The hidden curriculum; parents' choices

I didn't really make myself clear in yesterday's piece. It's not the first time and I doubt if it will be the last! Let me try to put the thesis in another way. I believe that a lot of this fancy talk about children being given choices about their education is at best misleading and at worst downright deceptive and dangerous. It is all the more dangerous for all parties because the parents genuinely don't see how they are making the choices for the children years in advance. They honestly don't realise that they are setting out a curriculum for their children and moulding their education even before they are born.

I have been accused in the past of thinking that only university is the ultimate aim of home education and that everything else is second best. This is not true of course, although I certainly do not think it right to discourage children from getting into higher education if that is what they want to do. I believe that they should be encouraged to consider this as an option. Here is a simple question. What is the most reliable indicator when a baby is born of whether that baby will grow up and go to university when she is old enough? Is it parental income? The district which the child is born in? The educational attainment of her parents? It is in fact none of these things. A huge survey in both America and China earlier this year conformed what I had long suspected. The single most significant factor in whether a child goes to university is how many books there are in her home. Growing up in a home with five hundred or more books is the clincher. A dustman's daughter growing up surrounded by hundreds of books is far more likely to go to university than the child of rich and well educated parents who have no books. It is as simple as that. Lots of books are the key.

Straight away, we see that those parents who decide that the Internet is the key to the acquisition of knowledge have handicapped their child's future prospects. Such a decision is seldom, if ever, made for financial reasons. A few hundred tatty and dog eared books from charity shops can be acquired for less than the price of a forty eight inch plasma television and a stack of DVDs. In fact those who choose to rely upon modern technology for their children have already chosen to sabotage their children's education and discourage them from attending university.

The point is that when home educating parents talk of allowing their children to make choices, they rather imply that these choices are being made freely in a neutral environment. This is of course not so. It is like a conjuror saying, 'pick any card at all'. You know that this is a forced choice and so are the 'choices' made by children about their education. Now I am quite honest about this. I deliberately set about creating an environment which would get my daughter to make the choices about education which seemed wise to me. However, I am not alone in this. All home educating parents, however autonomous, do exactly the same thing. Did you have a television in your home when the baby was born? That is a choice made by an adult which has profound implications for a baby and small child. Do you choose to allow unrestricted watching of a television? This is another choice which has great effects upon a growing child. Have you got a stack of attractive looking children's DVDs? This is another choice which you are making which will affect your child's future. What about having over five hundred books in the house? This is absolutely crucial. Decide against this and you are really discouraging your child from entering higher education in later life. Internet access? Another decision on behalf of the child.

These adult choices create the environment in which a baby will grow up. the baby has not had any say at all in this; the adults have set up the initial conditions which will shape her mind in the future. There is no such thing as a neutral home background. The way that we arrange the home to begin with will decide largely how the child views reading and education as an adolescent. If we decide that the Internet is the most important way of getting access to information and don't bother too much with books, then this is harming the chances of the child attending university in later years. It is these choices, often made by parents years before the birth of their children, which are the real and hidden curriculum which determines the child's academic attainment in later life.