Tuesday, 24 July 2012
The illusion of choice
Before I return to some personal accounts of home education, I feel that I must expand upon the idea that I set out yesterday; that unless heroic efforts are made, children are indoctrinated by their family life from birth in various ideas which will force them in certain directions, thus robbing them of a free choice in how they develop and which interests they pursue. Here is an extract from the blog of a very well known home educator who is vehement in advocating the right of children to choose their own topics for home education:
‘Pottery again today, it is my weekly therapy and we both love it’
The mother goes on in detail about the wonders of creative artwork. The word ‘we’ constantly recurs. One seeks in vain for similar enthusiasm for physics or mathematics! Already, at the age of twelve, this child has been guided into ‘creative’ rather than scientific channels. The mother is determined that the child will not take GCSEs, which means that if she goes to college it will probably be a course which can be accessed by a portfolio; almost certainly not an A level course. I would put money on its being something in the art line. How much choice has this young person really had?
Or consider the case of a child raised in a very devout Muslim home or one belonging to some protestant, fundamentalist Christian sects. If you have been taught that the world was created only six thousand years ago, you are unlikely to end up studying biology or astronomy at university. After all, you will probably not accept evolution or standard cosmology. Here again, the family belief system is imposing a curriculum which precludes various lines of study.
Of course one does not need to look at devoutly religious families to find ideology being imposed upon children which will push them in a particular direction! Here is a presumably modern, enlightened and progressive parent speaking here yesterday of the way in which she raised a home educated child:
‘'I'm not sure why I'd want my child to develop vastly different life values to the rest of their family. I wouldn't want them to be racist, being rather an obvious example.'
‘We started out with anti-racist beliefs’
This is a pretty general type of dogma which is so common that we may not even recognise it as being a prejudice in which we are indoctrinating our children. Assuming that this parent was using the expression ‘racism’ in the usual meaning, that of believing that different races have different innate qualities and characteristics, some of which make them superior or inferior to those of other races; then why on earth was she conveying opposition to this belief system to her child as being axiomatic? Why was it her default setting? True, she says that she discussed the question, but clearly from a particular and slanted perspective.
I am myself open minded about the idea of racism and have always promoted this to my daughter. The evidence is far from conclusive and is actually pretty finely balanced on either side. Let us look at just one example which militates against the holding of ‘anti-racist beliefs’. ( How this can be a matter of ‘belief’, rather than evidence is, I confess, quite beyond me. The very expression, 'anti-racist beliefs' tells us at once that to the writer, this is a matter of ideology or faith and not objective science.)
It is a matter of common observation, in this country, America, Africa, China and everywhere else that data are collected, that black babies reach their motor milestones earlier than white babies. Babies of Chinese origin, by comparison, lag behind both black and white children. Any Health Visitor in this country will know about this and it has been the subject of many studies. Black babies crawl earlier, stand earlier and walk earlier. This is regardless of where they are born and no convincing cultural explanation has been offered for this advantage. They just seem to be stronger and quicker to develop. The physical superiority of black neonates has also shown up in premature babies. Black babies born prematurely have higher survival rates than white babies. It has been suggested that this early advantage in physical development goes some way to towards explaining why there are so many black athletes and footballers.
Now here is evidence which strongly supports a central tenet of racism; a racial group with apparently innate characteristics and traits which give it a superiority over others from different races. To make opposition to such evidence a matter of ideological belief and not science means that many parents who view themselves as being liberal and progressive are in fact in the grip of dogma just as much as the family who believe in the existence of Adam and Eve! The child of such a family who notices that while there are an awful lot of Asian doctors and dentists, it is vanishingly rare to encounter one of Caribbean origin, will be fobbed off with an explanation founded upon ‘anti-racist beliefs’; perhaps that the disparity is due to white racism or is the legacy of colonialism.
We all have irrational family belief systems. Our children are raised in this context and often we are not even aware that we are handing down our own prejudices to them. The only way to counter this is to devise a broad and balanced curriculum which is designed to replace our own prejudices with the best modern thinking about anything that we believe or have faith in. Without an objective education, there is little chance for children to become individuals. In the average family, to pretend that we are allowing children a free choice is a complete nonsense. We are in fact playing a version of the three card trick with them; forcing their choice in line with our own unconscious bigotry and preconceptions.