Friday, 3 September 2010

Myth busting

All societies, as well as most religious, political and philosophical movements, have their folk devils. For autonomous educators it is those who would allegedly crush their chosen method of childrearing and education by imposing structure and inspection upon their educational provision. Graham Badman and Ed Balls have attained almost mythical status among such enemies of child centred education. So too, although to a vastly lesser and subsidiary degree, have I. As we saw yesterday, some people are absolutely obsessed with minor details of my life, as though if they can only catch me out in some trivial inconsistency, then it will discredit anything I have to say on the topic of home education. This is an indication of my status as minor folk devil! Since many of the comments yesterday were more concerned with me personally, rather than the idea of home education, I thought I should address some of the misconceptions under which these types are labouring.

Now I have no particular objection in the least to being hated and despised by some home educating parents and regarded as a quisling and turncoat. However, when the myths about me become too exaggerated and fantastic, I feel it is time to set the record straight. They also act as a distraction from objective discussion of the ideas underpinning the practice of home education. In short, an obsession with my personality and motives simply gets in the way of debate. Let's look at a few of the things people have said about me lately and see if we can put them to rest once and for all.

1. I make money from home education

I love this one! I was technically a home educator for fifteen years. During that time, I wrote two articles on the subject, for which I was paid £350. This averages out over the fifteen years of home education at a little over £23 a year! But wait, what about your famous book, I hear people cry. Ah yes, the book. This is an academic work. With all the research, revisions, rewriting, first draft, second draft, proof reading, referencing, preparing the index and so on, I would be very surprised if I break even on this. I certainly have not received a penny so far for it and I doubt that it is likely to be a best seller. Nobody writes academic books for money. Of course there are people making money from home education, but I have mentioned them before. I have never heard a word of criticism about anybody else who makes money from home education. For myself, that £350 is all that I have to show financially for my fifteen years of home educating. As far as I can see, it is the only money that I am ever likely to make out of the business.

2. I 'argue with politicians' against freedom to home educate

This particular myth has been around for a while and was succinctly expressed here a couple of days ago. The accusation was that I, ' argue with politicians for measures that will end our choices'. (Comment on my piece On Liberty). Another commentator chipped in and enlarged upon this, 'Going to the select committee (politicians) and arguing for monitoring and testing of HE children'. A third commentator was clear that it was sending a letter to the select committee last year which was really the crux of the matter. I have to say at once that I am a little reluctant to scotch this myth. The idea of my 'arguing with politicians' is a very pleasing one! I have this image of a room full of cabinet ministers cowering as I bring my fist crashing down on the table and thunder at them, ' You will introduce compulsory registration for home educators'. Of course hundreds of people wrote to the select committee and I have never before heard this described as 'arguing with politicians'. I regard this idea as absolutely absurd. Still, what about the things which I actually said when I gave evidence at the select committee? Might I have been 'arguing with politicians for measures which will 'end choice' then? Hardly. I certainly said that I could see no objection to compulsory registration, but then neither could Fiona Nicholson of Education Otherwise, so I was not alone in that. I am, on balance, in favour of monitoring, but what's this about, ' arguing for monitoring and testing of HE children'? Let's look at what I actually said to the select committee about this:

'They should not be testing children in a formal way....I am against an over-prescriptive approach... I have never had any dealings with the National Curriculum'.

Does this really sound like a man arguing with politicians for the testing of home educated children? I never so much as glanced at the National Curriculum while I was educating my daughter. Why on earth should anybody think that I wish to impose it on others? Weird! I must point out again that I spoke for about a tenth as long as any of the other witnesses.

3. I 'actively campaign against families' choices'

This is perhaps the most superficially convincing argument against me. The gist of it is that the measures which I support would prevent families from making a free choice regarding the methods of education which they use. There are two parts to this, really. Firstly is the idea that I 'actively campaign'. What have I done in this line over the last year or so? Well, there is this blog.......oh, and keeping a blog........then there is my blog. That's it; I keep a blog on home education. Actively campaigning? Not really.

The second part to focus upon here is the expression 'family choices'. This suggests some sort of democratic forum, but of course the imbalance of power is so great between parents and children that for 'family choices' you had better read 'parental choices'. Society acknowledges that children are incapable of making informed choices in most areas. Let us take sexual relationships. If an eight year old girl is seduced by an adult, whether a teacher or her own father and she does not object, we could hardly say legitimately that she is ' making a choice'. She cannot give informed consent to most things. The reason for this is that the imbalance of power in the relationships between adults and children, combined with the immaturity of one of the participants makes this an exploitative act on the part of the adult. Most eight year olds go along with what their parents say will be good for them, whether this is school , home education or a host of other things. They cannot really be said to have made a choice, simply because of their age and lack of knowledge. To either send a child to school or educate her at home cannot be said to be a 'family choice'. It is a parent deciding something for what she sees as the good of the child.

Sometimes parents make good decisions on behalf of their children. At other times they make foolish or selfish decisions. We all feel that some parental choices are bad and should be prevented. Where we differ is in what we see as bad choices. In short, all of us support measures against 'family choices'. We just support different measures against different choices made by different families. To accuse me of wishing to restrict or limit 'family choice' is in a sense true; I certainly do wish to do that. But then again so too do those people who are accusing me of it, so it is really saying nothing at all.

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