Thursday, 17 September 2009
Everybody goes to school
There is one thing that practically every grown person in this country has in common. Young or old, rich or poor, black or white, male or female; everybody has attended school. Well, almost everybody. Everybody except the tiny handful of misfits and cranks who have been home educated. It is sometimes difficult for those intimately involved with some hobby, pastime or lifestyle, to appreciate just how strange it looks to outsiders. You have only to listen to a Scientologist or Moonie explaining his belief system and watch the expressions on the faces of the uninitiated as they listen. That's exactly the same look that you will see on people's faces when you talk to them about home education. I mean why wouldn't anybody send their kid to school? That is seriously weird!
Because so many of us spend a lot of our time talking, writing, reading and thinking about home education, we tend sometimes to forget how it looks to others. We take it for granted that everyone knows about the Badman Report or that people are aware that while education is compulsory, school is not. In fact, of course, the vast majority of people are still completely in the dark about all this. The Internet may have made information more freely available, but you still have to look for it.
The truth is, school is a given, probably the only given about which you can be certain when you meet a stranger. You may not know where she was born, who she votes for or how much she earns, but you definitely know that she went to school! In this respect, the adult who has never attended school is bound to be something of an oddity. It cannot help but mark one out in a thousand different ways, not all of them immediately apparent.
When my daughter started college last week, she came home a little bemused on the first day. Some of the children who had started were enchanted by a fantastically novel experience, something that they found really peculiar about college; they could visit the lavatory whenever they wished without first seeking permission! My daughter was utterly baffled by this. She also could not understand why a lot of the students persisted in calling the lecturers "Sir" and "Miss" , rather than using their Christian names. She has never called anybody "Sir" in the whole course of her life. These are two small examples of the shared cultural background that all adults in this country share, but from which home educated children are excluded. This lack of a common background cannot help but mark the home educated person out as being different from others, even a bit of an oddball. This might not necessarily be a good thing.
I still have a lot of doubts about home education, even as to whether it is the best way of raising children. Educationally, it is of course an amazingly efficient way of working. Unlimited one to one tuition, unrivalled opportunity for field trips and lectures in any subject you like, no distractions by a lot of idiots who don't want to learn. From that point of view, it is unbeatable. I am not at all sure though whether it is the best way for a child to grow and develop socially. I am also a little concerned at how home educated children may, as they get older, diverge more and more from the common social values which link all members of society together.
On a wider level, I cannot quite make up my mind whether home education is a marvellous, fast growing movement which represents in some sense the future of individualised learning, or if it is just another of those crackpot ideas like water births and macrobiotic diets over which the middle classes periodically go mad. Only time will tell.