I want to look today at what motives parents might have for teaching their children systematically and then forgetting that they have done such a thing; in effect, airbrushing this from their family history. This is by no means uncommon among both home educating parents and also those who send their children to school. Some motives for this are restricted to home educators and so I shall deal with these first.
Quite a few home educating parents seem to feel almost ashamed to be seen to be pushing their children academically and those who do ensure that the children study literacy and mathematics in a structured and traditional way often conceal this from other parents. I want to think about this first and see if we can discover what could be responsible for this extraordinary state of affairs; educators who seem to be embarrassed about educating! There are several reasons why home educating parents might behave in this way. Before we go any further, I want to make it quite clear that I do not want to become bogged down in terminology here. I am talking about parents who teach their children and then keep quiet about it afterwards or try to erase it from their minds. I do not mind whether we call this coercive education and contrast it with autonomous, or whether we talk of imposed teaching and compare it with unschooling or informal education. The fact is, that parents do it.
Many, but not of course all, home educating groups are ambivalent about teaching and imposing discipline upon children. I have heard from parents who say that when they have said 'No' to their child at a group, they are stared at as though they are child abusers. One mother mentioned that her eight year-old son would be studying for GCSEs when he was older and the reaction was very hostile. How could she possibly know that he would do this? Wasn't she being presumptuous? Did she not want to give the boy a choice when he was older? I think that quite a few readers will know what I am talking about here. Under these circumstances, there is a tendency to adapt to the mores of the group and keep quiet about anything that might smack of 'school at home'. There is also, incidentally, a tendency to pretend that one does not permit visits from the local authority, this being another of those things that many parents are expected to give lip service to. People who accept visits are sometimes made to feel as though they are letting the side down. One sees this attitude a lot on Internet lists. The family who I mentioned yesterday, for example, claimed in the newspaper to be unknown to the council and said that if registration became compulsory they would leave the country. In fact, just as with many other autonomous educators, they enjoy a perfectly amicable relationship with their local HE advisor from the council. This is also common; quite a few parents have visits from their local authority and then keep quiet about it for fear of being thought Quislings!
Conforming to the expectations of a group in order not to be rejected is one reason for maintaining these pretences, but there are other motives at work. Saying, 'We're autonomous' is a bit of a catchphrase in some circles. It makes one sound 'with it'. It's a bit like saying 'We're organic'. It is a shorthand code for a lifestyle rather than merely an educational philosophy. There was of course also the enjoyment during the campaign against the Badman review and Schedule 1 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill of pretending to be part of a persecuted minority. For a while, some of these parents could make out that they would be forced to flee the country or go on the run like desperate criminals! This was the only chance some of these families would ever have to feel like members of a despised minority and it would have been foolish to pass it up. Of course one had to be an autonomous educator to be part of this. Structured educators who were registered with their local authority could not make out that they were threatened by the proposed new law and so many parents denied that they had visits and let everybody think that they too felt that the new law would stop them home educating. This particular game encouraged many home educating parents to pose as being autonomous.
Perhaps the strongest motive for teaching one's child and then forgetting that one has done so is this. People tend to sneer a little at pushy parents and those who appear over anxious for their child to succeed. Let's face it; it looks a bit sad to be so desperate for your child to do better than everybody else's! It is much cooler to pretend that your kid does not have to work hard and that you certainly don't have to put the hours in on their education. When GCSEs were are taking place, every single one of our friends would claim that their children were doing no revision and that it was confidently expected that they would do badly at their exams. This was despite the fact that many of these kids had had private tutors for years and the parents were insisting that they stay in and study practically every night. (To say nothing of completing their coursework for them!) When their children achieved a string of As and A*s, it made it look as though the kids were little geniuses who had managed this without trying. The same thing happens when people teach their children things like reading and mathematics. If they then forget about this, then it looks as though their child must be super bright for being able to learn the thing later without any formal instruction. I must admit that I was tempted to do this myself. Had I kept quiet about all the teaching which I did, then I could have made out that my daughter had 'just picked up' literacy, the four basic arithmetical operations and everything else up to and including calculus. This would have had the double pay-off both of making me appear a laid back and right-on parent and also presenting my child as a real brain-box!
I have to say that there is often no conscious deception involved in this process by the parents. Some of our friends seemed genuinely to have forgotten the years of tutoring, the extra-curricular activities and so on. They honestly seemed to believe that their children's GCSE results were entirely their kid's doing. I am sure that the same thing happens with home educators who spend time teaching their children. If I had my time over again, I might well be inclined to erase all the intensive work with flashcards from my memory and allow my daughter the credit for simply picking up reading of her own accord.