Friday, 29 March 2013
More deliberately misleading claims about autonomous education
We looked yesterday at the case of a child who was taught to read and then advertised as having just ‘picked up’ reading spontaneously. This sort of thing can have a bad effect upon parents who are thinking of home educating, because it gives them an unrealistic idea of what home education entails. It has caused some parents to simply wait for their children to start reading; having formed the impression that this is something which happens naturally as a matter of course. Here is a typical example of such a dupe. This mother’s account of her children’s education was until recently to be found on the Education Otherwise site as an inspiration to others! Here she is, talking of her seven and ten year old children, both of whom are functionally illiterate;
‘Their days are often filled with television and lots of play…They will read one day and will do so because they want to, not because somebody tells them to.’
Here is a mother who is simply waiting for her children to ‘pick up’ reading. She has been gulled into this foolish course of action by misleading accounts such as that at which we looked yesterday.
Another type of deception is that practiced by those who pretend that their children were pretty backward in various subjects and then suddenly made great leaps at a late age; thus catching up and even overtaking conventionally schooled children of the same age. We hear of children who could not read until the age of twelve or who were hopeless at maths until they were thirteen and then in the space of a few years made up for lost time and went to university. Almost invariably, there is more to these cases too than meets the eye.
Two home education success stories which have been doing the rounds now for years and are still regularly trotted out, are the autonomously educated boys; one of whom got into Oxford to study law and the other who went to Manchester to study bio-chemistry. The second of these cases is an absolute classic in deception on the part of the child’s mother and I have recently come across an interesting letter from her dating back to 2007. Here it is;
'The “inspectors” quoted in the BBC article completely do not understand autonomous education, which is practiced by at least one in four home educators in Britain. Autonomous education is child led, with parents facilitating, not dictating and allowing the child to retain the urge to educate themselves, the drive which leads them to teach themselves to walk and talk, and by not supressing that urge allowing them to learn all they need to know to get on in the world they live in. To the LA advisors, this is so far away from the regulated, prescribed curriculums that make up their world, that they see it as no educational provision, because unless the child decides structure is the way they wish to learn, there is often no external way to assess the child’s education. My two children have been lucky enough to decide on their own education, and an inspector making judgements about my son at 13 would have been horrified at this child who had not yet decided writing was an important thing in his life, or maths. However my son was recently the youngest entrant ever at the Manchester School of Medicine’s PhD programme, following his degree.'
What are we to make of this? Well, the mother wants us to believe that her autonomously educated son was not too hot at maths at the age of thirteen and that a local authority inspector would have been horrified at his standard in this subject. But then look what happened; he went on to become the youngest ever entrant at the Manchester School of Medicine! Curious that she omits to mention that the boy had already passed a GCSE in mathematics at the age of twelve, three or four years earlier than the usual age that this is taken in schools. The reality is that far from being horrified at his attainment in maths, any inspector would have been extremely impressed. This can hardly have been an innocent mistake on the part of the mother; she knew perfectly well when she was talking about how horrified an inspector would have been, that her son took his GCSE in this subject at twelve. She tells us here that he had not, at the age of thirteen, decided that maths was an important thing in his life, when in fact he chose to pursue the subject and take a GCSE in it at twelve!
The result of this sort of deceit is that parents whose teenagers are not doing well at maths or reading are lulled into believing that it does not matter. Just look! Here is a child who is a complete duffer at maths when he is thirteen and then a year later, he is studying it at A level! In the course of a year, he has caught up with and overtaken the fourteen year-olds at school. Nonsense like this can be very damaging for parents who don’t realise that they should actually be concerned about children unable to read at twelve or carry out basic arithmetical operations at thirteen. They are enabled to kid themselves that some miracle will happen and that their children will soon catch up without any teaching on their part.
Why does this bother me? I am hugely enthusiastic about home education. At the moment there are tens of thousands of home educated children in this country, but I would like to see the practice increase at least tenfold. I wish that hundreds of thousands of parents would take full responsibility for the education of their children and reject schools entirely. Educating children though is a full-time task and unless parents are prepared to devote their lives to it for ten or fifteen years, then they had better not attempt it at all. Those who undertake the enterprise believing that their children will be hopeless at maths at the age of thirteen and then suddenly whiz ahead and be at A level standard a year later, all under their own steam, are in for a terrible shock. Untruthful and deliberately misleading reports such as those we have looked at over the last few days are not helping matters. They present a distorted and wholly unrealistic view of home education. Any parents who decide to home educate after having read stuff like this are being set up to fail. Worse still, their children are being primed for failure and that really does bother me.