A few days ago, I expressed my irritation at the fact that some health workers evidently believe home education to be a risk factor for abuse. I want to think about this idea a little.
If you wished to inflict certain kinds of abuse on a child, it would certainly be easier to do if you kept the kid away from school. We know that a small number of parents with children at school are cruel to their children and abuse them sexually and it would be strange if a few home educating parents did not do likewise. Preventing the child from speaking freely to others would be a good first step in concealing the mistreatment. That this has happened in the past is not in question; look at Eunice Spry. Could we prevent cases like Spry by limiting or even banning home education? It is unlikely. Such people are very cunning and Eunice Spry managed to deceive various social workers and other staff from the local authority. For every case like this of wicked home educating parents, we can find many more where the children were at school and the abuse was still concealed.
My own feeling is that there are risks to home educated children, but that these are not risks of serious injury or death. Rather, there is a danger that children raised by home educators might grow up a bit weird. This in itself is not of course a disaster. Many weird people lead perfectly normal lives, nor were most weird people educated at home. Most of them went to school. I would guess though that the chance of a child growing into a strange adult are probably higher for the home educated than for those sent to school.
One thing that is noticeable about home educators is that not sending their children to school is seldom the only out of the ordinary thing about their lives. It is not the case that the typical home educating parent is a perfectly normal and average person who just happens to decide to educate her own child. Almost invariably, there is a constellation of unusual beliefs, remarkable previous experiences and strange attitudes, particularly to authority. In a sense, it could hardly be otherwise. The pressure to conform with the mores of twenty first century, British society and pack your kid off to school is immense. Most parents cave in to it, even if they have doubts about the wisdom or efficacy of compulsory schooling. Those who resist the system must, by definition, be odd.
There may not be such a thing as a typical home educator, but themes emerge if you listen to enough parents. There is often hostility towards or at the very least, mistrust of authority. These parents frequently had bad experiences at school themselves. This mistrust of authority extends from teachers to the medical profession; many home educating parents are fans of alternative medicine. There is often a tendency to believe in conspiracies. These can range from vaccines to the Royal family, from the motives of local authorities to the war in Iraq. This seems to be the case even among those who have no dealings with other home educators and do not hang out with the loonies on the HE-UK list. Home education just seems to be associated with strange parents.
I suppose that even if it we could be sure that home educated children had an increased risk of growing up to be strange adults, we might not be justified in taking action about it. For one thing of course, if they have strange parents, then making the kids go to school will still leave them in the company of these people for a large chunk of time. I want to explore this topic at greater length over the next few days, as I feel that it is not a field that many people seem to have looked at before.