Monday, 22 October 2012

Trahison des clercs

Some children will succeed academically despite their environment. No matter how dreadful the school or impoverished the home, there will always be those who overcome these disadvantages and become brilliant scholars or famous scientists. This is the case whether they attend a strict school or are raised in the most progressive of households. The mistake would be then, to attribute their subsequent success to the factors which they overcame by their intellectual ability or the force of their personality; in other words, to say that the child succeeded because of the terrible school or as a result of the poor home background. I am reminded of the truth of this whenever my attention is drawn to children who have supposedly flourished as a consequence of autonomous education.


A couple of weeks ago, this piece appeared in the Huffington Post:



http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/zion-lights/home-education_b_1937272.html






Inevitably, one of the comments is about a success story of autonomous education. This is of course one of the two cases who are invariably cited when discussion turns to this topic; the boy who studied biochemistry at Manchester. Before we go further, it is worth noting one or two things. The first is that for ten years, this case has been endlessly recycled as firm evidence of the efficacy of autonomous education. You might have expected by now to see one or two new names appearing.  The second is that the mother always manages to leave out key aspects of the story, in such a way as to mislead others into thinking that the bizarre experimental techniques to which her children were subjected, actually caused the desirable outcomes which followed. To give a couple of examples, in the comment on the above article, we find the following:



I have autonomously home educated my children who both chose not to do any kind of formal work until they were about 14



This of course is not true; one of the children chose to attend secondary school at eleven, although it did not work out. No mention is made of taking GCSEs at twelve either.

This case, which always seems to crop up, is fascinating, because we are able to trace the ill effects of this type of education and see their origin in the methods used. The children’s mother has given the game away in various interviews. In 2003, for example, she told of her daughter attending a ‘tester’ day at the local infants’ school. Apparently the child was asked by a teacher to write out the numbers from one to nine and when she did so, the teacher told her that she had reversed two of them. This sort of thing was against the principle of the mother and, supposedly, put the kid off mathematics for years. In other words, number and letter reversals were not to be remarked upon, let alone corrected.

Elsewhere, and apparently oblivious to the implications of what she was saying, the mother tells us that her eldest son’s handwriting was practically indecipherable when he began college at fourteen. She find this amusing and does not apparently tie it in with an ideology which dictates that wrongly formed letters should not be corrected!

My problem is that people like this then go on to encourage others to follow suit and behave in the same way. Now in their case, things worked out OK; the father was a teacher and so were the mother’s parents and this no doubt mitigated some of the ill effects of their crank methods. Other children are not so lucky. They read of this sort of case, with of course key parts edited out, and think that they too can achieve the same ends by allowing their children to choose to do no formal work until the age of fourteen. This sort of thing, when educated people who really should know better, go out of their way to mislead others who might not have had their advantages is truly trahison de clercs of the most culpable kind.





17 comments:

  1. "Some children will succeed academically despite their environment. No matter how dreadful the school or impoverished the home"

    Of course you can suggest that this is the case, we are all entitled to our own opinion. I'm sure there are people out there who say exactly the same about your daughter. Most Oxbridge entrants have far more than 3 A Levels, for instance.

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  2. ' I'm sure there are people out there who say exactly the same about your daughter. Most Oxbridge entrants have far more than 3 A Levels, for instance. '

    Well of course my own daughter has more than three A levels. What actually was the point that you were making?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, does she have 4, 5 or 6 A Levels? This seems to be about the norm for Oxbridge.

      Delete
  3. 'Oh, does she have 4, 5 or 6 A Levels? This seems to be about the norm for Oxbridge'

    I am curious to know the source of these data. Is this information published by Oxford and Cambridge universities?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The average number of UCAS points was 536 and 559 for Oxford and Cambridge respectively in 2012. The number of points is higher in the 2013 table but presumably data collection is not complete for that year. There is also self selected questionnaire data on The Student Forum web site to show how those points were probably gained.

      http://www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk/league-tables/rankings

      http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/wiki/Oxford_Applicants_Stalking_Page_2012_Entry

      http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/wiki/Cambridge_Applicants_Stalking_Page_2012_Entry

      Delete
  4. Simon wrote,
    "What actually was the point that you were making?"

    Clearly Simone was clearly intelligent enough to gain entry to Oxford as evidenced by entrance tests and most students capable of Oxbridge entry gain more than 3 A levels. Some might suggest that Simone would have gained more qualifications if she had gone to school. Now whilst that's entirely possible I think there are more things in life than gaining the most/best qualifications and I'm sure Simone benefited in many other ways from her home education. But I cannot help but see parallels between those who think Simone was let down by her education and you who feel that autonomously educated children were let down by theirs.

    You are happy with Simone’s education, we are happy with the autonomous education our children received, and most importantly so are our children (I’m assuming both of your children are happy). All are happy in higher education or working in the career of their choice. I'm wondering what your point is?

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  5. Peter hoping to get 5 A-levels and according to his college tutor she sees no reason why he wont get them is that not good news Webb? not bad for a lad who was giving an autonomous education!

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    Replies
    1. Plonking your kid down in front of a computer chess software package for extended periods isn't autonomous learning.
      It's abuse.

      Delete
  6. 'I'm wondering what your point is?'

    My point is a simple one. The academic success stories of autonomous education tend to come from homes where the parents are well educated professionals. These are children who would be likely to succeed educationally whatever system was used upon them. It is not autonomous education which has caused their achievement, but their home background. This was certainly true in the case of my daughter, if that is what you were hinting.

    The danger is, and this is why I use the expression 'trahison des clercs', ideology of this type will be seized upon by those who are not providing the home background necessary for academic success. We commonly see semi-literate individuals on lists who are unable to write in sentences or use punctuation. They have been gulled into thinking that if they follow the same autonomous methods which supposedly led to success in other people's children, then theirs too will end up well. They are, in effect, the victims of a confidence trick which has been played upon them by those more intelligent and better educated than they are themselves. The real victims are likely to be their children.

    ReplyDelete
  7. "My point is a simple one. The academic success stroies of autonomous education tend to come from homes where the parents are well educated professionals."

    What evidence are you basing this on – how many anecdotes do you have? I left school with a few O Levels and my partner with nothing, yet all of our children have exceeded their parent’s qualification wise after an autonomous education (including going university). I was under the impression that you had left school with nothing too. That's certainly the impression your daughter gave when challenged about her privileged upbringing elsewhere. Presumably you gained qualifications when older.

    “We commonly see semi-literate individuals on lists who are unable to write in sentences or use punctuation.”

    Yes, we seem to have an example here today, yet their child seems to be doing exceedingly well and potentially better than your daughter despite all her advantages.

    ReplyDelete
  8. "My point is a simple one. The academic success stroies of autonomous education tend to come from homes where the parents are well educated professionals."

    IQ probably plays a significant part in what you are seeing. IQ is genetically linked so it's inevitable that, on average, those who achieve well academically are likely to have children who will also able to achieve academically. Unless you take you anecdotes, gather many, many more and compare them to matched groups, your theory is just that, a theory, and one that has other explanations than the one you suggest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, this reasoning applies equally to those whose parents have lower academic qualifications. Even if Simon discovers young people who fail to gain degrees or Phds after being autonomous educationed by non-professional parents (like us), it obviously proves little and on average would have happened in school anyway. Our children have achieved more than us academically by their own choice and we are happy with that.

      Delete
  9. "These are children who would be likely to succeed educationally whatever system was used upon them. It is not autonomous education which has caused their achievement, but their home background. This was certainly true in the case of my daughter, if that is what you were hinting."

    I think you have this the wrong way roung. I think they were hinting that your daughter should have done better at A Levels if she comes from the type of professional background you describe, not that this is why she has done as well as she has.

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  10. 'I think you have this the wrong way roung. I think they were hinting that your daughter should have done better at A Levels if she comes from the type of professional background you describe, not that this is why she has done as well as she has.'

    This is really making bricks without straw, to use the Biblical expression! Before anybody could begin even to hint at this, it would at the very least be necessary to establish firstly my professional background and secondly, how well my daughter did at A level. According to the statistics that Oxford itself provides, her results were definitely better than at least 62% of those given places last year. In order to make sense of this though, you would need a good deal of contextual data, such as ACORN classification, social class, professions of parents, whether either went to university and things of that sort.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Simon wrote,
      "This is really making bricks without straw, to use the Biblical expression!"

      Which is of course true of your blog article.

      Delete
  11. Interesting that the post is about one comment on one article. So one example was made by one person. They spoke their truth, from experience. What's the big deal? Home ed does suit many kids, and school suits many kids, and certainly many benefit from any kind of education. Your point is...??

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete