I have more than once been reproved here for suggesting that an awful lot of home educators are a bit loopy. Specifically, I have speculated from time to time whether there might be some sort of association between strange belief systems and the decision to home educate. Nonsense, I am told; this is purely an artefact of the internet , which is swarming with mad people. This is true, but it is an unfortunate fact of life that home educators who get into the public eye do tend to be a pretty rum bunch.
The latest such person is of course Nikki Harper, who now has a blog on the Huffington Post. Her latest post may be seen here:
Now this all conjures up a very unflattering image of home education in the minds of those who know little about it. How the heart sinks to note that it is written by an astrologer who is, ‘passionate about teen spirituality’. Like most people, I have not the remotest idea what is meant by this. The blog post itself practically invites anybody with no knowledge of home education to ridicule the whole business.
The title alone tells one a great deal about a particular strand in British home education. If, when my daughter was thirteen, I had written a piece about the ‘seven lessons I teach’, I might perhaps have listed lessons like mathematics, English language, English literature, history, physics, chemistry and biology. Obviously, I would have hoped that she would also learn things like honesty, self-reliance and compassion, but these are not really things that one can teach. The best we can do is model them for our children and hope that we are providing a good example. Parents of children at school do this as well and to hint otherwise is merely to alienate the 99% of parents who do send their children to school. Hardly a good thing for a home educator to set out to do!
The main problem with the piece is that it is based not upon how schools really are, but upon how they used to be or how somebody who has no dealings with schools thinks they might be. According to the author, modern British schools teach subjects like confusion and indifference, but parents whose children actually attended school know that this is a lot of nonsense. Schools no more teach confusion than, say for example, home educating parents who lead their child to believe in crystal healing and raising the dead. Some schools teach confusion, as do some parents, both home educating and otherwise. Schools certainly do not hold some sort of monopoly on teaching it to children!
Consider just one of the contentions made about schools in this article; that, ‘A schooled child will learn facts’. If only this were true! This pedagogic approach, a Gradgrindian insistance on 'facts alone', is contrasted with the author's own methods, which emphasise context and overall understanding. As anybody at all familiar with modern schools will know only too well, a lot of the time is taken up not with learning facts but with all the paraphernalia of modern educational theory such as collaborative learning, investigative skills, empathy and so on. These techniques long ago replaced the acquisition of facts and figures by themselves. In fact much of what Mrs Harper sees as being a precious part of home education is a standard feature of British schools. I have written about this lack of objective teaching of facts in schools before, here for example in the Daily Telegraph;
Mrs Harper evidently believes that children studying history at school these days are still sitting down in rows copying out the dates of the Battle of Trafalgar and the Charge of the Light Brigade. Alas no; nothing could be further from the truth! It is this ignorance of how schools actually are which make this piece an easy and inviting target for those who do not like or approve of home education.
As for the idea that one would have to teach a child insubordination, because otherwise she might learn to obey authority without question; has this woman ever actually met any teenagers? Has she really met a teenager who has learned the lesson of obeying authority without question? Where is this strange being? I would like to talk to the parents of such a weird and atypical teenager so I could find out where I went wrong. My own teenage daughter never needed any lessons in insubordination nor, I suspect, do most teenagers! The very last thing most parents need to teach their teenage offspring is to challenge authority and ask questions; it is coded into the very DNA of teenagers and always has been. If she is genuinely having to teach her teenaged daughter to challenge authority and encourage her to ask questions, then there is something very odd going on.
All this is hardly a brilliant advertisement for home education; written as it is by a home educating parent who knows nothing about modern schools and thinks that teenagers need to be carefully coached in how to reject adult authority and question why they should do as they are told. The overall impression is of somebody who is perhaps not as in touch with the real world as she could be. Given her line of work this is of course hardly surprising, but it does not really encourage people to listen seriously to what she has to say about education.