It is very easy to laugh when people come on here and post things like;
'WHO THE HELL WANT TO LEAR ABOUT SHAKESPEARE?' 'who the hell wants to learn about the tudors? what use is that webb?' 'no broad exposure to culture for me lol'
Yes, the style is inimitable; it is of course Mr Peter Williams of Alton! We sometimes dismiss this as the ravings of a lone crank, but it is less amusing and far more disturbing when prominent figures on the home education scene in this country start complaining that the Department for Education are advising home educating parents to follow a broad and balanced curriculum. Either these people are unwittingly channelling the spirit of Peter Williams or there is a common purpose at work motivating both Mr Williams and Ian Dowty, the home educating lawyer. There is such a common purpose. It is that quintessentially English characteristic of anti-intellectualism and philistinism.
In most countries, to say that somebody is clever is an unalloyed compliment. For the English, it is an insult. When we say, 'Of course, Smith is very clever', we wait for the 'But...'. Even if it does not come, we understand that the listener is really speaking slightingly of Smith, not saying something nice at all really. We don't like 'clever' people in this country. We say as a put down, 'Don't be clever!'; we even use the word as a direct snub, 'He's a Clever Dick'. This ties neatly in with one of the main trends in British home education, the so-called 'natural' education. There is nothing new about this idea of course; centuries ago we heard about 'books in babbling brooks and sermons in stones'. The idea being that children and adults too can learn more about the world from communing with nature than they can from poring over dry, dusty books. It is this which lies at the heart of opposition to any sort of a curriculum for many parents. Johnny is out in the fields, learning first hand about the wonders of nature. Why should I call him indoors to study biology from a dull textbook; he is already studying biology.
This notion, that all curricula are Beds of Procrustes which will stifle the holy curiosity of childhood, has been around since the Enlightenment. Being opposed as so many are to a broad and balanced curriculum, I suspect that few of these types will have read Emile, by Rousseau, but if they did then it would be a revelation to them. Now during the stone age, it is quite possible that the child of some hunter-gatherer might have learned all he needed to know while wandering the forests and plains with his parents. I doubt this is still the case. There may well be 'books in babbling brooks', but these books will not teach us how to calculate percentages so that we do not get ripped off by a loan company. Nor will they teach us how to read. When I raised this topic a few days ago, it was suggested that the reason that parents were suspicious of the idea of a broad and balanced curriculum was because it might lead to local authorities judging their child's education by the National Curriculum. This is not at all the real reason. Many parents simply do not want to provide their children with a broad and balanced education, whether a curriculum is involved or not. Their blood runs cold at the idea of anybody asking them about what sort of education they are providing, because they are well aware at the back of their minds that it would fall woefully short by most definitions. This is why the idea of a plan of education or a curriculum put the wind up a lot of home educating parents; not for any ideological reason.
We are seeing the gradual emergence of a cohort consisting of thousands of young people who have been educated in this way, with an emphasis not upon learning from books, but from everyday life. I have an idea that these children have been stunted intellectually. Everyday life is all too often trivial and uninspiring; the idea of education is to introduce children to elevated ideas and things which they would never encounter in their ordinary life. We return here to the idea of the rights of children, in particular the right to an education which will enable them to rise above their humdrum existence and learn about other people, faraway places and the great intellectual ideas of the world. This is anathema to many home educating parents, who would far rather that their children simply learnt by going to the shops or working in an allotment. These children are liable to grow up with the mentality of medieval peasants, with little or no awareness of any world beyond their own village or any ideas other than those of their parents and neighbours. It is a sobering thought and it is why the DfE would like to see all children exposed to a broad and balanced curriculum.