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was heartening therefore to see somebody posting on the HE-UK list, not to announce, as is all too common, that she had withdrawn her children from school and did not know what to do next, but in order to request as much information as possible about home education so that she could make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.