We examined yesterday some very strange beliefs. If the ideas at which we looked were freakish or rare in the UK home education scene, then it would hardly matter if one or two cranks believed that it was impossible to teach the Alphabet beyond the letter ’C’. After all, any group of people at whom one looks is bound to contain a few members who have weirder or less rational views than most of the group. This was not the case with the beliefs at which we looked yesterday. The basic idea, that it is impossible to teach children, is fairly widespread among British home educators. We need not delve for now into the reasons for this, but it is the case that many home educating parents in this country either believe in or at least pay lip service to this idea.
A fixed and irrational belief that children cannot be taught is by no means the most alarming of the ideas which pass unchallenged by and large in the world of British home education. For the last month, I have been conducting an informal experiment. I mentioned on this blog a while ago, the case of the home educating parents who did not wish to have any dealings with their local authority. The local authority suspected that the children were not receiving a suitable education and wanted the mother and father to provide evidence to satisfy them about this point. They would not cooperate with this request and because she thought that local authority officers might visit in person to discuss the matter, the mother instructed her son to fire his rifle at the feet of any visitors from the council.
The story of Iris Harrison is a famous one among home educators in this country. I have never once heard any criticism of her for telling a child to shoot local authority officers. When I mentioned the case here, there was some quibbling about the type of rifle used and the likely injuries which would result, but nobody thought that she had been wrong to teach her child to do this. The idea of encouraging any child to point and fire a loaded weapon of any kind at another person, whether this be an air rifle, live-fire .22 or anything else, is so incomprehensible to me, that I thought I would ask those with whom I come into contact what they thought of the matter. Who knows, perhaps I am overly cautious about such things!
For the last month, I have asked friends and family, professional contacts and so on, what they make of this business. I have stated the case plainly; that here are parents who withdrew their children from school and refused to cooperate with the local authority, an authority anxious about the education being provided by the parents. I then told them of the mother instructing her child to shoot at anybody from the council who came to visit. I can tell readers now, that every single person to whom I put this case, thought that the mother must have been an irresponsible lunatic to teach her child to behave in such a way. Some asked whether this person was typical of home educating parents and I was forced in all honesty to reveal that she is something of a heroine to many home educators, as well as being a founder member of Education Otherwise.
Perhaps readers would like to conduct similar research themselves among non-home educators? Why this is interesting is that the above anecdote is widely known and yet home educators have a completely different view of the case from ordinary people. Their view is so at odds with the normal reaction to such idiocy, that it really is quite disturbing.
What I am seeing here is a community, many of whose members apparently live in a bubble; isolated and cut off from the ordinary world, at least in an intellectual or moral sense. Across the country, people are teaching their children the whole Alphabet by means of songs and so on. Here in the bubble though, are parents who think that it cannot be done; that children are incapable of memorising the Alphabet beyond the letter ’C’. In the world outside, the notion of a parent teaching her child that it is right to discharge a rifle at another person is regarded with horror. In the bubble though, it is fine and even amusing that parents should carry on in such a way. When home educating parents talk about prejudice against their way of life, they might like to think a little about the impression that all this gives to ordinary parents; those who teach things to their children and would not dream of encouraging their children to shoot anybody. Until the majority of home educating parents state clearly that they reject such lunacy, then the suspicion will surely be that silence means consent and that they too subscribe to extreme views of this sort. This will certainly result in not only local authority officers, but also all ordinary people, eying them a little askance.