One of the things that must surely strike anybody who spends any length of time at all on one the various home education forums and lists, is the amount of anger and anxiety which one encounters there. In a sense, this is only to be expected. After all, many of these things were set up to support home educators who needed help and support; ergo, those who are managing fine tend not to hang around those places. We are told though that one of the most popular lists now has over fifteen hundred members and in a sense represents the interests of all home educating parents, not just the ones who go on there because they are struggling. This creates a problem.
Educating my own child was the most enjoyable activity by far which I have ever undertaken. I can imagine nothing in the world better than spending days on end in the company of a lively and inquisitive child, learning side by side with her about the world. I have never enjoyed anything in my life as I did home education, nor do I expect ever to have such fun again. My daughter too, by all accounts had a fantastic time. We went all over the place, exploring every possible aspect of life. It was great. I see in the newspaper today that the average parent in this country spends only two hours a day in the company of her child; a statistic which I find utterly incomprehensible. Why have a child in the first place unless you want to spend a lot of time with her?
I said there was a slight problem with the idea of the internet lists working to represent the interests of home educating parents as a whole. It is this. Since, as many people have pointed our frequently here, the sort of people one sees on these lists are often weird and atypical home educators, one might get a distorted view of British home education if one were to limit one's knowledge of home education simply to the types who seen on such lists. Many of them are angry misfits and an air of grievance, dissatisfaction and anger permeates these places. This creates an atmosphere which is very different from that which one meets when talking to ordinary home educating parents in real life.
Unfortunately, much of the public face of home education is drawn from precisely those lists. In other words, the sort of parents that people like Graham Stuart meet, the views of parents who make submissions to select committees and so on are all too often drawn from that type of home educator; the crank, the bitter and discontented, the barrack-room lawyer and the obsessive. These are in general the same people who contact newspapers and make their views known in a number of other ways.
The danger is that this sub-group of home educators are often taken by those unfamiliar with home education as being typical and representative of home educating parents as a group. This is a shame. The public seldom hears from mothers and fathers who are having a great a time, enjoy amicable relations with their local authority and whose children are happy and well balanced. The overall impression one gets from what one might call the public face of home education is of parents constantly fighting with schools and local authorities, whose children have suffered terribly. Those children who are shown as happy are often portrayed as being in the process of recovering from unimaginable traumata suffered in the playground and classroom. For the average person, this suggests that the majority of home educated children are suffering from psychological problems and are very vulnerable, nervous and sensitive.
It might be better for the image of home education if more emphasis were to be placed upon the robust and happy children with contented parents who were not constantly angry and battling with the government and their local authority. This might stop people from viewing home educators as troublesome cranks and encourage the perception that they are just ordinary parents whose healthy and well balanced children were having a great time.