Sunday, 7 March 2010
I am confident enough of my readers' erudition to believe it unnecessary to translate the above expression. It means of course "who benefits?" and is the classic question asked by those investigating a murder. I have been considering this question very carefully in connection with the practice among some home educating parents of not encouraging their children to study for and sit formal examinations. Cui bono? Who benefits from this action, or perhaps one should more properly describe it as lack of action?
It is fairly plain at once that the person who benefits cannot really be the child. It is hard to think of any benefit or advantage for a child in reaching the age of sixteen without any qualifications. It will make life difficult if she wishes to attend a Further Education College, prospective employers will raise their eyebrows; indeed according to a recent survey, many will not even consider a candidate lacking any GCSEs at all. Some parents say that these examinations can, if required, be taken later by the home educated child. In some cases this is true, but it is hardly an advantage for the child to find himself several years behind his contemporaries in this way. It might perhaps not be a grave disadvantage, but that is the best one can say. Others claim that children can get into college on the strength of portfolios or auditions and this is certainly true if one wishes to study Performing Arts, Photography or Textile Design. It won't usually help for Physics or mathematics. The lack of GCSEs has restricted their life chances and closed off many options. This is a great disadvantage. Even if they would not have chosen the academic pathway in higher education, it would at least be nice if they were given the choice!
If the decision not to sit GCSEs or other similar examinations does not benefit the child, could there be anybody else who might gain an advantage from this peculiar and on the face of it perverse decision? Why yes, there are the parents! For the mother or father of a home educated child there are many advantages to this course of action and no disadvantages at all. Let's look at some of the advantages.
Firstly of course, one does not risk any sort of confrontation with one's child about study. This is a major cause of friction in families where a teenager is at school. Have they done their homework? Why are they going out late on a school night? Do they want to fail their GCSEs and end up working in McDonalds? Acrimonious debates of this sort are a regular feature of life for many parents whose children are at school. Home educate your child and don't trouble with GCSEs and you are free of this at a stroke! That's got to be a good motive. It is also extremely time consuming to teach your child to this level. Not only will you have to spend time doing it during the day, but your evenings will be taken up with preparation of the next days activities. No more relaxing in front of the television or computer once the child is in bed! For a single parent, this aspect of the matter alone can be a deal breaker. There simply will not be enough hours in the day to teach all those GCSEs and also keep on top of all the housework and everything else that needs to be done. Sometimes also, there is a living to be made. It is more practical to allow the child to spend hours browsing the Internet while you get on with your work.
Which would most parents rather do with their children; visit a park with a sketchbook and supply of pastels or stay indoors on a lovely day and learn about covalent bonding of molecules? Wow, this is a hard one! Personally, i think I'd opt for the park. Minor decisions of this sort can also have the effect of easing a child onto the non-academic pathway in life. Most of us would rather spend the day relaxing with our kids like this, rather than working at a table.
It seems clear that for parents there can be many advantages and benefits in not teaching their children to GCSE standard. Since this ties in neatly with the ideology of autonomous education, this becomes a lifestyle which is much easier for parents and can seem, even to them, as a principled decision made in the best interests of their child. In some cases it may well be so, but it is hard to avoid the suspicion that for many it is a justification for a life with children and teenagers which is far less stressful. The only ones who do not benefit from this arrangement in the long term are of course the children themselves.