There is among many British home educators thought to be something inherently wrong in forcing one's opinions upon an innocent child. Who are we to say that our idea, that the kid should study his multiplication tables this morning, is any better than the child's wish to surf the Internet? Because some people are absolutely passionate about this and very articulate in explaining why teaching to a curriculum is bad for children and likely to put them off learning for life or make them neurotic, a lot of home educating parents who teach their kids feel faintly guilty about the practice and tend not to mention it to other home educators. They are perhaps afraid of being thought of as pushy parents or even parents who are careless of their child's psychological health. A natural consequence of this is that quite a few parents teach their children to a curriculum of their own devising, while denying vehemently to those around them that they are doing anything of the sort. Let us look at any example of this; a mother who follows a structured approach, teaching her child to read, do mathematics, learn about biology and so on, while still maintaining the fiction that what is happening is being driven by the child himself.
Before we look at the clip below, may I make two points? First, I think that this looks like a great example of home education and very similar to the methods I myself used. This is not a denunciation of the mother; rather an expression of bewilderment that she seems to be slightly uneasy about admitting that she is teaching her child. Secondly, yes I am well aware that autonomous education can include teaching is the child asks for it. This is not the case here. I spoke in detail to the film crew and they were adamant that the child actually wanted to play Super Mario and that everything in the film was instigated by the mother and not the child. Quite right too, that is what parents are for!
What is curious about this is that we are definitely watching a lesson being taught. The child has not asked to sit there and find out about birds, although he has in the past expressed an interest in the subject. The mother has decided that this is what they will do, by asking loaded questions, 'Shall we watch birds now?'. She is in control of the learning, by having the computer and choosing which website to look at. The child does not ask what the difference is between birds which walk and those which hop. His mother thinks that this is something he should know and so tells him. Left to his own devices, he would be playing with the wii. Because a laptop is used and the child is sitting on the kitchen worktop, it all looks very informal and we do not immediately notice that a lesson is taking place. If he were sitting in a chair and the mother were putting stuff up on a blackboard, it would be just the same; she is teaching her child what she thinks he should know.
So far, so good. This is just how I taught my own child at home. What I find astonishing is that the mother feels the need to pay lip service to the ideology that she is not teaching. We are told that she is an autonomous educator and that there are no lessons. This is so completely weird that one has to do a double-take. No lessons? We have just watched a lesson about the lifestyles of birds. She is teaching the child his times tables. What is strange is that although she is a teacher who plans her son's education and gives him lessons, she feels it necessary to deny this and pretend that he is in control of his own learning. Only in England would this happen!