Wednesday, 6 July 2016

International Perspectives on Home Education: Do We Still Need Schools? by Paula Rothermel - A Review, Part 1

The editor of the above book, Paula Rothermel, is exceedingly dissatisfied with the way that it is selling; as well she might be, with sales currently running at fewer than one a year!  Instead of asking herself where she might have gone wrong in compiling it or writing the introduction, Dr Rothermel evidently finds it easier to seek a scapegoat. She has accordingly come to the conclusion that if people aren’t queuing up to buy her book, then it must be my fault for reviewing the thing on Amazon! Put like that, it sounds quite mad and yet Roxane Featherstone, who is apparently a friend of Rothermel’s, has recently been advancing this hypothesis to anybody who will listen. Perhaps it is now time to examine this book in detail and try and work out the real reason why there is such a marked reluctance to purchase it.

There are two aspects in particular of Rothermel’s book which might be causing concern among potential customers and making them hesitate before shelling out £70 for it; apart that is from the grotesquely high price. The first of these is the introduction, which is written by Rothermel herself. This is a singularly awful piece of work, containing, apart from the factual errors, some of the most misleading and inaccurate references which it has ever been my misfortune to encounter. I shall deal with this separately in a subsequent post. The second thing likely to cause both professionals involved in education, as well as home educators themselves, to raise their eyebrows a little is the list of contributors; the first of whom is a woman called  Leslie Barson. As soon as I saw the name, I gasped audibly and muttered under my breath, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ I have every reason to suppose that others glancing at the contents page reacted in precisely the same way. Leslie Barson attained notoriety a few years ago when, in the course of an interview for the Times Educational Supplement, she said;

I would remove the law that says education is compulsory ...I believe children should be able to work in paid employment as soon as they would like to, and would feel more valued if allowed to do this.

Yes, really. Here is a woman who would scrap the various laws which currently guarantee children an education and protect them from exploitation by unscrupulous parents and employers and turn back the clock a hundred and fifty years; so that children might once again spend their early years working in factories and fields, instead of being at school. This is the person whom Rothermel regards as perfectly suited to be the first name featured in her book. We return to the question of why Dr Rothermel’s book is not selling well. Here’s a hint; if you wish for professionals and academics in the field of education to buy a book, do try and avoid having the first name one sees upon opening it belonging to a woman who wishes to see the nation’s educational system dismantled, along with a return to the days when small children could be sent up chimneys and down mines!

The next name is unexceptional, somebody from Australia who is championing a crank theory of learning originating from a contemporary of Lysenko, but the third contributor once again causes a sharp intake of breath; it is one of the Yusof children. If Rothermel had scoured the length and breadth of Britain, she could hardly have uncovered a worse and less appetising example of home education than that inflicted upon the siblings of Noraisha Yusof, author of the third chapter of the book. Noraisha’s sister described her childhood as a ‘living hell’ and wrote of ‘15 years of emotional and physical abuse.’ At the age of 11, she tried to kill herself as a result of the home education to which she was subjected.  What sort of abuse was there in the Yusof home? Her brother Abraham said of his father, ‘He used to wake us up in the middle of the night by punching our faces. It was awful what he put us through.’ The father was subsequently convicted of indecently assaulting two 15 year-old girls whom he was tutoring.

In her essay on the learning of mathematics in the home environment, Noraisha Yusof does not mention the valuable contribution made by being punched in the face at night. Nor does she explain how important it is to keep the home cold and to ban television and pop music; both integral parts of her own learning in the home environment which led to her attending university to study mathematics at the age of 16.

I have not the leisure to go further into the choice of authors made for Dr Rothermel’s book, but I will limit myself to saying that the sight of a reactionary who wishes to see children in this country stripped of the legal protection they currently enjoy is hardly calculated to encourage  those of us who work in education to view her book kindly. Nor could I read, without feeling a little queasy, a piece about the virtues of learning mathematics at home, written by somebody from such an abusive home.

In the next piece about Rothermel’s book, we will look at her own contribution and try and work out whether she is guilty of nothing worse than sloppy research or whether, on the other hand, she has been deliberately untruthful in some of her claims.

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