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!