The signs are, judging by the recent moves to change the pupil registration regulations, that the Department for Education is now amending the law by diktat, rather than seeking debate and consensus with the home educating community. Who can blame them? Events over the last few years have shown that many of the most vociferous opponents of change are capable of neither thinking logically nor debating rationally on the subject of home education. This makes further dialogue fruitless.
I want today to see how ordinary people discuss ideas and the rules that they follow. I then wish to look at a specific example of how some of the more loud mouthed members of the home educating community demonstrate their inability to follow the same rules of debate as the rest of the western world.
We often examine the world and draw new truths from what we observe by the dialectical process. Somebody makes a statement and then another person looks for flaws in it and presents another statement which exposes those flaws. For instance, I might claim that 'All birds can fly'. Somebody might then say, 'Penguins are birds and they cannot fly'. This has shown that the first statement is not true. Perhaps we must now amend it to 'Some birds can fly' or 'Most birds can fly'. Let us look at another case. A man tells me, 'All black men are stupid'. In order to refute this statement, it is only necessary for me to come up with one example to disprove this generalisation. So I might say, 'James Baldwin was a black man and he was not stupid'. My debating partner, if he concedes that James Baldwin was not stupid, must now amend his statement, perhaps to, 'Most black men are stupid' or 'Some black men are stupid'.
Of course he may not be a rational man. Instead of listening to my point and altering his generalisation accordingly, he may say aggressively, ' Are you saying that all black men are clever? Are you saying that there are no stupid black men' Of course I was saying nothing of the sort, merely pointing out that his initial statement was flawed. To do this, I had only to produce one intelligent black man; perhaps all the others are stupid, it does not matter for my purposes.
During the fuss about Schedule 1 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill, the contention was made by many home educators that home education is a private matter which should be no concern of the state unless there is evidence that a child is not being educated or is suffering harm of some sort. I think that this foolish idea is still widely subscribed to. Let us now treat this statement logically, as we did the statements about all birds being able to fly and all black men being stupid. In order to demonstrate that this statement is false, it is only necessary to show that home education can be the proper concern of the state even though a good education is being provided and the child is apparently not being harmed. We can do this simply by observing that a child might be being very well educated, not appear to be suffering any ill treatment and yet as an adult become disordered in some way, perhaps driven mad by a controlling parent or otherwise harmed psychologically. If such a young person then needed psychiatric care as a result of her upbringing; this would mean that her childhood education would have been a matter with which the state should concern itself. It does not matter whether only one child has ended up like this; this single case would be enough to disprove the statement, 'Home education is a private matter'. If the end results affect society, then logically it cannot be a private matter. Since I happen to know of at least one such case, this single case alone disproves the contention that home education is a private matter.
Now the next step would be to amend our initial statement. Realising that the claim, 'Home education is a private matter' no longer stands up, we could say, 'Home education is sometimes a private matter' or something of this sort. Instead, like the racist who wilfully misunderstood my citing of the single case of an intelligent black man, the home educators round on me, place their hands on their hips and say, 'Oh, are you saying that prisons and mental hospitals are full of home educated young people?' The sheer illogicality of the thing makes one feel like weeping! Readers will have watched this happening here a few days ago. I suggested that it was quite possible that some home educated children might not have benefited from their upbringing and the accusation was leveled at me that I believe prisons and Young Offender Institutions to be full of home educated young people. It's like the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, trying to talk to some of these people.
This then is the problem. Time and again in debates, it is clear that the home educators arguing the case have not the slightest grasp of the rules of logic or debate. Talking with them is like wading through treacle, which is why I suspect that the DfE have simply given up and decided to do what they think is necessary to protect the interests of children. It is unfortunate, but given the nature of the opposition, quite unavoidable.