I have talked over the last few days about the fact that almost every high profile home educator in this country, those who appear in the newspapers, on the television, lead support groups and constantly pop up on blogs and lists; have or claim to have malfunctioning brains. This sets home education apart from various other minority interests. Does this matter though? I think that it does, because it has a bearing on the agenda that that they push forward and urge others to adopt.
It is important to realise that those characters who hand out press releases and so on or appear on radio or television news programmes, have not been chosen by the majority of home educators to represent their interests. They are creating opinion, rather than merely reflecting it. We saw this very clearly with the reaction to the Graham Badman enquiry. It was announced on January 19th, 2009. That same day, a press release went out from Sheffield, which the BBC mentions here:
‘Home educators are angry’! Of course only one home educator is angry, but she wishes to stir up others so that they share her anger and desire not to allow regular monitoring of home educated children. This is a classic example of how the supposed leaders of the home educating ‘community’ try deliberately to create an atmosphere of fear and mistrust. There is no evidence that any other home educators had even heard about the proposed review at that point, let alone that they were angry about it!
There is not room, nor do I have the time, to examine every aspect of how and why these prominent home educating parents shape the views and opinions of others to their own ends. I want to look at just one part of this; the campaign against visits from local authority officers.
Nobody except a home educating parent can understand why anybody would object to someone from the local authority checking on the educational achievement and welfare of a child who is not at school. Yet this has become almost the orthodox position among many parents who educate their own children; they don't want visits. Why should this be so?
This opposition to visits has been spearheaded and coordinated by no more than hundred or so militant home educators or former home educators, most of whom, as I have said, have either learning difficulties or mental illnesses. This might explain why they feel so strongly about this subject and why they urge others to join in their own, almost pathological, desire to avoid having visitors in their home from the local authority.
Let us take the case of a parent who is bipolar or schizophrenic. Without debating the rights or wrongs of the case, many people, including local authority officers, would think that such a parent would need closer monitoring and a sharper eye kept on her child than one who was not mentally ill. Such parents therefore wish to avoid local authority involvement in their lives as far as possible, lest they are told that they are not well enough to look after and teach their children. I know of a number of well known home educators in this position and their opposition to monitoring is a direct consequence of their medical condition.
Some parents with dyslexia or ADHD had terrible experience at school twenty, thirty or forty years ago, before such conditions were really understood. They are very quick to pull their children out of school at the first sign of trouble, because they think that the kids will suffer as they did themselves. A lot of them have a hatred and mistrust of teachers and schools, caused by their own experiences. Once they have the child at home, they are not prepared to allow any former teachers to come round and monitor their children’s progress. This scenario is enormously common among well known home educating parents.
I wrote yesterday about the way that bizarre belief systems are often associated with home educators with mental illnesses or learning difficulties. These provide another reason why parents do not want home visits from the local authority. Consider the case of the mother who blogs enthusiastically about her nine year old daughter’s enjoyment of spelling. What’s that? You can’t see why that would discourage anybody from wanting monitoring visits? Spelling is a part of literacy, why would you want to keep that hidden from a local authority officer? Not that sort of spelling, you fool! I mean spelling as in casting magical enchantments. The mother is witch and encourages her daughter to spend her time learning magic. When you combine this with the fact that the father is a professional medium who raises the dead in the back parlour, you can see just why the parents are dead against having anybody from the County Council poking round the house and asking how their kid spends her days! Again, this is a pretty common theme among prominent home educators; children being at best exposed to and at worst indoctrinated in barking-mad worldviews.
Those home educators who are influential in British home education are nearly all like those I have described above. They have, or think they have, good reasons for avoiding visits from their local authority. They work hard to try and persuade others to share their odd approach to home education, which has of course the effect of creating tension and confrontation between local authorities and home educating parents. At the root of the problem is the disordered thinking of a fairly small number of militant home educators, who have managed to make their own weird belief system the default setting for many other parents who do not really know what is going on.