Monday, 26 April 2010
A broad and diverse education of a high quality
What sort of idiots would not want their children to enjoy a broad and diverse education of a high quality? It is, after all, what most ordinary parents seek for their children. What could possibly be wrong with it? Step forward an assortment of such idiots who hang out on the HE-UK list. They are currently foaming at the mouth like a bunch of retired colonels from Tunbridge Wells writing to the Daily Mail. Their anger is directed against, of all unlikely targets, the Green Party!
The Green Party have said in their manifesto that they feel that home educated children are entitled to a high quality education. Few would argue with that statement. They also believe that such an education should be 'broad and diverse'. Again, most sane and well balanced individuals would see this as a good thing. This education should also be 'supported by local authorities'. These modest aspirations have been more than enough to drive a number of home educating parents into a frenzy. Mike Fortune-Wood, whose reputation for calm, clear thought has never been extensive, has spotted their true intentions. He says that this 'broad and diverse education' is none other than the 'broad and balanced education' which the DCSF and local authorities have been trying to push home educators into adopting for years.
The concern is apparently that by pushing this notion of a 'broad and balanced' or 'broad and diverse' education, some people are intending to encourage home educating families to provide an education for their children which includes history, music, science, mathematics and so on. Once again, to most ordinary families this would seem quite unexceptionable and eminently reasonable. For most parents, a knowledge of science and mathematics is seen as a good and desirable thing per se. The more extreme types of autonomous home educator are evidently opposed to the idea not on pragmatic grounds; that it would be bad for their children. Rather, their opposition is rooted in ideology. The idea of having various subjects which it is intended that the child will study is anathema to such people because it does not accord with their fixed belief that children should be free to choose for themselves what they learn about and when they learn it. Deciding beforehand that history or science will be studied would remove that choice from the child.
It is an extraordinary notion, that any parent should follow an ideology specifically designed to cause one to curtail a child's education in this way. Perhaps I might offer the following simile. It is as though traditional education consists of a table set out with a variety of dishes which the child is encouraged to sample. Some will be more to her taste than others. Still, it is important that she tries as many as possible, because otherwise she will not find out which she likes. By contrast, the autonomous approach is predicated more upon education as a locked cupboard. The child may have any of the foods in the cupboard, but she must first guess what they are and then ask for them. She will certainly not be encouraged to try an unfamiliar food, this is opposed on ideological grounds. Under such conditions, it is all but inevitable that the child will grow up with a limited and restricted palate. She might in later life sample some of the foods which were not offered to her in childhood, but the chances are that she will remain a cranky and picky eater. The end result of such a strategy, whether in matters culinary or pedagogic, will be to restrict choice and limit future attainment.