January 24, 2003
Home-educating and Guardian-reading

I haven't seen any reference on any home-education friendly blogs to this story (School's out for ever – September 11 2002) and now earlier this week this story (Home truths – January 22 2003) for the Guardian by home-educator Alice Douglas. This may be because I am several links short of a blog when it comes to keeping up with absolutely everything of relevance to my blog. I mean, a day or two ago the TV news people were saying that what the government was saying about education that day – something to do with reducing the size of the National Curriculum (I think it should be reduced to no National Curriculum at all) – was its most important education policy announcement since the death of the dinosaurs. Did I refer to any of that here? I don't recall doing so.

So, in case you missed these Alice Douglas pieces, well, now's your chance to correct that. Unlike a government policy announcement they tell a particular story accurately (presumably). Ms Douglas certainly has some big ideas about education and what it ought to consist of, but unlike the government, she's not trying to force them on anyone else. She's just doing the best she can for her own two kids.

Who's names, by the way, are Tybalt and Hero. Tybalt is a character in Romeo and Juliet and Hero is a lady character in Much Ado About Nothing, and the theatricality of these names is presumably because of Ms Douglas herself being an actress. I wonder what the folks at Rational Parenting think about children being given somewhat eccentric names like these. The two vets in All Creatures Great and Small, Siegfried and Tristan, also spring to mind in this connection. Personally I'm for this kind of thing. It certainly makes doing a personal search on the internet for all references to yourself a lot easier if you are called Tybalt, rather than John or Phil or Simon, followed by something equally mundane. (I love that I'm the only Brian Micklethwait on this planet that I know of. No need for me to be called Mercutio.) And check out the Dad, by the way. He sounds like quite a character.

I like what Ms. Douglas says about the first few years of regular education that most people in Britain endure:

In this country, we start school younger than almost anywhere in the world. Legally, we don't have to enrol our children until they are five, but in order to secure a place it is often necessary to attend from the age of three. Within three months, though, children who begin at five have not only caught up, but even overtaken early starters. In many northern European countries, education doesn't start until seven. When Hero reaches that age, if she is keen to try school or I feel that I am not meeting her needs, we might think again.

That was last September. Now it's colder:

Those long, lazy summer days when the zip wire, trampoline and climbing frame were in full use as friends and their children converged at our place are just a distant memory. Freedom vanished as work and school took over and Hero's friends evaporated into classrooms while we questioned whether reading in bed with tea and toast until way too late counted as schooling. Suddenly, we were on our own.

At the end of her piece there's a hint of the Conservatives one day adding their little pennyworth of misery to this whole story, in the form of "government help" for home-educators.

I also wonder how we will afford it all. At the Conservative party conference, the shadow education secretary Damian Green gave one of those opposition pledges to fund alternative methods of educating children. His terminology was typically evasive but seemed to suggest that they would be willing to pay parents wishing to home-educate, which is the norm in many other countries. But such a measure hardly seems likely in the near future.

I'm sure I hope not. Once they start paying you, then repeat after me what part of the male anatomy they have you by. Does anyone know where these other countries are where paying parents to home-educate is the norm?

Oh well. The important thing here is that the Guardian is a great British national institution, and home-education, home-schooling and all that is slowly but surely becoming a thing that all Guardian readers have heard of, and which many of them will, in future years, consider. It reminds me of natural childbirth. First it was a few freaks, then a few more freaks, now it's a standard parenting option.

But that stuff about government help gives you a clue about what the government may end up doing about all this. Maybe it will always be allowed, but it will only be allowed if it is done the way the Guardian and its readers say that it must be done.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:11 PM
Category: Home education