Thursday, 5 July 2012

Home education in the Huffington Post

I have more than once been reproved here for suggesting that an awful lot of home educators are a bit loopy. Specifically, I have speculated from time to time whether there might be some sort of association between strange belief systems and the decision to home educate. Nonsense, I am told; this is purely an artefact of the internet , which is swarming with mad people. This is true, but it is an unfortunate fact of life that home educators who get into the public eye do tend to be a pretty rum bunch.


The latest such person is of course Nikki Harper, who now has a blog on the Huffington Post. Her latest post may be seen here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/nikki-harper/7-lessons-i-teach_b_1622031.html

Now this all conjures up a very unflattering image of home education in the minds of those who know little about it. How the heart sinks to note that it is written by an astrologer who is, ‘passionate about teen spirituality’.  Like most people, I have not the remotest idea what is meant by this. The blog post itself practically invites anybody with no knowledge of home education to ridicule the whole business.

The title alone tells one a great deal about a particular strand in British home education. If, when my daughter was thirteen, I had written a piece about the ‘seven lessons I teach’, I might perhaps have listed lessons like mathematics, English language, English literature, history, physics, chemistry and biology. Obviously, I would have hoped that she would also learn things like honesty, self-reliance and compassion, but these are not really things that one can teach. The best we can do is model them for our children and hope that we are providing a good example. Parents of children at school do this as well and to hint otherwise is merely to alienate the 99% of parents who do send their children to school. Hardly a good thing for a home educator to set out to do!

The main problem with the piece is that it is based not upon how schools really are, but upon how they used to be or how somebody who has no dealings with schools thinks they might be. According to the author, modern British schools teach subjects like confusion and indifference, but parents whose children actually attended school know that this is a lot of nonsense. Schools no more teach confusion than, say for example, home educating parents who lead their child to believe in crystal healing and raising the dead. Some schools teach confusion, as do some parents, both home educating and otherwise. Schools certainly do not hold some sort of monopoly on teaching it to children!

Consider just one of the contentions made about schools in this article; that, ‘A schooled child will learn facts’. If only this were true! This pedagogic approach, a Gradgrindian insistance on 'facts alone',  is contrasted with the author's own methods, which emphasise context and overall understanding.  As anybody at all familiar with modern schools will know only too well, a lot of the time is taken up not with learning facts but with all the paraphernalia of modern educational theory such as collaborative learning, investigative skills, empathy and so on. These techniques long ago replaced the acquisition of facts and figures by themselves. In fact much of what Mrs Harper sees as being a precious part of home education  is a standard feature of British schools.  I have written about this lack of objective teaching of facts in schools before, here for example in the Daily Telegraph;

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/3337822/But-how-did-Romeo-feel.html

Mrs Harper evidently believes that children studying history at school these days are still  sitting down in rows copying out the dates of the Battle of Trafalgar and the Charge of the Light Brigade. Alas no; nothing could be further from the truth! It is this ignorance of how schools actually are which make this piece an easy and inviting target for those who do not like or approve of home education.

As for the idea that one would have to teach a child insubordination, because otherwise she might learn to obey authority without question; has this woman ever actually  met any teenagers? Has she really met a teenager who has learned the lesson of obeying authority without question? Where is this strange being? I would like to talk to the parents of such a weird and atypical teenager so I could find out where I went wrong. My own teenage daughter never needed any lessons in insubordination nor, I suspect, do most teenagers! The very last thing most parents need to teach their teenage offspring is to challenge authority and ask questions; it is coded into the very DNA of teenagers and always has been. If she is genuinely having to teach her teenaged daughter to challenge authority and encourage her to ask questions, then there is something very odd going on.

All this is hardly a brilliant advertisement for home education; written as it is by  a home educating parent who knows nothing about modern schools  and thinks that teenagers need to be carefully coached in how to reject adult authority and question why they should do as they are told. The overall impression is of somebody who is perhaps not as in touch with the real world as she could be. Given her line of work  this is of course hardly surprising,  but it does not really encourage people to listen seriously to what she has to say about education.

23 comments:

  1. "This is true, but it is an unfortunate fact of life that home educators who get into the public eye do tend to be a pretty rum bunch."

    Much the same can be said about many people who come to prominence on the internet. I'm sure you could pick out any group and write much the same article. If people are simple enough to think that most of a group of people are like the few they read on the internet then there's not much hope for them given their poor reasoning skills. This article seems to be a vehicle for making fun of someone you've taken a dislike to, so I don't see it helping to improve the reputation of home educators, one of the things you claim too be concerned about.

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  2. 'Much the same can be said about many people who come to prominence on the internet. I'm sure you could pick out any group and write much the same article.'

    Yes, but you see I care about home education and this is a blog about that particular subject. People who know that I educated my daughter at home have been making jokes about astrology after seeing this piece. This is funny to me personally, but serves only to reinforce a popular view of home educating parents as being weird and out of touch with the real world.

    ' This article seems to be a vehicle for making fun of someone you've taken a dislike to, so I don't see it helping to improve the reputation of home educators, one of the things you claim too be concerned about.'

    Perhaps it might let people know that not all home educators are absolutely dotty? I think the reputations of home eductors are already being harmed by stuff like this appearing on a well known internet site; an event which threatens to become a regular occurance.

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  3. BTW, I may have rebelled against my parents in the safety of my own home but I wouldn't have said boo to a goose outside the home to others. Not so my children who seem far more self confident in the face of supposed authority than I could ever have been at their age. So although it wasn't something we directly set out to teach it is something they have learnt, or maybe failed to learn, and I think that's a result of HE. I may be wrong, but that's the impression gained from my experiences. It would make an infesting study!

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    Replies
    1. Interesting study. Swype text!

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  4. many children parents who go to school act weird to!

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  5. 'So although it wasn't something we directly set out to teach it is something they have learnt, or maybe failed to learn, and I think that's a result of HE. I may be wrong, but that's the impression gained from my experiences. It would make an infesting study!'

    Interesting idea! I suppose that by our very nature, we who refused to send out children to school are demonstrating our rejection of authority and received wisdom. I am open to the possibility that this might teach our children to be more rebellious and mistrustful of authority than those at school. I think that this deserves a post of its own some time in the near future.

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    Replies
    1. I think Diva might agree!

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  6. ' or just discusses ideas Simon is uncomfortable with.'

    This may well be true; few things make me more uncomfortable than intellectual freedom and insubordination!

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  7. 'I think Diva might agree!'

    You're not wrong there, anonymous! I remember with pleasure the time that questions were asked in the House of Commons about that and the early day motion signed by Glenda Jackson. You are probably right.

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  8. 'I have speculated from time to time whether there might be some sort of association between strange belief systems and the decision to home educate.'

    I think there may well be an association between strange belief systems and the desire to thrust oneself into the 'limelight' of the internet.

    Which is not to say, of course, that there aren't also plenty of good reasons for risking beoming more 'prominent'.

    Old Mum

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  9. Simon, what are your views on Gatto? I've not seen you mention him before and, since the article you have brought up is based on his work, I wondered what you thought about his ideas?

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  10. What are your reasons for tagging this post with "Ashby Spiritualist Church" and "Jon Harper" - considering it was written by me, not by my husband, and makes no mention of spiritualism? Surely not so as to further your own personal, petty, smear campaign?

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  11. 'Simon, what are your views on Gatto? I've not seen you mention him before and, since the article you have brought up is based on his work, I wondered what you thought about his ideas?'

    I think that rather than say a few sentences, it would be better if I were to do a post about this. I shall do so soon.

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  12. 'What are your reasons for tagging this post with "Ashby Spiritualist Church" and "Jon Harper" - considering it was written by me, not by my husband, and makes no mention of spiritualism? Surely not so as to further your own personal, petty, smear campaign?'



    There is no particular secret about this and it has nothing to do with any supposed ‘smear campaign’. Yesterday, you burst into a discussion about the autonomous acquisition of literacy in order to accuse me of being a liar and state specifically that I had, ‘ every intention of writing crap about me and my family’ This was quite neatly done. By using the word ’family’, you hinted that I might have been telling lies about your child. This would gain you the sympathy of readers who might think, ’Oh no, what has the brute been saying about her poor little girl!’ In fact I have said nothing and indeed know nothing about your daughter. I said some while ago that your husband contact the dead and you read the sky for a living. You are an astrologer and he a medium.

    By saying that I was writing crap about your family, you meant readers to understand that I had been saying untruthful things. The reference today to a ’smear campaign’ is intended to convey the same impression. For that reason, I feel that I need to provide evidence that your husband does indeed contact dead people. I have no idea what the other ’crap’ I am supposed to have written is. That you recommend crystal healing for pre-eclampsia? See;

    http://spiritodyssey.com/category/alternative-health/

    If I have been making any untruthful statements, I shall be happy to retract them; you need only tell me what they are. Do you make a living from astrology? Does your husband contact the dead?

    It is for this reason that I thought it a good idea to provide a few references so that readers could make up their own minds about how much ‘crap’ I have been writing about you and your family. Your husbands latest enterprise is ghost hunting, see:

    http://www.paradiagnostics.co.uk/

    I am puzzled as to why you put all this stuff up on the internet if you do not want others to see it. You referred in a comment earlier today on another thread about the 'disgusting insinuations' which I have made. Just let me know what I have said that is disgusting and untruthful and I will cheerfully put the record straight!

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  13. Aww, bless Simon, always the injured innocent. People do seem to pick on you for no reason, don't they? *rolls eyes* I'm not going to play your time-wasting games. It's very clear to anyone impartial reading this blog that you have a personal vendetta against me, and that you are now deliberately involving my husband - and most people reading here are only to well aware that you have a history of doing this to many other people too.

    Oh, and by the way - no, he doesn't make a living from being a medium. He volunteers his time to do that at the church, like most church mediums do, and like most members of paranormal investigation teams, that's a volunteer activity too.

    To the point in hand: if you are truly concerned about the impression I'm giving people on Huffington Post, there is a very simple solution, is there not? Instead of talking to your small audience here, play copycat and blog to a much larger audience at Huff Post yourself, to set the record straight. I imagine they are highly unlikely to seek you out, but you could always contact them and beg for a spot.

    Ah, but wait - they require their bloggers to actually have a point to their posts, rather than to just use them to make personal attacks. Also, they do have a legal team checking each post, and I gather they don't take kindly to bloggers who exist simply to perpetuate borderline libel. I see your problem, then. Oh well, never mind. Looks like you're stuck here. Do carry on.

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  14. ' he doesn't make a living from being a medium.'

    'my husband I work full time from home. I'm an astrologer, author and writer, and he is a spiritualist medium and healer.'

    Anybody care to reconcile these two statements, or explain why my saying that this woman and her husband contact the dead and read the sky for a living should be thought of as a 'disgusting insinuation'? Talking of disgusting insinuations, here's another one; if you were a pregnant woman suffering from pre-eclampsia, would you want go to a healer who thought that holding a piece of chrysolite might prevent the death of either you or your unborn baby? Healing of this sort is a positive menace to life and limb. Perhaps Nikki Harper and her husband are being advised in medical matters by dead people? Quite possible; mind, I am not at all surprised that they are dead if while they were living they were following crank systems of this sort!

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