One of us

The human race seems to have a natural tendency to split itself into groups of varying sizes, the members of which claim to be better, more virtuous, cleverer, healthier or more beloved of God than all the other groups. Examples of such groups include supporters of Chelsea football team, Catholics, Girl Guides, Freemasons, Republicans, police officers, home educators, Nazis and even entire nations such as the French or English. Not infrequently, the identity of these groups is inextricably bound up with their opposition to other groups, whom they portray as being inferior and not as good as their own chosen group. So being a Chelsea supporter means believing implicitly that the supporters of the Arsenal football team are worse than your own fellow supporters, Nazis had a thing about the groups known as Communists and Jews, Republicans believe Democrats to be rogues or fools and of course the English often regard whole nations or races as being inferior to them. And then of course we come to home educators.

All too often, home educators, whether in this country or any other, define themselves by their opposition to teachers, social workers and local authority officers. They believe implicitly, just like so many other groups, that they are wiser and more virtuous than others and that they face enemies from outside the group who seek to destroy them. This sort of foolishness is generally harmless. Of course, just as with other groups, they reserve a special hatred for those whom they regard as renegades and traitors to their group; the present writer, for example! The danger arises when this identification with the group over-rides common sense and allows the members to be persuaded of things which a rational and objective observer would find incredible. This can lead to people believing all sorts of nonsense; scientology, that the earth is flat, that the British royal family are shape-shifting lizards, almost anything in fact. It can also result in the members of the group welcoming somebody into their midst and embracing him, simply because he claims to be a member of their group.

I have never been much of a one for joining groups. Living, as I have done, in various parts of the world for years, including Sweden and Israel, I have had ample opportunity to see the evils which attend the group mentality. I also have a very optimistic view of humanity, which leads me to suppose that almost all people, whichever group they belong to, are basically kind and good. I do not think at all that the Chelsea supporters are better than those who support Arsenal. Nor do I think the English better than the Germans, or the Conservatives better than Labour. All these groups contain roughly the same proportion of good and bad people; with the good vastly outnumbering the bad. What has all this to do with home education, my restless readers are asking themselves as they begin to fidget and check their emails, wondering when I am going to get to the point? Simply this. If we subscribe to the mindset that we, as home educators, belong to a group who are especially wise and good, who care more about our children than other folk and who are more right than others; then we are going to be less suspicious when approached by somebody who claims also to be a home educator. Since so many home educators also define themselves subconsciously by their opposition to other groups such as social workers and local authority officers, there is a natural tendency to assume that those supposedly persecuted by these groups are likely to be right and the social workers wrong. This is a deadly error.

My first wife was Swedish and in the seventies I lived in Sweden. I did not find it at all a socialist paradise, but nor did I think it a totalitarian state. There is, it is true, more conformity than is the case in this country, but just as with the British; most people are kind and reasonable. When a case like that of Domenic Johansson unfolds, home educators in this country experience a number of emotions, not all of them rational. The alleged victims are home educators, which means of course that we must assume them to be kind and loving parents. Those opposing them are social workers; these must be the villains of the piece! Finally, the whole affair took place abroad and this is where the typical British insularity kicks in. At the back of many people's minds is the thought, 'Well of course, foreigners! there's no telling what tricks they might get up to.' Our rational thoughts are thus suppressed and we overlook the inherent implausibility of the police being sent to stop an international flight from leaving an airport and then taking a child from his parents simply because they wished to educate him at home. Later on, when a man who may best be described as a complete maniac and may well be extremely wicked, turns up on a website in this country; he is welcomed with open arms because he tells us that he is a home educator who is concerned about the plight of a little boy snatched from other home educators in a foreign country. Common sense and logic fly out of the window and he is given an uncritical welcome because he fits all the criteria for being a member of our group.

Tomorrow, I shall be posting about the Domenic Johansson case, pointing out the inconsistencies and how the story has changed over the months since first British home educators were invited to support the cause of the Johansson family. The next day, I shall sketch out a possible hypothesis which seems to me a good deal more likely than the one to which so many parents in this country have apparently so far subscribed. I am doing this not as some sort of vindictive attack on the Johanssons, but because I have become seriously alarmed at some of what I have seen going on. I think that there might actually be dangers to home educating parents from some people involved with this case. If I am wrong, then I will be very pleased and if anybody can set me straight, I shall welcome the correction.