Saturday, 11 September 2010

A 'war' on home education?

I have been exchanging emails with some parents in America who say that a worldwide attack upon home education seems to be taking place. They used the expression a 'war' on home education. I can in a way see what they mean.

Here are a few of the developments in the last couple of years which have alarmed home educators. In February 2008, a court in California ruled that only parents with a teaching qualification were entitled to educate their children at home. This ruling was not enforced however. A year later, the British government announced an enquiry into home education. The result was very nearly a law which introduced restrictions to the practice. Although this law didn't make it onto the statute book, there have been several rumblings which suggest that the matter is far from over. In June this year, Sweden passed a law which forbade home education except in 'exceptional circumstances'. These 'exceptional circumstances' have yet to be defined. This new legislation also paved the way for the criminal prosecution of those who failed to send their children to school. In Russia recently, it was announced that the law on education is to change. Currently, 'family education' is explicitly recognised in law; the new education law which will be passed by the end of the year makes no mention at all of this form of education. The stated aim is the modernisation of education in the Russian Federation. There are estimated to be over a hundred thousand home educated children in Russia and, as in other parts of the world, the numbers are growing.

The latest development comes from Botswana in southern Africa. Last month the police raided the homes of several Seventh Day Adventist Christians who were teaching their children at home. They seized teaching materials and the parents were summonsed to appear in court. The judge ruled a couple of days ago that since the children were entitled under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to a good education, then they should be enrolled in school. They suggested that being educated at home was an education 'on the cheap' and therefore against the spirit of the UNCRC. It is felt by some American home educators that the UNCRC is being used as a vehicle to force parents to send their children into state education and that this is also behind the new, tough Swedish approach to the matter. America is one of only two countries in the world not to ratify the UNCRC; the other is Somalia.

In this country too, some home educating parents sense a conspiracy against home education. Even the inclusion of a storyline on home education in a drama series set in a school, Waterloo Road, was seen as being part of a coordinated government campaign to portray home education in a poor light and thus prepare the way for new regulations.

The truth is that various countries are growing uneasy about home education. Often, as in the case of the united Kingdom, this is not because of any opposition to home education per se, but because of the suspicion that home education is being used as a cover for other things. Thirty years ago, practically every child in Britain attended school. Those who did not were pursued vigorously and made to do so. The situation was similar in the United States, with all but a handful of children attending school. Now there are many children in both this country and the US who are not pupils at any school. Some of these children are being educated at home and some are not. This is also the situation in a number of other countries and the numbers are growing inexorably each year.

As we have seen, some American states, Texas for instance, are becoming uneasy because the number of those being taken out of school with the claim that they are going to be home educated is growing so rapidly that even the home education organisations are baffled. Both school authorities and home educators themselves are beginning to think that these high numbers of new 'home educators' are being used to mask dropouts from the school system. A similar stunt is worked in this country, with local authorities tacitly allowing truants and disruptive pupils to leave school under the pretext of home education. Central governments are trying to put a stop to such practices and one of the ways of doing so is by introducing new legislation which will make it harder for parents to register their children as being home educated. An inevitable result of such laws is that genuine home educators are apt to find their lives being made a little more difficult.

I do not myself see anything sinister in these news stories from around the world. True, there are one or two countries like Germany and Sweden who have an historic aversion to home education, but most countries tolerate it to varying degrees. However, as the practice spreads and becomes more popular it is inevitable that some parents and schools should latch onto the idea and use it as the basis for scams of their own. These can range from ridding a school of awkward pupils to keeping a child at home in order to abuse her more easily. It is usually these peripheral activities that concern governments, rather than home education itself.

1 comment:

  1. We live in a fast moving world, news wise; so every little thing that happens can get much more publicity than even 10 years ago. Some LA bod knocks on someones door and makes vague threats, and we all know about it in 30 mins. Within hours lots of anger is generated and it becomes a campaign against a particular LA.

    Obsure legislation in countries such as Sweden likewise is more readily known about. I too don't think that any of this is particularly orchestrated except that in general all govts make more laws, not fewer and so as time goes on all sorts of things that have been tolerated get tightened up on and we know about it almost instantly.

    As I said before though, the increase of HE storylines in soaps is though probably linked to the increased pubilcity home educators have sought and gained in this country; story writers are influenced by this in that HE may have come to their notice more, and so worms its way in a dispropotionate way in to the storylines.