Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Homeschool Diary: Democracy and the Rule of Law


Background image public domain from http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/magna-carta-1215

There's a section in the registration document for homeschooling in Victoria that states that we agree that our children:

"will receive regular and efficient instruction ...[in]... the principles and practice of Australian democracy, including a commitment to:
  • elected government
  • the rule of law
  • equal rights for all before the law"
Which sounds worthy, important ... and to be honest, a little dull. The thing is, I think this stuff is awesome, amazing and full of all the drama, deaths and explosions you would expect from a Hollywood blockbuster. 


It all started when after listening to my laments to my DH one evening on one of the many tragedies that fill the front page of most newspapers on a daily basis that C declared,

"Why can't we go and kill all the bad people? That would make them stop."

This was when this history-obsessed mummy leaped in and asked,

"But how do you decide who are the bad guys?", which C took a while to think and talk about and we drifted into asking different questions . . .

"What about their families? What happens to them? Wouldn't that make you the bad guy to them? What if they wanted to 'get rid' of you because now you look like a bad guy?"

So he decided you would need someone who can stop everyone killing each other, 'like a king!'. They could decide who was the 'bad guy'. But what happened if the only person who could decide who were the good or the bad guys was the king? What if he had a whole country - or even more than one country to make decisions about - wouldn't that be a lot of work? Because there's an awful lot of ways out there for people to argue, and if there's only one guy in a whole country who can decide on who are the bad guys, he's going to take an awfully long time to get it all done.

This naturally lead on to  discussion of Henry II of England. And so we talked through, read and watched a few documentaries on the role Henry II had in the reform of the then-judicial system - by appointing judges who could decide on the kings behalf - with rule books. Now there were a few people who could help people decide who were the 'bad guys' ...

...but what if the 'bad guy' is the king?

Which of course lead to King John and the establishment of Magna Carta. Now, this being my boy, we didn't just talk about it, read summaries about its contents and watch documentaries - he insisted we find a copy of it to read together. It has been an ongoing project to read the clauses of the Magna Carta (which is available on Project Gutenburg) and then talk about what each of them mean. I think we're (so far) up to number 30. (The fact that there's actually one of the 4 remaining copies of the original document in Canberra at Parliament House generated an awful lot of excitement in our house.)

But this talk of kings and bad guys and history naturally lead to the idea of 'what does it mean to stop a king being bad'? Which is how we stumbled upon the origins of the parliamentary system. 

"But what happens if the king breaks the rules?" Asked a very worried C - he doesn't like breaking rules. 
"Well, sometimes they get away with it, and sometimes - they get their head cut off."
C's eyes lit up, "They get their head cut off?" he asked.
"Oh yes, it happened to King Charles I"
Nothing then would do but to learn about the English Civil War, and why the king got his head off. We watched Simon Schama's documentary on it together - and every few minutes C would turn to me and ask,
"So is the king going to get his head cut off now?"
"Not yet", I said, "It's going to get a lot worse yet."
"It is?"
"Oh yes."

And so we watched and talked our way through the history of the English Civil War, "How can people fight each other and still be friends?" were some of the questions that came up. . .
. . . to which I still don't have an answer.

"But what happens now the king has his head chopped off? Is there going to be a new King?"
asked a slightly confused C (the English Civil War will do that to you).
"Well, no . . . and yes."

And so we learned all about Oliver Cromwell, his military take-over of parliament, and the (eventual) establishment of a parliamentary system with elected representatives - with Oliver Cromwell as the 'chairman of the board'.  (C was quite horrified to learn that Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas). 

. . . And onward, through to the restoration of the monarchy with Charles I's son, Charles II. (Don't you just love the original names?)

Now, finally, his curiosity seems to have paused on the parliamentary system. Though when it starts again, I shall have no problem showing him the Blackadder III Episode on the parliamentary system,  'Dish and Dishonesty'! 

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