Saturday, 3 October 2009

The conspiracy theorists of HE

One of the things that has struck me most when hanging out in the online communities of home educators is their willingness to embrace the most farfetched theories, rather than accept ordinary commonsense explanations for events. Several recent examples should give the reader a flavour of the world of home educators as encountered on the internet.

On both of the most popular lists for home educators, HE-UK and EO, there is something of an obsession with vaccinations. It goes without saying that many of the posters subscribe to the idea that the MMR jab causes autism, but there is also concern about any sort of vaccine, whether for measles, swine flu or human papilloma virus. This last has created a stir on the message boards lately when a girl already suffering from cancer died shortly after being vaccinated for HPV. A tragic coincidence? I don't think so. Coincidence does not exist in the world of the paranoid home educator. This is clearly part of a sinister, worldwide plot engineered by the pharmaceutical/military/industrial complex! The obvious explanation of why governments seek to vaccinate children, i.e. in order to protect them from disease and death, is far too simple for these characters.

Another marvellous instance of this galloping paranoia occurred when the DCSF reorganised their website recently. As so often happens in these cases, loads of links vanished temporarily in the process. One of the many links to vanish was the one to the 2007 guidelines on Elective Home Education Coincidence? Chance mishap? Ha, you gullible fool! How can you believe that? Don't you know that the select committee will be examining the recommendations made by the Badman Report over the next few weeks? What clearer evidence do you want? Another plot against the home educators. Messages were soon flying backwards and forwards through cyber space, speculating upon the apparent motives for removing the 2007 guidelines. A slightly bemused spokesperson for the DCSF later explained that it was just human error and that they would fix it as soon as possible.

Perhaps I might be permitted a personal anecdote here. A couple of months ago I wrote two articles for national newspapers which were received with great irritation by a number of home educating parents. Once again, the obvious explanation, that I am an eccentric home educating parent who disagrees with some other home educating parents about the best way to educate a child, was just a little too simple. Within days, some fool had unearthed the startling fact that somebody called Simon Webb used to work for Kent County Council at the same time that Graham Badman was there! What more do you want? Do you really think that this is pure coincidence? In next to no time, the conspiracy theory had taken off and this "fact" was being passed from one home educator to another, like this;

Graham Badman and Simon Webb connection
A little tweet told me: How Graham Badman and Simon Webb are connected

I am not sure whether this love of outlandish conspiracy theories is connected with the fact that home educators see themselves increasingly as a persecuted minority, or if it has more to do with the type of individual who spends too much time surfing the net. I hope fervently that the latter explanation is the correct one. After all, most parents who educate their own children are probably too busy teaching their kids history and geography to spend hours googling Simon Webb and Graham Badman to see what connections come up. I certainly hope that this is the case, because it would be pretty alarming to think that more than a tiny handful of cranks were behaving in this way.

Apropos of the lists, some of the posts in the last few days are absolutely disgusting. After the dreadful case of the babies being abused in a Plymouth nursery, some of these parents are practically gloating that this demonstrates that nurseries are not safe for children. Eat your heart out, Badman! Imagine making capital out of this terrible business and using it to score points. Yuk!


  1. I'm no great fan of conspiracy theories. I think they are attractive to some people because they seem to make sense of an often chaotic world. On a personal level, we vaccinate our children and I am painfully aware of the fact that large organisations are awash with human error.

    But on reading this post a little saying sprang to my mind - something about people in glass houses throwing stones. You seem to be obsessed with what is being talked about among a few hundred individuals on a couple of email lists. Perhaps you should bear in mind that most home educators aren't on national email lists. They find other things to do with their time. Maybe you should follow their example?

  2. Touche indeed, Allie! That arrow went straight to the gold.

  3. Simon - not sure if you are on Twitter but the conspiracy theories going back and fore between certain EHE'rs make very entertaining reading.

    On a more serious note - it is horrendous that people are gloating over the appalling abuse at the Devon nursery.

    Re: Allie's comment - I thank the Lord that she is right because if all EHE parents ranted and raved the way some do on Facebook / forums etc etc it would be a very sorry state of affairs.

  4. Perhaps you would like to name the people/lists accused of "gloating" over the Plymouth abuse as I have seen no evidence of this accusation, Simon.

  5. Look Simon - they just can't ignore you can they??


    about 9 hours ago from web @billysu I have no idea.It hought his name arose in the forums a while back but whether anyone contacted him I don't know.

    about 9 hours ago from web in reply to billysuIan Hislop - love him!

    about 10 hours ago from web Is there actually a Mrs Webb?? Or only from a split personality side?!

    about 10 hours ago from web Off to watch quest time.Never watched it b4 in my life till all this HE/Badman stuff arose!

    about 13 hours ago from web County councillor finally got in touch tonite Admitted she doesn't understand all the HE stuff but coming nxt week anyway.Only took 3 months

    about 13 hours ago from web If all EHE parents were like SW (and Mary)that WOULD be a very disturbing state of affairs, says ME.

    about 13 hours ago from web if all EHE parents ranted and raved the way some do on Facebook / forums etc etc it would be a very sorry state of affairs says Mary.

    about 13 hours ago from web I have not heard anyone "gloating" about the Plymouth abuse and it is a sick but not surprising accusation from this same person.

    about 13 hours ago from web Someone called Mary posted on SW blog that she found the conspiracy stories from "certain HEs" on twitter very entertaining.As sad as he is!
    about 13 hours ago from web

  6. Erm, can anyone enlighten us as to why you are interested in someone commenting that they love ian hislop? Are we missing an important point here?? blimey don't tell us your also him as well, Simon??

  7. wiseowls

    i think it is more to do that people are tweeting about simon and less to do with ian hislop. just a guess tho

  8. pendlewitch
    .anyone would think they didn't want us to hear what they have to say
    less than a minute ago from web @billysu no one can hear anything :(
    2 minutes ago from web in reply to billysucrappy technology of crappy *democracies*

    Feeding the Gremlins!

  9. I'd say Trolls rather than Gremlins! There appear to be a lot of Trolls around.

  10. OMG that's brilliant. Maybe 6 years too late but I'm going nuts with all the HE conspiracy theorists - and they wonder why some people think they are cranks. If any of the people on the forums found out I was a bona fide qualified and registered social worker they'd kick me out as they'd think I was a spy. It is totally bizarre, but so many HE, if given the choice between a rational theory and a ludicrous bag of beans, they'd go for the latter. It is a puzzle, and a worry. I do hope that these people are not home educating because they believe evil gnomes run the schools on behalf. I fear that a small minority actually do, which is why they are more likely to come to the attention of the authorities, which in turn fuels the paranoia. I got kicked off a forum for being disrespectul about someone's post. They posted a link to a nut-job's body of work which elaborated archeological evidence of aliens who occupied the earth 10,000 years ago. I simply said the author was a "crank" and was met with a barage of abuse. In one of my attempts to meet up with people whom educate, I got short shrift from a parent when I removed her toddler from the side of a bridge with a 10 metre drop. She continued to scowl when I held her child's hand when she tried running after some huge dogs we met. Guess I'm the nanny state personified. I sometimes wonder if, when some mother (who claims she is home educating her 18 month child???) expresses outrage because a health visitor came round and dared suggest she got treatment for her sick child instead of feeding it some crazy bew of goats testicles and acorns, on a forum, is ever met with anyone who tells her to get a grip. Generally the response is "Aurgh, so sorry to hear yor bein hassled babe. Message me if you wanna chat. I just polished the floor in the hall and put a rug on it befor the nosey cow came round. Don't get no bother now LOL". One of the other things that makes me laugh (and believe me I am not the grammer police and make plenty of spelling mistakes) is when someone complains about the education department writing to them saying they want to check the child is receiving an appropriate education, and they write a load of incomprehensible nonsense about all the "reeding and riting" they do. Cracks me up.... Phew, well that's off my chest. Thanks. Alice