Monday, 21 January 2013
Good and bad advice
I have been musing today on the disadvantages for home educated children, particularly the older ones, whose parents refuse to have any dealings with their local authority. I have been prompted to do this by my recent exchanges in the comments on this blog with a person who believes that a teenager who takes no examinations and learns about nothing but housework will be in a better position to gain employment than a graduate of Oxford University. Now before we go any further, I am quite prepared to believe that the person expressing these views is a muddle-headed crank, but there is a little more to the case than that. Let us see what was said and why this has a bearing on home education in general.
After discussing the case of a woman, Joy Baker, who refused to enter her children for any examinations and felt that girls should only learn about cooking and childcare, the comment was made that:
I'll warrant then that Joy's girls would have had to learn cookery, nutrition, household management, child care and basic account keeping - all valuable life skills and skills that would have enabled them to earn a living since these are services people pay for. On the other hand Simon Webb managed to equip his daughter to take a degree in the "non-subject" of philosophy. On balance I know which education seems to have been the most suitable.
He or she then went on to say:
A philosophy graduate may be lucky enough to find a reasonably well paid job. I doubt they will ever actually produce anything and most likely they will forever be a burden on the public purse - I suspect there are not too many openings for philosophy graduates in the private sector.
Now it is plain that here is a person who believes that a child raised at home without taking any examinations, or even studying conventional academic subjects, will be better placed in the job market than an Oxford graduate. This is an utterly bizarre notion and the evidence is wholly against it.
There are several problems with this point of view, which is not a particularly uncommon one to see expressed by some home educating parents. First, it is false. All the evidence is that university graduates in general earn far more over their lifetime than those who do not attend university. There is an added ‘premium’ for universities in the Russell Group. Graduates from these places are viewed with particular favour by potential employers. The subject of the degree is not all that important. Few of those who study history go on to become historians, just as few of those who study philosophy become philosophers! It is the degree itself and the nature of the university from which it was obtained that count highly.
The idea that there could be any advantage in not studying academic subjects or having GCSEs or A levels, is also a strange one. There is a direct and strong correlation between the possession of five GCSEs and employment prospects, to say nothing of life chances in general. The same person who felt that a childhood spent learning domestic drudgery was a better education than one spent at university said;
A person who can make their own clothes, grow, cook and preserve their own food, account for and manage money will have a skillset that is not only saleable but will ensure they can ever after provide for their needs without falling back on the public purse.
This may be true if you are living in the Middle Ages, but for city dwellers in a 21st Century, industrial society, it is something of a fantasy.
Where do visits from the local authority come into this? If a parent were to be in contact with her local authority and having visits from an adviser, she would be far less likely to believe foolish and dangerous nonsense of this sort. At the very least, she would have access to somebody who could explain to her that a girl learning about nothing but cooking and taking care of babies, one who studied no academic subjects nor took any examinations, would not really be receiving a better education than one who went on to university. Nor would she really be in a better situation for getting a job. Although, as I said, the person commenting here was clearly a little strange, this attitude about education is by no means unknown among British home educators.
I suppose that I should at this point remind readers that I am not saying that any child who does not take A levels and go to university is a failure. One of my daughters left school at sixteen and started work at once. The other went to university. Both are successful in their own fields. It would have been sad though if neither had realised the opportunities available to her, if one had wanted to go to college say, and then found that this required GCSEs which she hadn't taken because nobody told her that she would need them. Fortunately, both girls had access to careers advice through school and college and were able to weigh up their future options. The home educated teenager who has no contact with either school or the local authority might not have access to impartial advice about further or higher education. It is possible that her parents too will tell her, ‘Don’t worry dear, learning about cookery and childcare at home and not taking any examinations is a much more suitable education for you than trying to get a place at Oxford.’ You couldn’t, as they say, make it up!