Saturday, 20 February 2010

But is it good for the Jews?

Members of minority groups often become very restricted in their view of the world. Every item of news and any event is of interest only in as far as it impacts upon the group itself. Hence the title of this piece. There is a story of an old American Jew whose little grandson was telling him excitedly about the achievements of Babe Ruth, the famous baseball player. The old guy listened carefully to an account of Babe Ruth's prowess on the pitch and finally asked, "This Babe Ruth, is he good for the Jews?" Home educators seem a bit like this sometimes.

I remember when the 1981 Education Act was passed. It was regarded by everybody, parents and professionals alike, as a huge step forward in the way children with difficulties were viewed and treated. A definite improvement on the situation before that time. Yet when the DCSF wrote to local authorities recently, reminding local authorities of their duties under this act, the only question asked by some people was, "Is it good for home educators?" The idea being that the attempt to ensure that children with special educational needs received the provision to which they were entitled should be abandoned if it was likely to queer the pitch for home educators! It is almost as though they believe that the sole, immediate and direct object in passing the 1981 Education Act was to make their lives difficult thirty years later!

I have noticed this tendency before, to treat every Act of Parliament with suspicion and contempt if it infringes, however slightly, upon the interests of home educating parents. This does have the unfortunate effect of making home educators seem a little parochial. Wider issues apparently pass them by. If a nursery worker or Ofsted inspector is caught with child pornography, then the immediate reaction of many home educators is to cry, "There you are, see how those school children are not safe! No wonder we won't let people like that near our children!" In other words, a dreadful situation which has the most ghastly implications for an unknown number of children becomes a mere debating point and weapon in the hands of some home educators.

Another skewed perspective which I have observed time and again is as follows. I have an optimistic and upbeat view of humanity in general. Almost all the people in the world are basically good and usually try to do the right thing. Of course, a lot of the time our actions cause harm and distress to others, but few of us set out with that in mind. This applies to our legislature as well. Generally they pass laws which seem at the time to be for the common good. Of course a lot of these laws are badly thought out and cause trouble for people, but this was not the original intention. It is just that this is an imperfect world inhabited by weak and fallible people.

If one listened to some home educators though, one would come to believe that the motivations behind the actions of MPs and local authority officers were actually sinister and ill intentioned to begin with. The feeling is that home educators are in some way the victims of a conspiracy. For my own part, I believe and so I think do most ordinary people, that laws about schools and education are passed with the intention of improving the lot of children and young people. They don't always succeed, not by a long chalk, but they are well meant. I have an idea that if many home educators could only shed themselves of this mindset of home education as being the target of hostility, then they would be better able to view current developments with a little more clear-sighted detachment


  1. Good intentions are not much help if legislation is so badly drafted that it causes unwanted and damaging outcomes, or if it's so badly implemented it doesn't achieve its aims. The people drafting and implementing legislation are not picked at random from the Clapham omnibus, they volunteer for the job, and we, not unreasonably, expect them to be up to the task. We don't expect them to draft or implement legislation perfectly, just in a way that works reasonably well.

    I don't know who decided that children with disabilties and learning difficulties should be encouraged to attend mainstream schools without the need to train class teachers in addressing the implications of teaching such children, but those people have a lot to answer for.

    I think the social model of disabilities has a lot to answer for too. Although there's no doubt that social factors play a big part in putting obstacles in the way of children with disabilities, assuming that 'inclusion' in and of itself would magic away difficulties with reading, writing, motor or attentional difficulties is downright irresponsible.

    And since the DCSF appears to believe that the 1981 Education Act gives LA officers the right to see HE-SEN children and to see their educational provision, I can understand why home-educators are bristling.

  2. What else would you expect to see discussed on home education lists? Of course they appear only to be interested in the effect news items have on home educators, if they are interested in effect on other areas of their lives or others peoples lives they would discuss them elsewhere.

  3. I see that in myself.

    I can get some high grade tunnel vision when I get stuck in hyper-defensive at warp speed nine.

    It can feel very rock and hard place. The snap judgments come thick and fast, which puts me on the hot, cross defensive. Said defensiveness colours my argument and tone to the extent that it renders it less assessable or meaningful to "the others". Likewise I can do olympic gold standard leaping to conclusions with regards to the motivations of those who challenge me. (Although to be fair many of them are interfering old bats who do it as a form of filling the time in a queue with the pleasure of hearing the sound of their own voice and the PTB that I have to deal with have a history with me that cannot be entirely stripped of the "getting our own back" flavour)

    I'm hoping that as I become less new at this I'll gain more confidence and be able to temper my response. However that is going to have to be an overt effort because left to my own devices I think I could easily slip into an ingrained and synthetically amplified "out to get me" mind set that would hamper my efforts to get my point across and serve in the main to convince the annoying people in the supermarket/post office/bar/forums/school that they have a point and I really am the sort of cult-influenced weirdo as suspected.

    I try to use The Italian Sock Dropper as a human shield when I can. Because he went along with this as opposed to making an active choice he takes it all so much less personally and in six months has become a very convincing, non combative, balanced advocate for our choices.

    I think his legal background helps. Not to mention that he gets to do it in his L1.

    But still, I am aware that I could very easily end up handicapping myself (even further) in terms of creating a convincing argument if I don't work harder on not letting my HE filter becoming something that automatically skews, out of all proportion, what I hear and say.

    I have to stay away from anything other than superficial involvement with support groups for that reason. I found, via expat groups IRL and online, that when in a less than happy place, having that reflected back at me acts like a super magnification device. Rather than make me feel better I ended up far angrier, feeling far more removed culturally from "the others" and just a little paranoid. I found myself in a vicious cycle where the place I used to seek relief made the itching worse.

    I'm really grateful to people like Alison S, she manages with one well aimed calming comment and some highly practical, positive suggestions to bring my squawking down from sonic to a rather more normal tone. Maybe a mentor system would be a boon to HE in both the human and the PR sense if there are more people like me out there. (hoping that there are on one level, would hate to find out I am the sole over-emotional liability)

  4. Various said: "Hell is paved with good intentions."

    I've no doubt that there is an element of good intention somewhere in the process, but as with everything in politics, personal ambition and arrogance, combined with inadequate intelligence and experience, tend to dominate.

    I don't see anything sinister in what DCSF, Badman and the LAs are trying to do; they are merely behaving true to type. They try to further their own ill-considered aims and ambitions but find themselves out of their intellectual depth and resort to dishonest bluster.

    It's hardly surprising that HE parents feel besieged and more than a little angry.

    Today's revelations about Gordon Brown as a raging bully offer a more realistic insight; this behaviour might not be very common, but I've no doubt that it reflects the irrational arrogant rage that drives him and his close chum Balls. Simon should should be directing his comments about "clear-sighted detachment" in the direction of DCSF and fiends rather than at home educators.