Sunday, 13 June 2010

A meeting with Ed Balls

Knowing the great affection felt for Ed Balls and the warm regard in which he is held by many home educating parents, I thought that this picture of my daughter and him might be of interest. I might perhaps have mentioned in the past that my daughter recently joined the Labour Party. (The Labour Party! My feelings on hearing of this development must have been broadly similar to those of a parent who learns that his teenage daughter is pregnant or on drugs. Only worse.) She spent a good deal of time talking to him and asking him the sort of impertinent questions which only a sixteen year old would have the cheek to raise, for instance about the precise nature of the electoral system used to select the next Labour leader, his plans for the future and so on.

I asked her out of curiosity what he had had to say for himself with regard to home education and his famous Children, Schools and Families Bill. To my surprise, she had not even thought to raise this particular topic with him. On reflection this should not have come as a surprise at all. I don't think that my daughter has ever really classified herself as being 'home educated'. When she was small and some fool in shops or other public places asked her the inevitable, fatuous question, 'No school today?', she would say simply, 'I don't go to school'. As she grew older she would describe herself as being home educated, but this was only once she had learned from others that this was a handy pigeon-hole which enabled them to classify her. I don't think I used the expression myself.

Today, she meets a huge variety of different people. Many of those people are concerned with education and so on. I often ask her afterwards, 'Did you tell so and so that you had been home educated?' She seldom has done, because it is to her an irrelevance. It has never been a defining feature of her life in the way that politics, religion and tastes in literature and theatre are. It is simply that she did not go to school. She has never displayed the least interest in the theory or ideology of home education and wanted no part of the book which I wrote. Not because she had not enjoyed being taught at home or thought it a bad experience, but rather because that was then and this is now. Who cares what her experiences of early education were? It's what she is doing now that matters to her.

Now I don't know how typical this is of other teenagers who have been educated at home. I have met a few of these and they usually let one know fairly early on that they were home educated. It seems to be a very definite part of their identity, of how they see themselves. I was wondering whether this might be because to many parents and consequently also to their children, home education is far more than simply how their children learn. It is a social grouping, hobby, political leaning and quasi-religion all rolled up into one. It provides them with electronic pen pals, who often act as a substitute for the social life which other parents have at the school gates. It allows them to feel passionately about a political issue, rather like those who used to campaign against the fluoridation of our drinking water. It gives them figures upon whom they and their group can focus their hatred and contempt. (Hmmm, my neck grew strangely warm as I typed that. Is it me or is it warm in here?) In short, it gives them an aim and purpose in life.
It is, as I say, a great deal more than just another educational method.

I suppose that we all like to belong to various groups, whether they are churches or football teams, political parties or book clubs. Home education is another of these groups, a huddling place frequently, but not of course invariably, for the lonely and disaffected. It would be interesting to study the home education movement in this country from an anthropological perspective. Its need for bogy men such as the terrifying figure of the local authority officer, always eager to snatch their children away from them; its demons and ghouls such as Graham Badman. The sense of persecution and hostility which many members feel so keenly. The delicious feeling of being a true believer, part of a beleaguered band of souls, fighting for a noble cause against the world of the orthodox and hidebound. A bit like being an early Christian, I suppose.

Unfortunately, my daughter was never really part of this world and so she did not have the chance to develop such visceral emotions on the subject of home education as those which I have observed in other families. I have a suspicion that when she goes to university she is unlikely ever to mention that she was home educated, unless the subject is specifically raised by somebody else.


  1. I think it's great that your daughter has this attitude, and I assume the "unfortunately" is ironic?

    I'm the same. My kids don't go to school. That doesn't mean I read John Holt or embrace any philosophy or see myself as part of a "community". I suppose my choice to home educate my children is a political one, but the politics of it is secondary to the day-to-day blessedly unremarkable life of my family.

    I am slightly uncomfortable with people who make home educating their children a part of their identity. I am VERY uncomfortable with people who make "parenting" a part of their identity. To have a VERB to describe a *relationship* seems, to me, to totally undermine the importance of the individuals involved in it. Being a parent is a relationship; it is not a job. I do think some people (not just some home educators) USE their children and their relationships with them as a way of defining *themselves* and giving meaning to *their* lives. I have serious "issues" with people like that. If anything should happen to David and I, I would not wish my children to be raised by anyone who used the words "parenting philosophy" as I would fear they saw children as political/philosophical/ideological *points*, rather than as individual human-beings.

    I don't agree with you on very much, Simon. But this post chimes with me.

    I, myself, would like to see a day when home education is considered unremarkable; when how people choose to be educated and/or to educate their children is seen as being about as interesting, significant, and worthy of comment on as what they have for dinner.

    I long for a day when people accept HE as nothing more than part of the simple day-to-day routines of perfectly ordinary families, and cease thinking it a worthy topic on which to write books... ;)


  2. Same here really. We educated autonomously throughout and were quite involved with the 'home education community' (usually one or two camps a year and regular HE meetings, at least during the first 5-6 years). Two are at college now and I asked them both a couple of months ago if their classmates knows they were home educated. One said it had cropped up with a couple - just a passing comment when asked which school they attended; they said they were home educated and that was the end of the topic. It hasn't cropped up in the other child's conversations. I don't think it's going to be a major conversation piece for them!!

  3. I heard a story that, despite his own superior educational background, Ed Balls placed two of his own children in a government school in the East End of London that was so appalling it was threatened with closure. Is that true?

  4. Why Adele, I had no idea that you were still with us. Following your sudden disappearance last autumn, there was widespread speculation that you had been abducted by aliens. I for one am pleased to discover that these rumours were evidently unfounded!

  5. Interesting post, and interesting comment. I too would like to see home education accepted as ordinary and unremarkable. I know quite a few HE teenagers, including mine, whose attitude is similar to Simon's daughter's, and I think it's very healthy; they are just young people getting on with their lives, and fitting into society just like anyone else. This gives me hope that in the future HE will be seen as ordinary and unremarkable.
    I have seen a similar thing happening with attachment parenting, which is, after all, merely a description of the way children have been brought up for thousands of years, and which, therefore, should not be seen as a "parenting philosophy", but simply as part of normal life. However, when my oldest child was a baby it was considered by many people to be an extreme and eccentric way to bring up a child, and viewed with suspicion and even hostility by many. I remember being publicly harangued for carrying my baby in a sling, and lectured by my doctor for breastfeeding my 18-month-old. So there was a need for people to get together for mutual support, a feeling that we were pioneers fighting for a common cause, and a tendency to identify ourselves, at least in part, by our parenting choices. A generation on, it is accepted without comment, and practiced without soul-searching or any need for justification by many parents, at least in my social circle, because it is now apparent that our attachment parented children have grown up to be perfectly normal people who are nothing like the Little Britain character who still demands "bitty" at the age of 35.
    I could draw a similar parallel with the Suffragettes who campaigned for votes for women, or gay rights activists. Nowadays, in my unremarkable small country town, no-one thinks twice about women voting, and gay people are rapidly gaining the same level of acceptance.

    However, as yet this is not the case with home education, and in particular with autonomous education, which has recently been under attack from many angles, not least from you, Simon. This is not, believe me, a "delicious" feeling. I would much rather be left alone to raise my children as I see fit. I would rather not have to identify myself as an autonomous home educator when I, and my children, are so much more than that. I have no need for bogeymen; I was quite happy getting on with my life before I knew of Graham Badman's existence. I do not need to seek out aims and purposes. I resent having to give up so much of my time and energy to protect my children's education. I strongly suspect that most home educators feel the same. But we had no choice.

  6. That's a tricky question to answer, Bob. I happen to have dealings with the school in question and was many years ago a personal friend of the Head who left. It is Grazebrook school in Stoke Newington, a district in East London. The area has many well off middle class types and Grazebrook became a very popular school with them. There was stiff competition for a place there. I might mention that a lot of these kids were white, in contrast to the majority of ordinary people in Hackney. A while ago, the governers appointed a new Head who was of Jamaican origin. She made some changes which displeased a lot of the middle class white parents and she left. Some black people felt she had been driven out by racism. The school is indeed not as good as it once was, but whether this is a racial matter or not is open to debate.

  7. Now we know why you and your daughter where so keen on the children's bill! was she working with arch hypocrite Ed Balls before she joined the Labour party?
    your daughter should be ashamed of herself to be pictured with the hypocrite Balls who wanted to stop home education!

    was she to ashamed to mention home education to Balls? or did he already know she had been trying to cosy up to him!

    Balls is not liked by most labour M.P's so your daughter wants to be careful beeing seen as a supporter of him!

    Balls is a real hypocrite who has knifed his close ally Gordon brown in the back over claims he was concered about immigration yet was quiet for 13 years when labour where in power! and over the war! is your daughter in agreement with the 2 wars labour started? Balls is not now but was when Labour where in power!

    David Cameron hould subtly work to encourage the unions to back balls in his attempt to be labour leader! The arrrogant cocky and deeply unpleasant Ed Balls would be a disaster as Labour Leader.

  8. your daughter is a traiter to home educators

  9. Of course she isn't. Home educators are not a single group all of whom hold the same views and beliefs so how can she be a 'traitor'?

  10. Anon-Of course she isn't. Home educators are not a single group all of whom hold the same views and beliefs so how can she be

    Simon daughter refused to challege Balls over his lies about home education it was Balls who started the Badman review into home education it was Balls who agreed with Badman and his made up Statistics.It was Balls who agreed that Children must be seen away from they parents in they home but not his own children? only other peoples! and Balls would not agree to a stranger going into his house to check on his children! only on yours! she could have challeged him but did not!
    We can only assume that she is in full agreement with Graham Badman and Ed Balls i would guess Balls would have know that she agreed with him becuase he very rarely meets with any one who does not! indeed Balls turned down a number of meetings with home educated children who he knew did not agree with him.

    To suck up to the very person who wanted to destroy home edcuation makes her a traiter! and she knows it. At the very list she could have raised the matter with him? i am forgeting that she now claims "she did not go to school?" maybe that explains it? did she tell Graham Badman she did not go to school but was not home educated when she met him?

    I stand by my words Simon daughter is a traitor to home educators.

  11. she is a traiter for not challeging Balls over his poor review into home education and why he just agreed with it!