The idea of guilt by association used to be very popular at one time, particularly in the USA during the McCarthy Era. It has unfortunately fallen out of favour in recent years, which was why I was so pleased to see Mike Fortune-Wood, owner of the HE-UK list revive this fine old tradition the day before yesterday.
As many readers will be aware, I was until last summer a member of the HE-UK Internet list. Following the publication of a couple of articles of mine on the subject of home education in the Independent and Times Education Supplement, I was chucked off ignominiously. Cest la vie! I know enough people who are still members of this list, both parents and local authority employees, that it didn't really matter. People have forwarded me posts of interest and at various times I have been sent all the posts at the end of each day. I have not needed to belong to the list myself, because I hardly think that most of the members would welcome my views an so have not found it necessary to post! However, on Sunday, I was sent a couple of posts which mentioned me by name. The aim of these was to smear me by suggesting that I had sent myself an email message with Alison Sauer's accounts as an attachment. (Yes, I know it sounds completely mad, but you know what autonomous home educators are like). Here is what was said:
'I wouldn't be surprised if Webb made the whole thing up, like he invented that family he spoke about in Hackney on Bragg a while ago.
He is particularly prejudiced against people who are not obviously middle class and educated to his standards'
I simply had to respond to this. I am about as middle class as the Artful Dodger! This is such a delightful piece of snobbery; that the writer assumes that I cannot be working class because I use standard English and correct punctuation. It speaks volumes about the author herself and her own assumptions about matters of language and class. I asked a few people if they would post a response for me via their own membership of the list, but all laughingly declined. The general feeling was that anybody seen to be a friend of mine would also be chucked off HE-UK. It was a conundrum, until I remembered a family with whom I have had quite a few dealings over in Ilford. I spend quite a bit of time there, because that is where my own family live. Ms Amin is the mother of a twelve year-old boy whom she de-registered from school last year. They live opposite my brother and so I have got to know them and helped out with advice. She joined a few lists, but did not think much of HE-UK. Actually, she recognised my name when we met and asked me how I could bear to have such things said about me that she had read on the lists!
To cut a long story short, I emailed her and she agreed to send my response to the post on her account. I thought that I had made it clear that she should provide a covering explanation, but in the event she did not. Mike Fortune-Wood's reaction was very swift. He threw her off the list; presumably for consorting with the enemy. I wonder that he did not email her first and ask what the idea was and find out a little more about it, but so great is the loathing which he evidently feels for me and anybody who speaks to me, he did not do so.
Ms Amin has never passed anything to me herself from the list. She is what you might call a highly structured home educator and cannot understand half of what is posted on HE-UK. This is less because she speaks at home a community language other than English, but because she is passionately dedicated to her child's education and finds the ideas expressed in the HE-UK list incomprehensible. One can sympathise! For this reason, I gather that she is not all that upset to be chucked of this particular Internet list.
Those whom I first asked to post a message on my behalf have been chuckling at all this and congratulating themselves on a narrow escape. There is something rather awful, running a list where a particular individual can be maligned at will without any chance of responding to the foolish and wrong headed things about him which are being said. Still, there is no harm done really. I am sure that Mike Fortune-Wood will not miss Ms Amin, who was as far as I can gather one of the only Muslims on his list. I suspect that the next time though that I try to get somebody to post on my behalf, it will be considerably harder!