I had occasion last month to remark how awful it is to see home educators using pastor Niemoller's meditation, the one that begins ‘First they came for the communists’, to support their supposed right to educate their own children. I find it stupendously offensive to see people comparing the persecution of Jews and political opponents by the Nazis with local authority officers in this country checking that children are receiving a suitable education. Yesterday, I drew attention to two other examples of this sort of thing. One was splicing footage of Hitler into a film about home education and the other was the making of an image of Graham Badman reading Mein Kampf, which appeared on the spoof blog, the Dark Lord.
The use of such motifs is of course a form of propaganda. It tells us nothing useful, but associates certain things with negative images. In favour of regulation for home education? Gosh, you must be like the Nazis! Of course, home educators are not the only ones to use propaganda of this sort in their campaigns. One sees it in many emotional and irrational appeals; debates about euthanasia, for example. The argument basically is, ’Hitler approved of this; if you also approve of it, then that makes you like Hitler.’ There is even a term for this nonsense; Godwin’s Law.
In addition to the stick of being compared to Hitler and the Nazis, many home educators also use the carrot of being on the side of the clever and famous. I have lost track of how many lists I have seen of supposedly home educated people who achieved a lot in life. Here the irrational appeal is the opposite of the one involving Hitler. You obviously don’t want to be like Hitler, but surely you would like your children to be as clever as Einstein? Well there you go; Einstein was home educated, therefore if you home educate your kid, he might end up as clever as Einstein. (The fact that Einstein was not home educated is not really relevant here, he certainly appears in many lists of famous home educated people.)
That so many home educators and their self-appointed leaders rely so heavily upon these stereotypes is slightly alarming! There are many good reasons for educating your own child; I can think of a dozen or so offhand, without racking my brains unduly. I am curious to know though why the Nazis crop up so regularly in British home education. Is it some residual xenophobia from the Second World War; just look at what those Krauts got up to, do you want to be like them? Or might it be that many home educators have not thought overmuch about their motives and seize cheerfully upon the first flimsy excuse that is offered. I suppose that not being like Hitler and the possibility of having a kid as brainy as Einstein are both fairly good motives, if you cannot think of anything better!