Friday, 16 October 2009

The ethnic diversity of home educators

Working as I do in Inner London, I am used to seeing very mixed and diverse groups, whether in hospitals and schools, shops and markets, local authority offices, tube stations and practically everywhere else. I was therefore mildly surprised to see that the home educators lobbying parliament were almost exclusively white. I say almost exclusively, but for all I know to the contrary there were no black or Asian people present at all, because I certainly saw no visible minorities in the photographs and news coverage of the event. I noticed precisely the same thing at the select committee hearings; everybody connected with home education, in whatever capacity, seems to be white.

I found this a little odd. As I say, in most London boroughs, this would be an unusual circumstance. There are always some black and Asian people around, a few Chinese maybe, the odd orthodox Jew, in any activity. I cannot avoid wondering why this should have been. After all, we are talking about a rally in central London. It is not as though it were held in some out of the way place in the west Country. I am particularly surprised, because many people emphasise the diverse nature of the "Home Educating Community". It is quite true that there are Muslim home educators, I know because I meet them fairly regularly. I also know one or two Hassidim in the same position. I don't know of any Africans or Caribbeans though, or for that matter any Chinese. I also cannot help but notice that most of those who came to the select committee seemed to be well spoken, articulate and mainly middle class. No representatives from the lumpenproletariat. Yet again, I know that such home educators exist, because I visit their homes.

I suppose that since 95% of the population are white, it should not be so surprising if a randomly chosen group of individuals did not contain any visible minorities. It is probably, as I say, because I am used to East London and so it struck me more. I wonder if anybody knows any African or Caribbean home educators? Or Chinese or Hindu? As I say, I know a few Jews and Muslims, but that is all.

The other thing about both the mass lobby and the select committee was that the overwhelming impression was of liberal, left leaning, middle class people. The photographs of the mass lobby are full of families that look like my friends; same clothes, same hairstyles, same facial expressions. Not that my friends are generally home educators, but they have the same look about them. I spoke to some delightful young people at the select committee hearing. They were from some organisation called, I think, HEYS. they were scrupulously polite and very confident, articulate and well spoken. Actually, they were just like my daughter! Clearly, home education does something for such young people; they were like no teenagers that you would meet anywhere else. One thing that puzzles me. Why do so many home educated teenage boys have long hair? Surely it is no longer a sign of rebellion and nonconformity? I mean I had hair down to my shoulders myself in the late sixties, but it is rare enough these days to make such youths stand out.

I suppose that all this tends to confirm my tentative hypothesis that home education is very much a white, middle class phenomenon. As I said above, I do know working class and Asian Muslim home educators, but they do not seem to be involved with organisations at all. Or could it be that there are thousands of such home educators who simply do not take part in online communities or join Education Otherwise and the other support groups? I have no objection on principle to belonging to an exclusively middle class and predominantly white movement, you understand. I am just trying to fathom out what it is about home education that should make it such an attractive prospect to this particular section of society.


  1. Mam'Goudig writes:

    There are two fairly obvious reasons why many people would *not* have travelled to London to attend the "Mass Lobby". Many people just cannot afford to go to London. Others are perhaps working part-time, or just have other things to do.

    I know that during the last few weeks, I've been enjoying the great outdoors, and generally enjoying the benefits of HE. There are many, many people, including me, who just don't use the HE lists and other online groups much (if at all) because there just isn't time. In my case, a quick glance at the subject lines is generally enough to tell me whether I need to read further.

    Regarding this theory that HE appeals to many middle class people, it could be that some middle class people have opted for HE instead of private schooling (the fees are apparently increasingly expensive, dahling ;>). This might explain the number of Home Educators also sending their children to organised classes and activities. For those lacking in humour, please note that these are just the musings of a home educating parent.

  2. Interesting point indeed. I might not have entrusted my little darling to the local school in Tottenham, but if I had plenty of money, would I have sent her to an expensive independent school? I'm honestly not sure of the answer to that one. It would certainly explain a bias towards middle class profesional types being over represented among home educators. It is also a good point that only those belonging to online communities would be aware of the mass lobby of parliament. How terrible though, if after devoting all those years of my life to the whole HE thing, it turned out that I was really just following some cranky, middle class fad like Feng Shui or Pliates! A sobering thought...

  3. 95% of the UK pop. is white? I dodn't know that. In that case, I'd say that the groups we've belonged to have been just about representative in terms of diversity. More so, the nearer we lived to London. I'm very surprised that the HE groups you attended with your daughter did not reflect that diversity, Simon.

    So, is the question you are exploring about class or ethnicity?

    In my experience, the poorer the family the less likely they are to be able to afford to have one parent at home full or part time and able to HE. It's been a HUGE financial sacrifice for us, as I imagine it was for you. We just manage to scrape by, but we are lucky in that my husband earns enough to enable us to do that.

    But I think you haven't yet recognised the danger of extrapolating from personal experience, Simon. Just because you haven't seen diversity in HE groups doesn't mean that you can construct a feng shui theory about it! LOL!

    In my experience there is a higher proportion of Pagans in the HE groups I've been part of than in the gen pop. BUT I'm not about to propose a theory about it, any more than I can about the incidence of orange trousers in HE groups. (Which I've also noticed.{g}) It may not be a nationwide phenomenon!

    I've noticed the long hair thing too among libertarian families. Not sure why that is. Perhaps you should have asked them?

    Mrs Anon

  4. I wasn't really extrapolating from personal experience. It was just over those two days in London and I was interested. I have not given this much thought before. It was only when some people started saying that I should not be called as a witness because I am white, that drew my attention to it. Why didn't I as some teenagers why they had such long hair? Get real! I can remember being a teenager myself and nothingwas more annoying than some middle aged fool asking why i didn't have a proper haircut. i wouldn't inflict that on a teenager. Some of our friends also have teenage sons with hair down to their shoulders. they often seem to be the skateboarding type. I am not sure if this is a bit of tribe, like the Goths. You are right about the financial constraints acting on home education and I am sure that this does skew the practice towards those who are slightly better off and in the professional class. I am not making any assumptions, more thinking out loud.

  5. Hmm... our home ed group is currently completely white, most British (one Russian family, a few with South African origins). That though is pretty representative of the area; there are a couple of mosques in the Portsmouth area but even in schools, the Muslims are in a minority so if you then take the fact that home education is still a minority choice, I am not surprised there are no Muslims homeeducating in the area.
    Pagans - yes, I am sure they are "over represented" in home ed groups compared with their number in the overall population.... but then again, perhaps there are lots at the school gate but it never comes up in normal conversation - these things are more openly discussed perhaps where families spend a longer time with each other than a few minutes at the end of a school day... so perhaps I am wrong.

  6. This has to do particularly with the black community. There has been a struggle in the black community for equality in public (and private, although not the topic here) institutions. Since they fought to be an equal part of public education it is unlikely they will so easily want to slip back out and take an alternative route to education that is perceived to be a white middle class idea. Also statistics show that black families are more likely to be headed by a single parent who is female and non university educated, which would make it more difficult to home educate. Also there is a huge cultural difference in how school is perceived. People from Africa and the Caribbean are coming from third world countries where those who go to school have the best chance at life. That perception does not change once they move to the UK. It would actually only intensify because not only do they now have access to a school but also in a wealthy country. Also there is a vast amount of pressure in these communities to stick to cultural trends and do what everyone else does. It is deeply frowned upon to go against the grain. And those who do home educate probably find it difficult to be the only black family in the group. This has been from my own experiences and observations.