Over on the HE-UK list yesterday, Maire Stafford was trying to start a rumour that I was the one who persuaded Graham Badman that Paula Rothermel's research was flawed. I didn't of course, Paula met Badman before I did, but Ms. Stafford also mentioned a possible connection between Munchausen's by proxy and home education. This had not occurred to me before, but it started me thinking.
After looking into it a bit and reading the submissions made to the select committee, I see that Paula Rothermel says that Badman asked her whether she thought that some home educating parents suffered from Munchausen's by proxy. This might need a little explanation. Munchausen's of course is a psychological problem which causes healthy people to pose as injured or ill. Munchausen's by proxy is an even stranger and more disturbing condition where people try and make out that a child, disabled person or elderly relative is actually ill. Sometimes they can go as far as poisoning the victim in order to maintain the fiction. How might this tie in with home education?
I can, in a way, see what might have motivated Graham Badman to ask this question. An awful lot of home educating parents do seem to say that their children have special educational needs of one sort or another. Now I work in this field and I certainly know some children with disabilities who are being educated at home. I am not talking about these children. A blind child has a special need and this can easily be diagnosed and verified. Similarly the child with Down's; you only have to count the chromosomes to know what the problem is. Likewise congenital deformities such as spina bifida.
No, I am thinking of the home educating parents whose children apparently have some problem which makes it difficult for them to attend school, but cannot be diagnosed objectively as suffering from any recognised condition. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also known as myalgic enchephalomyelitis or ME is a classic example of such a disorder. Diagnosis is dependent upon a cluster of symptoms and there are is seldom any physical evidence of disease. Indeed, many doctors deny that the syndrome even exists. ADHD is in the same category. Before people start going mad and asking whether I am saying that these disorders do not exist, I wish to make it clear that I am saying no such thing. Only that it is often hard to decide if somebody has them or not. There is no reliable test for such things. Curiously, it is these very same, hard to identify problems which seem so prevalent among home educated children.
One wonders whether it is at least possible that some parents could be diagnosing their children with vague disorders like CFS, ME and ADHD and then giving this as a reason why their children cannot leave them to go to school. I do not say that it is so, only that I think that this might be what Graham Badman had in mind. I cannot deny that I have myself been astonished at the range and variety of obscure illnesses which some home educated children suffer from. I also find it curious to observe a number of cases where mother and child are both apparently afflicted with the same type of odd, possibly psychosomatic difficulty. The thought has certainly crossed my mind that this might be some kind of folie a deux.
I shall probably post more about this in a week or two. Until Maire Stafford drew my attention towards it, the idea had honestly never occurred to me. Still, now that I do think about it, I can see that it might tie in with a particular type of home educating parent. I doubt that these represent a large proportion of home educators, but there are perhaps enough of them to make a sub-set well worth examining.