Well folks, this really is the final post I shall be making here. I have been thinking lately about the different ideas that home educators have about education. There are certainly plenty like me who cram their children for exams and whose greatest wish is that their kids get a place at a Russell Group university, but there are also many who regard that sort of carry on as not only not being the best kind of education, but in a sense being the very antithesis of true education. They are of course perfectly right, at least up to a point. Let me explain why I think this and why I nevertheless went ahead with my plans.
Now I certainly think that children should be given a body of basic knowledge so that they can make sense of the modern world. I think that this should be chosen by their parents and handed down to them; this is a curriculum. As far as GCSEs and A levels go though, useful as they are in persuading others that a child has been ’educated’, I have enormous reservations. The knowledge required for these qualifications is mind-numbingly detailed and prescriptive and any sort of independent thought is not only not required but can actually prove dangerous to the passing of the examination. This is definitely not my idea of education! To give an example, twice in her life my daughter has been compelled to study the Schlieffen Plan in World War I in order to pass first IGCSE and then A level history. There are recognised and accepted reasons why the Schlieffen Plan failed. When she was studying for the IGCSE at the age of thirteen, Simone came up with another very plausible reason for its lack of success. If I had been concerned purely with education, I would have been delighted with this and encouraged her to think further about the matter; as it was, I was horrified. To pass the exam with flying colours entails putting down the points that the examiner is looking for. They check these off against a list and anything not on that list is simply ignored. And so to my eternal shame, I stamped at once on the new ideas my daughter was generating, because they might have harmed her success in gaining an A* in the examination! There is something utterly bizarre about a type of education which actually discourages children from thinking for themselves and I freely accept this.
Still, my daughter passed the right exams and this has worked well for now. Fortunately of course, her ability to think independently has not been at all harmed by this weird method of getting on academically. I saw this very clearly when she took the Thinking Skills Assessment, which is part of the process of applying for places at some courses at Oxford. I would imagine that many home educated children would shine at this and it probably explains how Ian Dowty’s son was accepted for law despite having not GCSEs or A levels. He would have taken a similar, but slightly different admission test. Here is an example of a question from the TSA:
There is a proposal to change our passports from the present, rather imposing, book-type
documents to small plastic cards, a proposal which should be rejected. The cards are
seen as having many advantages. For example, they will be easier to fit into people's
pockets, something which will become more important as other countries move towards
compulsory identity cards. But this supposed advantage of smaller size is actually a
disadvantage. It is the very fact that passports cannot be slipped into a holidaymaker's
pocket (and from there into the sand on the beach) that makes us take special care of
them. It is, after all, a very important document.
Which one of the following best expresses the main conclusion of the above argument?
A The advantages of the smaller passports are fewer than people think.
B The proposals to replace our passports with plastic cards should be rejected.
C The importance of passports will diminish if they are small plastic cards.
D People will take less care of passports which are small plastic cards.
E The proposal to change our type of passports should be looked at more
This is not the sort of examination for which one can prepare; it depends entirely on having the kind of mind able to extract the salient points from an argument. The conversational learning style favoured by many home educating parents means that their children are probably used to discussing the news and have in effect been trained to spot the weak points in arguments and so on. I am guessing that many home educated children would achieve well at such tests as these. This type of education, in rhetoric and logic, is to my mind of infinitely greater value than just stuffing the kid's head full of a lot of nonsense that he will forget as soon as the exam season is over. Teaching my child how to think was really the main thrust of my educational technique.
I have for purely pragmatic reasons, been forced to pursue a style of education over the years which was not ideal. Society requires GCSEs and A levels and the child without them is handicapped. One cannot readily demonstrate to a university or potential employer that a young person has been ’educated’ without those vital pieces of paper. This is unfortunate. However, it is how society is currently constituted. I might fight against society myself and disregard its mores, but I had no right to use my own child to fight this battle. Which is of course why we did all those examinations.
Anyway, I shall not be posting here again, although I will of course reply to sensible comments. I shall leave this blog up as a resource for those who might stumble across it in the future. I think that the comments give a very good counter to the views which I have expressed and so in general, the thing is pretty balanced. As I have said before, if anybody wishes to contact me for any reason at all, they are free to do so, using the email adress on the right.