Silencing other views

I was fascinated to watch the reaction among some well-known home educators to my daughter's heterodox views on home education, as expressed in the Guardian recently. Now you must remember that these are people who contrive to give the impression that they are fighting to protect home educated children from the oppressive power of the state. One might have thought that they would be pleased to hear the views of a genuine home educated young person; one who had never spent a single day in school. Not a bit of it! To appreciate this fully, you have to realise that I am not talking about a few random strangers, but people who are very well known in the world of British home education; they run groups, write blogs, send letters to the papers, make Freedom of Information requests to the Department of Education, submit evidence to select committees, that sort of thing. I shall not name them because this seems to irritate people; I am accused of 'naming and shaming'. However, the guilty may look into their own hearts!

As many realise, the opposition to any increased regulation of home education in this country is often coordinated via Internet lists and also by communicating on twitter. It was on twitter that some really awful opinions were being expressed, opinions which provided a window into the true nature of some of these staunchest advocates of the right of children to have their opinions respected. One woman made a sleazy and misogynistic joke about my daughter, a play on words about 'Balls' and called her a 'little tart'. My daughter responded vigorously, pointing out the sexism inherent in this remark. This prompted another home educating mother to describe my daughter and me as 'a pair of c**ts'. What an extraordinary thing for a home educating mother to say of a sixteen year old home educated girl who had expressed an opinion about home education! The tweeter who had called her a tart agreed with this description. Then began a series of exchanges between six prominent home educators in which she was variously called 'a sad little troll' and an 'attention seeker'. (This last was a bit rich, coming from a woman whom it is impossible to avoid tripping over in the comments section of any online article on home education!) There followed doubts being expressed as to whether she really is sixteen or was even home educated.

Two things strike one about all this. The first is that almost all the stuff posted on the Internet about home education is by parents. Parents who claim to be speaking on behalf of their children, it is true, but parents never the less. All the comments posted on Ed Balls' article in the Guardian last week were adults; nearly all seemed to be parents. My daughter was the only home educated young person to say anything there. One gets the distinct impression that most of the parents there would rather keep the whole home education debate in their own hands, without home educated children and young people muddying the waters by expressing their own views on the matter! As soon as a real home educated youth pops up to say something, she is dismissed as a 'cunt', 'little tart', 'sad little troll' and 'attention seeker'. This, I think, says a great deal about how these people really view children and young people, even home educated ones.

The second thing which occurs to me is this. I have regularly been mocked by some home educators for being a lone voice; the 'only' home educator who agreed with Badman. Where are all the other home educating parents who feel as you do, I have been asked rhetorically. Well I think that quite a few of them keep well clear of the established home education scene in this country because they know that there are some pretty unpleasant types to be found there. A year or two ago there were a few people on some of the Internet lists who had varying opinions to most of those who post there. All have gone now. Some were made to feel unwelcome, others were bullied and driven off by some of the same parents who were being so abusive on twitter recently. Parents who join these lists soon learn that if they do not go along with the majority view, then they are liable to be ostracised and incur disapproval. A similar thing happens at some home education groups. I had an email recently from somebody who posts here from time to time. She has been frozen out of her local group because she told everybody that she hoped that her seven year old son would be taking examinations in a few years. Since these parents are often facing negativity from those who send their children to school, the prospect of also being frowned upon by fellow home educators is sometimes too much. I also know this to be true, because when I posted on HE-UK, I would not infrequently receive private emails from folk who agreed with me but did not like to say so publicly for fear of the reaction. Perhaps we need to remember what John Stuart Mill said about the 'Tyranny of the Majority'.

I hasten to add that my daughter is well able to stand up for herself and in fact her response was as forcefully expressed as anything I could have said myself. It has given me food for thought though. Ian Dowty recently suggested that home educators might consider compromising to the extent of agreeing at least with registration. Up went the predictable cry of 'No surrender'. One would get the impression that home educators were completely united in not giving an inch on this question. And yet, as I have mentioned before, when opinions were collected anonymously as responses to the Badman review, a third of home educating parents were in favour of registration. The reason that these parents are not speaking out publicly is almost certainly because they do not want to be abused and insulted by some of the more gung ho members of the home educating community. We have seen what happens when even a young girl from a home educating family says publicly that she agrees with this idea; one shudders to think what these characters would say to a mother or father who dared to speak out like that!