Wednesday, 17 October 2012
Why should the state monitor home education if they don’t check on children’s nutrition in the same way?
The new Welsh attempt to regulate home education has caused the reappearance of an old and feeble argument by home educators. Why, they say, should the state be entitled to check the educational provision of children at home and not enquire into other, equally important, things such as diet and nutrition? It is an absurd gambit, so foolish in fact that most education professionals simply ignore it. This is a mistake, because it gives the wilder kind of home educating parent the opportunity to claim that the argument must be unassailable; look, they say, those professionals have not responded and so must be lost for an answer!
Mammals feed their young. Except in very rare cases, it may be assumed that the mammals of our own species will do the same, without the need for any compulsion. This has been the case since humans emerged as a species. The same is not true of academic education, which has only been around for a few thousand years. For a good deal of that time, especially in recent centuries; formal education has been the province of professionals, to whom parents entrust their children. Because of this, there is no reason at all to suppose that parents will undertake this function, even if they have withdrawn their children from school. It makes sense to see if they are in fact doing so.
The effects of poor childhood nutrition in this country are seldom severe or life-threatening. We have no kwashiorkor or beri-beri. The worst one might expect are things like rickets. As far as childhood education is concerned, on the other hand, the effects of a deficit can be severe, long lasting and even life-threatening. A lack of qualifications can lead to things such as depression, unemployment and even suicide. We often see the supposed sixteen suicides a year which are caused by bullying cited by home educators, but they do not seem to have noticed the hundreds of extra suicides caused by the recession. These are linked to unemployment and there is a strong association between unemployment and lack of academic qualifications.
The ill effects resulting from inadequate childhood nutrition are essentially a private matter which affects only the individual. Of course, some medical problems in adulthood might cost the NHS something, but in general the individual is the one who suffers from this sort of thing. This is not at all the case with inadequate education, which is a public matter. This is because the illiterate, those with no GCSEs and so on, make up a very large proportion of people in prison, psychiatric hospitals and are wholly reliant on state benefits for much of their life. This means that those who are poorly educated often end up a burden on society as a whole. This is not often the case with those who were not fed a perfectly balanced diet in childhood.
To sum up:
There is an assumption, based upon strong evidence, that mammals, including humans will feed their young. There is no reason to suppose that this is also the case with academic education.
The ill effects of poor childhood nutrition tend to be mild; those of inadequate education, by contrast, are frequently severe and even life-threatening.
One is a private matter and the other a matter of public concern which causes great problems for society as a whole.