Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The dark side of home education

Most parents who choose not to send their children to school make this decision because they believe this to be in the best interests of the children themselves. This is true whatever the educational methods used and regardless of the circumstances which lead up to home education. This is good and healthy parenting; putting the child first and working around her needs rather than the parent's wishes. Unfortunately, not all home educating parents are like this. Some fail to send their children to school because the children are answering a need in the adult. Both mothers and fathers can behave in this way, although as we shall see there is a difference in their reasons for doing so.

Let us look first at fathers. Many, perhaps most of the famous or notorious home educators have been men. John Stuart Mills, Ruth Lawrence, Judit Polgar, Edith Stern and Sufiah Yusof are all well known products of home education by fathers. Why did these fathers educate their own children? The answer is simple; they wished to produce geniuses. Now there is nothing wrong with that as such, provided of course that the child's welfare is at the centre of the enterprise. In cases of this sort though, it often appears that the whole project is a weird obsession of the father, that the object of the exercise is not a child's happiness, but a peculiar man proving something to the world. Judit Polgar for instance spent eight hours a day working on chess when she was a child. Neither Ruth Lawrence or John Stuart Mills were allowed to meet children their own age. Sufiah Yosef's father used to keep the house cold so that his daughter would concentrate more. Hard to believe that the child's happiness and fulfilment lay at the heart of projects such as these! In some sense, these children were fulfilling their fathers' needs and ambitions.

So much for the dysfunctional home educating father. What of mothers? It has to be said straight away that there are very few mothers like this around; the sort who are obsessed with making their children into geniuses. I have certainly never even heard of a home educating mother who behaves in this way. There are however mothers who keep their kids at home because the children are fulfilling the mother's needs. Some local authorities expressed the fear during the Ofsted survey, that some home educated children were kept at home in order to act as companions. There is no doubt at all that this happens; I have myself seen cases of lonely women who want their child at home to provide them with company. This has been a trend for many years. One of the earliest cases of precedent after the 1944 education Act which was used in the fifties against parents who wished to home educate was Jenkins v Howell in 1949. In this case a mother who was an invalid needed her child to stay with her to help around the house. She claimed to be educating the kid too.

I don't know how common this sort of thing is, mothers who want their child to stay home to act as companions. It happens and just as in the case of the fathers who are trying to create a genius, the child's welfare is being forced to give way to the parent's needs.

The danger to a home educated child of having a parent who is a homicidal maniac intent upon abusing or killing her is very small. Cases do crop up from times to time, but one cannot really legislate such things out of existence. Somebody wishing to murder her child will manage to do it just as well during the school holidays; being at school will not and cannot prevent such things. Such parents might be rare, but the sort of parent who keeps the child at home to satisfy his or her own needs is a good deal more common. Thinking for example of Judit Polgar, somebody who comments regularly here is obsessed with turning his child into a chess genius. His own father was very keen on chess and he always regretted that his own chess did not become better. Now, he is determined to sublimate his past regrets in his own son, achieving a measure of vicarious glory in this way. There is no shortage of home educating mothers who speak of their children in a way that would be more appropriate for husbands and best friends. It is hard to escape the conclusion that these children are filling a gap in their mothers' lives. This would also go some way to explaining why education often takes second place to the actual lifestyle when such women are asked what home education means to them.

As I said to begin with, I have no doubt at all that the majority of parents who educate their children at home are doing so because they feel it is the best course of action for the child. There is though a substantial minority who are keeping their kids at home for other purposes. It is right and proper to consider this matter when talking of home education. Both parents and educational professionals tend to become sidetracked into arguing about the very rare murders and cases of sexual abuse of home educated children. The greater danger lies in the prevalence of home education being undertaken not for the child's benefit, but the parent's.


  1. Old Simon says-somebody who comments regularly here is obsessed with turning his child into a chess genius. His own father was very keen on chess and he always regretted that his own chess did not become better.

    are you saying to study chess like any other subjct is wrong? to put aside a part of the day to have a chess lesson makes you obessed? that is what we do with Peter once or twice a week we study chess. Peter shown a talent for chess so we give him every chance to inprove paying for chess grandmaster to give him pirvate lessons and buying chess books for him.They is also a big cost in going to chess tournaments staying in hotels. Peter can give up chess 2morro if he wants but he refuses to do this i myself have said to him you dont have to work so hard at your chess but he wants to! i like to see any one try and stop Peter play chess! Peter not a genius he just a boy he is good at chess! but he does many other things such as scouts he been camping with them yes i allowed him out of the cellar to mix with other children! he also goes to sport centre for trampline club as well! they he mixes with girls! and has found a girlfriend she is allowed to vist him in his cellar LOL

    your problem is you cant think outside of the box you refuse to see chess as a subject all children should learn how to play it teaches them so much such as how to sit still take turns think ahead and much more!

    all we wanted to do was give Peter best chance with chess something his school and HCC LA could not do!

    Peter has played chess for England and been aboard to play chess for England for the National Junior Chess Team! where many children mix together and play fine chess!

    my chess is geting better and i have won some chess tournaments as well Peter give me chess lesson now!

    you just dont get it do you? its funny you can fource a child to do GCSE but you cant study chess? weird!

  2. What motives do people have for sending their children to school? Is the decision always made for the children's best interests alone? If not, should this not be examined equally as closely?

  3. I often have a look on your blog Simon, and it seems to me that you're intolerant of child led + informal education - please note that they are seperate things but can occur in the same child's education lol!

    If parents want to spend more time with their children, well fab! Certainly school children would like to be able to have more time with their families!

  4. Ok, there's a first time for everything. Peter's comment is far more interesting and insightful than the original post. As is the truly Anonymous comment that follows it.

  5. Ok, there's a first time for everything. Peter's comment is far more interesting and insightful than the original post. As is the truly Anonymous comment that follows it.

    Thank you CiaranG you may like to know that Peter qualified for the Adult British Chess Championships to be played in Canterbury from 25th of July to August 7th 2010 you can follow his progress on English Chess web page!