Critics of home education tend in the main have a pretty limited repertoire of stock arguments which they level against the practice. Socialisation is of course one of these, as is the 'fact' that it is unhealthy for a child to spend all day in her parents company. The other old standby is, 'How can one person hope to teach all those subjects?' We saw a variation on this theme yesterday, when somebody commenting here quoted my saying that I did not trust anybody else to educate my child. This was taken to be a sign of some sort of mania. The very idea of it, that a parent could expect to provide a better education for his child than a school! One strongly suspects that this comment was not made by a home educator.
Over the years, parents have been persuaded that they do not know what is best for their children and that anything from deciding whether the baby sleeps on her belly or back to the teaching of reading, should be left to professionals. The result is that many parents lack the confidence to teach their children. Teaching physics? Surely, one would need to be a highly trained and qualified physics teacher with a degree under one's belt and a laboratory at one's disposal to undertake such a thing? The same is thought to be true of music, drama, mathematics and practically every other academic subject. So widespread is this pernicious point of view, that many parents who remove their children from school do not even attempt now to teach their children any of these things. They have, in effect, been disempowered by the cult of the professional. This is a shame, because there is in reality nothing at all to prevent any parent teaching anything at all effectively.
Most of the apparatus which schools now regard as essential for teaching, electronic whiteboards for example, are really only useful if you are teaching thirty children at once. If only one or two are involved, then a sheet of paper on the table and a felt tip are just as effective. The same goes for science laboratories; very useful for the mass instruction of large groups of children, but quite irrelevant where only one or two are concerned. Twenty years ago, Julie Webb explored this idea thoroughly in her book Children Learning at Home (Falmer, 1990). She found that the lack of specialised resources made no difference at all to parents and was not a bar to the teaching on anything from chemistry and biology to sports and music. Even such basic equipment as a Bunsen burner was found to be unnecessary; parents improvising instead at the gas stove.
With the advent of the Internet, the situation became even easier for the home educating parent. All the information one could possibly require on any subject at all was there to see. If it was biology, the specification for the various GCSE boards was freely available, setting out in minute detail what was needed to pass the examination. The same is true of music, acting and everything else. There can be no possible reason why any subject cannot be taught at least as effectively in the home as it can in a school.
The idea that schools are necessary for children to learn is an official one for teachers. Among the submissions received by Graham Badman was one from the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, which said;
'The NASUWT maintains that the existence of a right to home educate is anomalous with the clear emphasis in Government policy of ensuring that all children and young people can benefit from educational provision where teaching and learning is led by qualified teachers in well resourced and fit for purpose modern educational settings'
(Why do these people talk like this? Why do they say 'well resourced and fit for purpose modern educational settings' and not 'schools' like the rest of us?) Here you see the standard educational view of the matter and it is a shame that so many home educating parents seem to have fallen into the trap of believing this foolishness. Whenever there is a debate about home education, some fool will be sure to say, as Baroness Deech did a while ago, ''What about chemistry? You can't teach that in the kitchen!'
It is time that home educators in this country woke up to the fact that they are quite capable of teaching their children anything at all. In fact one-to-one tuition in a relaxed setting is the ideal vehicle for the transmission of knowledge. Children educated in this way tend to make far more rapid progress than those taught en masse in schools. I am aware that some parents have become dispirited by the idea that only professionals can undertake this sort of thing and have reacted by abandoning teaching entirely, but this is simply playing into the hands of these so-called professionals. The way to demonstrate the efficacy of home education is not to reject teaching but to show that it can be done far more effectively in the home than is possible in schools. If this belief is indeed a type of mania, as the person who commented yesterday suggested, then it is a mania backed by extensive research data from the USA!