We have looked in the course of the last week or two at a couple of major strands in British home education. There are of course others, including the one I wish to examine today.
A sizeable proportion of home educating parents in this country have worked as school teachers. This is also the case in the USA. In contrast to this group is another, perhaps as large, whose members hate schools, teachers and anything which smacks in the least of formal education. Of course, there is a good deal of overlap between these groups and the others of which I have lately been writing. For example, I mentioned the mother/daughter pairs with neurological disorders a little while ago. A well known member in this group comes from a family of teachers and was herself married to a teacher. Another parent in this category, on the other hand, belongs to the group who hate schools and had unhappy experiences there.
Let us look at one of the parents whose decision to home educate was motivated less by the needs of her child than by residual anger felt by her towards authority figures in her childhood. Some readers may recollect that there was a campaign last year to raise money so that a home educating parent could skip the country before social services moved in on her and her children. This appeal was signed by many of the usual suspects; Barbara Stark, Neil Taylor, Alison Preuss, Maire Stafford and so on. Their efforts were successful and the woman was able to flee to Ireland. Her name will be familiar to many, but I cannot mention it for legal reasons. She kept for a while a blog and one of the posts there shows precisely the sort of thing that I am talking about:
‘She hated school and had few friends, she was always much happier at home’ Nothing could more clearly illustrate the type of parent whose own past makes her likely to whip her child out of school at the first sign of any difficulty. We see Maire Stafford in the comments, saying, ‘That could have been me, although they did not know I was bright they criticised all the time and I got two years of the bitchiest teacher going, she picked on and exposed the shy ones.’ She is also a member of this group of home educators who hated school and still feel angry about their time there; even half a century later.
Now a thing that I have noticed is that those parents who home educate because of their own childhood misery tend to be a lot angrier than ordinary home educators. Their anger is directed not only against teachers and schools, but also against authority in general. They are also very often the ones at the centre of schisms and rows within the home educating community. Maire Stafford is of course famous for falling out with anybody who disagrees with her views on home education. She is a bitter enemy of Cheryl Moy, whose blog I drew attention to a little while ago.
This type of parent spearheads the opposition to visits from local authorities and is keen to spread news of any problems in schools; shortcomings in academic standards or cases of abuse by teachers for instance. Readers may have noticed the awful pleasure with which incidents of sexual abuse in nurseries, say, are advertised on blogs and lists run by such people. I have an idea, although I am of course quite ready to be proved wrong, that much of the anger which one sees simmering beneath the surface of some home educators is driven not by contemporary events in British education, but rather stems from childhood memories of perceived ill treatment from teachers. I need hardly add that parents in this group are, almost without exception, opponents of teaching and firm advocates of child-centred education. The extent to which this is a rational choice is open to question and it is perfectly possible that their chosen pedagogy is instead a Pavlovian response to reflexes which have their roots in childhood.