Those who spend too much time in the middle of the road are apt to get run over from time to time, a familiar enough hazard for the present writer. The problem is that when any ideology or belief system has mad extremists at its fringes, many reasonable folk wish to steer a course somewhere between the opposite ends of the spectrum. In the case of home education, there are two groups connected with it which I tend to avoid as far as possible and with whose opinions I disagree strongly.
The first group are headed by Ed Balls, who suggested recently that children should be removed from their parents to be educated by the state no later than the September after their fourth birthday. He presented this proposal in the form of a classic false dichotomy, telling us that the parents could choose between nursery at that age or a school place. The thought that there is a third way which involves neither of these possibilities honestly did not seem to occur to him. This is mildly alarming coming from an Education Secretary. He typifies a certain sort of person in the field of education who feels that a child out of school is a child at risk of failing academically. One of his acolytes was on Radio 4 on Sunday. A Headmaster called Steve Wright was talking about the idea that parents should teach their own children. He gave it as his opinion that he would himself be unable to provide a full and varied curriculum for a child single-handed, singling out religion and science as subjects that parents would not be able to cover effectively at home. His message was, "Leave it to us professionals!" Regular readers of this Blog will be aware that I always try to discuss matters in a dispassionate and scholarly fashion, but here I feel bound to say that this prize fathead should be set up in a pillory so that right thinking citizens can pelt him with mouldy vegetables.
In short, the opinion of the faction led by Ed Balls is that parents cannot teach their children and would be foolish even to try. There is of course another group which holds that parents shouldn't teach their children and that it is harmful to the children to attempt to do so. This party is spearheaded by the so-called autonomous educators. A fairly typical example of the breed is Deborah Durbin, author of Teach Yourself Home Education, without doubt the worst book I have ever read on the subject. Ms. Durbin believes that her children are able to acquire correct grammar and syntax by writing thank you letters by themselves while their mother works on the other side of the room. Rather than teach them history, she feels that researching her family tree should meet the bill. In the face of such idiocy, words fail me. ( I am tempted to suggest that Deborah Durbin should join Steve Wright in the pillory, but since I have recently been accused of misogyny on the Home Education Forums, I shall refrain from doing so).
So there you have it in a nutshell; one group thinking that children cannot be taught at home and the other thinking that they shouldn't be. I cannot decide which of these two groups of extremists irritate me more. Ed Balls and his cronies are pretty annoying, with their absolute mania for prescribing every last, tiny detail of a child's education, but then again so are those parents who are resolutely opposed to anything even remotely approaching structure and planning in their children's education. Those of us who hold more moderate views are constantly at risk of being caught in the crossfire between these two sides. In my own case, for instance, I am regarded by the local authorities with whom I deal, as a dangerous fanatic who encourages the parents of children with special educational needs to withdraw their children from school and keep them at home. To the autonomous educators, on the other hand, I am a stooge of the DCSF and probably an employee of some LA education department to boot!
The problem is of course, that as both sides become more and more entrenched, so they become more and more extreme in their positions. The idea that home education was being used as cover for forced marriage was a ludicrous slur which originated with the DCSF. It was they who got Graham Badman to conduct his review. This rather makes it look as though the DCSF are, at the very least, a little uneasy about the whole business of home education. The autonomous educators are not much better, with their refusal to acknowledge the need for any sort of monitoring, registration or planning for a child's education. In the middle are the average home educators who just want to get on with their children's education and are quite happy to allow the officers from their local authority into their homes and see no reason at all not to share with them the plans that they have for their children's education. It is to this average, middle of the road crowd to which I belong. I suspect that they form the majority of home educators.