A week ago I was injudicious enough to post a light hearted piece in which I suggested that at either end of the home education spectrum are groups of fanatics whose opinions are diametrically opposed to each other. I gave it as my view that Ed Balls and his cronies are at one end and autonomously educating parents at the other. I also mused that those like the present writer who remain resolutely in the middle of the road are apt to be run over. Ironically, but quite predictably, I was promptly knocked down by a bunch of autonomous educators who took exception to the thesis advanced, which was that they were by way of being extremists!
The fault is of course entirely mine, because I worded a couple of sentences somewhat elliptically and several readers jumped to the wrong conclusions about what I was saying. Referring to autonomous educators, I said that this group thought that children shouldn't be taught. I cannot really complain about readers being literal minded and failing to read between the lines; I am after all a world class pedant in my own right! What I actually meant to imply was, "This group believe that children shouldn't be taught (as a matter of routine and certainly not unless they actually want to be taught)." I did not for a moment suppose that autonomous educators would actually refuse to teach their children if the kids actually asked to be taught.
Mind you, I have to say that in my experience this is a rather rare occurrence. My own daughter has often asked me to take her to the theatre or buy her various magazines. I do not ever recollect her asking me to explain the failure of the Schlieffen Plan in August 1914 or to teach her about the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915. Perhaps she is a very weird and atypical teenager, but I was obliged to arrange this myself and set times when I would teach her that sort of thing. I have a suspicion that had it been left to her, she would not have come to me and asked to be taught about the six specific themes of World War I which she needed for the IGCSE History; I always had to take the initiative. Perhaps other readers have teenagers who are a little more enthusiastic about stuff like that and do actually ask to be taught about it.
To put the case for there being two groups of extremists involved in home educations, I will say this. The vast majority of people, both parents and teachers, believe that children should be taught regularly and that this teaching should take place according to some sort of plan. I myself believe this. I think most of us would agree that this is the commonly held view. Ed Balls and some of his friends go much further than this and believe that teaching can only take place in schools and that a child not at school is a child not being taught, or at least not being taught properly. I imagine that he has reached this conclusion by some exceedingly faulty induction. I guess that he has said to himself, "Teaching takes place in schools, home educated children are not at school; therefore, home educated children are not being taught." That muffled whirring noise which is faintly audible, is Wittgenstein spinning round like a Catherine wheel in his grave.......
In short, the folk at the DCSF are saying that children need teaching and that parents are not really capable of providing it and that the education of their children will suffer as a consequence.
Autonomous educators seem to be saying precisely the opposite. They seem to be saying, from all that I am able to apprehend, that children do not need to be taught, unless they particularly want to be and that they are in any case quite capable of learning without formal teaching or even any sort of plan. Their views thus differ both from that of the Ed Balls faction and also from most ordinary people. My own views lie between both these extremes and firmly with the majority of normal people. I believe that children need to be taught and that this teaching has to be done in a planned and systematic fashion. I don't think it matters much whether the teaching takes place at home or in a school, although it is easier and more effective to do it at home. And that is why I regard myself as a middle of the road type of home educator who has little patience for the extremists whom one finds on the fringes.