Wednesday, 20 November 2013
The testosterone factor in home education
One of the things which one noticed during most of the recent history of home education, is that it was dominated by women. This was perhaps only natural; anything to do with raising children has always been viewed as a naturally feminine matter. Men were few and far between on the British home educating scene until the beginning of the present century. At about this time, men like Ian Dowty and Mike Fortune-Wood began to become well-known in some home educating circles. Contemporaneously and possibly coincidentally, this was the very time that serious confrontation also became a notable feature of the home education in this country. Before that time, the default setting for parents was allowing local authority officers to visit their homes, speak to their children and look through the child’s work. From roughly 2000 onwards, a trend developed strongly in some quarters which was opposed to local authorities having anything much to do with home educating families. A mood of bellicosity and confrontation began to replace the generally easy-going relationships which had previously characterised home education.
Commenting here a few days ago, somebody hinted that there might be a direct causal link between certain men becoming involved in home education and the air of tension and confrontation which we now see. This is an interesting hypothesis. Women who worked in nursing during the 1970s and 1980s noticed very clearly the effect of men getting mixed up in what was before that an almost exclusively female domain. For one thing, they tend to take over and for another, the whole atmosphere of the profession changed subtly. Where women tend often to work cooperatively, avoiding conflict where possible; men simply thrive upon confrontation and argument. I wonder if something along these lines could be at work in home education? One of the largest internet lists is run by a man; Mike Fortune-Wood’s HE-UK list. This list has been enormously active and the posters tremendously aggressive at various times, such as in 2009, during the Badman business. A lot of campaigning was loosely coordinated here. Mike Fortune-Wood encourages this list to be in opposition to any cooperation with local authorities, by banning those whose views do not agree with his own hard line and imposing moderation on others, to prevent more moderate voices from being heard. In other words, he shapes it in his own, masculine, image. Ian Dowty’s influence has also been towards opposition to local authorities, rather than consensus. Being a barrister has given him a lot of clout in this respect.
This is only a tentative idea, but a rather interesting one. Relations between home educators and local authorities can be pretty delicate at times and I have yet to encounter any situation which is improved by the addition of half a bucket of testosterone. The more cynical among my readers might even be prompted to speculate upon the extent that I too might perhaps be a part of this syndrome, if it exists.