A lively debate has been taking place on one of the British Internet lists for home educating parents. The question being mulled over is whether or not 'elective home education' is a satisfactory term for all those who educate their children at home. Some local authorities, Lancashire for example, divide home educating parents into two categories; philosophical and reactionary. The philosophical ones are those who chose to educate their children, while the reactionary ones are those who took their kids from school because they felt they had no choice in the matter. It has been suggested that local authorities might wish to monitor the reactionary types more than they do those who opted to home educate for philosophical reasons.
Some parents never send their children to school and have always wished to take charge of their education. Others, for various reasons, send them to school and then change their mind about it later. These parents typically say that they 'had no choice' but to pull the kid from school. This might be because the child was being bullied, had a special need or disability which the school seemed unable or unwilling to cater for or because the chid simply became distressed at the prospect of going to school. Such parents often feel that they are forced to home educate by circumstances beyond their control. Why should local authorities feel that they need to monitor these parents more closely than those who have chosen to home educate for philosophical reasons? The answer is easy.
Let us draw an analogy with children who are being educated at home. Some home educating parents are very careful not to pressure their children into learning some particular subject. They prefer for the child to choose herself what she wishes to learn. This is called variously autonomous education, unschooling, natural or child-led education; although each phrase has a slightly different connotation. The theory behind this is that in traditional, school based education, children are learning because their motivation is extrinsic. They study history because they are told to and if they do not do so then they will incur sanctions and disapproval from the teacher and perhaps other pupils. This is contrasted with so-called intrinsic motivation, where a child reads about, say, dinosaurs, because she is interested in them and wishes to find out more. Some home educating parents feel that this kind of learning is better for the child and more effective in the long run.
Now here is a question. Which of the two types of education are likely to require somebody to chase up the kid and make sure that she is getting on with it? Will it be the child whose teacher has insisted that she learn the dates of the battles in the Wars of the Roses and the names of the contenders for the throne, even though she has no interest at all in medieval English history, or will it be the child who is passionately keen on learning about dinosaurs? The answer is of course, that there would be no point chasing after the kid who has chosen to read about dinosaurs. She is already doing it, because that is what she wants to do. The one who is studying history because she has to against her wises, on the other hand, might very well need close supervision by a teacher or parent in order to make sure that she is getting on with the task.
This is precisely similar to the situation with philosophical and reactionary home educators. On the one hand is a group who are intrinsically motivated to undertake the task. They have chosen to do this and are doing so because this is what they enjoy. On the other hand are a group who have been forced into doing the job and might not really want to do it at all. Their motivation for home education is purely extrinsic, imposed by outside circumstances, rather than the intrinsic motivation which is operating in those who have freely chosen to do this. It seems reasonable then, that local authorities should wish to check up on the group who have been forced to home educate, more often and with perhaps slightly different criteria than those used for the parents who have decided of their own free will to have their children with them at home. When people are doing something which they have not really chosen to do, they are more likely to shirk the task or skimp on it. Unless an eye is kept on them, the job might not even get done at all. This at least is the perspective of the local authority.
Actually, although Lancashire are unusual in being open about this, many local authorities do divide parents up in this way; paying more attention to those who have deregistered their children from school than they do to those who have never sent them in the first place.