Over the last few days I have noticed that when I talk about what I see as the virtues of structured teaching and the shortcomings of autonomous education, a number of people have spoken of how school failed to teach them the sort of things which I have mentioned. One person who comments regularly here seems to think that because I am in favour of conventional teaching, that this must mean I wish to see home educated children sent back to school. All this is very strange. The fault is probably mine, for not making myself clear enough.
I taught my own child at home from her birth until she was sixteen. I have been involved with home education in various ways, both in this country and abroad, for almost forty years. I believe that home education can be a vastly more effective method of education than schools can ever hope to be. This is not a belief that I have held for a few years, but for many. You would be hard pushed to find a more enthusiastic advocate of home education than me. If I thought that moves were ever afoot to ban home education in this country, I would work day and night to fight against such a development. I have never seen anything of the sort happening and consider it unlikely in the future. However......
I do not consider all methods of educating children as being equally effective. The use of punishments, for instance, I consider wrong and counter-productive in education. When I was at school in the late fifties and early sixties, I was beaten for not learning certain things such as French verbs. This did not help me to learn French. I do not believe that this sort of thing is likely to help anybody learn anything. It is a useless and ineffective method of teaching. On the other hand, there are ways of teaching which are very helpful and tend to work. This is the case with school based education and it is also the case with home education. If I meet a teacher who is opposed to the flogging of children as a method of teaching them French, I do not at once assume that he is against schools. I assume that he is against that method of teaching.
I am similarly in favour of some ways of home educating children and very dubious about others. This is because their effectiveness has not been sufficiently demonstrated, at least to my own satisfaction. To say, as some evidently do, 'Ah, he is not in favour of autonomous education, therefore he must be opposed to home education.' is absolutely ludicrous. I am in favour of effective education. Now of course I am quite prepared to believe that I am mistaken in some of my strongly held views on this subject. In other words, although I disapprove of corporal punishment as a useful educational tool, I may be wrong about it; it might actually be very helpful. In the same way, although I am less than enthusiastic about the supposed advantages of autonomous education, I may also be mistaken about that.
However, we can all of us only be guided by what we believe to be true. I believe that although children, like adults, will pick up all sorts of knowledge quite spontaneously, this is not enough by itself for their education. I am of the school of thought which holds that there is a body of knowledge and collection of skills which children must acquire whether or not they wish to do so. More than that, I believe that this is a right which children have and that anybody who does not do all in their power to see that children in their charge learn these skills and have this knowledge, are depriving those children of their rights; they are cheating them of their inheritance, if you will. I feel that this is wrong and so I will do what I can to see that those who have these duties towards children actually fulfil them. To me, this is a question of human rights and I view those who would fail to teach their children as violating these human rights. If in the process of standing up for the rights of those children, I offend the sensibilities of some adult or other, this does not seem to me as important as the rights of the children concerned.
I am, as I said, a great supporter of home education. But this is not an unconditional support, blind to the possible disadvantages of this sort of education. I would not like to see new laws which forced children to go back to school, but I would certainly like to see a law which compelled home educating parents to respect the rights which their children possess. To see those rights trampled upon or simply ignored because adults choose to pursue what they see as an 'alternative' lifestyle is unacceptable to me and I shall continue to speak out about it.