Saturday, 12 September 2009
The Autonomous Mafia - the tail that wags the dog
Whenever anybody is quoted in the newspapers as criticising or even questioning the efficacy of home education, you may be sure that the comments section of online editions and the letters page in the traditional edition will be filled with denunciations of the ignorance/malice/vested interests/ stupidity/cupidity/ sinister motives of whoever has expressed the opinion. Wow, it surely look as though public opinion is solidly in favour of home education. Vox populi, vox Dei! Welcome to the startlingly well organised agitprop section of the autonomous home educators
Those who, like the present writer, hang out on the message boards of EO and HE-UK will of course be well aware that there are perhaps only two or three dozen regulars, those who contribute day after day. If we assume that there are fifty or sixty thousand home educated children in this country, then there might be somewhere in the region of eighty thousand parents. Those stalwarts of the HE lists thus represent fewer than 0.05 % of home educators. Taking a closer look at those who swamp the comments sections when articles on home education appear in the media reveals a most curious thing; they are largely those same people who are such indefatigable contributors to the message boards. (When these people find time actually to educate their children is a mystery to me! They post at two or three in the morning and then again at five AM. Some of them are online all day long as well.)
The same hard core are also the ones who organise petitions, lobby MPs, and generally behave as though they are a mass movement rather than a small group of dedicated activists. Another of their important roles is to patrol the message boards and put in their place anybody who doubts that the Badman Report is all bad, that local authority officers are agents of the Prince of Darkness or that autonomous education might not be the best way of doing things. I have had many emails offlist from people on these message boards who like to keep in touch with home education by belonging to this online community, but who do not post because of the responses that they have had in the past. Many of them agree with things that I have said on the lists, but do not wish to say so publicly for fear of the reaction. For example, more than one person has told me that they would not dare reveal on the HE-UK message board that they are actually teaching their children to read. This is, to say the least of it, a strange state of affairs to find in a support group for those who are educating their children!
I am not of course an entirely impartial observer of these shenanigans. When I had a couple of articles published on the subject a few weeks ago, the response from the autonomous activists was swift and ruthless. It demonstrates clearly how these characters operate. Here is somebody cross posting on EO and HE-UK , urging others to help skew the comments section of the TES against the Badman report;
" What about lots of comments that support Jeremy but ignore Simon.And don't forget to vote in the poll."
After a few people had expressed qualified support for my views, the same person posted again on the lists;
"Couple of less supportive comments on there now, even a nothing to fearnothing to hide one! Anyone got the energy to slam em."
"Slam em'". Nice, eh? One would, by the way, hardly guess that she was married to a professor. This same process happens every time a newspaper publishes anything on home education. It is often combined with smears and innuendo against those who are less than whole heartedly in favour of home education, particularly the autonomous variety. Graham Badman himself has been the subject of death threats and while nothing as unpleasant has happened to me, I have certainly had many lies told about me in an attempt to discredit my views. For example the same person who posted the above comments also tried to start a rumour that I was actually a home education inspector!;
The mad idea that I am a friend or colleague of Graham Badman is still doing the rounds in cyberspace; a ludicrous fabrication which was first cooked up on the HE-UK list and then deliberately peddled as fact to newspaper editors. Of course I am not alone in this. When Professor Alan Smithers, a liberal and humane educationalist from Buckingham University, expressed reservations in the press about autonomous home education, he received emails branding him a fascist!
In fairness to these individuals , I believe that they honestly see themselves as the vanguard of the home educating movement, providing a voice for those too idle or inarticulate to speak out for themselves. That is certainly one way of looking at it. The other possibility is that they are a handful of strident and media savvy fanatics who are determined to impose their view upon others by any means at their disposal. For now at least the jury is still out on the question of precisely whose views and opinions the likes of firebird2110, bornjoyful and Maire52 are actually representing other than their own.