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.