We looked yesterday at the emotive argument often used by home educators, that of the bullied child who had been educated at home and then forced back to school with tragic consequences. We found, as I had suspected, that nobody knows of a single case of a home educated child being forced back to school, let alone of one who subsequently suffered any harm as a result.
Of course, home educators are not the only ones who wheel out suffering children to bolster their arguments. During the select committee hearings in 2009, I was astounded to hear the present Children’s Commissioner, Maggie Atkinson, offer her reasons for supporting Schedule 1 of the CSF Bill. She said;
‘I would give you two words, and they are the first and second names of the child who died — Khyra Ishaq’
Khyra Ishaq was of course not only a sweet looking little girl, she was also dead and black; a winning combination if ever I heard one for a debate of this sort! Those who are worried about children being at home with their parents have a history of using dead kids in this way. Some of the legislation which many home educators feel is against their best interests was introduced in the wake of Victoria Climbie’s death. The reports about this actually had a picture of Victoria printed on the cover; perhaps the most flagrant example of using a dead kid to make one’s point when fighting or supporting new laws. Another photogenic, little black girl; how cool is that? And what's more, she's dead. Ha, let's see anybody disagree with the measures we propose now! Those who used Khyra Ishaq and Victoria Climbie in this way were clearly not familiar with the old adage that hard cases make bad law!
The problem is that both sides in these debates seem to be working from a blinkered perspective. Home educators claim quite correctly that some children are bullied so badly at school that they are driven to despair and suffer horribly. They go on to assert that home education offers a refuge to such children and removes them from the bullies. This is to ignore the fact that a huge amount of bullying also takes place in the home and that for some children, school can itself act as a refuge from bullying and abuse. Those opposed to home education are able to point to the occasional case of a child being educated at home who has suffered bullying, abuse or even died at the hands of her parents. They too ignore an important fact; that almost all child victims of domestic abuse and murder are registered pupils at schools.
Using dead children can be a pretty good knock-down debating point, whether you are discussing the merits of exporting powdered baby milk to less economically developed countries, mass vaccinations or the building of a nuclear power station. A debate about home education is the perfect excuse to bring in the dead children and blame your opponents for their deaths. As somebody pointed out yesterday, I have myself been guilty of this! On home educating lists, we often see mention of ’bullycide’ and the figure of sixteen deaths a year from bullying. I tried to track down the source of this figure a few years ago and could get no further than a registered charity which was making a good income from bullying and refused to tell me how they calculated this often mentioned statistic. The problem is that on both sides of the home educating debate are entrenched interests and people who are absolutely convinced that they are right. Neither side begins by examining the evidence and then seeing where it might lead and what the implications are. Instead, they start by believing either that home education is good and right or that it is dangerous and wrong. They then set out to gather evidence to support of this predetermined position. One can always find children who have been bullied at school and then been home educated. Similarly, one can always find other children who have been mistreated at home and who view school as a sanctuary. It is true that every so often a child who is being educated at home in this country is tortured or murdered, but then far more children at school suffer in this way.
It would be nice if a group of home educators and a bunch of social workers, teachers and other professionals could get together and examine all the available evidence in a neutral and dispassionate way, seeing where it might lead. They might possibly discover that they have more in common than either side has suspected. I don’t really expect this to happen any time soon; but it is an interesting idea! Of course, this is pretty much what was supposed to have happened at the select committee hearings in October 2009, but I have to say it did not really work that way. All parties were only interested in furthering their own special interests; not in discovering new truths.