About eleven years ago, a school of thought emerged in this family that my home educated daughter should start seeing more children of her own age. Of course there were those at Woodcraft Folk, ballet lessons, church and so on, but it was still felt that she needed to spend more time playing with other kids and less being experimented on by her father like an educational guinea pig. As a result, I joined Education Otherwise and the Home Education Advisory Service. I received lists of names, addresses and telephone numbers of other members of these organisations in the country and contacted about a dozen, attempting to broaden my child’s social circle.
Interestingly, this was at roughly the same time that Paula Rothermel was doing her research and since 95% of her subjects belonged to Education Otherwise, it is fair to assume that our random dozen were pretty similar to the types that she was working with at that time. Now I am sometimes reproached for suggesting that home educators tend to be a bit odd. The thesis advanced by my critics is that home education is simply an educational choice and says nothing at all about the parent making it. Some people send their kids to one maintained school and some to another. Some parents choose an independent school and others decide to educate their children at home. One cannot generalise about home educators any more than one can about those who send their children to school. I cannot agree with this hypothesis. For one thing, my common sense tells me that the vast majority of parents who have problems with their child’s school, sort out those problems or at the most move the child to another school. Similarly, those who wish for a better education for their four year-old either attend church to get him into a church school, move house to a better area, enage a tutor for a couple of evenings each week or persuade a relative to pay the fees at an independent school. Almost by definition, those who choose not to send their children to school at all are extremely atypical.
Now I have nothing against odd people. After all most people, even my close friends and family, regard me as being a bit mad myself and they may well be right. I doubt if anybody was at all surprised when I chose not to send my young daughter to school; it was exactly the sort of thing that I would do. Is this the case with the average home educator? I have known many in the past, some in connection with my work. It has been suggested here that those whom I have met are likely to be unusual and not at all typical of home educators. Let’s look at those whom I met after joining EO and HEAS. I can tell readers at once that all these parents were strange and not at all like the average parent of a school aged child whom one meets all the time socially. The first whom we visited may have been an extreme case, but she set the tone for the rest of our experiences with home educating parents living in West Essex and North London at that time. I never actually met the daughter. She was so shy that she would not come downstairs. She communicating by speaking to her parents from upstairs, where she always retreated whenever there were visitors. The first time we went to the house with my daughter, none of us actually met the child. My daughter did not want to go upstairs alone, because she thought the house was creepy. She was right! The mother was like a wraith and very nervous and peculiar. The family did not eat or drink anything warm. All food and drinks were cold. The child’s health was apparently very poor, possibly as a consequence of this. On later visits, my daughter did go upstairs, but was not very keen on going to the house.
Other parents were not as weird as this, but I certainly noticed some common trends. Some of the parents belonged to more than one of these categories. There were those with a touch of religious mania, some who were bitterly opposed to all authority, others who had had bad experiences themselves at school and also some who were very protective of their child and seemingly obsessed with her safety or welfare. I formed the impression that the decision to home educate had in many cases stemmed from their characters, rather than from the ostensible circumstances which had led to home education. What I mean by this is that the things they talked about would not have caused an ordinary parent to decide to take their kid out of school. Of course, this was precisely the same with me. On a rational level, my decision to home educate was prompted by purely educational considerations and has proved a great success. However, it was my own past experiences which primed me in that direction and the explanation about education was to some extent a rationalisation; an excuse , if you will.
How does this tie in with local authorities and their desire to visit families and investigate the situation in their homes? Quite a few of these parents were probably known to the schools as being weird individuals. In some cases, their behaviour and conversation would have set alarm bells ringing in any normal person as soon as one met them. Me, I am very broadminded and being pretty strange myself, am less apt to make judgements of this sort. Nevertheless, I can see where there would have been concerns about these children and their parents.
I am curious to know whether readers honestly maintain that the average home educator is not a little peculiar? Is it really the case that the only difference between home educating parents and the average parent of a child at school is that one sends their child to school and the other does not? Hands on hearts now, how many people here educated their children at home for the following reasons: religious convictions, desire to protect the child, opposition to authority or as a result of bad feelings experienced yourself as a child at school? And now, for how many of your was it a purely educational decision?