Thursday, 28 November 2013

Doublethink by home educators

I dare say that readers will be familiar with the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Perhaps they will recall the idea of doublethink; whereby two opposite and contradictory views could simultaneously be held?   I was reminded of this recently while reading a post on one of the home education lists by a trustee of Education Otherwise. The idea that I have expressed here in the past;  that children should not be given too much of a say in their lives, in particular that they should not have a free choice about the type of education which  they receive, has caused a lot of irritation. When I have suggested that the decision about whether to take GCSEs is simply too important to be left to a child, who might not fully appreciate the consequences of that choice; I have been put sharply in my place and corrected in no uncertain terms. Similarly, on various lists, such as the HE-UK and EO support groups, it is more or less taken as given, that it is a bad thing that children are compelled to attend school and are given no choice about it. 

A little while ago, a mother posted on one of these lists, saying that her child, who was currently home educated, now wished to go to school. A clear case, surely, for the child to take control of her educational choices?  Apparently not! Education Otherwise's representative in Wales, who is also one of the charity's trustees, said:

I was wondering if it's fair to allow a child to make a decision for which they can only be unaware of the consequences... It's a nice idea that a child chooses his/her way forward but I do have doubts

Just imagine if I had said that, in connection with a child being forced to study for GCSEs! Or suppose that a child at school had asked to be home educated; would the same advice have been tendered? This is a classic example of the way in which some home educators wish for children to be given autonomy and control over their education; provided that they make the choices of which the adults approve. 

There was a slightly puzzling aspect of the post, because the woman also went on to say:

 the ethos of many schools is so consumerist and materialist 

Now of course the ethos is the prevailing values and standards of a culture, group or organisation. I have certainly encountered schools with a Christian ethos and others  whose ethos is humanist. Never yet have I heard of  a school with a materialist and consumerist ethos! I suppose that quite a few pupils at some schools are keen on consumerism, but that wouldn't be enough to give their school an ethos of that sort. Perhaps she meant that society itself is materialist and consumerist, but in that case, surely all schools would have this ethos, which she does not appear to be saying? I would be curious to know what readers think was meant by this strange observation.


  1. Simon said:
    "I have certainly encountered schools with a Christian ethos and others whose ethos is humanist. Never yet have I heard of a school with a materialist and consumerist ethos!"

    Clearly, you haven't attended a school harvest festival in which the headmaster thanked God and Tesco (and nobody else) in the same breath.

    1. 'Clearly, you haven't attended a school harvest festival in which the headmaster thanked God and Tesco'

      Well, I've seen the same thing in a church. I didn't think that this indicated an ethos of materialism; merely that the local supermarket had donated a lot of stuff for the homeless shelter and that it was courteous to thank them.

  2. It's her opinion, Simon. She's allowed it, exactly as you're allowed yours and I'm allowed mine. Which, incidentally, is that if a child wants to try school, buy the minimum possible kit, insist on a term's commitment to it so they've given it a fair try and let them go no matter what you believe because they are your beliefs, not theirs.

    And re the GCSE's, we compromised. I said minimum one science, one history, either geography or environmental science, maths, English, Latin and one modern language and after that they can play to their strengths, whether that be statistics or literature. Both of them opted for all 3 sciences, which was nothing less than I deserved after I'd worked so hard to make them interesting!

    And anyone who's had kids in a school that worshipped the cult of the Sainsbury's and Tesco schools vouchers will understand what she means by materialism. Luckily for us, my husband could recruit everyone who was childless in the office to collect vouchers for us, but there were charts for each class showing who'd brought in what and contests between classes for who could collect the most and a whole lot of unnecessary pressure being put on parents.


    1. 'It's her opinion, Simon. She's allowed it, exactly as you're allowed yours and I'm allowed mine.'

      I wasn't suggesting for a moment that she should not have been allowed to express her opinion; just that it was an odd one.

  3. But why are you calling this post doublethink by home educators? Firstly, you quote only one home educator and secondly where is your evidence of doublethink? Has the person you quoted also said children should be allowed unfettered freedom in educational choices? Or do you have any evidence that the people who "pulled you up sharply" also share the view of the person you quote? Thought not. So it's not double think by home educators then, just more sloppy thinking by Simon Webb.