Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Cherishing illusions

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.

19 comments:

  1. I'm not surprised that you are angry. I did witness the exchange on BRAG, but I was so confused by MS's comment about mental retardation that I didn't realise it was supposed to be a reference to you. In fact, I didn't understand her post at all. Sharon (Shoshana) did stand up for you though (and has endured the consequences) so it's not true that no one did.{sigh} It's all very silly and tedious.

    Please don't stop looking into things and doing the myth-busting. Didn't David H suggest you start a snopes-type site for HE? I can understand your not wanting to do it on BRAG, though.

    Shame, that used to be a really good group, with great, non-personal, un-attacking discussions. Now, it's just gone the way of all the other lists.

    I much prefer small-group discussion, preferably in person.

    Mrs Anon

    ReplyDelete
  2. Morning Simon,

    We have been HE for almost a year now, we signed up immediately to EO but I won't be renewing our membership as there just isn't enough there for us for it to be worth the money. I also joined HE UK but rarely visit now as I just found it all a bit much and was going to bed terrified my son would be taken into care at any moment. I haven't discovered BRAG so don't know anything about that one. Your blog is my daily source of HE information and I am very grateful for it so please don't stop.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "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'."

    Maybe people think this because you have a history of lying for you own 'aggrandizement'? Just to give one example, you either lied by stating that you were a Primary School Teacher to give authority to a newspaper article or you lied in order to 'win' an argument on an email list when you said that you had not been a Primary School Teacher (and said that you had lied in the article). It's a bit like the boy who cried wolf. I'm sure this belief that you are lying is taken too far, especially when the facts would be so easy to check as in the example above, but you must accept a proportion of the blame for this attitude.

    ReplyDelete
  4. 'Just to give one example, you either lied by stating that you were a Primary School Teacher to give authority to a newspaper article or you lied in order to 'win' an argument on an email list when you said that you had not been a Primary School Teacher (and said that you had lied in the article). '

    This has been covered fairly extensively, to say the least of it, in a thread a few days ago. I really do not propose to go through it all again now! I am surely not the only one who finds it odd that a complete stranger keeps cross examining me about my c.v.. If anybody wishes to believe that I was a teacher; that is fine. If on the other hand they want to think that I was not a teacher, that is also OK. I really cannot see why somebody who will not even give his name or provide some account of his own employment history would think that I am going to provide chapter and verse of my own!

    ReplyDelete
  5. 'Your blog is my daily source of HE information and I am very grateful for it so please don't stop.'

    Ah, it's good to know that some enjoy this blog! I have no intention at all of stopping it; just that I shall only post here and not on any of the home education lists any more.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "I am surely not the only one who finds it odd that a complete stranger keeps cross examining me about my c.v.. If anybody wishes to believe that I was a teacher; that is fine. If on the other hand they want to think that I was not a teacher, that is also OK."

    But I'm not interested in your history as such. I don't really care if you were trained as a teacher or not. I'm asking if you lied or if there is an explanation for the two pieces of conflicting information. You chose to put this conflicting information into the public domain. Now you seem to want to stuff it back into the closet, which is of course your prerogative. However, it does rather leave people having to believe that you lied when making one of those statements. Not sure how my personal history is going to change this?

    ReplyDelete
  7. 'You chose to put this conflicting information into the public domain.' I made two statements which were both true but one of which was open to misinterpretation. This may be because when writing an email or comment on a list, i do not always take great care. We have been through this before and I still cannot see why you are so interested in my employment record! Perhaps we could just refer people to the excanges on the post a few days ago and let them follow the thing there? I honestly am not going to discuss my life history at the request of every anonymous stranger.

    ReplyDelete
  8. "I made two statements which were both true but one of which was open to misinterpretation. This may be because when writing an email or comment on a list, i do not always take great care."

    So when you said:

    "It's perfectly true that I described myself as a teacher in that article. However if you were to be a reader of True Detective, then you would a few years ago have found me describing myself as a former detective from Scotland Yard!"

    So were we wrong to link the two sentences together and conclude that you lied about being a teacher in the article? Or should we also believe that you are a former detective from Scotland Yard? I'm really confused as to why you appear to have wanted to deny being a trained teacher.

    "We have been through this before and I still cannot see why you are so interested in my employment record!"

    As I've said frequently, I'm not interested in you employment record, I'm interested in why you have chosen in the past to mention your employment record and change it on occasion.

    ReplyDelete
  9. "Perhaps we could just refer people to the excanges on the post a few days ago and let them follow the thing there?"

    I think this is relevant to the current post too. Both discussions stem from the reactions of other home educators to you and your inability to understand what part your past comments and actions have played in creating these reactions. I agree those reactions are probably out of all proportion to your actions but they have contributed to current problems.

    If the reactions to your comments on the lists were completely against you I might understand why you give such a one-sided view of history here. However, there have been people who have defended and supported you on list discussions and you make no mention of them here.

    ReplyDelete
  10. '"It's perfectly true that I described myself as a teacher in that article. However if you were to be a reader of True Detective, then you would a few years ago have found me describing myself as a former detective from Scotland Yard!"'

    This is a teasing reference to the writing of magazine articles. Again, we went through this a couple of days ago. I was pointing out that one would be unwise to take the description of writers found in magazines and newspapers at face value. I went into this in detail last year; I drew your attention to the post two days ago. As I have also told you elswhere, this was an adaptation of a humorous article which I wrote on the writing of articles. I never dreamed that anybody would take it at face value and I have never in my life claimed to be a fortmer Scotland yard detective. I did write for True Detective at one time, but under my usual name and identity. I really cannot see why two years after I posted a light hearted comment, meant to make people laugh, you are still apparently obsessed with it. Tell me, do you really think that I was once described as a former Scotland Yard detective? Are you really not able to see that this was supposed to be funny?

    ReplyDelete
  11. Below is a post which I did here on October 7th last year. It really is the last I have to say about this topic, which is surely of limited interest to anybody apart from Mike Fortune-Wood'

    News that I am due to give evidence next week to the select committee looking at home education has now reached the HE-UK message boards. The reactions are somewhat extreme; on the thread which announces that I am to give evidence, a debate is now taking place among people hoping to flee the country! I realise that I am unpopular with these people, but this does seem an extreme reaction. As well as the usual stories about the possibility of my working for the DCSF, an old favourite has been revived about my journalistic career. Ah, that my life is of such interest to these characters that they should wish to investigate it in fine detail! Briefly, a couple of months ago Mike Fortune-Wood took one of my posts from the list and stuck it up on the Times Educational Supplement website. I say nothing of the ethics of this; it speaks volumes about the man. Here is the relevant part;

    "Third rate hack freelancers, into which category I am obliged to place myself, have a deplorable habit of misrepresenting themselves to both editors and also the public at large. It's perfectly true that I described myself as a teacher in that article. However if you were to be a reader of True Detective, then you would a few years ago have found me describing myself as a former detective from Scotland Yard! And don't even ask what I claimed to be when writing for The Lady..... Why, I even change gender for women's magazines. I know, I'm utterly shameless, but what can I do? I have to pay the bills like everybody else."

    I had originally posted this in a light hearted vein as a riposte to somebody who was annoyed that I had not previously mentioned that I was a teacher. Apparently, this deeply incriminating passage is going to be waved beneath the nose of some MP. We must hope that she has more of a sense of humour than the members of the HE-UK list!

    Actually, the above post is based upon a humorous piece I did for a writing magazine about the difficulties of being a freelance journalist. Not that it is wholly untrue and misleading, far from it. The fact is that many magazines wish to appear authoritative. To this end, they often encourage contributors to puff up their qualification to write upon a given topic. There is no particular secret about this, it's just how things work in that field. Women's magazines, to take another case, prefer to have it look as though all their contributors are women themselves. For some reason, many women feel uneasy about reading articles about intimate health problems that have been written by a man. Often, they alter the gender without even asking. I have had several pieces published in such magazines where I have been transgendered without any prior notice; a disconcerting experience indeed!

    Not a few magazines like to make it look as though every article is written by a different person. Typically, I will be asked for an alternative name if more than one of my pieces is going to appear in an edition. Look out for James Tregarth, the name I use if I am writing about folklore or country matters. Of course the change of name from Simon to Simone is an absolute natural and possibly one of the reasons why we actually ended up naming my daughter Simone in the first place. A real case of art imitating life, as she now writes herself under this name. I dare say that just to confuse matters, she will probably end up writing as Simon Webb at some stage of her career!

    I have of course not the least objection to anybody passing this email to any MP or House of Commons select committee that they wish. My only objection is to the sheer hypocrisy of these people. They rave on about protecting the privacy of individuals on the lists and then do their damnedest to spread other people's posts to the four winds. Breathtaking really. '

    ReplyDelete
  12. "This is a teasing reference to the writing of magazine articles. Again, we went through this a couple of days ago. I was pointing out that one would be unwise to take the description of writers found in magazines and newspapers at face value."

    Yes, I was aware of the reason for the reference to Scotland Yard. The point you appeared to be making by using this comparison is that you were not a Primary School Teacher when you wrote the newspaper article. I really cannot see any point at all in your comment unless this is the case. You are saying, yes, I lied about being a teacher in the article but it's something that happen all the time and is perfectly normal.

    Can you really not see that people will find it difficult to trust the words of a person who freely admits that they lie about their status and educational background in order to make something they say more believable to readers and that this is perfectly normal behaviour? Is this idea that difficult to follow?

    If you cannot see why you might be distrusted because of this history, there's nothing much more I can say to you, but at least other people can see that there is another side to the story in your blog article. Yes I think people have probably taken things too far, but it's not completely one sided and without justification.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I want to ditto the remarks made by the Anon above.

    I would also question whether there is absolutely no narcissism in your behaviour Simon. I mean a little bit of seeking adulation is actually a good thing - stops one from being a crappy person sometimes. It's just a question of how one uses this, and whether one does it honestly.

    People who lie about their past histories...well it can be trivial or it could be Jeffrey Archer!

    Then there is the matter of couching the original story as unnecessarily alarmist on the part of home educators. I am not convinced that it was. I am perfectly prepared to think that some LAs overstep the mark but when publicly called to account, will come back with a seemingly feasible and perfectly legal explanation, which subsequently constrains them and makes them behave!

    Perhaps some stories about LA misdemeanors are exaggerated or are even completely unfounded, but investigating them, and calling LAs to account is surely simply the price of freedom.

    ReplyDelete
  14. 'I would also question whether there is absolutely no narcissism in your behaviour Simon.'

    I would be surprised myself if there were absolutely no narcissism in my behaviour! What would make me so different from the rest of humanity? Incidentally, a few weeks ago somebody mentioned that 'narcissism' was the most popular word being used by home educators at the moment. All you nee to do now is accuse me of conflating something and engaging in ultra vires practices and you will have the complete set of fashionable HE buzzwords.

    'I mean a little bit of seeking adulation is actually a good thing '

    Slightly foxed by this one, but I dare say you know what you meant. Am I supposedly seeking adulation for my writing?

    ReplyDelete
  15. "Am I supposedly seeking adulation for my writing?"

    Presumably you're seeking something by writing this blog, maybe adulation, attention, revenge, release from boredom, self publication...whatever. You must have a reason for writing it. I've often wondered why anyone would feel driven to write a blog, especially one where the writer's main aim seems to be to vociferously attacks on a group they claim to belong to.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Presumably you're seeking something by writing this blog, maybe adulation, attention, revenge, release from boredom, self publication...whatever.'

    Well if I'm seeking adulation, then I am certainly going the wrong way about it! I cannot imagine upon whom I might be revenging myself; more details about that idea needed.

    'the writer's main aim seems to be to vociferously attacks on a group they claim to belong to.'

    I was not aware of having vociferously attacked home educators. I think that this is the best method of education for a child, far better than schools. I am impatient with some of the antics of those who would claim to represent home educators in this country. And I never have any time for cant or humbug, of which I see quite a bit in the world of home education.

    ReplyDelete
  17. The problem is you only seem to see and talk about the negative aspects which gives a very partial view to anyone reading your blog and little else.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hi,

    You've an extremely good weblog. To come to be a prosperous individual the standard factor would be to have positive thinking.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Simon, is this the comment that has upset you?


    Fair enough Shoshana but we would all be better to leave out the personal in this debate would we not, especially insolent assumption about those we do not know, I have no wish to upset anyone but I cannot ignore this claim:

    "the impression that some parents who educate their own children know nothing about the problems of children with special educational needs, one of which is the use of insensitive and pejorative expressions for their conditions"

    Simon has blogged his disdain of alphabetical disabilities, and the correct term is neurodiversities, and seems to have an if it isn't visible it doesn't exist approach. Or if you are just coping you don't deserve better, I cannot personally work him out.

    His dismissing in the quote above of an amorphous group of people in this arrogant manner, picking up on a mistake such as using the term 'mental retardation' (this was once the official term and who can keep up with the jargon) that was surely innocent and not at all malicious is what he does.

    Why, I don't know, he seems genuinely concerned but this just muddies the waters and gets everybody's backs up and diverts us from the job in hand which many of us are not only debating but actively and vigorously involved in on the ground.

    Maire

    I cannot see where I have said you are mentally retarded.

    ReplyDelete