A couple of days ago, I posted a fairly long piece here about teaching science at home. Nobody commented all day, which prompted one person to ask in the evening, ‘is discussing actual education less popular than some other topics?’ Very perceptive! I have noticed that there is a great difference between parents who actually get on and educate their children and those who belong to organisations and Internet groups concerned with home education. I tended to associate with the first group; individuals who were passionately committed to their children’s education. Most of these did not really have time to spare for belonging to online ’communities’ of other home educators. They might sometimes have joined a list or forum to find something out, but it was not a lifestyle. I might also observe that these people, like me, regarded monitoring by the local authority as one of life’s minor irritations; something which they could cheerfully do without, but which was not really all that important.
Now you might easily suppose that most home educating parents were like this; primarily concerned with education and ensuring that their children learn at least enough to prepare them for adult life. You would be wrong. There is far more interest on the larger lists and forums in working out ingenious ways to frustrate attempts by the local authority to find out about the education being provided for children. In fact one of the people who worked on the guidelines for local authorities prepared by Alison Sauer is currently incensed at the very idea that a ’suitable education’ might be defined as one which prepares a child for adult life. What the purpose of a child’s education, other than this, could possibly be is something of a mystery to me. To give readers a flavour of the sort of discussions which occupy most of the time on the main home education lists, I might mention a debate which is currently taking place about the best way to make life difficult for local authority officers who are not insisting on visits, but are instead happy to accept written reports. The list owner put forward the idea of deluging them with all sorts of paperwork and seeing how inconvenient parents are able to make the whole process of sending in an annual report. He also made the facetious suggestion that a parent should send a pig’s heart to the officer requesting information about her child’s education. This might well raise a chuckle in north Wales, where the person proposing this lives. Working as I do in the inner London borough of Hackney, I found this apparently humorous notion stupendously offensive. Perhaps this is because there are so many Muslims and Jews working for the local authority, that even a joke about sending one of them a pig’s heart would be liable to result in disciplinary proceedings. As I say, things are probably a little different the further one gets from the capital.
It is perhaps this mindset, of people more interested in making their own and other people’s lives difficult, which explains the lack of interest in discussing education per se. When there are so many amusing schemes to be discussed for getting one over on local authority officers, why would one wish to waste time thinking about the boring idea of teaching science?