One of the problem when dealing with home educators is that they tend to argue every point with great tenacity, even about things that everybody else in society accepts as being more or less true. There is of course nothing wrong with that; I am famous myself for disagreeing with those around me. Sometimes though, home educating parents take this a bit far and even establishing the most minor fact becomes so laborious and time consuming a process that all but the most rugged and determined lose heart!
The expression 'straw man', like the word 'conflate', is impossible to avoid lately when exchanging views with home educators! I honestly can't remember the last time I read a post on one of the HE Internet lists where some government agency or one of their lackeys was not being accused of conflating one thing with something else quite different. As for 'straw men'; why, anybody would think that I was running a scarecrow factory here from the number of complaints I receive about my straw men, which home educators apparently keep stumbling across whenever they visit this blog! The latest straw man that I have been apparently setting up is the idea that for many parents, their only source of information is the Internet. Somebody commenting here a few days ago said,
' Do you know any parents that rely soley on the internet? Or is this another straw man argument?'
The suggestion that I am setting up a straw man by hinting that a lot of parents rely only upon the Internet for information is a prime example of the difficulty which I mentioned at the beginning; that home educators seem to inhabit a different world from everybody else. That many parents do indeed rely solely upon the Internet to acquire information is undoubtedly the case and the fact that somebody would question this only goes to show just how out of touch some home educators are.
Let us suppose that a child's homework entails finding out the exports of Chile. There are many ways to get hold of this information. One could go to the library and get a book out about South America, one could reach down a book of one's own and look up Chile, one could watch television in the hope of a documentary about Chile being on that evening, ring up the Chilean Embassy and ask them; the list is endless. In the real world though, children and their parents will just go onto the Internet to find this out. I would be surprised if many parents would suggest the library or television as the first port of call for homework about Chile. Many homes these days do not have encyclopaedias or other reference books in them. Almost all would use the Internet. For many people, this is more or less the only way that they would ever think of getting information which they wanted.
According to several people who commented here a day or two ago, this is not always the case with home educating parents, which I am glad to hear. For the average family though, this is where information is almost exclusively acquired now in day to day life. Schools do not recommend, as once they did, that children go to the library to research homework. Instead, they tell them to look things up on the Internet. Many secondary school pupils go through the whole five years without being given a book at all. No maths books, no history books, nothing at all; everything is done via electronic media supplemented by photo-copied sheets. Many homes too have no books in them at all, let alone reference books. Those that do have books often only have a few thrillers and the children might have some Jaqueline Wilson novels. Otherwise, that's it. The only magazines are likely to be those dealing with the lives of footballers and pop stars. All information must perforce come from the computer terminal. I wonder how the person who made the comment which I quoted above thinks that the average parent finds things out for their children? In other words, if a child needs to know what year Napoleon was born, or the date of the Battle of Trafalgar or a million and one other things, does this person really think that most parents pop down to the library to find out?
This depiction of modern family life is no straw man, simply how things are today in many homes in this country and the fact that a number of home educating parents are unaware of how things have changed in recent years is a little bit alarming. It also makes trying to discuss things heavy going, because before one can even begin to debate, it is necessary to explain how life in modern Britain actually works! These people are constantly claiming that their children get out and about and meet all sorts of people, but I don't think that the people they are meeting can be ordinary, everyday folk of the kind which I know. If they were, then the distorted and unrealistic view of the modern world which some of these characters seem to have might stand a chance of being modified or even changed completely. They would discover that for a great many families in this country, parents and children, the Internet is the first and in many cases the only port of call when they are seeking information.