I still belong to one or two Internet lists for home educators, although my relations with those on the lists is not always what one might describe as cordial! I tend to limit myself these days to supplying information, but even that seems to provoke people. About a month ago, for example, there was a panic because some parents seemed to believe that the Metropolitan Police were treating both co-sleeping and home education as risk factors for abuse. I found out about this and passed on what I had learned. More recently, others were saying that local authority staff were in league with the NHS in two areas, Oldham in the North of England and Aberystwyth in Wales, and demanding that home educated children should be weighed and measured regularly lest they were being starved to death. This was so mad, that it didn't take five minutes to sort out.
Now of course, I neither need nor want thanks for this sort of thing. I choose to do it and then pass on any information which I can unearth. I have though been surprised that not only do I get no thanks for this, but that people are actually hostile and aggressive about it. At first I found this puzzling, but I think that I have found the correct explanation. Let me give a couple of examples of what people have said when I looked into the business of school nurses insisting on weighing home educated children. Somebody on one of the lists thought that I might be lying about contacting the school nurse in Oldham for, as he put it, my own 'aggrandizement'. Now it is quite true that like everybody else I sometimes exaggerate my achievements in order to make myself sound important, but really! Does anybody seriously imagine that the limit of my self-aggrandizement would be to pretend to have exchanged emails with a school nurse in Oldham? I think my ambition might reach a little further than this. It conjures up such a delicious image. One can imagine two fashionably dressed young women walking down Piccadilly.
'Don't stare,' says one, ' But did you see that man who just passed? My dear, that was Simon Webb. They say he has one of the most brilliant minds in Essex. He was the man who emailed the school nurse in Oldham!' Her friend turns to gaze longingly at this famous man.
'Gosh, how I wish that I could meet him! Fancy his actually emailing a school nurse like that!'
I'm sure that readers will agree that as aggrandizement goes, this is pretty tame stuff.
Less amusing was the woman who said that I must be suffering from 'mental retardation' for doing this. I have no objection to being insulted, but for somebody to use this as a term of abuse in this day and age struck me as quite extraordinary. Even more extraordinary was the fact that despite this being on an Internet list for home educators with over seven hundred members, including most of the well known names in home education in this country, not one person objected. Presumably, they are all happy to see expressions like this bandied around in a pejorative way, as long as the target is somebody like me! One feels that tomorrow somebody will post on that list saying, 'Ed Balls, what a spastic!" or perhaps, 'See that Graham Badman? Doesn't he look like a Mongol?' I am sure that these terms too will pass without remark. Shocking.
Other members of the list were not as offensive as this, but there was still an impression that I was poking my nose in and should really just mind my own business. It was almost as though they didn't want to know the truth and would prefer to believe that some local authority somewhere was strangling home educated children and boiling them down for glue. Very strange.
Now I will let readers into a little secret. I have always found that asking questions is very useful if you want to find something out. So while I have been investigating these scare stories, I have asked the people to whom I talk, 'Has anybody else asked about this lately?' Invariably, the answer is 'yes' and I often recognise the names of those who have already discovered that these rumours are untrue. This is why I mentioned that Fiona Nicholson of Education Otherwise had been dealing with Fran Lees in Oldham; to see if I could prompt her to acknowledge that what I was saying was true. She did so some hours later, but without my having mentioned her name, I suspect that we would never have heard about this.
So what do with have? Silly scare stories circulate on home education lists, stories which allege that some local authority or police force is operating a policy which in some way harms home educating families. Home educators get worked up and indignant about the rumours and do not want anybody to shatter their illusions. They get angry if anybody tells them the truth about the matter; they want to believe that these anti-home education stories are true. Well known people from organisations like Education Otherwise and Home Education UK look into the matter, discover that it is all nonsense and then keep quiet about it, allowing ordinary parents to continue believing a lot of rubbish. Why would they do that? Having found out that the rumours are false, why don't these people do what I have been doing, that is to say spread the information around where other home educators can see it?
The best comparison I can make is the situation in this country during World War I when everybody believed that the Kaiser's army were committing horrible atrocities. From time to time, somebody would demonstrate that these stories were ludicrous and would supply the facts to discredit them. This provoked anger in ordinary people who wanted to believe that the Germans were mad beasts. There was thought to be something disloyal and unpatriotic in casting doubt upon such atrocity stories. Even intelligent politicians who knew that the rumours were baseless, took care not to show their disbelief publicly. Just like the home education organisations now! The problem is that home educating parents have been encouraged to swallow any foolishness about local authorities and the Department for Education. They feel that they are at war with these people and wish to think them capable of any wicked act. These crazy tales which entail conspiracies involving local authorities, the police and NHS staff have become a form of mass hysteria. Those raising objections to these fantasies are regarded by other parents as traitors and saboteurs.
For this reason, I shall not be posting any more information about this sort of thing on any of the Internet lists. Firstly, it is a waste of time and secondly it just winds people up and makes them behave irrationally. I may from time to time put stuff on this blog about such things, but that is all. As I said above, some of the well known people on those lists find out about these things for themselves and then for their own reasons keep quiet about it. In future, I shall just leave others to find out for themselves.