Home educators 'just don't get it'

The above is a quotation from my daughter. As I have perhaps mentioned, she is very involved with the Ed Balls leadership campaign, spending a lot of time at the headquarters in Victoria and also travelling to various events. At least it gives her a chance to meet a bunch of Z list politicos like Oona King and so on. I said recently that nobody with whom she knocks about in the Labour Party knew she was home educated, but that changed the other night. Somebody in the office was talking about the letter of support which a home educated child had had published in the Guardian and my daughter admitted that she was in fact the Santaevita who had written it. What was interesting was that she said everybody seemed very enthusiastic about the idea of home education, but that there was general agreement that it should be monitored. This is the same consensus which has in the past emerged from her discussions with students and lecturers at college. Absolutely nobody is against home education, but everybody wants an eye kept on it to make sure that the children are actually being educated. It was when telling me about this, that Simone said that home educators, 'just don't get it'. I think that she might be right.

I don't want to start a discussion about whether regular monitoring is or is not a good idea. I want rather to consider the extent to which home educators might be a little out of touch with popular opinion on this subject. Although some people have been a little sniffy about my educating my own child, nobody ever seems to have doubted that the thing could be done. I have an idea that this might be a pretty general thing, although I am quite prepared to hear that some parents have encountered hostility and opposition. Once I have started talking to people though about home education, everybody has been shocked and amazed to discover that there are no checks or regular inspections of home education. The fact that the whole system for monitoring is completely voluntary and if you don't feel like taking part you can simply refuse, strikes everybody as quite mad. I am not talking about teachers or social workers here, but shop assistants, police officers, passers by and parents of school children.

Now I don't know if this is the experience of others. Certainly my daughter has found the same thing, particularly over the last year or so. Everybody is quite accepting of home education; but nobody thinks it wise that there is no system for monitoring and inspection. This is in stark contrast to home educating parents themselves, an awful lot of whom have their faces set like flint against any sort of compulsory interference in what they are doing with their children.

It is always a bit tricky when a group of individuals pursuing some outlandish hobby or lifestyle find themselves coming into conflict with what the rest of the world think. This is the case whether the lifestyle is nudism, pistol shooting, fox hunting, smoking crack or home educating. Once you are a member of the group, you start to see the group's view of the world and begin to disregard what normal people think of your chosen activity. If you spend long enough associating with other members of the group, then the lifestyle ceases to seem outlandish and becomes quite the norm for you and those with whom you talk. After a while, you can't even see anything strange about killing foxes or walking about without any trousers; it's just what you and your friends do! Anybody who objects to what you are doing must be a fascist/communist/statist.

In a way, I can see how this works. By the time my daughter was ten or twelve, not sending her to school was such an entrenched part of our life that it seemed quite normal. It wasn't, of course. Let's face it, not sending your kid to school like everybody else is a bloody peculiar way to carry on! In other words, I was becoming something of an outsider from normal, everyday society, but was not always aware of it. Walking round town on a school day with a child in tow while everybody else's kids are at school, makes one automatically a bit of an oddity. Now choosing to do this, turn myself into a minority in effect, is my own affair, I answer to nobody for my choices and if others don't like it then they can go to the Devil. I have sometimes thought though that it was a bit much to make my child a member of a minority in this way. She, after all, did not have any say in the matter; it was just how she grew up.

Because of how I earn my living, working with families with children at school, I was always able to see both sides here. On the one hand the feeling that my chosen way of life was quite normal and on the other the awareness that I was pursuing a pretty weird course of action. I have an idea that some home educating parents might not be able to do this. I see this when I am commenting in the online versions of some newspapers which have run a piece on home education. One often gets ordinary people saying a few words and then some really aggressive home educator will come on and tell her to keep quiet about things she knows nothing about. This is frequently the signal for a bunch of home educators to swamp the comments with pro HE stuff. The only thing is, a lot of these comments sound barking mad to the average citizen. The ordinary people stop posting and then the home educating parents are left to make more and more extravagant comments. I know for a fact that some people have said that all the home educators on in these places seem really weird. It is not a good advertisement for the stability and sound mental health of home educators!

Perhaps it would be well for home educating parents to remember that they have in fact chosen to pursue a lifestyle that most people see as odd. Nothing wrong with that of course, it's a free country. However, when practically everybody around you thinks that you are doing something strange which involves children, then you have to be prepared for many people to speak out on behalf of the children concerned and to suggest that somebody should keep watch upon their interests. Fighting tooth and nail to avoid allowing anybody into one's home does look a little fishy to many people. After all, most of us have all sorts of people in and out of our homes all the time. I can quite see why this particular aspect of the home education scene would raise a few eyebrows, as indeed it does. I am talking now of how it looks to others; I myself understand very well why parents would be reluctant to allow local authority officers into their homes. I simply have the feeling that for over 99% of the population this aspect of HE , the perceived secrecy, is something which seems like a bit of a warning flag. This is worth bearing in mind.