Tuesday, 23 October 2012
Another ‘briefing paper’ about the Welsh plans for regulating home education
Perhaps I have unfairly focused upon the ‘briefing paper’ produced by Wendy Charles-Warner. After all, she is not the only player in town. Let’s look at the one produced by Fiona Nicholson up in Sheffield. It is to be hoped that I am not casting either the charming Ms Nicholson or her son into hazard by mentioning their general location, as I inadvertently did with Mrs Charles-Warner a fortnight ago. Here is the document produced by Fiona:
I have observed before that in contrast to the campaign against Graham Badman’s proposals, the current agitation against the ideas being mooted in Wales are not concerned with abstract ideas about rights, duties or matters of conscience. Instead, objections to the proposed new law is stated in terms which are calculated to appeal to those who are not themselves home educators; the aim being to make others feel sympathetic to the cause. It is being very cleverly done. For instance the cost of the scheme and the fact that it might draw resources away from other vulnerable children is a popular debating tactic being used.
Fiona, in a pretty deft and cunning piece of sophistry, manages unfortunately to pander to homophobes. I am sure that this was not intentional, but never the less, that is what has happened. In an attempt to alarm Christians and get them on the side of home educators, she says this:
Concerns have been raised over the requirement for home education to "prepare [children] for the responsibilities of adulthood"  interpreted as meaning that the parent has to teach children about sex and contraception by a particular age. Some parents who are home educating because of particular religious or philosophical convictions would find themselves unable to comply and would not wish their children to be asked about sex education during the mandatory interview.
Now most of us, when we talk of ‘preparing children for the responsibilities of adulthood’ might well think in terms of things like teaching about income tax and mortgages; Fiona thinks, or purports to think, that it means that home educated children will have to be taught about contraception by a certain age. Worse still, a man from the council will be coming round and checking our children’s knowledge of contraceptive methods, in order to make sure that we have been fulfilling out duty around sex education. It is a chilling prospect! Well, it would be, if there was any truth in it.
Where does the homophobia come into this? Take a look at this piece about the new Welsh proposals on a Christian website:
Now look to the right and check out Related Articles. See the one about ‘compulsory Sex Education ‘undermines’ free society? This was a hot topic among many Christians at the same time that some home educators were fighting against certain parts of the Children, Schools and Families Bill in 2009 and 2010. One of the reasons for this is that quite a few Christians are bitterly opposed to their children being taught about homosexuality; in particular the notion that gay relationships can in any way be regarded as being as valid as heterosexual marriages. In fact, any sort of sex education, of the kind likely to be approved by a local authority, is regarded by many Christians as a wicked plot which will end up with their children being taught how to commit sodomy or obtain abortions. Sex education, from this perspective, is designed to persuade innocent, God-fearing children that unnatural, same-sex unions are as holy as Christian marriage and that promiscuity is normal. What about contraception? Why has Fiona mentioned that specifically? Are you a Catholic and so opposed to artificial birth control? You fool, the council will force you to teach your child about the use of contraception! It is perhaps no coincidence that the campaign against the Welsh proposals has now attracted the favourable attention of the American Home School Legal Defense Association; a notoriously reactionary, homophobic and right-wing group.
I suppose the real question to ask is whether Fiona Nicholson or anybody else has the least particle of evidence that local authorities really will be interrogating children about their knowledge of contraception and sex if this bill goes through. How will it work? Will it be like having the man round to read the gas meter? One imagines somebody from the council knocking on the door with a clipboard, saying, ‘Morning madam, I’ve come to check your daughter’s knowledge of contraception.' He is shown the poor little mite of eleven or whatever age it is by which Fiona thinks that children will have to be taught about sex and contraception. ‘Now Mary, can you give me three reasons why withdrawal is not a safe method of contraception? Do you know about the Dutch Cap?’
Is this really what any sane person imagines will be happening if the registration and monitoring of home education in Wales becomes law? If so, could we be given some evidence for this belief? Otherwise, it will look to many as though this is just one more of the ridiculous scare stories being put about to enlist the support of even the most unsavoury types in the campaign against the proposed legislation.