I was asked recently to post about the fact that the vast majority of home educating parents in this country are perfectly normal men and women who want only to provide the best possible education for their children. I am happy to do so, because of course this is perfectly true. Unfortunately, the small percentage of strange and sometimes downright loopy individuals scattered among the normal and well-balanced home educators have an influence out of all proportion to their numbers. Many of these weirder types spend hours on the internet connecting with other odd people and, encouraged by a handful of high profile figures, they buy into a fantasy world of conspiracy and persecution. It goes without saying that this is not only the case with home education! That’s just what the internet is like. I am not bothered in general if a group of rock fans wish to get together and exchange mad theories about dead singers or if steam train enthusiasts want to accuse each other of heresy; these are harmless enough matters. I am concerned though when it is happening with home education, because I care about home education and worked for many years with vulnerable children. This is something about which I feel strongly.
Those relatively small number of home educating parents who sit up until four or five in the morning communicating with other like-minded nuts, often become vociferous members or founders of home educating support groups. They pick up a lot of nonsense from the internet and then become evangelical about spreading the news and explaining to other parents why they should not accept visits from their local authority or teach their children to read. Yes, really. I had an email from a mother at a home educating group who was secretly teaching her child to read, because she was too embarrassed to let anybody at her local group know about it. They was a strong ethos there about the virtues of the spontaneous acquisition of literacy and anybody who actually taught their child was regarded as a pushy parent. Imagine that; a home educating support group where parents were made to feel uneasy and ashamed about educating their children!
At another group, two of the main members were bitterly opposed to the MMR vaccine. Again, this was largely as a result of hanging round crank sites on the net. One of them had a child on the autistic spectrum and was so anti-MMR that one of the other parents felt that she had to keep secret the fact that she had had her own child vaccinated. In other groups dominated by people whom one could describe as disciples of various home educating gurus, parents allowed visits from their local authority, but kept that secret as well, for fear of being ostracised.
So, yes it is absolutely true that the overwhelming majority of home educating parents in this country are normal people who are interested only in educating their children. But that small number who are a bit mad have quite an influence and because they are so vociferous, they manage to dominate many groups, forums and lists. It is this which worries me.