Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Asking too many questions

Anybody considering an enterprise such as buying a car, moving house, applying for a job or changing the whole style of their children's education would be well advised to look into the matter carefully before making a final decision. This is only common sense. A first step would be to gather as many facts about the projected course of action as possible and then examine them carefully before deciding whether or not to proceed. This is particularly so when what you are planning will have a dramatic effect upon the lifestyle and future prospects of your children. It was heartening therefore to see somebody posting on the HE-UK list, not to announce, as is all too common, that she had withdrawn her children from school and did not know what to do next, but in order to request as much information as possible about home education so that she could make an informed decision about whether she wished to undertake it. She headed this thread, 'Considering home education'

Incredibly, this attempt to find out a few basic facts about home education was treated with the gravest suspicion by others on the list. A parent who wished to think carefully before deregistering her child from school? Somebody who wanted to look at the facts first? Must be a dangerous troublemaker! Why on earth should she ask about the efficacy of home education or want to know about any research on the subject? Why was she wanting to know about the long term prospects if she chose to home educate; GCSEs, further education and the attitudes of potential employers? The list owner, Mike Fortune-Wood, urged others on the list to refuse to answer these questions. Addressing her directly, he challenged her motives and asked what use facts and figures would be in making a decision such as this. Others swiftly joined in, starting a new thread called, almost unbelievably, 'Too many questions'! This simple request for information had, according to one parent, 'started alarm bells ringing' for her. The idea that it would be possible to ask too many questions before making a decision of this sort about one's child's education is so absolutely mad that it leaves one clutching one's head and reeling with disbelief! Presumably, those who feel this way withdrew their own children from school without asking too many questions or giving the matter too much thought.

This incident says a great deal about home education in Britain today; none of it good. Part of the animosity which was displayed towards the person making this post was motivated by the fact that her concerns were entirely educational and not related to problems at school or a desire for a different lifestyle. This in itself raised hackles; it is a rare parent in this country who chooses to home educate for educational reasons! Another thing which put people's backs up was that here was a person wishing to make a rational decision by examining all the available evidence before making up her mind. Again, this is at odds with the way such decisions are often made by home educating parents in Britain, that is to say either when they have reached such a point that there seems to be no choice in the matter or as an instinctive desire for a particular mode of upbringing for their child.

Withdrawing a child from school is a very serious decision indeed. It is common enough to hear of parents who have taken this step and are then at a loss to know what to do next; one sees them all the time on the forums and lists. Joining a list like this and asking for information first, before taking the kid out of school, that is an unusual person indeed!

This business also touches upon another aspect of British home education; the almost visceral distrust of research on the subject. Whoever the person asking for information was, whether she was even a parent at all, there could hardly have been any harm in pointing her towards Alan Thomas and Paula Rothermel's work on home education. The fear expressed though was that she might have been a 'researcher', one of the most feared and alarming characters whom a home educating parent might encounter! It is because of this ridiculous attitude towards researchers that so little is known about home education in this country. Even a sympathetic researcher like Paula Rothermel found that 80% of those whom she asked wished to answer no questions about what they were doing. Education Otherwise found the same proportion a few years later when they tried to conduct a survey among their members. I won't even mention the campaign to boycott the Ofsted research at the end of 2009.

Fortunately, some members of the HE-UK list have realised what a completely bonkers view the 'Too many questions' approach was giving of home educators. More information has been forthcoming, although the list owner is still deeply suspicious of somebody who could even think of asking all those questions! This little incident casts a revealing light upon home education in this country and I shall be exploring some further implications over the next day or two.


  1. I spotted this little incident too and I can see why it happened.

    Like many parents, I did a fair amount of research before I started home educating my children and found that little information of the type this poster asked for was available. It's not just missing, it's widely acknowledged that no one has it. So it wouldn't have occurred to me to ask for it on a home ed support list.

    In fact, I wouldn't have asked those questions at all, because they were related to the whole population of home-educated children rather than the likely outcomes in relation to my own Huey, Luey and Dewey - which is what most parents are bothered about.

    No disrespect to the questioner, if she's reading this, but the questions did read like those that students who want help with their essays regularly post on education or science forums, so I can quite see why some people thought she might be a researcher and could wonder what might happen to any answers they gave.

  2. 'so I can quite see why some people thought she might be a researcher and could wonder what might happen to any answers they gave.'

    You mean that when she asked about the proportion of home educated children withdrawn from school due to bullying, somebody might have mentioned that the York Consulting survey, Ofsted and the 2003 Education Otherwise poll all suggested that this was a major factor in the decision of many parents to home educate? How would providing this information have harmed anybody, least of all the person who pointed to the relevant research? I simply don't see what harm there might have been in answering those questions, even if she had been a researcher or student.

  3. There's a difference between recruiting participants for a study or tv programme or whatever on an internet forum and gathering information from it.

    For obvious reasons from the researcher's point of view information gathered in that way is unreliable, and from the participants' point of view, they have no control over or assurances about of what's going to happen to it.

    It doesn't take long to find out what sort of information about HE is and isn't available, so it's quite likely that anyone asking questions like that either hasn't done a preliminary trawl of the internet and is being a bit lazy, or they are fishing for people's views.

    It probably wouldn't do any harm to answer the questions, but who's going to sit down and write an essay on the 'state of home education today' for the benefit of anyone who asks for it.

    I once worked for a professor who was always getting letters from schoolchildren asking him for information about x, y or z. One mark to the students for initiative, but he usually replied something along the lines of 'read my book'.

  4. Selective reporting again from a private list Simon?? Trying to back up your naive "I am right" black and white prejudiced assumptions because you either don't understand the nuances or they don't suit your aims? Surely not!

    Clearly you didn't read further down where shortly afterwards the reasons for suspicion were explained to the questioner and the questioner accepted these and said she understood. Yes it was heated for a short while and then, like the adults they are, everyone explained the whys and wherefores and got on with it.

    Maybe the grown up part of the conversation was something you didn't understand.

    This partial reporting of yours is sensationalist nonsense and tantamount to lying.

  5. 'Clearly you didn't read further down where shortly afterwards the reasons for suspicion were explained to the questioner '

    Ah yes, the explanation. You anticipate me Anonymous;I am just doing a post about this now.

  6. 'This partial reporting of yours is sensationalist nonsense and tantamount to lying.'

    Any report or quotation is bound to be less than the complete text. I think that I quoted enough to give the overall flavour and certainly mentioned that more information had later been forthcoming.

  7. Ahh so now you are admitting that you are quoting from a private list which has rules preventing quoting from it without the poster's permission...interesting

  8. I'll forgive you Simon for blatantly stealing my idea for a post - because you did it so much better, :P

  9. 'I'll forgive you Simon for blatantly stealing my idea for a post - because you did it so much better, :P '

    Yes, I realise that it was a bit of a cheek! I am utterly shameless in my writing, as I am sure that some of those commenting here will be happy to confirm.

  10. Ahh, but if you 'borrow' an idea for a post, and improve upon it, then surely that is done so with the the public interest - because lets face it, these blogs are public - at heart.

    So long as a post is not utterly bastardised beynd it's original concept, I see not harm in what you do. :)

  11. 'So long as a post is not utterly bastardised beynd it's original concept, I see not harm in what you do. :) '

    What a forgiving nature you have, Loz. If only more of those who comment here had your attitude!

  12. Maybe Loz has a stronger stomach than me or maybe Loz is not an autonomous educator? I cannot help but find your belief that I am causing incalculable damage to my children by our choice to educate autonomously and also your efforts to end my family's right to learn in this way both abhorrent and insulting.

  13. 'maybe Loz is not an autonomous educator?'

    Hang on...Loz says she forgives Simon for pinching her blog topic and you tell us it's because she's not an AE'er?


  14. Anonymous said...Maybe Loz has a stronger stomach than me or maybe Loz is not an autonomous educator?

    lol....clutching at straws to bolster a waning belief anyone?

    My forgiving nature has absolutely nothing to do with whether I home educate autonomously or otherwise for heavens sake.
    It has everything to do with being mature, and being able to accept that the world works in ways in which we cannot always control, and that sometimes it is better to accept it, than try to fight against it.
    I genuinely do not see any harm in Simon pinching my blog...His after all, has resulted in a far better debate than my own. :P

  15. "lol....clutching at straws to bolster a waning belief anyone?"

    I don't follow, a waning belief in what?

  16. I don't expect you to feel especially aggrieved about the blog post, it's pretty irrelevant in the scheme of things. Simon wondered why others are less forgiving and I was attempting to explain why some people may not be ready to forgive Simon for his past actions. Pinching a blog post hardly compares to attempts to end our family's choice to educate autonomously and I can't imagine why Simon would consider them on a similar footing.

  17. " the almost visceral distrust of research on the subject" Same in latinamerica. It also alarm me the total misstrust to any scholarly knowledge on education. Even the world "experts" sounds foul for some people.

    (Excuse my english)