Yesterday I posted a light-hearted and purely personal account of my daughter’s early childhood. This was in response to several requests from people commenting here, that it would be nice to get away from ideology and talk about my own methods of home education. Almost incredibly, this innocent tale of visiting zoos and going down mines was interpreted by one reader as a coded attack on the idea of autonomous education! Perhaps I should abandon the idea of a chatty and non-confrontational approach here and resume the normal, endless and sterile debates on ideology? We shall see.
It is often suggested that those not enamoured of autonomous home education are in the habit of misrepresenting this pedagogic technique. Some readers, principally those who have just arrived on planet Earth or who have been in a coma since 2009, might be surprised to learn that I have myself been accused of this! This topic has been pretty well worked to death and so I want today to look at how structured and methodical home education is caricatured and mocked by those unable or unwilling to undertake it.
When it became known that Graham Stuart, Chair of the Education Committee, was involved in drawing up new guidelines in elective home education, there was great unease among many home educating parents in this country. So vociferous was the opposition, that the idea was eventually dropped. Still, looking at the guidelines which were produced gives us an insight into the thought processes of many high profile autonomous home educators, both in this country and abroad. The guidelines may be found here:
Now there was at first an attempt in some quarters to portray this document as being produced solely by Alison Sauer. It gradually came to light that many other well known home educators had also had a hand in it, people like Tania Berlow, Mike Fortune-Wood, Imran Shah and Kelly Green in Canada. That being so, it gives us an insight into the prejudices which afflict quite a few home educators in this country; especially with regard to structured home education.
Let us look at page 64 of this document. We find a section headed School-at-Home. The very fact that this ludicrous expression is used in what it was hoped would become an official document tells us much about the mentality of some home educators. It is perfectly fair to talk of ‘autonomous educators’ because this is actually an expression used and accepted by them. People call themselves autonomous home educators. I have never in my life and nor I suspect has anybody else, ever heard anybody call themselves ‘school-at-home educators‘. This is because ‘school-at-home’ is a pejorative phrase dreamed up by those who are opposed to the structured teaching of home educated children. ‘Autonomous home educator’ is a neutral term; ;school-at-home’ is a sneering and disapproving expression coined by those who think that this is the best way to describe structured home education. That this is so can easily be tested. Google around a bit and you will soon find people who are happy to call themselves ‘autonomous’ or ‘autonomous educators’. Now try and find anybody who calls themselves ‘a school-at-home type” or claims to do ‘school-at-home’. You will find nobody, because this is not a real description of any kind of home education. It is always used by those opposed to an type of home education which they do not themselves practice.
We are told, also on page 64, that these ‘school-at-home’ parents use a curriculum to cater for the whole of their children’s education. This is a ridiculous idea. I would be very keen to hear of such a parent. No home educating parent relies on a curriculum to cater for the whole of a child’s education; the very idea is a nonsense. Perhaps readers could tell us of any such parent? As God he knows, I was a fanatically structured home educator who worked his child hard, but the curriculum occupied only 10% or 20% of my daughter’s education. As the post yesterday showed, most of her education was not via any curriculum but was derived from real-life experiences. The same is true of all other structured home educators whom I have known.
What about the idea that, ‘Families maintain a clear distinction between education and leisure, and often keep the school rhythm of terms and holidays’. Who does this? Has anybody ever known a home educating parent who says to her child, ‘Oh, we won’t be learning anything next week, Jimmy; the schools have a half-term holiday.’ Completely grotesque. Of course many home educating families whose children have friends at school might make opportunities for their children to meet up with those on holiday from school, but this has nothing to do with a particular type of home education.
I find it fascinating to see how the term ‘school-at-home’ has become used by those who do not in general favour the regular and systematic teaching of children. It sounds like a neutral description, but is in fact designed to display contempt for other home educators. I think that autonomous home educators using the phrase would do well to think twice before accusing others of misrepresenting a type of home education.