Letting the cat out of the bag

Every so often, somebody intimately connected with the world of British home education will make a casual remark which gives the game away as regarding how a lot of home educators really view education. This happened recently on the Badman Review Action Group. A discussion was taking place about the proper response of a local authority which learns that a child in its area is not attending school. The unanimous view among home educating parents seems to be that if the local authority are told that home education is taking place, then that should be the end of the matter. The parents' word should be accepted and unless they have good reason to suspect that something is amiss, the authority should just cross that name of the list of those missing from education. Parents are, after all, the ones responsible for seeing that their children are receiving an education.

I pointed out a couple of cases which I have mentioned here. One was that of a fourteen year-old girl whose mentally ill mother got lonely during the day. Since the daughter hated school, they got together and the child was de-registered. The pair of them spent all day from then on watching television. The girl surfed the net a lot too. Now to any normal person, and I am talking here not about educational professionals but ordinary parents and people in the street, it is plain that here is a young person missing from education. Watching the Jeremy Kyle Show in the morning and then looking at Facebook in the afternoon is not what most people would see as an education. One of the people who founded the BRAG list though, thought that this showed that an education was being provided for the child. She expressed the view that one can learn a lot by watching television and using the Internet.

Now the truth is, most teenagers do all this sort of thing in addition to learning at school. Staring at a succession of photographs of other people's friends leering drunkenly at the camera while sticking their tongues out is what many young people spend hours doing in the evening. It is not particularly educational. A lot of them are addicted to soap operas as well. There is no harm in this either, but it would be hard to claim that viewing Hollyoaks is an educational activity. For a child to do nothing at all but this for the whole day would be an absolute disaster from an educational viewpoint.

I have noticed before that some home educators claim that watching television or surfing the Internet is as good as an education in itself. It was interesting to see this view expressed on one of the major lists. I suppose the rationale behind this is that if one watched BBC2 documentaries all the time or the educational channels on cable television and then spent a lot of time doing research on the Internet, then one could learn a lot. This is true, but is not how the majority of children and teenagers use these media. This sort of thing gives one an insight into the sort of lifestyle that some teenagers who are supposedly being home educated actually live. It is hardly surprising that such parents are reluctant to allow their local authority into the home to observe this!

I also cited the case of an eleven year-old boy working in an illegal factory. Again, there seems to be nothing wrong with that either from some people's point of view. The child might be happy and learning a trade, what's the problem? In other words, all the legislation which has been enacted over the last century and a half to abolish child labour and ensure that children actually have childhoods, is, for these people, a mistake. What's wrong with kids working in factories or down mines and up chimneys? At least they're learning a trade! Who's to say that this is any less educational than sitting at a desk all day?

It is opinions like this which ring huge alarm bells in the minds of those charged with protecting children and ensuring that they receive an education. I have seen such views expressed before; this is not an isolated case. That parents in the twenty first century should honestly believe that it might be a good thing for an eleven year-old child to leave school and work in factory or for a fourteen year-old girl to slump in front of the television all day is little short of horrifying. One wonders what sort of education the children of those who espouse such views might be receiving. Certainly, it is not to be wondered at that local authorities are uneasy about this sort of thing.