Home education as a Pavlovian reaction

There has in recent years been a great deal of research on free will. By this I mean scientific, rather than philosophical enquiry. The general consensus is that the study of the brain leaves little room for the exercise of free will. It looks as though we act first and then a split second later rationalise our actions after the event. I have been thinking about this process in connection with the decision by parents not to send their children to school. Of course all home educating parents, including me, like to guy up our choice as being based purely upon the best interests of our child; a decision made after carefully weighing up all the pros and cons. Imagine though, if this 'decision' were really to be no more than an instinctive reaction, no more under our control than the salivation of Pavlov's dogs when they heard the ringing of a bell!

When we look at the lives and family backgrounds of home educating parents, certain themes merge. Not all parents of course, but enough to see patterns. Sometimes, parents will have several of these major themes running through their past lives. Let us look at a few of them. To forestall any accusation that I am breaching or invading anybody's privacy, I can assure readers that any information about named parents is taken from the public domain and not from private Internet sites. In other words it is stuff that they have told to reporters or put on open blogs. Something one notices with many home educating parents is that their own schooldays were very unhappy. This was sometimes the case with both mother and father. Ann Newstead of Education Otherwise and her partner Roarke fall into this category. Both have very bad memories of school and so when their child became unhappy, the obvious solution seemed to be to remove school from the equation. Another well known example of this is Paula Rothermel. Talking to parents who home educate reveals a very high proportion who have extremely negative memories of their schooldays. In many cases, the decision to educate their child at home looks simply like a decision to remove from the situation a major cause of their own unhappiness as children; that is to say school.

Another curious pattern is the number of either single children or children who were born with a gap of ten years or more between them and their siblings. Maire Stafford of course falls into this category. I have before speculated that this could have the effect of making this late child somehow more precious and the mother less apt to let it leave her and go to school. Once at school, any slight excuse is sometimes enough to justify the decision to de-register the child and bring her back as a fulltime companion to the mother.

Something else odd is the number of really tragic lives of which one hears. Some home educating parents give accounts of their life and early history which sound like the sort of 'misery memoir' one sees on sale in supermarkets! Rape, childhood abuse and drug use, for instance, often deature in these narratives. Could this be connected with the decision to home educate? Might it be that having had pretty awful times themselves as children and teenagers, these parents are determined to make sure that their own children are not unhappy and that they know how much their parents love them? Are they in some weird way trying to rerun their own childhood through their children in order to make things right the second time round? Not only do quite a few parents present as being tragic, not a few are also very angry. The tragic, angry mother is almost a leitmotif of the home education world. This is not of course to say that their are no jolly and well balanced home educators, but that there is a particular type of mother who is anything but and that this type is commoner than in those who send their children to school.

I must say at once that I can see several of the above ideas at work in my own life and that no matter how much I portray my decision to home educate as being based upon strictly rational considerations, it must have been greatly affected by my own life experiences. We all like to feel that we are masters of our own destiny and few of us relish the idea that we have only behaved in certain ways because of how our childhood was. I am no exception. I have not touched upon several other themes which are quite prominent in home education, for example the child as nurse-companion or the folie-a-deux of mysterious maladies such as ME which seem to afflict mother and daughter combinations in HE families more than in the general population.