Monday, 25 July 2016
Why the British government sometimes views home education with suspicion
One of the problems for home education in this country is that it often presents not just as another educational setting, but rather as a weird cult. It is a particular concern of most European governments at the moment to see that society becomes more cohesive and does not start splitting into self-contained and divisive sections; each with different core values and exclusive beliefs. One can quite see the point, the development of parallel societies within a country seldom ends well! It is from this perspective that home education is sometimes seen as likely to lead to a group of people who live by a code which varies greatly from that which the rest of a country shares and abides by. This is why Germany does not allow home education.
In Britain, there is a strong sense among the more prominent home educators that their chosen educational technique is somehow superior to the one used by almost everybody else. Before going any further, we should bear in mind that home education is essentially neither more nor less than just another way of educating children. Like all educational settings, there are advantages and disadvantages. Single-sex schools for girls, to give one example, are very good educationally for girls, but can leave them a little socially immature. What comprehensive schools lack educationally, on the other hand, they make up for in preparing children for life in a diverse society. All those involved with British education recognises such differences and are prepared to discuss them rationally.
Home educators tend to be different. They typically refuse to believe that there can be any disadvantage to the educational setting which they have chosen for their children. For them, it seems all too often to be a wonderful ideal; one which cannot be bettered. There is often a messianic air about home education in Britain, with anybody asking too many questions about it being regarded as an enemy; just as with many cults. Here is good example, from a few years ago;
Just look at the mad things which are being said here! ‘Home educators have unique and privileged access to fundamental truths about the human condition’, ‘Home educators can reveal these truths to the rest of society’, ‘This is our precious gift’. Just replace the expression ‘home educators’ in those quotations with ‘scientologists’ or ‘Muslims’ and you will see that this is the language not of education, but religion. There is a distinctly religious feel to the thing.
Several things strike one about peculiar ideas like this; that home education is some sort of Utopian lifestyle which will one day change society. The first is that this theme is a very powerful one among the self-appointed leaders of home education in this country. The second is the sheer absurdity of talking about an educational setting in this exalted way! Imagine if I were to say that, ‘Those of us who send our children to comprehensive schools have unique and privileged access to fundamental truths about the human condition’. It would sound as though I had taken leave of my senses!
The final, and most important point, is this. It is in nobody’s interest to see society fragmenting into individual strands, whose members have little use for the mainstream way of life. This can be dangerous if those who belong to such groups follow some particular religion; Islam or fundamentalist Christianity. It is also unlikely to be healthy for society if political groups start to split off from the rest of us and promote values greatly at odds with those held by everybody else. There is a vague fear among some people, both in central and local government, that something of the sort is happening among home educators; that they might be indoctrinating their children with strange notions, which will make it difficult for them to fit into the ordinary scheme of things when they grow up. This is all of a piece with the worries about Muslim independent schools which are a big concern at the moment. Perhaps if home educators stopped behaving as though they were somehow special and possessed of insights which elude parents who send their children to school, it would go some way towards allaying such fears.