they have learned that their best chance of surviving is to do as they are told. The appearance of obedience certainly does not preclude coercion! It raises warning bells, for me, and I suspect coercion is present.

And, finally, the violence part of the martial arts. Ime, the teachers always stress that the best way to handle a conflict is to walk away, try to avoid it, and only use force when necessary. I've never seen a glorification of violence, in a child's martial arts class. If a child goes into such a class thinking they are going to be learning how to be more violent, they are soon disabused of that notion.

best wishes for a happy and prosperous new year!

Comment by: lars on January 7, 2003 04:27 PM

Well, I don't know about the intellectual vs. violent part. I take karate at the same school as my kids. My son and I have a wonderful time sneaking up on each other and "attacking". It's a bit like the old Pink Panther movies with Cato attacking Inspector Clouseau. I'm usually in the role perfected by Peter Sellers.

Comment by: Daryl Cobranchi on January 7, 2003 06:58 PM
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