My heart sank when I read in the newspaper about the couple who had decided to raise their baby as 'genderless'. I guessed, long before it was revealed in the text, that they would turn out to be home educators and so it proved. The giveaway was the photograph of their oldest son. He has long plaits, androgynous clothing and of course cannot attend school because of bullying. And he wears dresses. Below is a news item with the best photograph of this child (readers are not to read any significance into the fact that this is the Daily Mail; it just happened to have the best pictures of this truly strange family):
How did I guess that the family home educated? Easy, really. Their son looks really weird and would obviously be regarded as a complete freak wherever he went. Apparently, boys bully him and when he went to a playground wearing a pink dress, the girls did not want anything to do with him either. I have noticed in the past that pictures of boys who are being home educated often show a child with very long hair and/or a generally strange appearance such as would immediately set him apart from any other boy of a similar age. None of this is brilliant advertisement for home education and the case of baby Storm has certainly provoked people to look at the idea unfavourably. It does not help that the Stockers are, inevitably, radical unschoolers. I can assure readers that the average parent is not impressed to hear about a child who only learns what he wants, when he wants. In cases like this, most mutter to themselves that the kid needs a haircut and ought to be sent to school where he will be educated properly.
I suppose that the newspapers are bound to focus upon peculiar families; freak shows like this sell papers. I rather suspect that home educating parents have a tendency to be a little more odd than the average parent anyway, although mercifully, few are as downright odd as the Stockers! Items like this in the papers and on the television do not really help advance the cause of home education. They serve merely to underline the popular feeling about home education, which is that it is the province of cranks and nutcases. This is a pity and it would be good to see some more positive coverage of the topic, with success stories of a conventional sort. When our masters are considering changes in legislation, I cannot think that stories about home educating families like the Stockers help matters much!