The rise and fall of mass movements

At various times in my life I have been part of what seemed to me unstoppable movements which would irrevocably change society. In the late sixties and early seventies, it was the commune movement. Groups of people would move into large houses and live as one large family. For a time, communes were being started every week and for a few years, the movement grew at a dramatic rate. This, we thought, was the death knell of the nuclear family. Our way of life was so obviously more healthy and open that eventually most people would see the light and live as we did, rather than huddling together in little family groups. Of course, we were wrong. With one or two exceptions, the only communes which remain today are those run by religious cults. I doubt that many people under the age of forty or fifty have even heard of the commune movement.

Another example is water birth. My daughter was born underwater. Not just the labour, but the birth itself was in water. This was in 1993, at the height of the water birth craze and we were part of a movement then which we thought was going to revolutionise obstetrics. No more gas and air! An end to epidurals! Natural birth for all! Soon, most women with healthy pregnancies would be giving birth naturally in this way; at home and in hospitals. Fifteen years later in 2008, water was used in just under 1% of births in this country. The main use was for labour; very few births took place under water.

I dare say that readers will see where this is tending. In the mid nineties when I was home educating my oldest daughter for one or two days a week, home education was starting a period of growth and numbers were beginning to soar. The Internet played a role in the exponential growth which took place over the next decade or so and as word spread and information on the subject became freely available, more and more parents took up this option. It reminded me very much of the commune movement, with many parents expressing the same utopian ideals and believing themselves to be a part of an unstoppable social revolution. It is too early to say whether or not home education has really had that much effect yet. It is still below the 1% level, which means that it is still essentially the province of mavericks and cranks. Ten years ago, some people were talking of the difference which would be made to society if a large proportion of children were educated at home. Again, this was similar to the feelings expressed by members of the commune movement; the feeling of being part of something bigger than one's self which would ultimately affect society and change the way that people thought about how they lived and raised their families. This does not seem to have happened. Home education is certainly more accepted than it was ten or fifteen years ago, but there is no sign of it becoming a mainstream form of education or being adopted by more than a handful of parents.

The last ten years have been very interesting for home education; the next decade or two should prove crucial. It may mushroom into a mass movement, although it has to be said that there is little sign of this happening at the moment. On the other hand, it may enter a period of retrenchment, where it shrinks slightly and tries simply to hang on to what there is rather than expanding dramatically. A third possibility is that it will simply whither away. One need only look at movements like the Peace Pledge Union to see how groups can change in the space of a few decades from being the great thing of the future to relics of the past. It will be interesting to see which path home education takes.