It is an unfortunate fact of life that one can always rely upon some of the more vociferous home educating types to oppose anything sensible and support any crackpot idea going the rounds. Some of them seem to have a positively uncanny knack for attacking any initiative likely to benefit children. This is particularly so with things concerning very young children. The so-called ’nappy curriculum’ and the recent announcement that children will be ‘tested’ at two to see how they are doing, being good examples of this tendency.
So why is a it a good idea to check how children are developing when they are two? What possible business of the state’s is it, if my two year-old boy is ’playing nicely’ with other children? This is statism gone mad! Well no, not really. Apart from the obvious advantages to small children of picking up very early any signs of Autistic Spectrum Disorder, language delay, hearing loss and so on; there are other reasons for this move. These are the need to protect the weak and vulnerable in society. Not just the children who are being tested in this way, but also those whom they may later encounter in life. Let me explain.
Twenty years ago, I helped run a support group in East London for mothers with babies and small children. These were parents who were not coping and wanted support. There was a psychologist, a Community Psychiatric Nurse, a social worker and me. The mothers went off for a discussion led by the social worker and CPN, while the rest of us, which included some creche workers, organised activities for the children. (This is of course how why it was possible for me to take my baby to work with me from the age of three weeks old!)
It was often possible to predict fairly accurately what would become of these children when they grew up. This is depressing, but quite true. I have subsequently heard of how these children ended up in their early twenties; I still have a lot of dealings in the area. For instance, one boy of three was ferociously angry and aggressive with all females. He would kick and punch his mother, who did not resist, simply saying feebly: ’Oh, Jadon, don’t’ (His name was not really Jadon, by the way). Jadon would target any little girls in the group, rushing at them and knocking them over. He would spit at women and lash out at them. I was the only man working in this project and consequently the only person there whom he respected or would allow to have anything to do with him. We need not go into the reasons for his behaviour, which was not really his fault. He had witnessed his mother being beaten by various men, for one thing. The point about Jadon is that we all knew perfectly well that unless drastic action was taken, he would go on to be abusive to girls in later life. The mother stopped coming and we lost track of her. A couple of years ago, when he was twenty one, Jadon was convicted of a particularly brutal rape. Nobody who knew him as a three year-old was the least bit surprised.
This is the sort of thing which make it a really good idea to see how children are behaving socially at two; one can often tell how they will then be behaving at twenty two. For many of us, the measure of a good society is the extent to which it protects and looks out for the interests of its weaker members. Too give another reason why it is good to identify children who are unable to play appropriately and interact well with other children at the age of two, one need only look at schools. It only takes one or two disruptive children who are unable to sit down and listen to a story being read, to make teaching in a primary school class very difficult. If in addition to being unable to sit down, these children wander round the room physically attacking other children, then all teaching will become impossible. The teacher and any assistants will simply have to focus on these disruptive children and the quiet and well behaved kids who want to learn, will end up being ignored. This happens a lot. This means that other children’s education is damaged, which is not fair, unless we spot these children early on and take steps to help them. One can often identify these children too at the age of two.
I have an idea that many of those home educating parents who object to identifying children of this sort early on, come from nice homes and find it impossible to imagine the sorts of things about which I have been talking. Believe me, it is possible to spot children who will lead chaotic, disorganised lives very early and it is sometimes possible to do something about it.