Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Active and reactive home educators

Over the last few days I have more than once heard the expression "The home educating community" being used in an apparently serious way. This strikes me as pretty bizarre; I would offhand be hard pressed to come up with a more disparate and eclectic collection of individuals than "The home educating community". In fact anything less like a community is hard to imagine! This set me thinking about what characteristics home educating parents might have in common and what might set one lot apart from another.

The first main division must surely be between those who have chosen home education because it is something they greatly wish to do and those who have, in a sense, been forced into it. The first category includes many famous home educators such as Harry Lawrence, father of Ruth Lawrence the child prodigy. Many "Hot-housing " parents are in this group of home educators and these often tend to be men; most home educating parents being mothers, of course. People like this, who actively choose to educate their own children, typically do not send their children to school at all. It is impossible to say how large this category is. Certainly, among families known to local authorities, they are pretty rare. We might perhaps call such parents "active" home educators, in order to distinguish them from the second "reactive" type of home educator, whom we shall now consider.

This second group of home educated parents are those who send their children to school and then change their minds and de-register them. Almost all the parents in the online communities seem to be like this. It is quite rare to hear of children on the home educating lists and message boards who have never attended school. Why do parents withdraw their children from school? There seem to be two main reasons; bullying and special educational needs which are not being catered for. There are also a smaller number of parents who withdraw their children from school for reasons wholly unconnected with education; for instance to avoid prosecution for truancy.
I can't help wondering if it will make a difference to a parent's attitude to home education if she feels that she has no choice in the matter. Many parents actually say this about de-registering their children, that they "had no choice". On the one hand there is, I suppose, the possibility that parents might at the back of their minds feel a little resentful about being placed in such a position, especially if it is not something which they have considered before. On the other, they may well approach the whole enterprise with a good deal more passion than somebody who has chosen home education in a cool and rational way, making the decision in cold blood as it were. After all, where our children are concerned we are all prepared to make any sort of sacrifice. Perhaps if one takes up home education as a way of rescuing or protecting one's child, then the business will be in a sense more serious, perhaps a matter of life and death. The one who decides ahead of time that there will be no school cannot perhaps fully appreciate the emotions generated in the hearts of those who feel that educating their children is a mission undertaken to save the most precious person in their lives from possible harm or neglect. it is an interesting point.

I have to say that I have, in the parents I have encountered who did not send their children to school in the first place, seen a more relaxed and laid back attitude. Also more humour and a slightly less serious approach generally. They are more ready to laugh at home education and joke about it. It is perhaps not to be wondered if those who have taken on this job because their child was suffering or in danger should not be so apt to see the funny side of things. The first group of home educators, the active ones, are acting from the mind; the second, from the heart. This might well account for the fact that almost all the angry and abusive comments on this Blog come from the "reactive" home educators, who might feel more passionately about the subject. Those like Fiona Nicholson, who belong to the "active" home educators, disagree just as violently with me, but tend to do so in a somewhat more good natured manner. I am curious to know what others think about this hypothesis, which is essentially just musing out loud.


  1. I think that it's good that you're curious about what other people think about your musings.

    But here's what I think about the hypothesis in your post: it smacks of prejudice and the use of slightly desperate, baseless assumptions as well as perhaps a tendency towards forming cliques, or at least feeling more comfortable when in them, so that you can clearly assert who is 'us' and who is 'them'.

    In fact, I think the situation is far from being so clear cut. How many home education meetings or groups have you attended? The ones I attend contain a happy and indiscernible mix of people who have and haven't used school. I know people who partly schooled their older children but have home educated their younger ones from scratch. Which of your two camps would you place them in?

    I also know parents who have used schools and are 'laid back and amused' as well as parents who never have and are extremely and seriously passionate about the issue. There are those who never schooled until their child asked to go and now have some in and some out. Perhaps more to the point, I know people whose mood and attitude depends on variable surrounding circumstances, what they've just read, how much sleep they happen to have had, and whether they're worried about other things.

    Life, and people are messy. They can't be separated into neat and tidy boxes, can they? That way, arrogance and factionalism lies. I am curious to know whether you are cautious about falling into those kinds of traps.

    You do keep a fascinating blog, though.

  2. Can't spend much time pondering this at the mo....actually need to go and do some education....but your point about the reactive home edders may be true, but can you really be surprised.?..those who have removed their children from school are more likely to have had bad experiences, more conflict with authorities already, more fear about their children futures and so on....more likely to be unhappy about the review...!

  3. Anonymous, yes I am very aware of the danger of falling into the trap of putting people into boxes. I was just wondering out loud why some people seems to react very fiercely when they disagree with me, while othrs are more phlegmatic. Of cours these are not hard and fast categories. I could name at least two people who have never sent their kids to school who are as passionate as anybody else. Similarly, there are those who have taken their children out due to bullying who seem to be amused and laid back about the whoel home education thing. I was really just thinking about the matter and sketching out some possible explanations.

  4. Well, I've reacted to you on several posts - sometimes fiercely and sometimes phlegmatically! It has varied according to what you've written, how I've read it and what mood I've been in. I sympathise with your desire for simple explanations, but I don't think any real ones exist.

    You do seem to - dare I say? - enjoy winding people up, though. Or trying to. Please tell me if I'm mistaken about that.

  5. I think it is less that I enjoy winding people up and more that I go in for plain speaking. To be fair to myself, most of what I say is on this Blog. When one is writing a Blog, I think it OK to be a little blunter than one might be elswhere. It's a bit like a diary, although accessible to the public. Obviously, if I am being too outrageous, then people will simply not come here. In short, if I were to post some of what I say here on other people's Blogs, then yes, that would be a provocation. But since it is my Blog, I feel I can say pretty much what I please. I have visited Blogs on home education which I find absolutely mad, but I tend not to comment on them. After all, if that's what people think, they have a perfect right to their opinions. I don't think that are trying to wind me up though. If I don't like their views, I just leave.

  6. Fair enough. It's probably your 'plain speaking' that keeps people coming back here. We wonder what on earth you're going to come out with next.

    I think (phlegmatically!) the thing that amuses me the most is your belief that you speak for the silent majority and the rest of us are crackpots and oddballs. That's just hilarious! But, you know, whatever enables you to sleep at night..

  7. What I actually think, and have said on a number of occasions, is that nobody has the least idea what 99% of home educators think and feel. My guess is as good as anybody elses! What I have objected to is others claiming that they know what the majority of home educators think on some issue or other. That is utterly absurd. As for criticising others for being crackpots and oddballs, well that would be pretty rich coming from such a famous crank as me. Nobody who knows me has ever been left in any doubt at all that I am a very strange person. That does not mean that I am not right a lot of the time though.

  8. Maybe the ongoing consultation will tell us more about the 99%? Over 2000 responses so far and 4 days to go. Respond here if you want to:

  9. Is there a homogeneous community of home educators? No. That's like asking if there's a homogeneous community of Christians. LOL! The HE community is jam-packed full of individuals ploughing their own unique furrows through life.

    But within the groups of HE'ers who choose to meet together regularly, there is often a very strong sense of community. One group I was a part of (30-40 families) had autonomous HE'ers, semi-structured ones and even a few American service personel who did 'school in a box' at home. We used to meet up for social/sports and other educational activities.

    If 'community' can be defined by how well we got on or how we laughed at the same jokes or how we pooled resources or looked after each other's children or cooked meals for someone when they were sick or having a baby, then that's what we were.

    Some were Christian, some had various other religions and some had none. Some were men, some women. Some had chosen HE before their children were born. Some had rescued their children from bad school experiences. The ONLY thing we had in common was our desire to educate our children outside the UK state school system. But that was enough to hold us together.

    Of course there is an HE community. Those of us who have been part of these groups see it regularly. Are all HE'ers hooked up to such a group? No. Some don't like being part of communities. I've known some families perfectly content within their faith community for eg or extended family with no need to be part of the local HE community. That's fine though. Sometimes they'd make initial contact for information and then carry on not needing anything more.

    I don't believe that there is a distinction between 'the mind' and 'the heart' as you put it. I think we are all integrated human beings who act out of both aspects of ourselves.

    BUT, I don't see much evidence of this sense of community ONLINE. I see a lot of nastiness, one-upmanship, vengeful, haughty, spiteful, devisive behaviour online. THAT I can't figure out. Something to do with medium, perhaps?

    Mrs Anon

  10. I recognise your description of 'real life' groups and I've had similar experiences. Not many people just use AE or just structure, some do yes, but most use both and they all seem to get on whatever approach they take. I also dislike the aspects of the online 'community' you describe, but disagree that genuine online communities do not exist. I have also seen real communities develop with support and help offered online in various places. Maybe you need to look further afield?

  11. I think you are maybe a bit out of date Simon.

    The majority of the HEors I know who started around the time I did (incidently I'm a non-hot-housing male HEor so I'm not sure where I fit in your grand plan) are "active" in your sense having never sent their kids to school. It's maybe 60:40 that way but the even newer HEors are even more weighted to "active". That is reflected in the online HE community, the lists and noticeboards and I'm bemused that you seem to have missed it though it ties in with your extra strong confirmation bias.

    The interesting thing for me is that these younger "active" HEors are very different from those of the past. They are automonous to a varying but usually significant extent and almost devoid of hot-housers and it's precisely because they made the active decision to HE from day 1 that they are, in total contradiction to the picture you have, very passionate about protecting the rights of their child.

    I've not come across a hot-houser yet who at any point considered their child's rights before their own agenda/egotrip.

    I do find the suggestion that you "put the knife in" quite amusing though as the view I got was that you had walked into battle (with the other HEors not Badman or the government, of course) armed with a leaf of wet lettuce and a broken compass. Your 15 minutes of fame as HEor's bogey-man ending with less than a whimper.

    However on the upside, your Dick Dastardly moment when you enthusiastically explained in detail how you could have 'done in' your daughter and got away with it showed great comic timing that is sadly wasted I fear.

  12. Mmmm, I do belong to one online group which is not vicious. I've looked far and wide in the last 10 years or so since I've had the internet and found very few genuinely supportive online communities where difference is celebrated and everyone is supported no matter what approach they take.

    It's okay though, not everyone's experiences are going to be identical.

    Mrs Anon

  13. DFM said "Your 15 minutes of fame as HEor's bogey-man ending with less than a whimper."

    Hmm, DFM, not sure I agree with that. I may not support Simon's views (see my longer post above on what Simon actually said about the rights of the state etc) but I have to say that sadly, I do think Simon had more impact because compared to the "anti-Badman" camp he kept what he had to say brief and to the point. (Although I do hope that Simon isn't planning a long career as HE's bogeyman!)

    And... I suspect that nothing which was said on either side that session will make a jot of difference to the final outcome!

  14. Well DFM, I am glad that you find it amusing that children can go missing when their families move from on local authority area to another. Some people are concerned about this. You may find it comic, but the fact is that when I moved out of Haringey, where my daughter had no official existence, I could easily have murdered her and simply moved to essex without her. Nobody would have missed her.
    As for my fifteen minutes of fame, we I didn't really think of it like that. I tried to keep my comments to a bare minimum because I realised that the other witnesses had trouble in succinctly stating their points of view. it seemed courteous to speak less, so that they had more time.

  15. Tell me, Mrs. Anon, this is in relation to a post I made this morning. You say that you belonged to a very diverse group of home educators of different religions and so on. Were they all white? I have been thinking about this since the select committee and would be glad to hear of any African, Caribbean, Chinese or Indian families that people know of.

  16. No, Simon. They were not all white. Predominantly though, as the group was in the London suburbs. We had two Pakistani families (recently moved here), one black American family, one from Trinidad, one Iranian, one family with adopted children from China etc. It was a very fluid group, that one, with many people moving in from other countries (mainly, but not always, English speaking ones though) and moving out again. Despite the cosmopolitan nature of the group it had an identity and provided its members with community.

    Successful groups like this depend very much on the willingness of members to overlook differences in religion/ HE 'philosophy' etc and not allow those issues to become the chief identifier of a person. Once the tone of a group/community has been established by its founding members, the people who move into it tend to accept the characteristics of the group and continue with them.

    Later, although we were part of other, equally successful groups, they were not as diverse in terms of ethnic origin, but I suspect that was because of where they were located. Even those have families from the Middle East, Nigeria and Ghana though.

    Mrs Anon

  17. You know well that isn't what I found amusing.

    It was exactly because this is a serious issue that I found your cartoonish performance inappropriate if distinctively mirth-making.

    I cannot quite make my mind up whether your obvious misinterpretations of so many comments are deliberate attempts to rile others or simply demonstrate a severe weakness in that regard.

  18. Well of course, if you compare somebody to Dick Dastardly and say that somebody marched into battle with a lettuce leaf and a broken compass, you are hardly in a strong position to accuse others of deliberately setting out to rile people.

  19. Au contraire.

    If you well aware of how to say things to rile people then it makes it easier to identify when others are doing it, however ineptly.

  20. You do yourself an injustice, DFM. I would not have said that your attempts to rile people were in the least inept.

  21. Thank you Simon, it's good to have discerning fans but I'll make do with your kind words for now.