When John Stuart Mill, the famous philosopher was born, his father decided that he could not trust any school to teach him properly. His father was a proponent of what we would now call "Hot-Housing", where a child's intellectual development is deliberately stimulated and accelerated with the intention or at least hope, of producing a genius. James Mill accordingly taught his son at home from infancy. By three, the child was learning Greek. By eight, he had read Xenophon in the original and was learning Latin. His academic achievements throughout adolescence were outstanding until, at the age of twenty, he suffered a nervous breakdown.
More recently, Ruth Lawrence was taught at home by her father until she entered Oxford University at the age of eleven to study mathematics. She graduated at thirteen and subsequently married a man thirty years older than she was herself, almost the same age as her father in fact! This sort of home education, where pushy parents set out to coach their children intensively and get them to overtake their contemporaries at school does not seem to popular among home educators today. Perhaps it was always rare. I am however a little surprised that one does not hear more about such cases. After all, home education is more widespread now than it has ever been. There must surely be more parents like this than in the past. There was a fourteen year old boy recently in the newspapers who has been offered a place at Cambridge to study mathematics, but this is the first such case that I have heard of for years.
I suppose that the motivations of such parents are fairly clear and obvious. They feel that schools are pretty useless and that they can make a better job of the whole business. In other words, their primary motivation is education. They feel that modern schools are not rigorous enough and do not push children hard enough. More common is the opposite case, where parents are worried that children are being pushed too hard and that schools are too demanding. On sometimes wonders if such parents actually know just how slack the modern educational system is! Even the Government's standard measure of a "good" education, five GCSEs at grades A*-C, really guarantees little more than that the child who has passed them is not completely illiterate.
It is now perfectly possible to pass GCSE English without having read a book. This is not a Daily Mail scare story about the decline in school standards, but simply the sober truth. I know children who have actually been advised by their teachers not to read the book they are studying in case it confuses them! They are told to limit themselves to the relevant chapters. Other subjects are in a similarly pitiful case. "Empathy" has invaded every topic from English to history. It is now creeping into science. Instead of hard facts, children are constantly being asked how people "feel".
I suppose that I am a little puzzled as to why so many parents are apparently misinformed about the state of our schools. I find it literally beyond belief that anybody could claim with a straight face that children at modern British schools are under pressure! Still, there it is. I would be interested to know how many parents who did not send their children to school did so because they wished to give them a better education as opposed to those who felt that their children would be pushed too hard if they sent them to school.