I have been pondering lately the extent to which a certain type of home educator finds it impossible to separate abstract philosophies from those expounding them. I discuss education with many people, practically everybody I meet and know in fact. My views often differ radically from those of the people to whom I talk. Some of my best friends are teachers, for instance, and they do not really approve of the idea of home education. Others are social workers and they have reservations about the practice from a safeguarding viewpoint. I often meet teachers and social workers whom I don't know very well and I talk about education with them as well. Almost without exception, all the parents I know send their children to school and nursery. Despite these great differences of opinion, I find myself able to discuss the topic of home education amicably and am able to keep the ideas themselves quite separate from the person expressing them. In other words, there is no animosity involved and even though we argue strongly about home education, there is never any ill feeling. How very different from the situation when trying to discuss home education objectively with people on the Internet!
Part of the problem when discussing home education on the Internet is that people are typically more aggressive than they would be if they were talking face to face. This is common to all topics talked about online; it is not restricted to home education. The fact that people wish to conceal their names does not help. Somehow the anonymity encourages individuals to make scurrilous attacks on others without fear of any unpleasant consequences. Everybody feels braver if hiding behind a mask. As I say, a lot of this is common to all debates on the Internet, but even taking all this into account, there do seem to be some remarkably bad tempered and aggressive people in the world of home education! I am not thinking so much now of the lists such as HE-UK, but whenever and wherever home education crops up, there always seems to be a really angry person ready to post something sharp and confrontative. I see this on the comments sections of online articles a lot.
The impression one gets is that many of these people take criticism of their educational philosophy as a personal attack. This is a bit strange. Many people have over the years criticised the idea of my home educating my daughter. I have never seen this as a personal thing, as a criticism of me. I for my part have said things to others about the schools that their children attend, again without this being seen as an assault upon them personally. With home educators though, things are often different. An attack on the idea of home education is an attack upon them. I really struggle to see this point of view. After all, some autonomous educators talk about 'coercive' learning and teaching being 'imposed' upon a child. This is a ludicrous misrepresentation of structured teaching, but it does not bother me; I don't get angry about it. I have seen some pretty grotesque distortions of the early education of children as well, made by autonomous educators. One could say, if one wished to use the terminology that some of these parents affect, that these people are 'lying' about structured teaching and spreading untruthful ideas about conventional education. I suppose in a way they may well be, but it does not particularly worry me. I don't think any teacher or highly structured educator would get worked up about such things. Autonomous educators on the other hand do get worked up about it if somebody says something which they feel to be a misrepresentation of their chosen educational methods, it is a personal affront!
A few days ago Kelly Green on her blog claimed that I was a government advisor; a suggestion which has provided a good deal of innocent amusement in the Webb household. When I said on here that I regarded this sort of invention as being qualitatively different from a mistake or exaggeration about an educational philosophy, one of the people who comment on here would not accept this. If she was being honest, and I have no reason to suppose otherwise, she regards any distortion or misrepresentation of her favoured educational philosophy as being worse than if somebody had fabricated a story about her private life. In other words, her personal life and her philosophy are so closely entwined that an attack on one is every bit as offensive as an attack on the other.
So strange do I find this attitude towards educational techniques, that I have to pinch myself to make sure that I am not dreaming when I talk about this. I am not a fan of synthetic phonics. Can it really be the case that among the advocates of this method of teaching literacy there are individuals who would rather have people make up and spread lies about their personal life than see any criticism of the teaching of reading by phonics? Can I for my part imagine that I would sooner have people make up silly stories about me than hear them saying bad things about structured teaching? This is so peculiar that I can think of no parallel in any other type of educational philosophy. The only comparison I can make is with members of certain religions and cults whose beliefs become so important to them that they become one with their life as a whole. All I can say is that using the Look and Say method of teaching reading was never that much a part of my very identity and that when people talk foolishly about 'coercive' teaching, I do not find this the same as somebody inventing fantastic stories about my professional background.