British home education may be roughly divided into two major strands. These may not inaptly be called the sensible and silly movements. Over the last week or two, we have mainly been looking at the silly movement; founded by the sort of people who would advise their children to shoot local authority officers, rather than show them what they have been doing lately in history or mathematics. (I think Iris Harrison knows who we’re talking about here!) Many of these early and high profile home educators were associated with, or were fellow travellers of, the so-called ’Children’s Rights’ movement in the early 1970s.
Before we go any further, here is a question for modern home educators. What sort of irresponsible lunatic would say that it is fine for an eight year-old girl to have sex with a grown man? Can nobody guess? Here’s a clue, it is the same person who also thought that children should be allowed to take heroin if they wished, work in factories, vote at the age of six and drive cars at literally any age at all. I am surprised that some readers did not get the answer to this! It was of course that great ideologue and founding father of home education; John Holt.
I know that I have talked before of John Holt and his mad beliefs, but last night I re-read his masterpiece; the book in which he sets out his vision for the future of childhood. This book, Escape from Childhood, E. P. Dutton 1974, is a vision of hell. Children are working in factories and mines, rather than being educated; they are drinking alcohol and using heroin; having sex with adults as and when they feel like. This then is John Holt’s Utopia, his vision of the ideal childhood. Not going to school is only a small part of this new world that he envisages and urges us to bring into being.
John Holt was writing from the same perspective as many of those in this country who became known as militant home educators in the 1970s, the sort of people who founded Education Otherwise. I am not at all sure that those today who speak enthusiastically of John Holt really know what he was up to and the things that he believed. This is relevant to home education in this country today, because the ideas that he espoused are still going strong among some parents. We shall be looking into this in detail in future posts and trying to distinguish this type of political or ideological home educator from the more traditional ones; those whose interest in home education is purely… educational.