Tuesday, 25 September 2012
Why the Welsh proposals make logical and legal sense
I shall probably regret doing this, but I think that the time has come to consider the proposed legislation in Wales which would require parents to register home educated children and allow their education to be monitored. I fully appreciate the opposition of some to the idea, but even so, the people fighting against the idea of registration and monitoring are almost certainly wrong and labouring under a fundamental misapprehension. The misapprehension is the very same one which gripped many of those who also campaigned against Graham Badman and his ideas.
The law makes certain assumptions about ordinary people. It assumes, for instance, that the default setting of normal citizens is not to be stealing, murdering or torturing their children to death. This means that unless evidence emerges, the police will not come knocking on your door to check that you have not harmed your child or are storing stolen goods on the premises. We have a general duty to avoid doing these things and so it is taken for granted that unless there is reason to think otherwise, we are not doing them. Society could hardly function if the police and authorities were constantly fretting that we were breaking the law in some way; it has to be assumed that we are not. This general assumption has been mistakenly thought by many home educators to include the fact that we are causing our children to receive a suitable education. In other words, if the police are not checking our homes regularly for stolen goods, why should the local authority check our children regularly to ensure that we are educating them? It is an ingenious idea, but unfortunately it is quite wrong-headed and confused.
We all have a general duty to avoid breaking the law. This largely consists of refraining from doing things. We must restrain ourselves if we feel like stealing, we must avoid starving or mistreating our children. In the case of children, the law takes it as given that parents voluntarily undertake to ensure the wellbeing of their children. Unless evidence of cruelty or neglect comes to light, we believe that parents look after their children and protect them from harm.
We have been talking so far of various assumptions made about citizens by the law; that they will not rob, rape or murder, that they will look after their children and so on. There are however additional and positive duties which are from time to time laid upon us. These are things which the law does not just expect us to refrain from doing as a matter of course, such as stealing or mistreating our children, but activities in which we must participate. These are things that we are compelled to do; not merely refrain from doing. One of these is jury service. If I am summoned for jury service, society is calling upon me to do something, to fulfil a duty. Because this is something thrust upon us, some of us will try to evade this duty. We will pretend to be deaf or have various commitments which prevent us undertaking this active duty. This happens with all duties which are pushed on us without our volunteering for them; some will try to get out of them. Another case is if a constable calls for our assistance while making an arrest. We have a legal duty to go to his aid. Some will not want to and try to evade this duty. From time to time, prosecutions result from this reluctance to undertake such duties.
Now the law might assume that in general people will avoid evildoing and obey the law by not going out of their way to commit crimes, but this is not at all the case with duties which are pressed upon them. In these cases it makes perfect sense to assume that some people called upon to perform a duty will try to get out of it. They have not freely chosen to undertake the duty; why should they do so? I am sure we all know the efforts that some people go to avoid jury service! In this case, enquiries may be routinely made into the reasons people claim to have for not accomplishing whatever the duty requires of them. We know that some people will wriggle out of undertaking a duty and since this is a very small section of the population, it is quite in order to look into the case closely, to make sure that not too many of us are evading our duty.
The situation which I have described above with respect to duties which some people will try and evade is precisely what is happening with the duty to cause our children to receive an education. The law may very well, and indeed does, take it for granted that we are not starving or torturing our children; it does not and should not assume that everybody is cheerfully undertaking the extra legal duty laid down by statute to provide the child with an education. Just as with any other duty imposed upon us, there will be those who seek to shirk it. This is simply human nature and it would be odd if this were not to happen. Because of this, it makes perfect sense to check that the duty is in fact being performed; that is to say that the parents are providing their children with a suitable education.
The ideas currently under discussion in Wales, amount to no more than this; that society will check that parents are fulfilling a duty which has been forced upon them. It is entirely possible that most of them are already doing so. Inevitably, there will be some who are not and the aim is to identify these and get them to realise that they must either provide an education for their children themselves or delegate the task to others.