Monday, 5 May 2014

A Self-Determined Education: Who's Teaching?

Besides reading from books and watching documentaries at home for his military history study, Tiger and I have been out and about a fair bit, looking for a more hands-on experience, if that's possible.  We came across The Muckleburgh Military Collection one day, and decided to go in and take a look.

It is certainly one of those places that, had it not been for Tiger's massive interest in this subject, I would never have stepped into.  For a private collection, the number, range and types of military vehicles in it are very impressive.

The many historical artefacts are exceptionally wide-ranging and extensive.

The Anderson Shelter and signbaords from WW2.

Different countries' gas masks in WW2 and a photograph of nurses and babies in gas masks.

I saw many artefacts that I have not seen anywhere else.

For example:
  1. Post WW1 souviner from Belgium and France.
  2. Knives used by the Hitler Youth and the SS.
  3. WW1 flare guns and pistols.
  4. Modern guns.

The collection doesn't look very big from outside, so we were thoroughly surprised to find the exhibition halls packed with actual military weaponry and vehicles.

Even though the exhibits were displayed by category rather than by time period, the sign boards were very clearly written so I learnt a lot just by reading through each board, while Tiger raced ahead because he already knew all about the different artillery...

A 13-Pounder Field Gun, a mainstay of WW1.

Argentinian 155MM Field Gun, used in the Falkland War.

Then, in another gallery we were wowed by the number of artillery vehicles and tanks there.  For the life of me, I can't remember any of the names of those vehicles so I won't risk looking silly by giving them wrong labels, but there are many, many tanks!

Every now and then, I tried to test Tiger's knowledge by asking him what type of tank a certain one is, and which war it was used in (not that I knew the answers but I had the signboards for help).  What amazes me is that not only can Tiger correctly identify each tank, he can also tell me accurately their individual specifications such as:
  • the type of ammunition it used;
  • which war(s) it was used in;
  • the firing range and firing power;
  • which country designed or built it;
  • which country used it;
  • what its strengths and limitations were.

Here is an example of what Tiger told me:
  1. Photo 1: AMX 13 Light Tank.  Post WW2, French-made, can take different types of guns but mostly uses the 75mm, very popular in Africa.
  2. Photo 2: A41 Centurion.  Used at the end of WW2, powered by Rolls Royce engine, best tank at that time but slow at about 20mph and range of about 100 miles, British made, later also used in the Korean war, Vietnam war, and Yom Kippur war.
  3. Photo 3: Chieftain Tank.  British made, to replace the Centurion, used in the Iran-Iraq war, best in the world until the Leopard tank were used by the Germans in the 1980s.
  4. Photo 4: Panzer.  Swiss made but British-designed guns, used mostly in the 1960s and 1970s, secondary armament either a 20mm cannon or a 7.5mm machine gun.

To be honest, that freaked me out a little.  Nobody has asked Tiger to memorise anything.  Evidently, he has somehow remembered these facts from his volumninous reading of this topic and by paying attention to details such as the length of the guns that are mounted on each tank, the paint work that differentiated the tanks, the track designs, etc, whereas to me, every tank looked the same... (the difference between a Russian T-55 and a Patton tank, anyone?)

"The most important thing any teacher has to learn, not to be learned in any school of education I ever heard of, can be expressed in seven words: Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners."

I was further educated about the differences between a tank and an armoured vehicle...

Although we couldn't get into any of the vehicles, we did have a good nose around the interior whenever they were made available for looking into.

I have to admit that 90% of the time I really didn't know what I was looking at.  I have no idea what the buttons, controls, or gears are for, and Tiger had to explain to me what each does as we walked around the collection.

As if the collection so far wasn't impressive enough, there was even an anti-aircraft gallery!

At this point, I was starting to feel totally saturated by military weaponry but Tiger was absolutely in his element as he happily went around as my tour guide (we were there on a weekday so had the entire collection all to ourselves) and explaining what each machine does, almost as though he has been living in the collection all his life!

Anti-aircraft Search Light, used in WW2 during the blitz.

Rapier Missile, used by the British forces in 1970s, could reach 6800 metres.

I only intended for us to spend two hours at the Collection, but we spent an entire day there.  It is a treasure cave for Tiger, both inside the buildings and outside.  We were able to get really up close to the few displays outdoors.

  1. Photo 1: a 12-Pounder Naval Gun used on merchant ships in WW2.
  2. Photo 2: a German V-1 Flying Bomb used in WW2, with a pulse jet engine.
  3. Photos 3 and 4: checking out the Harrier jet that can go 735mph.

I often wonder whether our path might be "easier" if Tiger's passion were in something more conventional like science, maths, art or music, in the sense that:
  • I know how to guide him in those areas whereas I'm totally out of my league and comfort zone with military history;
  • I won't get so much stick from the PC crowd for allegedly encouraging and glorifying warfare; instead, I might even get lucky and be honoured for producing the next science/maths/art/music prodigy!
That doesn't seem to be the way for us, at least for the foreeseable future.

“The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil. It is not for you to choose what he shall know, what he shall do. It is chosen and foreordained and he only holds the key to his own secret.” 


  1. I find it so interesting that you, Lucinda and myself have all taken a different turn in our home school journey over the past year. I realise it looks different for each of us, but ultimately at the core of all three changes is a move towards a student led education rather than a parent led one.
    It's all rather exciting, isn't it?

    1. That's an astute observation, Claire, and so true! I think this is possibly how homeschooling would look like in the true form, i.e. that the educational path is truly individualised for each child. As you've pointed out, although each path is unique and looks different in the day-to-day applications, the over-arching philosophy of honouring the child's unique learning needs is the same. :-)

      I'm so glad that you've pointed out the similarity! It brings me much reassurance and comfort at a time when I'm starting to feel as though I'm becoming increasingly "weird" for supporting Tiger's rather unusual passion because nobody else seems to be so taken by military history. Thank you for that! :-)

  2. Hwee,

    I love seeing my kids involved with their passions whatever they are. They seem to soak up all the facts and figures with no effort at all. And it is evident they are enjoying themselves. I really enjoyed sharing yours and Tiger's day at the museum. You chose some wonderful quotes to accompany your post. In't it great to see the truth of these quotes in action?

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed our day out, Sue. :-) I was really glad to have come across those quotes as they give me assurance that wiser and greater people share the same educational philosophy as I do.

  3. I love so much about this post, Hwee - the beautiful quotes, your photos, the way you describe Tiger's passion for learning, and how you tirelessly support him. A whole day in a military museum - you deserve a medal! Although I imagine seeing one's child as happy and engrossed as Tiger was keeps one's energy flowing :-)

    I especially like what you say in your last paragraph where you wonder about the "easier" path. I have this in bucketloads with J(9) being so into computers. It is completely obvious to me how much he is learning from his passion. His ability to process vast amounts of information in moments is mind-boggling. His father, who is just the same, makes a great living in IT, and has a lucrative app-designing hobby on the side. But I rarely feel comfortable even talking about J(9)'s passion - let alone blogging about it - for fear of judgment!

    1. Thank you so much for this comment, Lucinda! I can totally relate to your situation with J(9)'s passion and your fear of judgment to mention it due to potential criticisms from some. I've been in the same situation many times. :-) Despite the difficulty in talking about it, I think it may be worthwhile to mention it at appropriate times, otherwise it will seem that we are slacking when we are actually constantly doing something related to his area of interest.

      My husband is also an IT man, so I know what you mean about the passion in IT seen in your husband and in J(9). I think J(9) is in a perfect place to nurture his passion because he has his dad right there as a guide and a role model. Nobody in our family is into military things and/or history, so I'll have to keep on looking and thinking for ways to take Tiger's interest to the next level, or at least to expand on it. Life with such children is never dull. :-)


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