Friday, 20 September 2013
I've no doubt that when people tell me I'm brave for home educating my children they think they are paying me a compliment but they are not. Bravery is knowing what you're doing is dangerous or difficult or even wrong in some way but ploughing ahead regardless. Everything that bravery applies to is relative. One man's bravery is another man's stupidity and so on.
So when somebody tells me they think I'm brave, what they're saying is that I am risking my children's education by doing something inherently fearful. They are projecting their own fears about home education onto my family. If I started telling parents of schooled children that they're very brave for sending their children to school the meaning behind the statement becomes more explicit. It would become more of a judgment. You send your kids to school? Wow! You must be brave to risk that. Or maybe crazy. It would be unthinkable to say this to a parent of a schooled child. But somehow I am different and it's okay to say this to me. I guess the lesson here is 'think before you speak'. Unless you're actually aiming for patronising, bravery is not a word to be thrown about so lightly.
I am not brave because I know that home education is right for my family and I do not fear it. It's not dangerous or difficult. I don't fear my children will grow up unsocialised because they are growing up in society, not isolated from it. I don't fear that they will have no friends because they already have friends, of all ages. I don't fear that they will grow up stupid because they are not stupid. They are free to find their own meanings and interests rather than being fed chunks of predigested, state-sanctioned knowledge. I don't fear that they will never do exams or get qualifications because I don't mind if they take them or not but I do know that they are capable of preparing themselves should they feel ready to take them. They can decide for themselves what qualifications they'll need, if any, based on the interests they're already determined to follow. If they want to go to college, for example, they can see for themselves what the entry requirements are and if they want to get there badly enough, they will work hard to achieve what is necessary. Children are not a different species. They achieve their goals in the same way adults do when allowed the freedom to do so, with independence, enthusiasm and persistence. My children are home educated and I am not afraid.
So if you meet a home educator, please don't tell them they're brave for doing it. They are simply doing the right thing by their children, just as you are. Save bravery for those who stand up to injustice even when they might find themselves punished for it. Save it for those fighting physical or mental illness and their families who provide unwavering support. Save it for the kids who face bullying every day because society demands that they don't run away. Save it for them because they are brave and I don't deserve it.
Thursday, 5 September 2013
Yes, really. Someone actually said that so I'll do my best to explain why I do mind. First you should know that my children enjoy their education because it is self-directed. They are happy, motivated, independent and curious. But I do mind providing evidence, as a matter of course, for a number of reasons.
The first is that I believe in the primacy of the family, i.e. that its needs should be put before those of the state. There is no reason to assume that educational provision will improve with the oversight of the state. I expect it will just lead to more hoop jumping exercises. I don't want that for my children. In short, how does state supervision enhance provision? The answer is simple. It doesn't. And I'd be prepared to wager that it would damage it. So if it's not enhancing provision and it might have the opposite effect, whose purpose does it serve? Bingo! The government's purpose - surveillance.
The second, wholly connected to the first, is a matter of privacy. My family is entitled to privacy. That includes my children. If they want to share their successes and stories with people, that is up to them. It's not something I'd force on them and, frankly, they can come up with more relevant people to share their experiences with than a clipboard monitor from the council.
The third reason is that I am not doing anything strange or special. Education is within the remit of parenting. It is my duty to provide education, food, clothes, housing, etc. Nobody is coming round to inspect my fridge and I'd tell them to sod off if they tried it. If I delegate my duty to someone else then of course I'd want assurances that my children were being well cared for and I'd expect the provider to have mechanisms in place so they could be accountable to me, the parent. If I am not delegating my duty, why would I need assurances that my provision was adequate? I can tell that for myself and have no need for a pat on the head from the local council. In fact, I'd find it quite patronising.
The fourth reason, and I've mentioned this many times before, is that the law in this country is based on the presumption of innocence. We are all expected to go about our daily lives without committing crimes or otherwise neglecting our legal responsibilities. If there is reason to suspect we are not, then the state has powers to intervene. If not, we are left alone. How can it be reasonable to expect families to provide evidence of lawful activity if there is no reason to suspect they are doing anything wrong? I would cooperate if there were genuine concerns but I will not cooperate with a misguided state mechanism of surveillance for the sake of it.
The fifth reason is that in imposing monitoring on children already damaged by the school system, we are teaching them that as their parents and protectors we cannot keep them safe in their own homes. By allowing these people access to our children, we are teaching them that there are people out there better qualified to make decisions on their behalf than us, their parents. To me, this is extremely dangerous. Children deserve to feel safe and secure and to have faith in their parents' protection.
There is no final reason as there are so many little things that I dislike about monitoring, but another is that I resent taxpayers' money being spent on non-jobs. If the state does not have a monitoring role which, according to the law, it does not, why is money being spent on monitoring jobs? And why, when no problem has been shown to exist, is money being diverted to home education that could otherwise be spent targeting vulnerable children?
Generally speaking, I can't think of a reason why someone would want to voluntarily provide evidence of being law abiding without due cause. I'd like to think that most people would question anyone who claimed to have authority rather than give in to their demands without thought for the consequences. Nobody randomly turns up at the police station to say what a good girl they've been. Or is it just me who missed that memo?
Some people insist that all children deserve to have their educational provision monitored. To me, this view is warped. I cannot understand it at all. The notion that all children deserve monitoring is like saying all people should be viewed with suspicion, or all people need to be watched because they are inherently untrustworthy. But who is doing the watching? And who is watching the watchers? And who is watching them? No. Surveillance should be kept to a minimum. All children deserve freedom from surveillance is my take on it.
All children deserve a good education, yes. We are all agreed on that. But no monitoring does not equal no education. The two are not linked at all. So the problem lies in the fact that the state believes it has a duty to ensure that the education is good, which it doesn't. That is the parent's duty. If the state declared itself parent in educational matters it would find itself in a whole heap of trouble.
In all matters of law, people are considered to be doing their legal duties until such time as there is evidence to the contrary. This is because our laws are based on the presumption of innocence. It is a basic tenet of British law and it applies to all parental duties too. I could be doing any number of things that the state may not approve of, or which may be explicitly illegal, but the state has to assume that I am not. It can't act without suspicion and it cannot discriminate on the grounds that I choose different things to the majority of the population. In short, the state cannot intervene simply because it doesn't know what I get up to in private.
I don't care that the state doesn't know what I'm doing in the privacy of my own home. Nobody knows what goes on in our house unless I or my children decide to share it with people, which we do, with friends and family. If I was confident that my children would be well educated and properly looked after by the state and I didn't have the time or inclination to attend to their needs myself, I would send them to school. Presumably I would no longer require monitoring if I did that despite the fact that I wouldn't know if I was adequately discharging my parental duties as I wasn't even there!
Now I appreciate that it is easier to tell if a child is not properly clothed or adequately fed than it is to tell if they are receiving an education or not. This might reasonably lead a person to believe that some other form of monitoring should be required IF it was the state's business. But it isn't, it's lawful and private family business. I won't budge on this point. I've looked at it from every angle and while I accept that there are some horrible people out there, they cannot be allowed to dictate what happens to innocent families. It's bad enough that they have the power to cause horrible things within their own families.
I hate the notion of collateral damage, but even more I hate the notion of "if it saves one child it will be worth it" because that comes with its own collateral damage; the thousands of children who have learned that their homes are not safe from state intrusion, that their parents cannot protect them from over-zealous social workers, or even that the state considers their loving parents to be a danger to them. And that's assuming that stretching the resources of social services ever further, by introducing compulsory monitoring, won't have a negative impact on those who really need help. That's assuming that making the haystack bigger will make the needle easier to find. A curious idea, wouldn't you say?
Would I let a clipboard monitor from the council into my home to assess my educational provision? No, I would not. They are no more qualified than the postman to pass judgment and I don't recognise their authority nor do I need their praise or recognition. As for support, I guess some live in cuckoo land on that one. Yes, some LAs are quite supportive, most are not. They don't understand the law, they misrepresent it in their communications and on their websites, they lie outright to new or potential home educators, they fabricate "concerns" and "worried phonecalls from concerned citizens" to get their foot in the door, they turn up mob-handed in an attempt to intimidate, they constantly call for more powers when they abuse, or simply don't use, the powers they already have. That is not to say I know everything or never need support, it's just that I go to my friends and family for these things, because they are the ones who care about me and my children. At best, LAs are paid to provide services, paid to "care", if you like, though I appreciate there are some wonderful people who work in EHE, child protection and, of course, schools. I would, of course, be cooperative if there were proper demonstrable concerns but I make no apologies for not cooperating with unlawful demands, unwarranted intrusion and incompetent and prejudiced state employees.
If most parents are trustworthy and have their children's best interests at heart, which I firmly believe is the case, why do we need these great protectors of children for all children? I am the great protector of my children. It's tragic that this is not the case for all children but social services should be there for the vulnerable ones. To redirect resources to areas where no problem has been proven to exist betrays a cruel obstinacy. Local authority personnel who behave in the ways stated above are untrustworthy and I wouldn't let them near my children. I don't care if my declining services annoys them or makes them suspicious. It says a whole lot more about their willingness to blindly accept surveillance in their own lives than it does about my ability to educate my children.
That said, I know people who do accept monitoring. Some do so because they have ex-partners who need placating and an official report from the authorities seems to do the trick. There are all sorts of reasons why people accept monitoring and I respect their right to choose it. I have no power over my children to insist they perform tricks for strangers and I wouldn't want to guilt-trip them into it. They are at liberty to show off their abilities to anyone they choose though I'd caution them against bragging. There may be an assumption that those declining visits have something to hide, but that is not a reasonable assumption. I have nothing to hide under these clothes but that doesn't mean I'd accept or relish the opportunity to reveal myself, not even if I could be sure the world is ready for it, though others might. That is their choice.
Essentially, I don't want others deciding on a whim what freedoms my family should be allowed to have. I resent the notion that parental rights are at the opposite end of a spectrum to children's rights. They are not. Yes, in this country parents have the right to have their children educated according to their wishes, regardless of where that education takes place, but above all parents have duties. It is my duty (in law) to provide my children with a suitable education, to feed, clothe and house them. It is a pleasure and an honour to do it. It is my duty to uphold my children's rights and I expect the government to intervene only if I fail in my duties. I will always protect my family, I will always love my children, I will always do what is best for them and I don't need payment, supervision or a government mandate to do it. I am a parent and that's all the motivation I need.
This is based almost entirely on a forum post I made earlier in the year.