Category Archive • Home education
January 21, 2005
"… you'll have to accept that your world view will be curtailed …"

I've had another busy day today, but I did manage to find this depressing news from Germany:

… A German school official has ordered seven families homeschooling their children in Northwest Germany to enroll their children in public schools immediately, or the children will be forcibly removed by police and taken to school. Any resistance on the part of the parents will result in the children being removed from their homes, according to a Home School Legal Defense Association report.

The families argued that, as Christians, they wanted to protect their children from the godless and humanistic values being taught in public schools. They also assured officials that they were providing an adequate education through a German correspondence school.

County education director Heinz Kohler dismissed the families' beliefs, stating, "you and your children are not living in isolation on some island but rather in an environment posing intra- and extracurricular situations where you'll have to accept that your world view will be curtailed."

Kohler further explained that homeschooling could not be allowed as "children should not be encapsulated or kept apart from the outside world. In these cases, the parents' rights to personally educate their children would prevent the children from growing up to be responsible individuals within society…"

You will be socialised!

I found this at an American anti-abortion site. Americans can contemplate this kind of thing with relative detachment, but here in Britain, for anyone who favours the right to homeschool, it is different. Homeschoolers here must have in the back of their minds the thought that the EU might one day decide to "harmonise" the rules about homeschooling, and something tells me they probably wouldn't harmonise them in such a way that Germans would be allowed to homeschool. Although, I suppose that there is always that hope.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:30 PM
Category: CompulsionHome education
December 24, 2004
The Williams family versus Hampshire LEA

PeterWilliamsChess.jpgI interrupt my Christmas holidays with news of Peter Williams, and of the battle that his parents are embroiled in with Hampshire LEA.

Who is Peter Williams? Well, among other things, he is a chess champion:

A seven-year-old chess champion has been pulled out of school by his parents after a row over skipping lessons to practise the game.

Peter and Carol Williams decided to teach their son Peter at home in Alton, Hampshire, after the local education authority refused to give him time off for training sessions.

Peter's school, St Lawrence Primary in Alton, had blocked a request to give him a day off every week to play chess.

Peter has dazzled experts with his talent for chess since the age of five - beating scores of older children and adults.

Most recently, the prodigy won the top prizes of £100 and £120 respectively in the Central London Adult Rapid Play and Adult Long Play championships.

He has also won several junior tournaments, including the mini squad under-nines championships last year.

Peter said on Tuesday: "I like the money and the trophies. I want to be the best."

His father added: "Peter is the best chess player of his age in the country.

"We just want him to have the very best chance.

"We wanted him to have time to study and, as children of his age learn best in the morning, we wanted to take him out of school one day a week.

"But the school and the local education authority were treating it as truancy. It's a disgrace really."

Mr Williams said he expected Peter will remain out of school until he is old enough to go to secondary school, where he hopes the timetable will be more flexible.

This report by Alice Mascarenhas, of a chess tournament in Gibraltar, includes some stuff about what sort of boy Peter Williams is:

Gerard Matto, at seven years of age, is one of the youngest local players, playing for the first time in the Amateur Tournament. He had made friends with Peter Williams who has been playing since the age of five. Now, also seven years of age, he is one of the main hopefuls in the English camp, participating in the international tournament.

Having a bit of fun, and after a game, I caught them pawn flicking. They insisted on teaching me how to play anti-chess. A challenge I could not refuse.

Peter is a great Harry Potter fan, and often believes he is a magician himself when facing a chessboard. But not surprisingly, he keeps his moves a secret and just like young Matto is not daunted by any of the adult players.

Peter smiles and tells me cheekily he plays because "you can make loads of money". But on a serious note he is a natural at the game and obviously enjoys the challenge.

"You have to concentrate."

So what else do you enjoy other than chess and reading Harry Potter? "That's easy, educational studies," came back the reply.

It certainly doesn't sound as if Peter Williams is going to degenerate into a vegetative state if he pursues those educational studies that he so much enjoys at home, with his parents, rather than at a school which is determined that he must fit into their routine, no matter what.

I wonder if that remark about "loads of money" is making any difference to how those LEA edu-crats are now treating this case. I say, good for you mate. But I wonder if they approve quite so much.

Both of those reports are somewhat out of date, the first one dating from the summer of 2003. However, having finally heard about this ruckus via Daryl Cobranchi's blog in the USA (such are the ways of the blogosphere), I emailed Peter's mother, and I got an instant response, which you can read at Samizdata by following the trackback below (this being the posting that is going up first). Daryl Cobranchi has posted the address of a Hampshire edu-crat and a Hampshire councillor, whom you can write to if you want to join in this argument. My suggestion (based on what I learned when I was an Amnesty International volunteer a long time ago): be polite and phrase your points in the form of questions rather than put-their-backs-up assertions which might be wrong. Lots of polite letters should be the procedure. No doubt this has now been happening for some time.

Here is an imperfect but just about legible scan of the Failure Notice that Hampshire LEA sent to Peter Williams (snr.), also a bit of a while ago.



Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:13 PM
Category: Home education
November 07, 2004
"Homeschooled children are usually self-starters …"

This article is getting attention from fellow ed-bloggers (here and here).

Final sentences:

… One of the real benefits of homeschooling is that the student learns from the beginning that his/her education is his/her responsibility and not the responsibility of the parent/teacher. Homeschooled children are usually self-starters who are very flexible. They learn to do research, to look for information on their own, and to make good use of whatever resources are available. As a result, they are able to educate themselves far beyond the level of the typical public schooled child.

I am about to become a lowest-possible-form-of teacher. Consent is one prejudice I bring to this. Another is that teaching means inflaming and then encouraging and assisting the above quality, of self-starterdom. In practice that means: when they are concentrating on learning something that they have chosen to learn do not interrupt.

Like consent, an easier rule to expound than to follow. We shall see.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:53 PM
Category: Home educationHow to teach
October 14, 2004
Gnat: "Cake – fake!"

Gnat is doing rhyming:

Pail – Fail!

Right, hon. Fail means you don’t win.

Cane – Fane!

Uh – well, feign is a word. It means you pretend in an evil way.

Cake – Fake! It's hard to describe the gusto she employs to shout out the rhyme. Pride and triumph. FAKE!

Absolutely right. That's a rhyme.

Then she turned over a picture of a duck.

We had a little talk about bad words.

It’s all a minefield. …

Yes, I would imagine it is. Although, what's wrong with "luck", or "tuck", or "muck". Or even "suck"? There's innuendo there, but just ignore it.

I really am fascinated to see what happens with the Lileks/Gnat saga. Will he still be bleating updates on the relationship in ten years time, I wonder?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:24 AM
Category: Home education
October 07, 2004
Sean Gabb on home schooling in Britain

Apologies for taking so long to link you all (?) to Sean Gabb's recent piece entitled Home Schooling: A British Perspective, but better late than never. Says Sean here: "This will be published in 2005 in an American book about home schooling across the world." And if you follow that link, you can also access other writings by Sean on the related matter of truancy (and also this!)

I have read through this piece, which is quite long by the standards of internet link destinations (28 pages in my print out), and my immediate reactions are very favourable.

Sean starts with what has always been his strong suit, some history. Home schooling has a long one. (Only very recently has our Royal Family not home schooled.) And so does the kind of schooling that now causes parents to want to rescue their children from it.

There then follows a description of the legal position with regard to home schooling, both in England, and in Scotland where things are different.

He makes the point that estimating the exact number of people involved in home schooling in Britain is difficult, because these are not people who volunteer details of their child rearing arrangements with the kind of people who do research into such things. They prefer to keep things to themselves.

He itemises and expands upon the various reasons why people choose to home school, under the three headings of: discipline and safety, curriculum and quality of instruction, and religious and ideological dissent.

He describes the extremely varied home schooling methods used, many of the people he refers to, of course, preferring not to use words like "school" or "schooling" at all. He speculates that the effects of home schooling can't be that bad, and seem pretty good, certainly compared with the available alternatives.

He describes the slow build-up among the meddling classes of the desire to meddle in and evntually to expunge home schooling, which is particularly strong in Scotland, and, given that there don't seem to be many harmful educational effects from home schooling, Sean speculates about other motives for this meddlesomeness, mainly, he suggests, ideological.

If I had started at the beginning of reading this piece with copying-and-pasting bits that were especially important and particularly felicitously expressed this post would have gone on for ever. I will confine myself to reproducing here the Concluding Remarks:

There can be no doubt that - whatever may be the numbers overall - the number of children educated at home has increased and is increasing. During the next few years, it is also at least reasonable to believe that there will be a debate over whether the numbers ought to be diminished. On the one side will be the supporters of an activist state, divided as to their motivation, but united in their belief that education should be supervised by the authorities. On the other will be the home schooling parents. Most of these may be hiding, and they will continue to see safety in concealment. Those who are visible can be expected to fight all efforts at regulation with a passion not seen in British politics within living memory.

We may, then, be returning to something like the debates of the middle and late Victorian years, when education was considered more than just a matter of funding and standards.

Well, I reckon EUrope etc. rouses the odd spot of passion already. But otherwise, very good. Read it all, or at least dip in it more extensively than I have here.


That's Sean on the right, holding forth at my Last Friday of the Month Meeting in April of this year.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:47 PM
Category: Home education
September 27, 2004
Home schooling numbers up

Here are two more reports, about how home schooling is on the up and up, in Scotland:

The latest figures produced by the Scottish Executive show there were 480 children educated outside school in Scotland, who were known to the authorities, in 2002/03. The number represents a 38% increase compared with 2000/01, when there were 349 children in the same category.

Over the past five years, the number of children excluded from Scottish schools for violent behaviour has increased by almost 18%. A study of young people in Glasgow last June revealed that 20% of young boys, including primary children, carried knives to protect themselves.

A spokeswoman for the Home Education Advisory Service (HEAS), told Scotland on Sunday: "The most common reason which people give us for considering home education is fear of violence and bullying at school. They fear that their learning is being disrupted, and that it’s making their lives miserable.

"Many fear that the system is unable to cope and keep the small number of children who cause problems from ruining it for the rest of them.

... and in the USA.

In Florida, the number of home-school students has nearly tripled over the past ten years. Nationally, the United States Department of Education says the number has swelled to more than a million kids. Home-school experts say it's even higher.

Oregon researcher Brian Ray, of the National Home Education Research Institute, estimates two million kids are now taught at home.

"In the last four years, we think home schooling has grown at least 30 percent," says Ray. "Study after study, many of which I've done, have shown that home-schooled children are well above average – 15 to 30 percentile points above on standardized achievement tests."

Ray points to last year's first and second place winners of the National Spelling Bee – both home-schooled. And now even Harvard University says it accepts home-schooled applicants.

My bet is that it won't be long before Harvard goes looking for home schooled applicants.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:54 AM
Category: Home education
September 22, 2004
"How sociable is school anyway?"

Outstanding letter in today's Times:

Studying at home

From Danielle Shanks

Sir, I'm a 15-year-old, home-educated student and for me, leaving school was one of the best things I've done. I left about a year ago, thoroughly miserable after being bullied for three years and after various meetings with teachers about it, which achieved nothing.

I am now doing a correspondence course.

Contrary to the popular belief, it is actually quite easy to make new friends outside of school. I've kept in touch with one friend from school and I play the violin, so I go to an orchestra every Saturday, where I've met new friends. I'm also a member of " Education otherwise", which is a home-ed organisation, where I write to various pen-pals.

How sociable is school anyway? You have all your cliques, but if you don't fit in you can be ostracised.

Yours faithfully,
56 Vaux Crescent,
Walton on Thames,
Surrey KT12 4HD.
September 20.

Here is the link to Education otherwise. Otherwise, I think it says it all.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:43 PM
Category: BullyingHome educationSocialisation
September 16, 2004
The right and the wrong way to teach literacy – but what exactly is the right way?

Lew Rockwell writes about home schooling versus school schooling, and about phonics versus whole word literacy teaching.

Long-time readers may recall a column titled, "A Tale of 2 Children," wherein I compared two 3-year old children, one of whom was being taught to read by his parents and one who was destined for public school. The two children are now 5 years old, and I recently examined their progress.

The child in kindergarten is not yet reading, but he has learned his complete alphabet now. The homeschooled child, on the other hand, surprised me by reading at an error-free fifth-grade level on the San Diego Quick Assessment test. I verified his competence by asking him to read selections from C.S. Lewis' "Prince Caspian" to me, a book with which he was previously unfamiliar. While he occasionally stumbled on words such as versification and centaur, (he pronounced them "versication" and "kentaur"), his comprehension was reasonably good as well.

Suddenly, it was not so hard to understand how homeschooled children, on the average, test four years ahead of their public-schooled counterparts.

The problem with public schools and reading is not hard to grasp. Whole language, the favored method, is a disastrous approach to reading that is destined for failure. Children who learn to read while being taught this method learn to read in spite of it, not because of it. …

Yes, that's how it seems to me also. Read more about the phonics method here.

By the way, every time I visit a phonics site, such as the one linked to above, I look for a step-by-step description of how to teach reading in the best phonics way possible. After all, these people are adamant that there is a best way. So what exactly is it? I want to have a how-to guide to read. First do this. Test it like this. Then do this. Test this like this. Then do this. Then do that. Practise it like so. Reinforce it like so. Learn to spell this list of words. And so on.

The trouble is, when I think I may have found such a guide, I either find I have to pay for it, which seems odd given that these people are trying to spread literacy and not just to make money. Or else I find myself reading yet another argument about why the method they favour is the best one, or, even more tangentially, why other methods are bad. Which is absolutely not the same thing as the best method itself. These arguments are important, and it is important that the best team wins them. But an explanation of why a method works is a quite distinct matter from the thing itself.

Can any of you phonics-persons help me? Please note that I will fisk you/it mercilessly if you merely show me yet another argument about why your particular brand of phonics works, or indeed any method which ever digresses into this related distraction. I want the thing itself, and nothing else. This must be available, to read and to link to, somewhere on the Internet. If it isn't, then it damn well ought to be.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:15 AM
Category: Home educationLiteracy
June 23, 2004
Muslim homeschooling – a further comment

A comment has recently been added to this posting about Muslim homeschooling, from way back in 2002. I said I was in favour of it. Corey writes as follows:

Hi Everyone,

I think this is a good discussion. I like the freedoms involved in homeschooling my kids. I really support everyone's freedoms to do this. I happen to be a Muslim and even though I wear the headscarf, I am by no stretch an extremist. I have quite liberal views about human rights and social justice and as a Muslim I plan to give my kids more than just a religious education. In fact we'll focus on secular materials most of the time. (The nice thing about homeschooling is that we can still observe our 5 daily prayers together) and I'll be able to teach them some history that wouldn't be available as curriculum in public school. Our public schools over here are very overcrowded and riddled with gangs, drugs and the like. I think, as an educated woman I can find many resources to enrich my children more so than the public school. Even though I'll be homeschooling, I will especially teach my children respect for other people's belief systems and cultures. I feel very committed to that. I think that most people, no matter what religion they are or what culture they come from, try to teach cooperation and acceptance. Lately, there has been a lot of post September 11 backlash against the Muslim community. These hate-crimes and incidents have targetted many school children. Parents really appreciate the option to homeschool, especially if they feel that their child is in danger.

Corey might also be interested in this more recent posting on the same topic.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:40 PM
Category: Home education
Mean Girls doing well

MeanGirlsBoy.jpgA couple of months ago I reported on Mean Girls, basically because I had just introduced my Gratuitous Picture policy, and this was a fine excuse for pictures. (And of course mentioning this movie again is another picture opportunity. This time I've chosen a snap of one of the boys in the movie for my lady readers.)

However, quite aside from its pictorial possibilities, it seems that it is also quite a good movie.

It certainly, according to 14-year-old Ellie Veryard, serves up many lessons about the joys of all that socialisation that home schooled kids miss out on. The heroine of Mean Girls was home schooled before then being school schooled. And I'm guessing/hoping that if this movie does well in Britain, it will get more people thinking about home schooling, simply because home schooling is an important part of the story.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:11 PM
Category: Home educationMovies
April 30, 2004
Home-schooled – then mean

Interesting plot to this movie, I think you may agree:

Plot Summary: Raised in African bush country by her zoologist parents, Cady Heron (Lohan) thinks she knows about "survival of the fittest." But the law of the jungle takes on a whole new meaning when the home-schooled 15-year-old enters public high school for the first time and falls prey to the psychological warfare and unwritten social rules that teenage girls face today.

It's the way that "home-schooled" is now a standard feature of American life, needing no explanation. I intend to check this out on video, if only to see how the whole home-schooled thing is treated.

It's Mean Girls. And as is all very proper for a Hollywood movie, not many of us can remember sharing a school with girls like this:


Again, I've been wandering the Internet looking for pictures to decorate this. Although, perhaps this


Mean Girls still would be more appropriate for here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:35 AM
Category: Home educationPeer pressure
April 27, 2004
Home working and home educating

I've just finished a posting at Samizdata which ends thus:

And now I will go and do a posting here …

I.e. here.

… about the educational vibes of combining home working with home educating.

And I reckon if I had to leave it at that, that would suffice.

Put it this way. Here are two big current trends on the up: home working and home educating. Between them they reunite children with the world of work, something educators have been wanting to do ever since an earlier generation of idealistic educators finally succeeded in wrenching these two things apart from each other.

In the present world, where work is work and school is school, all too many children emerge from their schools with their brains reasonably well exercised by year after year of school work, but with a basic ignorance about work work and about how work work is done. That was me, definitely. I remember it distinctly.

School work is all about individually getting ahead and showing promise. Cooperating at school verges on cheating, because the point is that you must do the school work. The point of work work is merely that the work gets done, and so long as you pull your weight in some capacity or another, you earn your pay. Work work is cooperating, and if you cooperate successfully no one expels you for cheating. No, they praise you for cooperating.

And the other thing that school work systematically separates you from is economic reality. The school spends money … the way it spends it. And you do your school work. The connection between work and wealth creation is severed, during a human being's most impressionable years.

(One of the points I make in this Libertarian Alliance piece, of which I am very proud and which people often link to still, even though it was written a decade ago, is that children who grow up in families where money is a constant worry and a constant battle grow up systematically more economically savvy than do those children whose parents are economically more comfortable and less burdened.)

It seems to me that all of these myopias are likely to be somewhat and perhaps even completely corrected if kids are educated in a home where real work work is also being done, even if the only regular message they get is that Dad is now busy and must not be disturbed, because if he is disturbed this will cost the family money.

The complaint about home education is that it isolates children from "reality", and from the wider world, and smothers them in a protective cocoon. What an irony if it was actually this exact trend that reunited education with reality.

Apologies to all home educators reading this who have known about this for years, but the thought has only just occurred to me. Home work work plus home school work anecdotes welcome..

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:15 PM
Category: Home education
April 25, 2004
Broadband has to be helping home education

I've just got around to reading this from the BBC, about the rise in Britain of working at home. The key change has been the arrival of broadband connections for millions rather than for a few thousand.

One of the big breaks on the rise of home education in Britain has surely been the rise, at about the same time, of the two-wage/two-salary family, with both parents needing to be away from home during the day, and needing old fashioned schools simply to keep an eye on their kids – even if actual education there is something of a bonus.

The rise of working at home is surely, therefore, going to help home education. Anything which makes it easier for at least one parent (maybe by the two of them taking it in turns) to stay at home, as in this case, is bound to encourage it. And before commenters tell me that there are all kinds of problems with trying to combine working with child minding, I can fully appreciate that. I didn't say it necessarily makes child minding easy; I merely say that for some parents, it makes it easier. And it surely does.

l'm thinking in particular of children who are old enough to work undisturbed for quite long periods of time (something at which home educated children often excel), but who are nevertheless too young to be left at home entirely on their own. That way, Mum or Dad can also get some serious work done.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:51 PM
Category: Home educationTechnology
April 16, 2004
Homeschooling in the USA – it works and the politicians can't mess with it

This story from last month reminds me of something Tim Evans said to me at that meeting I talked at a week ago. He said he'd met this American lawyer who'd been representing/lobbying for Home Schoolers in the USA, and the message was that Home Schoolers are a political force that a US politician crosses at his peril.

Despite this threat, I'm optimistic about the future. There is great cause for all like-minded Americans to be optimistic. A new political force is rising up that will prove to be extremely powerful.

The "vast right-wing conspiracy" is indeed growing and becoming more organized, as an unlikely group of political activists arise. Homeschoolers are a group that will soon be a force the left will have to contend with.

Unfortunately, in the past, conservative organizations have always fallen short of the effectiveness of liberal groups. The biggest problem with conservative Christians is not their ideas, but their leadership and organization. The culture wars have been fought by highly organized liberal groups and by dozens of unorganized conservative groups lacking commitment and strength.

Yet, that is changing, and homeschoolers are leading the charge.

This week, I went to a program at the state Capitol called TeenPact – a homeschool program dedicated to educating young people about state government. This organization is an unprecedented opportunity for young people to grow in their knowledge about government and interact with lobbyists, representatives, senators and offices around a state's capitol.

If change in America must be founded upon understanding and education, TeenPact is a prime example of how it should be done.

The Homeschool Legal Defense Association is another organization that not only represents homeschool families and fights legal battles in court, but has also begun to spearhead the movement of homeschoolers in politics. Furthermore, with HSLDA's new political action committee, the force will become more relevant in politics.

And I rather think that Tim's lawyer friend was something to do with the organisation linked to in the text quoted above, the HSLDA.

The whole world will be affected by this, in the longer run. Were it not for the example of America's homsechoolers – who are proving and will increasingly prove that homeschooling works well, and better than the average state education system – the rest of the world might impose compulsory school attendance upon itself without any knowledge that there is a superior alternative. But as American homeschoolers have their inevitable impact upon the world, and increasingly make their voice heard in US politics, that self-imposed delusion cannot and will not persist. There is another way to do things. As they said about the Atom Bomb in 1945, the only secret about it is now public knowledge: it works.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:43 PM
Category: Home education
March 27, 2004
Bryanna's education

Here's a Boston Globe article about home education.

This was my favourite bit:

Bryanna Rosenblatt says her public school friends envy her, because they all think she's home in her pajamas all day. But she keeps herself on a regular routine: up, showered and dressed by 8 a.m., tackling a curriculum of her own design. Clonlara School, a Michigan-based home-school program, offers an accredited online high school that tracks Bryanna's classes, and will provide a transcript come time to apply to college.

Home-schoolers who don't correspond with online high schools are creative in how they document what they do, so that they can demonstrate to school districts - and later to colleges - what they are learning. Many are diligent in logging daily activities, with each tallied in a different column. Playing Monopoly is math. Chess is critical thinking. Collecting stamps is history. Attending concerts is fine art. Pen pals and e-mail count as writing.

Bryanna is a pretty, ponytailed girl who likes to keep her hands jammed deep in the pockets of her black sweatshirt, emblazoned with CKY, the culty band that celebrates skateboarding, skits, and stunts. Her home-schooling experience is much more structured than her mother, Tammy Rosenblatt, had ever envisioned. Since Tammy decided to home-school Bryanna in kindergarten, she's always imagined Bryanna following her intellectual abilities into unusual educational opportunities. But Bryanna craves structure. She found some textbook catalogs in her mother's car and insisted that she get some. And she sets aside a few hours a day to lead herself through school books about literature, science, and algebra.

"I felt like a failure when she wanted textbooks," says Tammy. "I didn't think we home-schoolers were supposed to use them. But I also know that we're supposed to be flexible."

This reminds me of a favourite cartoon. Scruffy parents, very small boy in very smart suit, including collar and tie. Caption: "Yes, we wanted to raise him as an anarchist, but he wouldn't be told."

That Clonlara home-school program is presumably this.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:16 AM
Category: Home educationParents and children
March 09, 2004
The threat to regulate home educators recedes (for now) – because it wasn't child abuse after all

Where would I be without helpful emailers? (See also: immediately below.)

One of my many unpaid research assistants, Tim Haas, emails me with update news from the BBC about the recent threat to regulate Home Schooling.

Here is the original scare story that this all refers to.

Says Tim:

Of course the headline and subhead ignore the real story - that the welfare manager who called for more stringent regulation because of a case of home educator abuse was completely wrong - but the rest of it isn't so bad.

Indeed. Sample quote from the new BBC story:

A leading education welfare manager has apologised for stating wrongly that a child, who died from natural causes, had been subjected to abuse.

Jenny Price, general secretary of the Association of Education Welfare Managers, said she regretted that the information, published in good faith, had been incorrect.

And, having had complaints from home educators, Mrs Price says it is clear some education authorities "do not fully understand the home education ethos".

You can almost hear the angry phone calls, can't you? Phrases involving "fingers" and "burnt" suggest themselves, or even other phrases involving "stick" and "hornet's nest".

I can't remember when I said it, but I definitely did say, here, some time or other ago (yes – I said it here), that the Home Education "commmunity" (which really is something of a community) is too dangerous a beast to be simply steamrollered by the state education machine. If Home Education was at all severely messed with, the politics of this would be horrendous for the messer, I think.

Here's what I put here on May 12 2003, apropos of whether Home Ed might ever spread to France. I apparently talked with someone about how …

… any government which took on the home-schoolers of Britain would have got itself the Political Enemies from Hell. Think of all those terrifyingly bright children who'd overrun morning television. Consider the fact that many home-schoolers have considerable demonstrating experience. I may not hold with their political views about war, peace, etc., but these people do know how to lay on a good demo and to mobilise the media. And they must be, almost by definition, among the most intellectually self-confident people around.

Of course I hope that isn't just wishful thinking, but I really do think that.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:02 PM
Category: Home educationPolitics
March 01, 2004
The crackdown on home education in the USA

This article by libertarian Wendy McElroy, entitled The Separation of School and State, contains much wisdom and many links of interest.

Sample quote from near the end:

My purpose is not to dispute with parents who send their children to public schools. I believe the system is a brutal failure, but parents must decide for themselves. I advocate extending alternatives far beyond the typical private versus public school debate, and even beyond homeschooling.

In particular, McElroy links to this article by Michelle Malkin which I missed when it first came out. Here's how that starts:

New Jersey's child welfare system, like most state child welfare systems, is a corrupt and deadly mess. Children are lost in the shuffle, shipped to abusive foster homes, returned to rapists and child molesters, and left to die in closets while paperwork piles up. So whom does the government decide to punish for the bureaucracy's abysmal failure to protect these innocents?


And what does the government think will solve its ills?

More power and paperwork.

My kind of quote. The piece ends equally well:

A crackdown on innocent homeschooling families to cure the incompetence of government child welfare agencies is like a smoker lopping off his ear to treat metastatic lung cancer. It's a bloody wrong cure conceived by a fool who caused his own disease.


Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:28 PM
Category: Home education
February 28, 2004
Instalinkage and Samizdata commentary

And this would be all part of why I often put educational stuff on Samizdata rather than here, this being an Instalink to this.

I probably should have said something about this there as well, instead of merely here (see post immediately below here). But Perry de Havilland has now mentioned it.

A commenter named Kelli, who I assume to be English, has already asked about "homeschooling libertarians". Please go there and answer her if you can. As usual, the message here is: do read the Samizdata comments, and of course join in, because you too can then enjoy that big readership, now running at about 6,500 per day, Perry tells me. But do it quick, because Samizdata is a high turnover blog and stories fade from view fast. Some Samizdata comments are inane, of course, but I have already learned a lot about the whole Spanish language in the USA argument, from the comments on the Spelling Bee posting.

Getting back to that BBC report about Home Education harassment, I can find no further mentions today (although my searching skills are not stellar) in the three British broadsheets I regularly link to (Guardian, Telegraph, Indy) about this latest menace to Home Education.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:20 PM
Category: BloggingHome education
February 27, 2004
Checking up on home educators

I have a busy afternoon ahead of me, preparing for my Brian's Last Friday meeting tonight, but Julius Blumfeld, to whom thanks, has just emailed me with the link to this, from the BBC:

Some parents claim they are educating their children at home to hide the fact they are abusing them, welfare officers say.

The Association for Education Welfare Management has asked the Children's Minister, Margaret Hodge, for the power to check up on home educators.

It says the forthcoming Children's Bill is a good opportunity to change the current practice.

Home educators regard the move as offensive and unnecessary.

It was only a matter of time. Just what will this "checking up" end up amounting to, I wonder?

Let me see if I can quickly dig out a posting here of me prophecying that something along these lines would be happening some time soon.

Well, how about this? - not from me but from Julius, on January 16th 2003:

Yet as more parents home educate their children, it will become increasingly visible. And as that happens, the pressure will grow for the State to "do something" about "the problem" of home education. The pressure will come from the teaching unions (whose monopoly it threatens). It will come from the Department of Education (always on the lookout for a new "initiative"). It will come from the Press (all it will take is one scare story about a home educated ten year old who hasn't yet learned to read). And it will come from Brussels (home education is illegal in many European countries so why should it be legal here?).

Not bad.

The pattern is the same with home education as it is with everything else. Something goes wrong, in the context of harmless, legal activity X. Therefore everyone – not just wrongdoers but everyone – doing X gets screwed around from now until the End of Time by the government.

Child abuse is already illegal. The way to stop it is to punish it as and when it is detected. The way to detect it is for neighbours to keep an eye and an ear out for it. The idea that harassing people like Julius Blumfeld and his family is going to improve anything except the salaries of the harassing classes is absurd.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:33 PM
Category: Home education
January 28, 2004
"I would like to teach but don't want to get involved in the public school mess ..."

Incoming email:


I am a recently retired computer analyst (20 years).

I would like to teach but don't want to get involved in the public school mess.

My question to you is: Is there a way I could earn any income by teaching home schooler's technical computer subject material?

Or: Is there some other way to earn money thru home schooling, for example, writing course material about computer related topics?

This is an idea I had but I know nothing about home schooling except that it is becoming more popular and will probably continue to do so if the public schools don't revamp the education system.

I would appreciate any ideas you may have.

Sincerely, Michael Hansen

Ideas and responses anyone? I should guess that this kind of knowledge is now swilling around the Home Ed movement like an ocean and no one is going to pay a cent for it. But what do I know? The Agony Midwife posting system has worked well in the past, where I put up the Dear Brian letter, and my commenters deal with it. So maybe something good will happen with this one.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:53 PM
Category: Home education
January 09, 2004
"… deciphering the viability of sustaining these alternative schooling models under the context of increased state and federal demands …"

News of a paper entitled "Cyber and Home School Charter Schools: How States are Defining New Forms of Public Schooling".


Cyber and homeschooling charter schools have suddenly become a prominent part of the charter school movement. Such schools differ from conventional schools by delivering much of their curriculum and instruction through the use of the internet and minimizing the use of personnel and physical facilities. This paper examines how these alternative charter school models are emerging within the larger public school and charter school communities with particular attention to recent developments in California and Pennsylvania . In these two states public scrutiny of cyber and homeschooling charter schools has led to considerable debate and demands for public accountability. Of particular concern is the need to modify the regulatory framework to accommodate cyber and homeschooling charter schools as well as consideration of the differing financial allocations that are appropriate for schools that operate with reduced personnel and facilities and the division of financial responsibility between state and local educational agencies.

My instant reaction is that "of particular concern" is for people who care about "regulatory frameworks" to bugger off to Timbuktoo and die. Instead of "defining new forms of public schooling", why don't these people just let other people go ahead and do them? Especially when these schools only require "reduced personnel and facilities".

It's on the up. It's far cheaper. Before you know it there'll be no excuse for public money being spent on education at all. And then what? Answer, we must regulate the damn thing until it is good and expensive again, and only highly qualified people are allowed to do it, and in good and expensive ways.

But that's probably just me. They probably have their hearts in approximately the right place.

You can read the whole thing, in one of those absurdly unwieldy pdf files that occupy sixty pages of uncopiable text when they could have been presented as ten copiable ones.

Anyway let's have a look at the final paragraph of this thing, to see where they're coming from.

As we mentioned earlier, existing research that examines nonclassroom-based schooling is limited. New research efforts will need to focus on school-level analysis that can assess the effectiveness of instructional programs, organizational and governance structures, resource use, and the accountability mechanisms that nonclassroom-based schools employ. Ultimately, new research will assist us in deciphering the viability of sustaining these alternative schooling models under the context of increased state and federal demands.

"Deciphering the viability ..."? Alternative schooling "models"? "Under" the context ...? I still can't tell if these people are meddling class meddlers, or fighting the good fight from within the heart of the beast, and talking the beast's language in order to outwit him.

My life is too short to be ploughing through stuff like this. Maybe your life is longer.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:16 PM
Category: Free market reformsHome educationSovietisation
January 05, 2004
How easy is it in the UK to switch to homeschooling and do GCSEs from home?

Incoming email:

Hi Brian

My daughter is in her GCSE year and I am confident that she will pass sucsessfully. However, after much discussion it is clear that school is no longer beneficial, and she is becoming increasingly stressed and upset in that environment. If I had been more knowledgeable in the past I would not have sent her to school. I am unsure of the regulations in the UK, maybe you could tell me: can she be homeschooled for the last six months before her GCSEs?

Thank you for your help.

Rebecca Hayes

Rebecca: the only help I can really give you is to put this email up here, and ask those who really are sure of their ground to answer your query by commenting. My thanks in advance to anyone who can do this.

My understanding is that there is no big problem about any of this, but my "understanding" is too much of a guess to be any use. You obviously need to be sure. I hope one of us here is able to help you to be sure.

If it doesn't sound too patronising, Rebecca, it's great to see a parent willing to have "much discussion" with her child. Not all parents have the sense to do this, or they only do after something truly ghastly has already happened. Whether we here can help or not, I wish your daughter and you all the best, and all future educational happiness and educational success.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:49 AM
Category: Home education
December 24, 2003
The boy who wrote Eragon was homeschooled!

Not heard of "Eragon"? You are about to, it would seem. And because of Eragon, it looks like homeschooling is about to get another big boost.

Meet the Paolinis of Montana:

For years, Kenneth and Talita – former members of a survivalist cult led by a woman called Ma Prophet – seem to have lived on a shoestring, with only occasional employment. Kenneth, the son of an Italian immigrant, used to be a photographer, but doesn't appear to have had much work lately.

He and his wife have devoted their lives to their children, schooling them at home and, until recently, rarely venturing outside their small community of Paradise Valley, Montana.

And one of those children, Christopher, has written a book. And it's not just any book:

The British edition appears early next month, but already it is a huge bestseller in America, where it has surged past the Harry Potter books. Almost half a million copies were sold in only two months, a screenplay is in the works and at least a dozen foreign-language editions are on the way.

The book, Eragon of course, began life self-published. But then:

Their big break came when the popular crime novelist Carl Hiaasen visited the area on a fishing trip with his young son, and the boy became immersed in a copy of Eragon. On the way home, Hiaasen asked his son why he couldn't put the book down. "It's great, Dad," came the reply, "better than Harry Potter."

To a novelist who has had his fair share of bestsellers, those words were magic. Hiaasen alerted his editors in New York, and the next thing the Paolinis knew, the prestigious publisher Knopf (a part of Random House) was offering them a contract.

This is one of the more educationally startling bits of the Telegraph story:

"I was only 15 when I started Eragon. I didn't know how to write. I just told everything in one gigantic burst, then spent another year revising it. …"

Talk about learning by doing.

If Christopher Paolini turns out to be the perfectly nice, well adjusted, civilised person which I fully expect him to turn out to be, then that will ram the homeschooling point with particular force, because the popular fear is that whereas when maths professors do it, that's okay, maybe, when people called things like "Ma Prophet" get mixed up in it, only bad things can result. But now, it seems, the result is … Eragon.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:55 PM
Category: BooksHome educationLearning by doingLiteracy
December 19, 2003
Do they need to know it? Do they need to know it now?

More words of wisdom from home educator Julius Blumfeld:

When we started home education we were slaves to the school timetable. If school children were learning, for example, to tell the time aged five, then so must our children learn to tell the time at age five.

So when (I shall call her) Agnes had her fifth birthday, Mrs. B began the immense task of teaching her how to tell the time. Believe me it isn't easy. Much effort was spent and not a few tears were shed. Eventually, after many months, the effort began to pay off. Finally, some time during her sixth year, Agnes began to manage it. Hallelujah.

But the memory of all the effort involved was such that when (I shall call her) Janet reached her fifth birthday, Mrs. B decided to put off the wretched task for a bit longer. Weeks passed. Then months. Eventually I could stand it no longer. "She's six and a half and she can't even tell the time" I said. "What will the neighbours think?" So Mrs. B gave in and promised to begin teaching Janet how to tell the time.

So off I went to work. And when I came back that evening, Janet could tell the time. Well perhaps I exaggerate. But it certainly didn't take very long. Nor is it anything to do with Janet being cleverer than Agnes. It is simply that teaching the average a six and a half year old to tell the time is far easier and quicker than teaching the same thing to the average five year old.

As time has passed, we have seen the same thing over and over again. Something that takes weeks or months to learn at age X, takes a fraction of the time at age
X + N.

On the other hand, of course, if a child needs to know how to do something now, it is no use leaving it until they are older, even if the learning process will be quicker when they are older. No doubt a child could be taught to read more quickly age 17 than age seven, but that is no argument for leaving reading until a child is 17.

So there is a balance to be struck between needing to know and needing to know now. If a child learns too soon, huge amounts of time are wasted. If a child learns too late, opportunities to use valuable skills and knowledge may be lost.

The implications are obvious. A system of education that treats children as an undifferentiated mass will either end up wasting huge amounts of time in teaching subjects at too early an age, or will deprive children of knowledge they should already have acquired. Either way, the process will be hugely inefficient.

I have no idea how schools can address this problem, except perhaps this thought. One of the lessons of home education is that full time formal education for children is largely a waste of time. If things are taught at the right age for the child, the entire primary school curriculum can probably be mastered in about six months (albeit spread over a number of years). So why not cut the school day from seven hours to two and let children decide which classes they want to attend and at what age?

There are of course many reasons why this is unlikely to happen any time soon. But perhaps the main reason is this. Although dressed up as places of learning, the primary function of schools, especially government schools, is child minding – keeping children off the streets while their parents do other things. Far from efficient teaching and shorter school hours being a desirable goal, it is probably the last thing most parents want.

I leave others to work out the implications of that.


Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:27 PM
Category: Home education
November 14, 2003
Menuhin goes to school

I've been reading the autobiography of Yehudi Menuhin, and I promised yesterday that I'd be reporting on how violinist Louis Persinger taught Menuhin. But this came first. Hephzibah and Yaltah are Menuhin's sisters.

I went to school for precisely one day, at the age of five, by which time I could read quite well and write and calculate a little. Tremendous discussions preceded the experiment, whose brevity suggests that my parents thankfully accepted the first token of its unwisdom to return to their basic convictions. My one morning was not unhappy but bewildered. Very quietly I sat in the class, the teacher stood at the front and said incomprehensible things for. a long time, and my attention eventually wandered to the window, through which I could see a tree. The tree was the only detail I remembered clearly enough to report at home that afternoon, and that was the end of my schooling. Some time afterwards Hephzibah attended this same school for a whole five days, at the end of which the superintendent asked for a private interview with my parents to tell them their daughter was backward; whereupon Hephzibah too was whisked home and within the year fluently read and wrote. After two failures, a third experiment for Yaltah was never even thought of.

So we were educated at home. What did we lose thereby? Most obviously we lost acquaintance with other children. By the time I was ten I was used to adults taking me seriously but was only on tentative speaking terms with boys and girls of my own age. The academic gains and losses of the system are harder to weigh. If we didn't take mathematics beyond the beginnings of algebra and geometry, nor even study physics or chemistry, nor learn Latin and Greek, I believe that the languages and literature we did concentrate on were taken beyond the levels offered by most schools. I was thirteen and my sisters nine and seven when a holiday at Ospedaletti was celebrated by daily readings from The Divine Comedy in the original.

They all turned out okay. Mind you, their parents were remarkable people.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:58 PM
Category: Home education
November 10, 2003
Home schooling as middle class revolt

More news of the spread of home schooling in New York. I quote at length because New York Times stuff soon hides behind a payment wall. If you want to read the whole thing, as we bloggers say, read it now.

Newcomers to home schooling resist easy classification as part of the religious right or freewheeling left, who dominated the movement for decades, according to those who study the practice.

They come to home schooling fed up with the shortcomings of public education and the cost of private schools. Add to that the new nationwide standards – uniform curriculum and more testing – which some educators say penalize children with special needs, whether they are gifted, learning disabled or merely eccentric.

"It's a profound irony that the standards movement wound up alienating more parents and fueling the growth of home schooling," said Mitchell L. Stevens, an educational psychologist at New York University and author of "Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement" (Princeton University Press, 2001).

"The presumption of home schooling is that children's distinctive needs come before the managerial needs of the schools," he said. "And, it's easier to do than it was 10 years ago, because the ideologues were so successful in making it legal and creating curriculum tools and organizational support."

In addition to dissatisfaction with schools, Mr. Stevens and others say, social trends have fed interest in home schooling. More women are abandoning careers to stay home with their children. And many families yearn for a less frantic schedule and more time together.

"This may be a rebellion of middle-class parents in this culture," Mr. Stevens said. "We have never figured out how to solve the contradiction between work and parenting for contemporary mothers. And a highly scheduled life puts a squeeze on childhood."

The link was added by me, and I do recommend that if you want to know more about home schooling in the USA and haven't already read this book, you follow that link. Sample quote from the Introduction:

… Theirs is a post-1960s America, a nation now sensitized profoundly to the fact that state officials and school bureaucrats can abuse their powers, a nation that has grown rather more accustomed than it used to be to groups that do things unconventionally, to people who live their ideals. Many of today's homeschool sages became adults in the 1960s and 1970s. Many participated in the cultural innovation and experimentation of those decades. Even years later, they think of themselves as their own people, a bit outside the mainstream. Notably, I found this sentiment to be as pervasive among conservative Protestants as among other home schoolers. These are people who have self-consciously done their own thing, or the right thing, regardless of what the neighbors or the in-laws might think.

The everlasting search for a meaningful life turns another corner in the road.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:44 PM
Category: Home education
October 23, 2003
Home schooling at Crooked Timber

There's a posting and prolonged comment-fest about home schooling going on at Crooked Timber. I'd like to have time to join in, but I alas don't.

The consensus seems to be that although in a perfect world home schooling wouldn't be allowed, the world being the messy place that it is now, it should for the time being be allowed. Very generous.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:33 PM
Category: Home education
October 16, 2003
"... thought you might be interested in ..."

Incoming email:

Hi Brian, I've been enjoying your blog and thought you might be interested in this article.

My own comments here.

Jeremy Hiebert

Indeed. Me and quite a few readers of this, I believe. The links are both worth following. At the end of the second, we find Jeremy saying, of a computerised home schooling set-up of some kind that the regular teachers somewhere or other in America are getting angry about:

This new model may be bad for teachers, but what about kids? I didn't really understand Stephen's logic a couple of weeks ago when he said that homeschooling was a bad idea because many parents are not qualified to teach. The idea that none should be allowed to because some can't do it well seems a bit absurd, and the public system is in the midst of trying to figure out what it means to get "qualified teachers" when funding keeps getting cut and districts face teacher shortages. We all know smart people who would make better teachers than many of the ones that the government says are qualified. And what if they had good curriculum to use with their kids, online collaboration tools and all kinds of extra-curricular social activities available - sports, clubs, friends, travel, etc - wouldn't that have the potential to be an excellent learning experience?

As they say in America: you'd think.

By the way, in case you'd not noticed, I regard all incoming emails from strangers to Brian's Education Blog as publishable unless it explicitly says otherwise.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:56 PM
Category: Home education
Home schooling wars

The din of distant battle. There's an interesting posting, and a most interesting discussion in the comments, about home schooling, menace of, etc., at Joanne Jacobs, with lots of links. CBS TV has been laying into home schooling. Once it gets more popular here, we'll have all the same arguments, sparked off by the same media scare attacks. They'll trawl the country for a murdered home-schooled kid, and there's your episode of Panorama. Then the battle won't be so distant after all. And it's already, as reported here, been hotting up in Scotland, because statists there are more confident and meddlesome than in England.

Joanne herself comments:

Not one state requires criminal background checks of parents before they're allowed to take their newborn home from the hospital. Not one state checks parents' qualifications to raise a child. Every day, defenseless babies are sent home with parents who are addicts, alcoholics, violent, crazy and/or just plain stupid.

And then adds in a later comment:

Actually, I was being sarcastic. The implication that parents should undergo a check if they want to educate their kids at home strikes me as looney. If the parents are rotten for whatever reason, the kids already are in big trouble. And wanting to homeschool tends to be a positive sign, not an indicator of bad parenting.

But as I always say, the Be Consistent! argument can be dangerous. They're liable to respond by saying: Good Point. We should indeed have exams for all parents, with all failures surrendering their kids into the care of the state. Here, the rule must be: tell them to do the right thing, as often as they can manage, and more often than they do now.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:14 AM
Category: Home education
October 15, 2003
"This is a movement driven by romantic anti-establishment views of the world"

Warmest thanks to Tim Haas for telling me about this article about Scottish teaching union hatred of home education. First few paragraphs:

PARENTS who take their children out of school have been accused of "kidding themselves" they can educate their children from the kitchen table.

In a hard-hitting statement a teaching union leader claimed home educators are jeopardising their children’s future.

And, in a separate attack, the Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC) has accused ministers of putting children at risk of abuse and poor teaching by agreeing to cut down checks on those who are not enrolled at school.

Revised draft guidelines from the Executive propose dropping a number of controls for children outside the education service.

The Executive is expected to announce definitive guidelines in the next few weeks.

The original proposals, which were sent out for consultation last year, caused protest among parents who choose to teach their own children. They said the new checks represented unwarranted interference.

Yesterday, Pat O’ Donnell, a Scottish official of the NASUWT teaching union, insisted that the Executive should adopt a strong line on home education.

He said: "Gone are the days when well-educated parents could do at home what teachers do at school. They’re kidding themselves they can educate their children from the kitchen table.

"This is a movement driven by romantic anti-establishment views of the world."

I had to go on until I got to that bit.

I can't tell whether this is good news or bad, the yowling of a defeated interest group watching the world slip from its grasp, or the howl of the beast as it strengthens its grip. The former I hope, the latter I fear. But it is certainly – Brian's Education Blog wise (and it is) – news.

The story continues:

Highlighting the potential for abuse to go undetected, the SPTC calls for a register of home-educated children. Estimates of numbers vary between 350 and 5,000. Edinburgh officially records only 18 children.

Ronnie Smith, the general secretary of the EIS, Scotland’s main teaching union, said school allows children to interact with peers and teachers, which plays a major part in pupils’ social development.

But Alison Sauer, of the home schooling group Education Otherwise, rejected the criticism. She said: "If you are a professional teacher you don’t know what you are talking about when it comes to home education. We don’t do any teaching. Our philosophy is self-directed learning.

"They can say what they like until they are blue in the face but the evidence shows that home education is the most brilliant thing."

No need to go anywhere else and "read the whole thing", because you just did. That's all of it.

I reckon it's good news, and that the home edders are winning up there. They are certainly the ones getting the favourable press, if this piece is anything to go by.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:42 AM
Category: Home education
October 07, 2003
Chris Woodhead on line

Timesonline becomes Timesoffline for those outside the UK after a while, so it would be useful for non-UKers to get the full Q&A excellence of what Chris Woodhead said (thankyou Unexpected Liberation for the link) in the Sunday Times (and Timesonline) the 21st of last month. Better very late than never, I hope you agree. Woodhead is a big name, a former Chief Inspector of Schools, and a familiar media face and voice here in Britain. When he speaks or writes, many get angry, but many also listen.

Olivia Daly of Leeds said:

After two failed appeals two years ago, we were forced to send our daughter to a school we did not want. Despite support from us, our bright daughter is bored at school, and we can do nothing about falling standards and discipline issues. We now have a second child at the same school, and she is disliking it intensely. We cannot afford private school fees. All the better state schools are full. We feel we have nowhere to turn. We are aware we may be curtailing our children’s future if we leave them where they are. What can we do?

Woodhead's reply:

Sadly, you find yourselves in the position of many parents. You have no alternative – other than to educate your children at home. If you do not feel able to take this radical step there is nonetheless a great deal you can do to support your children.

Encourage them to read as much as possible, offer them varied educational experiences after school and in the holidays, and, if you can afford it, employ a private tutor. I appreciate this is a far from ideal solution but until standards in state schools are lifted nothing else is possible.

And M. W. Smith of Gwent said:

Can I teach my child at home if I am dissatisfied with state provision? I am a qualified teacher.

Woodhead's reply:

You do not have to be a qualified teacher to educate your child at home. Any parent dissatisfied with formal schooling can take responsibility for their child’s education, and growing numbers are. Education Otherwise, a parents’ group (, helpline 0870 730 0074), can offer advice on home schooling.

It is, however, only fair to add that in reply to another question about a strange and seemingly unfair result, Woodhead replied like this:

Mistakes in the marking of scripts are inevitable, but undergrading on this scale is unacceptable. Write to the exam board, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, your local MP, the education secretary Charles Clarke and Tony Blair. And, since he has given this year’s examinations a clean bill of health, Mike Tomlinson, the state’s unofficial exam watchdog. Let me know what they say.

We all know what they'll say: nothing, at great length. In other words, Woodhead is saying, as gently as he can: "You're f***ed."

Still, straws in the wind. This home ed meme is certainly getting around, exactly as I've been saying it would.

In an answer to another question, Woodhead also mentioned a group called Personal Tutors, mentioning also their website.

Once again the pattern is repeated. Politics is the land of bad news. If you want good news, make it yourself or buy it from a tradesman.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:19 PM
Category: Home education
October 05, 2003
Jacuzzi U'
How different from the home life of our own dear students.
Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:39 PM
Category: Home education
October 03, 2003
Good news – the government won't help

This Telegraph story is good news indeed. Here's how the subheading goes:

The state won't help parents who want to teach their children at home, so parents have pooled resources to help themselves.

The state regarding something as rather bad, but not bad enough to be actually illegal, is the ideal arrangement to ensure that this something flourishes. Government "help" is the kiss of death to any activity. It means that eyes are taken off the ball (in the form of doing it yourself with likeminded collaborators) and fixed instead on politics (in the form of trying to get hold of government money). Just think how much better school schooling would be if the government stopped trying to help with that also.

Home schooling is not easy, but it is expanding all the time, with more and more resources and advice, both legal and educational, being made available to help it along, and I mean really help it along. The article is full of information about that, and it even has a link to Education Otherwise. Although, this bit will not be universally liked in these parts:

"People get a false impression of the type of family that educates at home – they imagine they allow their children to loll around all day, doing nothing apart from the occasional piece of arts or crafts work. In fact, many families work to a rigid timetable, geared to academic success. Some, particularly in London, withdraw their children for extended periods to give a quick spurt to learning because they are progressing so slowly at school."

Personally, I still think that even this sort of home school is an improvement over children being just dumped unthinkingly at school school. This is my favourite bit:

But isn't it a huge risk to meddle with your child's education in this way?

Don't you just love that? Meddle. But I shouldn't mock. The Telegraph is doing its best. I don't know how much encouragement it has given to home schooling over the years, but this piece will definitely help.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:26 PM
Category: Home education
September 24, 2003
An unexpected return

The blogger formerly known as the Home Educating House Dad is, after a pause that got all sorts of people emailing one another asking if he'd perhaps been run over by a bus, back in business at a stylish new site called Unexpected Liberation, and has a whole new week's worth of good stuff up there.

Here's a good recent post:

Home Education Highlights

When the next door neighbour's kids tell their mum thay want to be home educated too.

Watching the parents squirm ... Priceless!

I only heard about HEHD's new home because he put a couple of comments here. He says oooh very posh about the new look here, and in connection with the great James Lileks bad dad or what? debate, has this to say at his own site. Snippet:

The amazing thing is that this guy obviously thinks that this behaviour is so normal that he can happily write about it and not expect anyone to take umbrage.

"Lileks – NO!"

This latter, for the benefit of anyone who doesn't know but does care, is – unless it's coincidence – a reference to a character invented and performed by British comedian Harry Enfield. However, the Enfield character prefaces his denunciations of prominent persons by saying if they did a whole lot of bad things which they actually haven't done, or said a whole lot of bad things which they actually haven't said, then he, the Enfield character would say: "Blair – NO!", "Beckham – NO!" "Travolta – NO!", etc. Always the surname. But HEHD denounces Lileks on the basis of what Lileks himself actually put. Which is different. So there you go.

Anyway, I'm delighted to be back in touch with HEHD, whom I missed, and whom I had actually been a bit worried about. More to the point he was a great blogger, and the blogosphere would have been permanently damaged by his permanent absence. I'll bet I'm not the only one saying: Welcome back mate.

If hasn't already heard this good news, I'll shortly be putting it there too.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:07 AM
Category: BloggingHome education
September 17, 2003
Alice says school's out
Alice Bachini has some educational commentary today, about the latest teacher recruitment adverts. She also points to this story as further proof that you shouldn't send your kids to school at all.
Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:37 PM
Category: Home educationPolitics
September 10, 2003
Homeschooling in the USA

Any of my readers who missed this article should … unmiss it? Lots of homeschooling blogs have already referenced it, and really that's my point. There's no doubt that homeschooling in the USA is on the up-and-up.

Teach your children well — at home

Home schooling grows in popularity and credibility

Quite so. The article makes the point, though, that having only one parent at work is usually a precondition.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:03 PM
Category: Home education
September 02, 2003
Black parents taking charge

There have been a big debates for years about the rights and wrongs of education for black people, especially black boys, and not just (e.g.) here (to name the nearest spot of the blogosphere to me thus exercised lately). Is it racist? Do teachers expect too little? In general: who's damn fault is it?

But if you are a black parent, what do you do? Not surprisingly, a lot of black parents are now moving to home schooling. Although the "home" bit is not quite the central point. The central point is, they're doing it themselves..) And because home schooling is a much bigger thing in the USA than it is here, yet, black home schooling is becoming very big there.

Venus and Serena Williams are perhaps the most famous among those who call home their alma mater. The tennis stars were educated at home after their father withdrew the pair from middle school to teach them himself.

The Williams family has become a visible part of a phenomenon that can be seen across the nation – an increase in the number of black families who are choosing to homeschool.

Homeschooling has come a long way since it first came on the scene more than 30 years ago. In fact, homeschooling has become a viable education option for families across the country and has seen a 4,000 percent increase in 20 years.

The fastest growing demographic of homeschoolers is the number of families, where black children are five times more likely to be homeschooled than they were five years ago.

“There’s really a shift in the African-American community,” said Jennifer James, a homeschooling mother in Chapel Hill, N.C., who founded the National African American Homeschoolers Alliance in January. "Parents are taking hold of their child’s education. They’re saying 'I’ve got to do it because nobody else is going to do it.'"

Link added. Thanks to the Libertarian Alliance Forum for the news.

As I say, the real story here is surely black do-it-yourself education rather than merely black home education. Black-managed independent schools are surely part of the same trend, as is the increasingly vocal preference among US blacks for education vouchers, in defiance of Democratic Party orthodoxy. One way or another, the parents are taking back control of their children's education from the wider culture, which has been failing them both so badly, for so long.

Let's home that in a couple of decades time the question will be at least, and at last, moving towards: Who should get the credit for black education in the USA? - and that similar trends will make themselves felt more strongly in the UK.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:38 PM
Category: Free market reformsHome educationParents and children
August 26, 2003
Paul Graham on how schools are really prisons

After doing the piece below on the Thomas Thompson case, I rehashed it for Samizdata, because I thought it deserved … to be rehashed for Samizdata. The comments are now beginning to accumulate there, one of them from Rob Fisher, who says:

I'm reminded of an essay by Paul Graham about school society. It's ostensibly about why smarter than average kids are unpopular at school, but it touches upon some deeper truths about what school is really like. I hope I'm not quoting too much, but it seems relevant.

It does indeed. Below I reproduce the bits that Rob picked out:

They know, in the abstract, that kids are monstrously cruel to one another, just as we know in the abstract that people get tortured in poorer countries. But, like us, they don't like to dwell on this depressing fact, and they don't see evidence of specific abuses unless they go looking for it.

Notice that Graham doesn't say that "in the abstract people in poorer countries are monstrously cruel to one another". He merely notes that cruelty happens, without claiming that the people being cruel are cruel by their inherent nature. Yet he makes that exact claim about children. I think he's flat wrong, and that children, like adults, are nice or nasty depending on the pressures they face. A few are truly evil, even in a nice world. A few are saints, even in a nasty world. Most children, like most adults, go either way, depending.

Public school teachers are in much the same position as prison wardens. Wardens' main concern is to keep the prisoners on the premises. They also need to keep them fed, and as far as possible prevent them from killing one another. Beyond that, they want to have as little to do with the prisoners as possible, so they leave them to create whatever social organization they want. From what I've read, the society that the prisoners create is warped, savage, and pervasive, and it is no fun to be at the bottom of it.

That's certainly true. But then comes this:

And as for the schools, they were just holding pens within this fake world. Officially the purpose of schools is to teach kids. In fact their primary purpose is to keep kids all locked up in one place for a big chunk of the day so adults can get things done. And I have no problem with this: in a specialized industrial society, it would be a disaster to have kids running around loose.

I bloody well do have a "problem with this". I think that prisons are inherently savage places. I think the way to handle the disasters of kids "running around loose" would be to deal with each disaster case by case, as adult "disasters" are dealt with, rather than by imprisoning all children, even if they can quite see the point of not being allowed to run around loose. Besides which: what happens during the school holidays. Some adults have their work cut out, but not all.

What bothers me is not that the kids are kept in prisons, but that (a) they aren't told about it, and (b) the prisons are run mostly by the inmates. Kids are sent off to spend six years memorizing meaningless facts in a world ruled by a caste of giants who run after an oblong brown ball, as if this were the most natural thing in the world. And if they balk at this surreal cocktail, they're called misfits.

But if you tell children quite clearly that they are in prison, some of them are going to be all the keener to escape, and if you stop them, then where does that leave any plan for a kinder, gentler prison?

It seems to me that any curriculum, no matter what combination of activities it contains, will be meaningless and stultifying to many children. The idea that you can solve the problem of a compulsory curriculum by having a different compulsory curriculum is to concentrate on tinkering with the wrong half of that phrase. (The trouble with "progressive" education is that it grants the child every freedom imaginable, except the freedom to go somewhere else if the child thinks it's horrible or a waste of time. Freedom must include the freedom to leave.)

To make a more general point, many regular readers of this blog may be puzzled by the way I oscillate between arguing for children's liberation, as in this post, and quite polite discussions of this or that school or teaching method, often of a highly disciplined and "structured" sort, for example as done in the British Army, or as might be involved in them being sent away to a school in Romania. The reason is simple. I believe in freedom for children. And I believe in good teaching, which can most definitely involve highly structured teaching. Freedom means you can leave. It doesn't mean that you can tyrannise your teacher in his classroom. Some kids sent to Romania might be imprisoned there, if they want out but aren't allowed out. But the lucky ones would only go, and then go back, back if they liked it and felt they were getting good things from it, despite the inevitable downsides of one sort or another.

Practically any half-decent teacher is welcomed by some children, and is simultaneously experienced as a tyrant by other children who are forced to submit to that teacher against their will. In other words, there is actually, now, quite a lot of freedom for many children. Many children are living pretty much the life they want, given the choices they now have, which explains why quite a lot of officially compulsory schools are actually quite nice places, instead of being run by the nastiest psychos in them. (In particular, many children would surely be horrified if obliged to stay at home and be mucked about by their parents. Freedom and home schooling are absolutely not the same thing, however large the overlap may often be.) Hence (a) my unswerving belief in freedom for children, combined with (b) my eagerness to discuss sympathetically the work of many apparently "compulsory" teachers and teaching systems now. It may seem a contradiction, but from where I sit, it's not.

Graham, it seems to me, is honest enough to see what many schools really are and what many schools really do, but he draws back from the conclusion that, it seems to me, ought to follow. They are (for many children) prisons. And they ought not to be (for any children).

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:39 PM
Category: BullyingHome education
August 22, 2003
Educationalists get another homeschooling surprise

Success for a home boy:

Arran Fernandez surprised educationalists two years ago by passing a GCSE aged five. Yesterday, he was celebrating again after becoming the youngest person to get an A* grade in the exam.

The Surrey schoolboy was seven when he took the higher-tier GCSE maths paper and topped this GCSE roll-call of young achievers after scoring the highest possible grade.

Like 12-year-old Jonathan Prior, who last week became the youngest person to pass an A-level this year, Arran, now eight, does not attend school but is taught at home by his father, Neil Fernandez.

Arran said: "I'm very proud of myself and so are my family and friends."

But he added that he planned to take a break from exams and would not move straight on to A-levels in 2004. "I study English and French and also I'm studying geography and astronomy," he said. "Daddy doesn't think I should go to school. We've done topics that aren't in the syllabus, such as complex numbers and groups."

Sounds like Daddy, who sounds like an interesting guy, has a point. And note the telling little detail "and friends". Home schooled children are often accused of not being able to make those.

Incidentally, school is not the only arena to display ranking slippage. Do you think that, like US generals, A grades at GCSE will eventually come in five different versions above the basic A, in the form of one to five star A grades?

David Carr of Samizdata also comments on this story, but he apparently got in a muddle about the difference between A (which anyone with two brain cells to rub together can get in their sleep) and A* (which requires over a dozen brain cells and full wakefulness). But, as is usual at Samizdata, there are some interesting comments.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:15 PM
Category: Home education
August 19, 2003
Homeschooling in Taiwan

Thank you to the Chris Tame and the Libertarian Alliance Forum for the link to this HLSDA article about homeschooling in Taiwan:

Homeschool Freedom Grows in Taiwan

Dr. Shou-kong Fan, President of Mu-Jen Chinese Christian Home Educators Association (, recently reported to HSLDA that homeschoolers in Taiwan continue to enjoy freedom in educating their children. He feels that the Taiwanese government has been favorable toward homeschooling families because of the commitment of the homeschool movement to work with the government in a peaceable and respectful fashion. He also reports that the media has given homeschooling positive coverage, both because of the academic and social success of the children, as well as the additional time homeschooling parents are able to spend with their children.

A father was recently denied his right to homeschool because of his lack of higher education. Fortunately, this denial was reversed after the Chinese Christian Home Educators Association sent a prayer alert throughout the island. Taiwanese homeschoolers have expressed thanks to the pioneer homeschooling families in the United States who have successfully homeschooled their children. Statistics from the U.S. have enabled the Taiwan homeschoolers to deal with the government and convince officials of the value of homeschooling.

One of the greatest needs facing homeschoolers in Taiwan is the need for higher education opportunities. Because the homeschool movement in Taiwan is relatively young, few homeschool graduates have sought admission to Taiwan's colleges. As a result, most higher education institutions have not developed policies that are favorable to homeschoolers. Most homeschool graduates are then forced to seek admission to a college in the U.S. or some other country that is more favorable to homeschoolers.

Please pray for Taiwan homeschoolers as they continue to expand public and legal recognition of homeschooling.


Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:23 PM
Category: Home education
August 15, 2003
"You learn what you want to learn and what you need to learn"

Here's a story about the progress of homeschooling in the USA:

Cassandra Stevenson isn't old enough to drive or vote, but she's already a college graduate. Five years ago Cassandra, now 15, entered her freshman year at Danbury's Western Connecticut State University before most of her contemporaries had hit middle school.

She and her older sister, Samantha, who at 19 has a master's degree in astrophysics from Wesleyan University in Middletown, never went to high school -- or elementary school for that matter. Like a small but growing number of Connecticut youngsters, they were homeschooled.

Masters degree in astrophysics. Propaganda that potent just can't be bought. No wonder homeschooling is spreading.

Cassandra attributes her academic achievements to the home instruction her mother, Deborah Stevenson, provided around the family dining room table.

"Homeschooling is more like college than a public or a private school is," said Cassandra, who lives with her mother in Southbury. "You learn what you want to learn and what you need to learn. The curriculum is fitted to you."

Yes that seems such a simple idea. I'm surprised more people don't learn things that way.

While off-the-charts success stories like Cassandra and Samantha's are relatively rare, a National Home Education Research Institute study showed that the majority of home-educated children score at or above the 80th percentile on statewide standardized tests.

Such statistics may account for why the number of home-educated children in Connecticut has increased six-fold since 1990. Despite such gains, only about 2,100 of the state's about 630,000 school-age children are being educated at home, according to data provided by the state Department of Education. About 250 Fairfield County youngsters are homeschooled, the state Department of Education's Student Census Report shows.

I like it when someone else can do educational numbers for me.

The statewide increase is part of a larger national trend, said William Lloyd, a researcher for the home education institute who estimates that last year about 2.1 million children were homeschooled – up from 500,000 in 1990.

"It used to be homeschoolers were thought to be earth mothers in California or Oregon," Lloyd said. "Now it's seen as a mainstream thing."

That's the key line in this story for me. A "mainstream thing".

What all of the above means is that in the short run, homeschooling is going to grow and grow, to the point where homeschoolers will exist in such numbers that their abolition, or even their excessive harrassment, will become a political impossibility. And if there are comments saying I'm wrong about that, it will be because this point has already been reached.

But then another question will kick in. For as long as homeschooling is done by mums like the mum of Cassandra and Samantha, it's pretty much bound to do really well. That at any rate will the retrospective put-down from the critics. But what if Mrs Typical Homeschooler starts to be Joanne Schmo rather than Alberta Einstein? How well will it work then?

I'll place my bet now. I think homeschooling will continue to outperform the state and even private school alternatives by any measures you care to dream up, provided the comparisons they make are half way fair.

After all, being well educated means learning how to find out about things that your teachers have no idea about. I reckon Joanne Scho might still crank out a few astrophysicists.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:49 PM
Category: Home education
August 01, 2003
More on happy homeschooling and happy socialising

This from Happy Homeschooler Joanne Davidson, is good:

The issue I really want to focus on, though, is the level of acceptance that bullying, teasing and related behaviors that demonstrate poor character are 1) expected 2) normal and 3) demand early and repeated exposure to by our youngest citizens.

Public schools are in a unique situation. They provide an ever increasing program of diversity training while at the same time tolerating a high level of teasing and bullying. IMO and IME, institutional learning enviornments breed and foster the kind of climate that diversity training rallies to combat. At the same time, talk to almost any educator or parent who has (or has been) a child of the system, and you will hear version after version of "kids will be kids". The transalation is "You can't stop all teasing, you need to accept that it's going to happen." The fact that teasing and bullying happens at schools is given as an argument that our children *should* attend.

So … to sum up my poorly communicated incredulity: teasing and bullying happens. We have diversity training to protect certain politicalized special interests. But we will honor our children's needs to behave as they do in under-supervised packs. And not only is this a good thing, you need to throw your children into the mix at an early age.

And now beside that, from the USA, put this from the UK:

Children as young as 10 are being robbed of their childhood by pressure to copy scantily clad pop stars such as Kylie Minogue, the leader of a teaching union said yesterday.

Jim O'Neill, chairman of the Professional Association of Teachers, argued that primary school pupils were losing their innocence because they were bombarded with lewd images and exposed to inappropriate storylines and bad language on television programmes before the 9pm watershed.

So I guess children oughtn't really to live at home at all. All that mind rotting television. They should all be packed off to boarding schools at seven, there to be protected from the menace of Kylie.

But what if all that pressure to emulate Kylie comes not so much from Kylie herself as from those "under-supervised packs" that Joanne Davidson talks about?

One of the pleasures of doing this blog is that I am starting to meet quite a few homeschooled, home-edded, home-raised children, and to pay attention when I do meet them. And I can tell you that the home-thinged children whom I've been getting to know (a) get "pressure" from their parents that is much less frantic and antagonistic, to the point where it hardly seems like pressure at all, because the matter is settled between the children and the parents, day in day out, without third parties piling in with other agendas for six hours every day, and (b) they don't get pressure from feral-gang peer groups. They do, however, (c) go out and make friends as and when they feel the need. The idea that home-schooled children don't know how to socialise is, in my experience of socialising with them and on the basis of what they say about their lives, tosh.

The difference is that the very lives of these children are not ruled by the aggregate of their friends' opinions.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:33 PM
Category: Home education
July 25, 2003
Teach Your Own

I went to one of those sites which says how you rank in the blogosphere. Someone said they ranked 364,276th, or something. ha ha. And at some point in my odyssey I typed in and eventually I found myself here, which looks useful. I don't know how I got there, but there it is.

Home education is a perfectly legal form of educational provision in the UK; furthermore, it is always a parent's responsibility to make sure that their child receives a suitable education.

Yes, I've read that before, but it can't be said too often.

Home education is open to all parents, whatever their race, creed, income, social class or level of education.
- You don't have to have any teaching qualifications.
- You don't have to follow the National Curriculum.
- You don't have to keep to school hours, days or terms.
- You don't have to give formal, school-type lessons
- You don't need to use a timetable.
- Your child will not take Key Stage tests (SATs)

Now for the bad news.

So what do parents need in order to teach their own children successfully?

Ah, successfully.

John Holt answered this question in his book Teach Your Own.

"First of all they have to like them, enjoy their company ... enjoy all their talk and questions ... have enough confidence in themselves, scepticism about experts, and willingness to be different from most people …" (Holt p. 38)

Yeah yeah. I preferred the earlier stuff, the bit about what you didn't have to do.

I'm addled and, er, confused. I've been hosting one of my Friday evenings, and have been so busy getting things ready for that that I haven't done my edublogging for today until now. So it was either this or nothing. Consider yourself lucky.

David Carr was one of the attenders. He has a posting up on Samizdata with an educational theme.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:28 PM
Category: Home education
July 20, 2003
Freedom in Quebec

Here's an article from Le Québécois Libre praising homeschooling. Last two paragraphs:

From my contact with homeschooling parents, it was not unusual for children who enjoyed their self-directed, self-paced learning in a pressure-free environment, to freely choose to struggle and learn extremely challenging, rigorous and even comprehensive academic material that was of interest to them. This was especially the case when the material was arranged to begin with the basics, then progress in a very logical sequence to higher levels of complexity. All one parent did was to provide encouragement, reassurance and emotional support as her child freely chose to struggle through such material, which came packaged in a series of CD-rom discs, VCR's and work books.

It seems that when the state and its regime of forcible compulsion is absent, children who enjoy their self-directed, self-paced learning in a nurturing and supportive family environment can actually make progress in learning the kind of challenging and comprehensive academic material that has driven highly stressed Japanese school-children to committing suicide in that nation's high-pressure state-run school system. Yet state education bureaucrats in several North American school districts remain adamantly hostile to the concept of homeschooling, harassing and victimizing homeschooling parents, even arresting and laying truancy charges against homeschooled teenagers.

There are more homeschooling links within the text.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:51 AM
Category: Home education
July 19, 2003
The home schooling debate in Scotland is not getting any nicer

The invaluable David Farrer links to these letters in the Scotsman about home schooling.

Home schooling is apparently being talked about up there in the same breath as Fred West, mass murderer.

So, the question is, will the critics of home schooling succeed in persuading Scotland that home schoolers are mad, or will the critics of home schooling persuade Scotland that they, the critics of home schooling, are the mad ones?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:16 PM
Category: Home education
July 04, 2003
"… a good delight-driven work ethic …"

I like this, from Linda's Homeschool Weblog:

Aaron was talking to a friend on the phone, "I just finished washing my parents' car," he said. His friend asked if he was getting money for doing it. Aaron said, "No, I just like doing it - I like doing car and bike work .... basically I'm the little work ant of the family."

Good description - he's always doing something ... he doesn't care for reading or writing but compensates in so many ways. I'm glad he's learning a good delight-driven work ethic rather than having paperwork forced on him in the public schools.

Aaron speaks for millions of boys. But unlike most of those millions, he's lucky enough to have parents who listen.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:22 PM
Category: Home education
May 12, 2003
No education otherwise in France

I've been chatting with my hosts, as you would expect of me, about the relative merits of the British and French education systems. They are English , but with experience of both systems, so their opinions are worth attending to.

In some ways the French system of education appears to be in worse shape than the British one. The state bit of it probably works rather better, although it's hard to tell with things like that. But the real problem is that there is no "unofficial" system of education that remotely resembles the unofficial sector in Britain. There's no "education otherwise" here.

The French system of education seems to suffer from all the same difficulties as the British one of falling academic standards and declining standards of behaviour, and from all the same worries caused by wanting to combine social inclusiveness with keeping order in the only way that order can actually be kept, which is by excluding some children. Teachers are civil servants with jobs for life, which probably makes bad ones even harder to avoid than in Britain.

But those are mere differences of nuance and degree. The fundamental difference is that the French system lacks the self-corrective balance supplied by educational mavericks simply being allowed to do their own thing. The private sector is more heavily regulated than in Britain. This private sector seems to be quite good, but of course it is expensive, and that vital power to simply remove your kid altogether from any school is unavailable.

At present, with "education otherwise" being the practice of only a tiny minority, this difference between continental Europe and the Anglo-Saxons may not matter much. But as the practice of home education and home schools spreads in Anglo-Saxonia, as it is spreading and surely will spread more, it is likely to result in huge educational improvements, which could in the longer run leave continental Europe as far behind educationally as it already is in things like computer making and computer programming.

Which is why preserving the legal status quo in this matter in Britain is so important.

On that front I'm starting to become more optimistic as I meet more home schoolers. Remember those home schoolers I told you about last week. (I'll add links to all my France postings when I get home - for now, good luck or good memories to all.) I remember discussing with them how any government which took on the home-schoolers of Britain would have got itself the Political Enemies from Hell. Think of all those terrifyingly bright children who'd overrun morning television. Consider the fact that many home-schoolers have considerable demonstrating experience. I may not hold with their political views about war, peace, etc., but these people do know how to lay on a good demo and to mobilise the media. And they must be, almost by definition, among the most intellectually self-confident people around. So, no, I rather suspect that education otherwise will remain a legal fixture in Britain for some time to come, and that this difference between Anglo-Saxonia and the continent will continue to be a fact, and a fact of great significance.

And I suppose it is just possible that instead of continental Europe infecting Britain in this matter, the infection might be made to spread in the opposite direction. We can hope.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:34 PM
Category: Home education
May 06, 2003
Old school home schooling

Last week I dined with some home schoolers. I briefly met the two daughters (aged 8 and 5), who seemed to be happy, confident, well educated people. Whatever is being done, something is being done right.

I won't attempt a total description of everything that we talked about. I will instead focus in on two things that struck me as particularly interesting.

The first concerns the motivation of this couple in opting for home schooling. They did not opt and are not opting for home schooling out of any radical or ideologically-based disapproval of the principle of schooling as such. They are, after all, home schooling their children, not protecting them from schooling as such. What they are protecting their children from is what they believe to be bad schooling. It began as a one-off holding operation in response to one especially neglectful teacher, and has continued because it seems to be working okay, and because other better alternatives still do not seem to be available. Like many apparent radicals, these radicals are really thwarted conservatives. They had a very traditional idea of what "good" education ought to consist of, and they felt that they could supply this better at home than any available school now could. They favoured rather old fashioned children's books, and a decidedly old-fashioned respect for the traditional arts, notably the visual arts.

If I'm being deliberately vague about names and places, this is because I'm taking my cue from them. They even said that when they started doing this, they kept it a secret from their friends. What they were anxious to avoid was any possibility of their daughters being labelled as strange or unconventional. Home schooling for this family means keeping it normal.

The local state school seemed to be bad in all the ways you would expect, such as discipline, unambitious curriculum, and so on. What was more interesting were their worries about the local "good" school, which is a fee-paying school with a formidable local reputation. They could have afforded this. They just didn't like it. And what they particularly didn't like was that had they gone there, their girls would have had to work too hard, doing solidly academic stuff not only all the morning, but for most afternoons. These girls get solidly schooled by mum all through the morning, but after lunch their time is their own. Sometimes they go on expeditions with mum, but as often as not, they amuse themselves, in their part of the house.

Getting into the habit of spending long hours keeping themselves interested seemed also to have developed their powers of concentration.

The second especially interesting thing I was told was that the girls seemed to be much happier with their own company than did their regularly schooled friends. Partly this was because, they said, they weren't being driven too hard, and wer being allowed to grow intellectually at their own pace. But there was also, she said, none of the "I'm bored" stuff that other parents got from their kids during the school holidays. These girls didn't seem to depend on adults to keep them occupied and entertained. They had been educated to be happy. That happy was my first adjective to describe them in the first paragraph of this is not, therefore, any sort of accident.

In other words, what I found was a family which believed in our old friend, a broad-based "humanities" education – a liberal education in the old fashioned sense. These people agreed with Sean Gabb about what education should consist of and what kinds of virtues and insights it should inculcate, and home schooling was their way to achieve this.


Despite the keeping-it-normal theme to what they were doing, the news is now leaking out to some of their friends. And some of these friends are now starting to mention home schooling as an option that they too might explore. It's a relief to know, they are saying, that there is an alternative to fall back on, should they need it.

Even more interesting.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:54 PM
Category: Home education
April 17, 2003
Socialisation (again)

Today's electronic Independent has an interesting article about home schooling. It's not all that negative, and it's there. That's the big story here, not the details of what the story says. The Internet features prominently, as the means by which parents can obtain educational materials, and of course it is also one of the ways that parents learn about the home schooling option in the first place. But, inevitably, the "socialisation" objection to home schooling is also raised.

Amazing as it seems to those who can't wait to offload their kids in the morning, growing numbers of parents are educating them at home. With the resources of the internet it is easy to replicate classroom work at home, but harder to provide the teamwork and playground games, the fallings-out and makings-up, that are as essential to a child's growth as mental maths and basic literacy.

What the author of this piece, Hilary Wilce, suggests as the answer to that dilemma is a compromise. Some home schooling, and some regular schooling.

Look west and you will find a primary school in Devon that takes one child in for two days a week, and another for three, under an agreement with their parents that the rest of the children's education will be at home. The head's view is that half a week in school is better than none, and that it works if everyone co-operates.

But, as any home schoolers reading this will not need to be told, it is precisely the "socialisation" offered by many schools that they are often anxious to avoid. The kinder, gentler rhythms of family life are not merely preferred on narrowly education grounds, but precisely because it provides a superior sort of socialisation, in the form of a more gradual easing of children in to the wider world.

Consider this article which today's Independent also carries:

Children as young as four are being traumatised by a regime of formal school instruction in the Three Rs that has turned early learning into a straitjacket, teachers said yesterday.

Delegates at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' conference in Blackpool said children, especially boys, became disruptive when starting maths and English lessons at too young an age. They were not ready to accept regimented lessons at four.

They called for the formal school starting age to be put back to six, as it is in most European countries.

The central point of this piece, alluded to in that last quoted sentence, concerns an old argument about when formal schooling should begin. From what I've heard and read, the continentals do this better, as this piece says. They provide a softer social landing for children in the transition between home and school.

But what the piece also illustrates is just one of the many ways in which a school can be deeply unsatisfactory, and thus home schooling loom larger as a preferred option. Here we have a new kind of bad British school, in the form of the examinationally neurotic school, which straps little tots to desks two years too soon so that they can get ahead in the exam race and hopefully stay ahead. All that actually happens is that their socialisation is messed up, in other words it is exactly where schools are supposed to be superior to home schooling that such regular schools actually fall down.

The more familiar form in which regular school "socialisation" is so often found wanting is that schools are too full of bullying not, as in the above case, by teachers of tiny pupils, but of pupils (and teachers) by other pupils. There is a huge national debate in Britain, which will never end because what it debates shows no sign of ending.

This Guardian article puts a new slant on this familiar theme by talking of the nastiness often inflicted by teachers on one another:

More than half of teachers and lecturers are being bullied by their colleagues or the parents of their students, a survey revealed today.

Responses to a questionnaire from 2,000 members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers showed a "grim picture of isolation and intimidation" in schools and colleges, the union said.

That just may be somewhat of an exaggeration, but it makes the point yet again that many schools are, precisely in their "socialisation" effects, deeply unsatisfactory places.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:56 PM
Category: Home education
April 09, 2003
Steven Pinker - confusing school with learning?

Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate (on page 222 of my 2002 BCA/Penguin paperback edition) says this, of schooling:

Children don't have to go to school to learn to walk, talk, recognize objects, or remember the personalities of their friends, even though these tasks are much harder than reading, adding, or remembering dates in history. They do have to go to school to learn written language, arithmetic, and science, because those bodies of knowledge and skill were invented too recently for any species-wide knack for them to have evolved.

The central point Pinker is trying to make here is a true one. Stick a clutch of babies on a desert island with lots of food and drink readily available, and come back in ten years time. By then they will have their own language, crude yet effective, and they'll be speaking it fluently and grammatically. What they will not be doing is reading or writing in it, because that is not "natural".

But there is more to human nature than cognitive skills, as Pinker tells us at length, elsewhere in this same book. It is in the nature of children – little children especially – to pay attention to adults and to copy them and to learn from them and even to hero worship them, their parents especially of course. It is in the nature of children to tune in to the culture around them. If their model adults and their wider culture includes arguments and propaganda in favour of learning to read and write, and help to do these things, then they'll pitch into such tasks – naturally. Even though these tasks are, in another sense, not "natural" at all.

To put it another way, the artificiality that a complicated mind makes possible is a natural part of being a human. A skyscraper is as much a natural phenomenon as a beaver dam.

And all of that means that going to "school" is only one of several ways to learn to read and write, and not necessarily the best one by any means. Especially when you consider how bad at plain old teaching so many schools are these days.

As lars says in his comment on this:

There are children who learn to read without lessons. Surrounded by a world with words everywhere, where people get around by reading signs and know what to buy by reading the labels on packages and where the information from the words on the video games helps to play the game and where people enjoy reading books and newspapers and magazines, learning to read as one is interested in learning it happens. Having someone to read things to them, when they can't read it for their self (books, games etc), to ask if this letter makes what sound, to think up and play games about letters/words with when the interest is there- helping a child learn in ways that are interesting to them- I think that is the way to 'teach' reading. Though, I don't think of it as 'teaching'- that seems like a concept laden with authority that can get in the way of learning. I think of it as helping to learn.


But let's give Pinker the benefit of the doubt, and accept first, that he's not really thinking about the home-schooling, home-learning, school-schooling debate. Let's allow him an elastic meaning to "going to school", and agree that if by learning to read and write "naturally", we mean children learning these things without anyone or anything laying them in front of them or making good noises about them, then indeed, children do indeed have to "go to school".

But if that's what is meant by "school", then there is more than one way to school your child, and your local school may be one of the worst.

My understanding of literacy teaching is that children who depend only on their school to learn literacy skills are right away at a near crippling disadvantage.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:23 PM
Category: Home education
April 07, 2003
Behave – or we'll home school you!!

In early February Julius Blumfeld did a piece here about why he favours homeschooling for his children. Today, long after it would be noticed by anybody in the normal course of events, this very scary comment was attached to Julius's piece, from one Moira Rogow. I want, as they say in California, to share it with you.

My husband and I never (and I mean NEVER!) thought of home-schooling our kids, but I used to threaten them with homeschooling from time to time and it really put 'the fear of God into them' as they say. We were in no position to follow up on this threat, but the kids didn't know and the thought of being stuck at home with one of us instead of at school often helped 'bring them around'.

I didn't remember that until I read your blog!

Ah, happy days.

It kind of puts a new slant on the relative attractions of staying at home or going to school, doesn't it?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:35 PM
Category: Home education
April 04, 2003
Losing the home education debate in France

Julius Blumfeld passes on some grim news about home education in France.

Not quite hot off the press, but the latest edition of the Education Otherwise Newsletter contains an alarming account by Dr Amanda Petrie of the clamp-down on home education in France (and elsewhere in Europe). Apparently the law in France changed in 1999 with the passsing of a draconian new law. Since then, French home-educators have had to comply with specified curriculum requirements, registration is compulsory and a variety of "professionals" (including educational sociologists and psychologists) have a right of entry into the home. This is Dr. Petrie's account of the passage of the new legislation:

One of the French Members of the Assemble during the debate claimed that children who did not attend school were subject to the influence of sects and that the children were at risk of being marginalized and incapable of developing an independent spirit. When he finished his speech, the whole of the parliament erupted in lengthy applause.

This sort of thing sends shivers down my spine. As Britain prepares to sign up to an EU Constitution drafted by the French and the Germans (where home-ed is almost totally illegal), the need for vigilance by British home educators who enjoy relative freedom compared to their continental friends will become even greater.


Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:45 AM
Category: Home education
February 13, 2003
The Omnicompetent Group delusion

The Political World seems to indulge in a regular pattern of focussing in on a particular category of people who between them will Sort Out The Mess in whatever situation is now a mess, Get A Grip, Take A Lead, until such time as this group of people are likewise revealed as being only human and just as incapable of doing the impossible as any other group of people.

But instead of recognising that no one is omnipotent or omniscient, and accepting the necessity of a free society in which no one is even pretending to be omnipotent or omniscient – because that would be too humiliating, and would involve admitting that too many disreputable people had been right all along and too many respectable people had been wrong all along – the answer to each crisis of failed omnicompetence is "solved" simply by appointing another category of persons who this time, this time, will work the miracle. These people, unlike all previous clay-footed gods, are so wondrously clever that if we give them unlimited powers, all will be well.

The most common manifestations of this delusion are the occasional outbursts of euphoria, such as gripped Political Britain in 1997 when our present government first swept to power, to the effect that the voters have at last identified an Omnicompetent Group of Politicians. Britain's voters have now just about got it clear in their heads that these particular politicians are not omnicompetent either, but, having now lost faith in the whole idea of omnicompetence (good) don't know what to do about it except be miserable (bad).

In the world of British education, the Omnicompetent Group is now called Ofsted, which stands for the Office of … what? … "st"andards in "ed"ucation? Something along those lines. Here's a story from the invaluable which shows the power that Ofsted now has.

A headteacher whose disappearance caused a police search ran away to the Lake District under the strain of an upcoming Ofsted inspection, it emerged yesterday.

Michael Ironmonger, 46, failed to arrive at his school, Nortonthorpe Hall in Scissett, West Yorkshire, on Monday. His wife Lesley, 43, raised the alarm and officers from three police forces spent almost two days searching the Pennines for his car.

Fears that he had been involved in an accident were dispelled when he telephoned home from Ambleside, Cumbria.

Mr Ironmonger was resting yesterday after returning to his home in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester.

His wife said: "It's a relief to have him home. We were worried out of our minds. We didn't realise Mick was under such pressure. He was due to receive a letter from Ofsted any minute telling him when they were going to visit the school for inspection.

"It just goes to show the effect these Ofsted inspections can have. I don't think people realise how much pressure they can put teachers under."

It's actually becoming quite hard to persuade anyone to be a head teacher in Britain these days.

A few years ago, the idea was that the Head Teachers themselves were the Omnicompetent Group. That turned out not to be true, and Ofsted has now replaced them as the focus of the educational version of the Omnicompetent Group Delusion, and stories like the above will serve to reinforce the idea that Ofsted are It, and Head Teachers are not.

But what happens when Ofsted itself is likewise revealed, as it will be, as having clay feet? Give it a few years, and they too will find themselves under that special form of intense public scrutiny – more like the bitter row between lovers falling out of love than a serious policy debate – that happens when yet again, education nirvana has proved elusive and yet another Omnicompetent Group is dethroned. After all giving Head Teachers nervous breakdowns is not quite the same as making education any better, now is it?

There is a real danger that Home-Educating Parents will, eventually, any decade now, be identified in Britain as education's latest Omnicompetent Group. This is certainly the thrust of quite a lot of Home-Ed propaganda I've read.

The people who now choose to do Home-Ed, in defiance of the conventions of their time, are mostly doing amazingly well. This is not at all surprising, given the kind of people that they are. But this doesn't mean that if all parents were suddenly badgered into doing Home-Ed against their present inclinations or desires, that the results would be nearly so nirvanic. It is vitally important that Home-Ed be pushed not as the latest Omnicompetence Delusion, but merely as one version of freedom in action, with all the least-worst type disappointments that freedom involves.

If Home-Ed parents do get installed as an Omnicompetent Group, and then revealed as being unworthy of such status and dethroned, and then subject to the kind of bureaucratic oversight that's now piled upon Head Teachers, then will in due course be running Home-Ed disaster stories similar to the story of the wretched Mr Ironmonger.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:51 PM
Category: Home educationPolitics
February 12, 2003
Gnat's lessons

Gnat Lileks is learning. (Don't know how to link straight to today's Bleat permanently, so to speak, but it's The Bleat for today, Wed Feb 12 2003.)

Gnat has now tired of her computer games; she wants new ones. She’s exhausted the Mickey Mouse letters and shapes and numbers game, although she still enjoys the segment in which you use a water hose to knock cans off barrels. Baby’s First First Person Shooter. My wife bought a triptych of Mr. Potato Head games, and she’s done with those. So just in time I got a box from Amazon with two new games – a Curious George adventure that teaches coordination and deduction (fling your feces at the yellow hat!) and a Winnie-the-Pooh game that will delight her mightily tomorrow morning.

It’s just astonishing how easily they take to these things – I never showed her how to shut the programs down, but she figured that out; she figured out how to return to the home screens, how to tell the program she doesn’t want to save before quitting, how to double-click to launch a program. She’s figured out dragging and dropping. Put her in front of my laptop when it’s running iMovie, and she clicks on the button that starts the show. This summer I plan to give her an old 8mm camcorder - why can’t three-year-olds make movies? Wouldn’t you like to see a movie of your day you’d made when you were three?

TV? Eh. She doesn’t have time for TV anymore. When she’s done with the computer she sits on the sofa and reads a book. (By read, I mean she looks at the pages and describes the action based on her recollection of the story.) Then she asks me to write ABCs on her little blackboard easel; we arrange her stuffed friends on a chair and she plays Teacher, showing them what the letters stand for.

Ah, learning it by teaching it!

I watched a small child play with my computer the other day. Teachers fret – and teachers' unions pretend to fret – about what they children are "learning" from all this stuff. These computers are all very well, but are they getting any better at algebra??? Huge research programs conclude that stuffing computers into classrooms achieves nothing, ergo children playing computer games in their bedrooms is bad.

Wrong. Go and stand in the corner. Write out a hundred times: What Children Learn From Computers Is Computers. And since practically every job in the modern world involves, if you are badly paid, punching stuff into and getting stuff out of computers, and if you are better paid, making computers do even more than they do already, learning about computers is really something. And half the battle with computers is knowing what they can do. Once you know they can do something (because you've seen one do it in some idiot giants-and-elves game) you are in a position to find out how to make your computer do something similar. You can ask the question in the certain knowledge that there is an answer. You can demand that your company geeks do it, or failing that find out how to do it by asking the international geekosphere. Knowing what's possible. There's only one secret about The Bomb and it's public knowledge: It Works. Etc. Etc.

I come from the generation when if you push the wrong button, you are liable to get boiling water all over the living room and paint down the front of your trousers. Really important contemporaries of mine could blow up the world, if they put a finger in a seriously wrong place. I spent my youth hobby hours making sure I didn't glue the wing irrevocably to the place where the tail should go. But kids these days! They just click away and watch what happens! What can go wrong? The worst that can happen is something only very slightly bad, and you can undo it with your next click.

They'll learn. Once Our Gnat has put her first comment on Samizdata and then clicked another couple of times just to make sure it got there and consequently put it there three times, she'll learn that there are some things in life that can't be undone.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:37 AM
Category: Home education
February 10, 2003
"Jack does not believe he is anything special"

David Farrer of Freedomandwhisky links to a story about a Scottish boy, eight years old and about to start an Open University degree.

Jack has been treated the same as any other student applying to the OU, and has had to submit some of his work before being accepted. A spokesman for the OU confirmed Jack should commence his science short course soon.

He said: "Our normal age range is 18-plus, but if a child shows exceptional promise and is able to cope with the rigour of the course, he will be accepted. Jack is certainly among the youngest we have had, but in such cases we make doubly certain that studying with the OU will benefit the child."

Jack does not believe he is anything special by becoming one of the youngest undergraduates in the UK.

"I just love lessons," he said. "And when mum says that is enough for the day, I moan that there's time for just a bit more."

Good for mum. Because she was the one doing it with Jack, of course. No mere school could have allowed Jack to get this far this quick. David Farrer reckons the difference was made by TV. They live in the wildest wilds of Scotland, and they can't get it.

Daryl Cobranchi collects stuff like this, but I'm guessing he may have missed this one.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:21 PM
Category: Home education
Multi-linguists are better educated

Yesterday I had one of those trifling yet enjoyable conversations in the Tube that you sometimes have, hardly more than the exchange of a few friendly words. Yet this conversation was laden with, to me, vastly intriguing intellectual baggage.

A family entered the Tube carriage I was in – two parents and three boys, very obviously tourists – and one of the boys was discussing where they were going to: Paddington. "Do we live in Paddington?" he asked, in a very American accent. "No" I interpolated, in what I hope was a jocular and friendly fashion. "You live in America." In my experience Americans are far happier to be conversed with like this in such places as Tube trains than are we Brits. What they hate is the way we ignore them all the time. But, said Mother, sitting right next to me: "No, actually we live in Austria. I'm an American. My husband is Austrian. And the words "stay" and "live" are the same in German, so my boys are liable to say "live" when what they really mean is "stay". "Ah, I see", said I, smiling again. (I hope I caused no offence.) End of conversation.

I know a number of bi-lingual and in some cases even multi-lingual children, and their parents tell me that this is a definite educational advantage. Bouncing around between different languages seems to stretch the juvenile brain just when it is most able to benefit from such stretching and to be least confused by it, or perhaps I mean least bothered about being confused. When they're older, these multi-linguists can get jobs as quite well-paid translators or interpreters when their friends are only slaving away in fast food emporia. Then they can be multi-lingual members of the international salariat, again very nicely paid, other things being equal.

But there is more to it than this. People who got to multi-lingualism very young have what I can only describe as a philosophical advantage. If you only speak and think in the one language, you are all too liable to confuse things with the mere labels for things. This is "a book", and a book is a book is a book. Well, not quite. "A book" is the label we attach to this particular subdivision (with quite blurry edges) of reality. In other languages, the labels refer to different subdivisions. In some languages there is no word for books that doesn't also include magazines. In some, the word for magazines includes paperbacks but makes no distinction between paperbacks and magazines, and books are only really books if they are hardback books. In some countries where you live and where you happen just now to be living are the same thing, as seems to be the case in Germany. To make that distinction you have to use a word like "home", or some such. Multi-linguists get all this, and they get it at a very early age. As a result their thinking is qualitatively better, because they have a deeper understanding of what language, the essential thinking tool of the brain, actually is, and is not.

"This is not a pipe", said René Magritte, in the explanatory caption which he attached to his picture of a pipe. This caused outrage. Of course it's a pipe! No. It was a picture of a pipe. It wasn't an actual pipe at all. This is the kind of thing that multi-lingual kids get at once.

Immigrants are famously better at artistic creativity than their mono-cultural rivals, and multi-lingual immigrants especially. This is surely because multi-lingualism focusses the mind wonderfully, and at a formatively early age, on the means of artistic expression. A multilinguist is in command of whatever language he ends up using. A monolinguist is all too liable only to be commanded by his language.

In short, multi-linguists are better educated.

Of course, it helps a lot that learning how to talk is something that is still done extremely well in our culture. Once governments seize control of children at the beginning of their learning-to-talk period rather than at the end of it, as they are now starting to do, multi-lingualism will then become a most tremendous problem, and fifteen per cent of the population (including most particularly those who have been confused by the government in more than one language) will grow up unable to utter a single word and in a state of intellectual malformation such as we can now only guess at. Have a nice week, everyone.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:15 PM
Category: Home education
February 07, 2003
Mary Whitehouse lives

Julius Blumfeld puts a different slant on why he likes to home educate ...

Mary Whitehouse was a slightly sinister old lady who, until her death at 91, was a ceaseless campaigner for censorship of all the many things she disliked. I always felt she was a jolly bad thing, but I fear I am beginning to turn into her.

The problem is that I really don’t want my children to be exposed to the horrors of the modern world. I include in that category: discoes, crop-tops, any book written after 1950 (except Josie Smith), any word ruder than “silly”, the non-existence of God, the non-existence of fairies, slang, sex (of any kind), computers, most other children, popular music, mobile phones and television.

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind these things for other people’s children. I don’t mind them for me - I write as an internet and TV addicted atheist who makes full use of Anglo-Saxon vocabulary when the need arises. It’s just that when it comes to my children, I make old Mrs. Whitehouse look like a 60’s Liberal.

When we started down the path of home education, my motives were largely educational. I always felt that schools were a wretched way to educate. Even the best schools tend to bore their pupils half to death, teaching irrelevant nonsense, badly (and I was lucky – I went to one of the “best” schools in the country).

But as time has passed, I’ve begun to appreciate more and more one of the indirect benefits of home education. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but for me the fact that we control what goes into our children’s minds is a very big plus. There’s always the risk that when they are older they will resent me for it, but I’d rather our children learned their values at home than from the knowing pre-teens who inhabit the modern school playground. And if that means a bit of censorship, I say “tough”.


Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:01 PM
Category: Home education
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
January 19, 2003
Home-Ed on Samizdata

I like to think that there may be some people who come here regularly, but not to Samizdata. If so, these few especially might like to know that I've just done a posting on Samizdata about home-education, which refers to the Julius Blumfeld posting here, to Michael Peach's posting yesterday, and to Daryl Cobranchi's fierce response to Blumfeld. Here are the guidelines which are the current focus of the argument.

Already, as I write this now, there has been a comment on the samizdata posting, which refers to this, well I was going to say home-education story, but actually it's more like an on-the-road-education story. I hope there'll be more titbits like this. The Samizdata hit rate is currently running at well over a thousand per day, and although I don't want to abuse my position as a Samizdata contributor, I regularly feed interesting stuff from here to there.

And this debate is very interesting - but, sadly, in the Chinese sense.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:16 PM
Category: Home education
January 16, 2003
What does home education have to do with libertarianism?

A further posting from Julius Blumfeld:

I've been wondering why Brian asked me to contribute towards this Blog. It's true that I am a libertarian. It's also true that I am a parent of home educated children. But they are not home educated because I am a libertarian and I didn't become a libertarian because they are home educated. Nor are most home educators in the U.K. particularly libertarian. If anything, they tend more towards the green end of the spectrum. Yet Brian presumably thinks that home education has some significance for libertarians. Does it?

At the moment, I think I would have to say "not really". But if you were to ask me again in ten years, I think my answer might be very different. Here's why.

Home education in England and Wales (and to a lesser extent, Scotland) is probably easier than almost anywhere else in the Western World. By "easier" I don't mean that British children are genetically predisposed to learning at home. I mean that the State puts very few obstacles in the way of British home educators. Here, if you want to home educate your children, you just do it. There are no forms to fill out. You don't need to get permission from anybody. You may get the occasional visit from the Local Education Authority, but that's rarely a problem. You don't need to have any certificates or qualifications. You don't need to follow any particular curriculum (or any curriculum at all). If your children have never been to school then you don't even have to tell the authorities you're doing it.

But I predict all that will change. At the moment, home education in the U.K. is off the Government's radar. It's just a quirky thing for a small minority. It's nothing to worry about and it's not worth bothering with.

Yet as more parents home educate their children, it will become increasingly visible. And as that happens, the pressure will grow for the State to "do something" about "the problem" of home education. The pressure will come from the teaching unions (whose monopoly it threatens). It will come from the Department of Education (always on the lookout for a new "initiative"). It will come from the Press (all it will take is one scare story about a home educated ten year old who hasn't yet learned to read). And it will come from Brussels (home education is illegal in many European countries so why should it be legal here?).

That's the point at which home education will become a major libertarian issue in the U.K. So Brian is right (as usual). He's just ahead of the curve.


Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:34 PM
Category: Home education
January 15, 2003
Muslim home-schooling is definitely a good thing

A while ago I did a posting saying that I was in favour of Muslims having the right to home-school, on the grounds that Muslim families are less likely to be Islamofascists than Muslim schools. My thanks to Daryl Cobranchi for the link to this story, which makes me a lot surer now that I was right than I was when I first said it:

The Saleem family is part of a small but growing number of American Muslims opting to teach their children at home. As do home schoolers of other faiths, Ms. Saleem says teaching her children herself ensures they absorb a strong religious identity.

But since Sept. 11, she says, a newer set of fears is pushing Muslim parents toward home-schooling: Concerns about their children's safety in public schools and, on the flip side, the possibility that they'll be exposed to extremist views in private Islamic schools.

"I'm scared for my children," she says. "Any of our children can get caught in someone's rhetoric."

It's not just that these good people are in my opinion less likely to be Islamofascists than the people running Muslim schools. That is their opinion also. And that is a huge part of why they are doing home-schooling.

I should have realised this at once, but at least I have now. Meanwhile the presumption of liberty did me proud, and I said the right thing anyway.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:35 AM
Category: Home education
January 13, 2003
On the economics of schools and of getting to school

There is an interesting story in the latest TES (that link is to the publication website but not to the piece itself), under the headline "Congestion fee forces teachers to quit jobs" (TES Jan 10 2003 page 12):

Teachers facing congestion charges which start in London next month are quitting their jobs, while parents are planning to move children from city centre schools.

Well, that was the idea.

In general, I suspect that one of the reasons why homeschooling may be growing in popularity in Britain is that our transport system is becoming ever more shambolic and clogged up. Complaints about "congestion charging" seem to me to blame the messenger (the price system) for the message: "Travel costs more these days."

This topic was briefly mentioned in the discussion that followed my talk last Friday, but the general notion that homeschooling is an economic as well as just an educational phenomenon (which I had hoped to talk about) didn't really get much of a mention. But it surely isn't just that the schools themselves that are a problem; there is also the increasingly fraught battle to get the kids to school every day.

Yet it makes perfect sense. I regard modern mass education as an economically ridiculous arrangement, never mind how nasty and mind-dumbing it is. Why on earth do schools have to be so big, and as a direct result, so far away from most of their "customers"? Why can't children, especially younger ones, just gather in someone's front room to learn things?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:51 PM
Category: Home education
January 08, 2003
A good homeschooling meme-pair

Michael Peach, who, by the way, has moved to Movable Type, reproduces the full text of a press release from Schoolhouse, the Scottish homeschooling group. Go to him and to Schoolhouse for the full story, but meanwhile here's my favourite bit of the press release, favourite because of the delightful metaphor at the end which I'm sure lots of readers of this will already have heard many times but which was new to me:

In the face of blanket opposition, the Executive had to admit they got it badly wrong. However, they still seem intent upon interfering without justification in the lawful educational choices of those whose dissatisfaction with school education in Scotland has reached unprecedented levels. According to the results of a New Year poll, 30% of parents would home educate their children, which is hardly surprising when we consider research findings which demonstrate the superiority of free range learning compared to the factory schooling model.

"Free range learning". "Factory schooling". I like these phrases. To be spread about, I think.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:27 PM
Category: Home education
January 07, 2003

From Daryl Cobranchi comes news of Karate classes for homeschoolers. Interesting. Entrepreneurs advertising their wares direct to homeschoolers. Sports activities are an obvious niche market here. Homeschoolers tend to be rather intellectual types, not given to instructing children in the delights of violent physical activity, or so I guess. So, send them to some classes. Have them join a local sports team.

There's recently been a row buzzing along in the USA about whether homeschooled children should be entitled to participate in school sports teams. I can't for the life of me see why they should have any such "right", but the USA being the litigation-mad place that it is, it apparently suits some people to claim such a right. However, what homeschooled children clearly should be allowed to do is apply for membership of sports teams/clubs/classes that are happy to welcome them. Classes like these Karate lessons.

At one of the places where I was helping out my friend who ran the Kumon maths centre, there were sometimes Karate classes going on in the room next door. Some kind of "martial art", anyway. The guy in charge was as excellent a teacher as I've ever caught a glimpse of in action.

First, he was in charge and he did things his way, without serious challenge. Polite request when confused, yes, often. Challenge never. This was because, at any moment, he could decide that any particular misbehaving child was more trouble than the money his parents were parting with, and exclude him. Or her, because there were quite a few girls taking part. End of all "discipline problems" right there. Everyone present behaved impeccably. Any newcomer who thought he could make mischief never stood a chance.

What struck me, so to speak, about these "martial arts" classes was that although the children present may have supposed that all there were learning was how to be more violent, what they were really learning was no less than civilisation itself.

The children were all told to get changed into their Karate kit in an orderly fashion, and to put their regular clothes in sensible little heaps. They all lined up the way he said. They all turned up on time. They left the place impeccably clean when they'd finished, all helping to make sure that all was ship-shape and properly closed-up when they left.

Were these children being "coerced"? Certainly not. They didn't have to be there, any more than The Man had to teach them Karate if he didn't want to. If they wanted out, then out they could go, with no blots on their copybooks or markings-down on their CVs.

What I remember with the most pleasure about those Karate kids were the splendid ceremonial greetings that The Man taught them, of the kind they did before and after all their Karate contests. Hands together Indian-style (or small Christian child praying) combined with a Japanese style bow. Whenever I met any of them, they and I would take great pleasure in thus greeting one another.

As I say, these children may have thought that all they were learning was how to be more violent. What they were really learning was how to control their own violence, how to apply it only when that was appropriate, and in an appropriate way. And more fundamentally, they were learning how true authority is exercised – for the time being by someone whose authority they recognised applying it to them, but in the future, you may be sure, by their older selves, when their turn comes to hand the torch of civilisation on to the next generation.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:30 PM
Category: Home education
January 02, 2003
Will the collapse of compulsory education also be Soviet?

From the invaluable Michael Peach, further evidence of the Sovietisation of State Education, as experienced by the teachers:

SO, OVERWORKED AND UNDERFUNDED, bullied, blamed and finally, inspected, fast track dismissal could be a blessed release. But, why should I hand an easy victory to knee-jerk, macho management? When I’m not quite so tired, I can hear the seductive voice of that other reality, whispering, “Why take risks? If you don’t try to tell them like it is then they can’t subvert your warnings into recommendations. Play safe and sell them short. Intone the mantra ‘Just say No’. They’ll all switch off and you’ll get your tick in the Great Ofsted Book of Competence”.

This stuff reads like the best of the Soviet dissident literature of the seventies and eighties.

Mike worries that as home-education spreads the System will react with laws to compel attendance for all. I wonder. I don't just hope he's wrong, I actually think he could be wrong also, as I'm sure he hopes he is. There will be an ever more voluble debate, as the number of home-educators grows and as many more parents think about doing it also, and as the home-education support industry gets into its stride. But I can't see any government wanting to stick red-hot pokers into the lives of some of the most intellectually self-confident and mouthy people in the country.

And think of all those Christian home-schoolers. Does anyone fancy making martyrs out of them? Christians love being martyred. And all those hyper-well-educated home-schooled kids themselves, trading conversational grenades with the compulsion freaks? Tabloid TV will love that.

No, I think it just as likely that home-education will do a boil-the-frog job on the state system. By the time the frog gets the danger, too many will be doing the other stuff, and, politically, it will be too late.

Again, the comparison that suggests itself is the USSR, in this case the collapse of the USSR. How many people prophecied how limp, abject and downright peaceful that would be? Not me. I thought that at least some mad (but stylishly dressed) tank commanders would be screaming defiance, and some unreconstructed Stalinoid politbureaucrats would try to stitch together some kind of damn-you-all Stalinoid government. At least as the ship sank, I thought there'd be some bands playing and some officers saluting.

Actually, a few Stalinoids did attempt something like this. It lasted one day. On the Monday Bernard Levin was saying in the Times that it wouldn't last more than about five years. On the Tuesday he wrote another piece saying: I told you so.

Might not the dream of compulsory state education for all wither away like the old USSR did, not with a bang but with hardly a whimper?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:41 PM
Category: Home education
Freedom and Whisky and Education

I'm still not very well, but I'm well enough to thank David Farrer for the general plug for this blog, and for news about Schoolhouse, a Scotland-based home-education support group.

This from their website:

Schoolhouse Home Education Association (known as "Schoolhouse"), a recognised Scottish charity (No. SCO26965), was founded in 1996 by a group of home educating families who wished to raise public awareness of, and begin to tackle issues surrounding, home education in Scotland. The Association offers support and information on a Scotland-wide basis to those who wish to take personal responsibility for the education of their children; families who have chosen, or are contemplating, home-based education; and those who wish to defend the right of families to educate in accordance with their own philosophy and with due regard to the wishes and feelings of their children.

Reasons for choosing home-based education are many and varied. Some parents educate at home through active choice, whereas for others it is a reluctant decision taken as a direct result of school-related difficulties such as school phobia / anxiety, bullying or special educational needs. Approaches to home-based education are similarly diverse - some families choose a relatively structured model while many favour autonomous learning. Happily, the choice is entirely theirs since the 5-14 curriculum guidelines do not apply to home educators and they are free to choose the approach which best suits the individual child.

That the rise of the internet seems to be happening alongside a rise in interest in home education is anything but coincidence. The former makes the latter so much easier to hear about, and to do.

David says he's going to read this blog every day. As already stated, the weekends may go dry, but I intend to put something up every weekday. In general, I hope David doesn't have cause to change his mind about this blog.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:50 PM
Category: Home education
December 30, 2002
Muslim homeschooling

Michael Peach, a strong supporter of home education, links to a report that there has been an increase in the number of Muslims in the USA who are choosing to homeschool their children. (Daryl Cobranchi also alludes to a similar story.) Sets alarm bells ringing, doesn't it? Says Mike:

Now just as I don't agree with the state being involved in education I don't agree with religion being involved in it either. Sure, educate about the various religions of the world if you choose to but to base your whole education system on religious principle. .... Sorry, I find it all kind of scary.

I believe in home education and I think parents are responsible for their children's education so should I be for this or against it? I just don't know.

I'm not certain either, but my inclination is to say: let it happen, and worry about any damage it does when it does it and not before. (Incidentally, does Mike also worry about all those homeschooling Christians in the USA?)

I suppose there are two fears about Muslim homeschooling. First, it will result in an irrevocably divided community, divided along religious lines, similar to the divided community we Brits already have in Northern Ireland. Second, it will (maybe) breed (just a tiny few) terrorists.

But look at it this way. If Muslims don't get - or are somehow not allowed to exercise the right to – home education, then they are more than ever likely to insist on having Muslim schools. And what is more likely to be taken over by Wahahbi maniacs? Muslim families or Muslim schools? I'd say Muslim schools. And I'd especially say publicly funded Muslim schools, in which consumers (i.e. parents) can be kept at arm's length and lorded over by the externally-funded producers, the people running the place.

Also, if the only way to get a Muslim education is to send your kids to a Muslim school, that might reinforce the tendency of Muslims to live in separate communities, in order to get into the right school catchment area. But if they are the masters of their own houses, no need for them to move house to get the sort of lives they want for themselves and their children.

None of which is certain. But if you are uncertain, go with freedom.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:03 PM
Category: Home education
December 24, 2002
"You'll get it in your own time"

There's been a comment on an earlier posting here about the need (or not depending on what you think) for the minority of children who don't take naturally to reading to be made to learn it good and early. I guess a lot of readers of this this I don't copy and paste it in a new posting, and it is worth reading. So here it is, from Fritz:

People who cannot yet read, can still learn. With access to the world, to TV and computer and books on tape, and a helper to read things to them when they want to know something that needs reading, pre-reading children are learning all the time. And when they do start to read, it comes fast and furious.

Perhaps the 20% who have trouble learning to read, would be able to sort it out by their early teens (or earlier) if they are not analyzed and labeled as having a particular sort of difficulty early-on. I've seen children learn to read, with only the help they ask for in learning about how letters sound and what a word says, and being read to when they want to be, much later than they would have to learn in order to be accepted as 'normal' in a school. I suspect such children would be labeled challenged in some way when they confuse d and b and p and q, and can't remember some of the letters' sounds. If not made to feel bad about not knowing these things, if encouraged with a 'you'll get it, in your own time', and helped to learn about these things in ways that make sense to them, I suspect that most children will be reading when they are ready. Maybe some of those problems are caused by pushing children to read too early, before they are ready. Any problem will become apparent and solutions can be found.

Anyhow, that is an alternative vision to the 'compelled literacy' one.

This is what I want to be true. But I guess "early teens" will sound to many like an awfully long time to wait. And what of those children who don't have all that "help" they're going to need if they can't read for themselves?

If a few Nobel Prize winners were to email me with the story of how they only started reading at fourteen, that might ease my mind.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:51 PM
Category: Home education
December 22, 2002
Quote unquote

"As students throughout Northeast Florida start winter break, teachers say there are plenty of educational activities they can do at home."

Hot off the virtual press in Jacksonville Florida. Thanks to Daryl Cobranchi for this startling revelation. ("You don't say.")

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:44 AM
Category: Home education
December 20, 2002
Home schooling – just do it

My profuse thanks to Michael Peach for linking to this Guardian piece on Home Schooling by Stephen Cook, which I completely missed when it first came out.

In Britain, the internet and the media have ensured that an increasing number of people are aware that there is no legal requirement to send children to school. In England and Wales, you don't even have to tell the local education authority if you home teach from the start. If you withdraw children from school, you have to tell the authority, who will probably send someone along to "inspect" what you do. In Scotland you have to get the consent, rarely refused but often delayed, of the education service.

Let me repeat the key sentence here, for the benefit of all those who still assume that here in Britain school attendance is compulsory: "In England and Wales, you don't even have to tell the local education authority if you home teach from the start."

This means, as the Department for Education and Skills discovered in a feasibility study, that there is no reliable way of counting the number of home-educated children. Estimates for England and Wales range from 12,000 to 84,000, which would be about 1% of the school population. In Scotland, the home education pressure group Schoolhouse estimates there are about 4,000.

As Cook explains well, some like to count as many home schoolers as they can find, to prove that the existing education system is doing badly, and needs to change:

One attitude within the home education movement is to play the figures up in the hope that this will lead to changes in the formal education system, regarded by some as seriously past its sell-by date. …

But there is much to be said for everyone, including and especially the DES, remaining ignorant of the true numbers involved.

… Another is to play the figures down for fear that a busybody state machine will see them as a threat and start to crack down.

Exactly so.

It really is a very good piece. Over on samizdata I've been ruminating on the relationship between the blogosphere and the Old Media. This piece illustrates just how far the blogosphere has to go before it seriously matches the accurate and to-the-point reporting of the Old Media at their best. It also illustrates, for all the fulminations of many of my ideological confreres, what a very good newspaper and internet operation the Guardian can often be.

Professor Alan Thomas, of the Institute of Education at London University, complains that home schooled children can become "socially isolated". But of course, the last thing many home schooling parents worry about is that their children will miss out on the socialisation process of the average school. For many, that's the whole idea. But more interestingly, Thomas reflects on how home schooled children seem to learn.

What excites him is the discovery that children at home do not learn in the same way as those in school. He says they learn in fast, unpredictable bursts which are not amenable to conventional timetabling; this, he says, could bring about "the most fundamental change in our understanding of children's learning since the advent of universal schooling in the 19th century". If the lessons and benefits of home-education could be understood and taken on board by the system, fewer people might want to do it and the system might benefit.

Speaking for myself, I too learned in unpredictable bursts. The only difference that conventional schooling made to this process was that it got more or less seriously in the way. And I love the implication that "we" are only now learning this. But he's on the right track. I suppose.

So why does it bother me that people like Thomas are starting to take a sympathetic interesting in home schooling?

Mike Fortune-Wood of Education Otherwise sums up my sense of unease, with a pronouncement quoted at the very end of the Guardian piece which is a hell of a lot creepier than he seems to realise:

"The cat's out of the bag and people know it's a legal option," he says. "All kinds of people are doing it and if it continues growing like this, the authorities are either going to have stop it or embrace it."

Stop it. Or "embrace" it. I don't know which is worse.

No, what the authorities are "going to have to do" is just keep out of it. That would be the best arrangement by far.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:25 AM
Category: Home education
December 17, 2002
Teachers who (despite themselves) support home education

Michael Peach has found himself being commented on at the TES website. That's Times Education Supplement I presume, not the Til Eulenspiegel Society. (And I imagine there may be a bit of an overlap in the concerns of these two enterprises.)

Michael reproduces a few of the derisively critical things about home education that various teachers have said at this website, but in some of these comments I find comfort:

"I had a terrible irreverent thought: these parents would be a nightmare, so thank God we don't have to deal with them."

"Thanks for directing me to this site. It does almost read like a parody. I live in an area which is awash with home educators. The current crop have kids who we can be grateful aren't in the schools. Foul mouthed, "dyslexic", arrogant and precious. A lucky escape."

"This stuff is great. home education! whatever will the government think of next to ease classroom overcrowding? Well done Tony!"

Okay, these teachers are, in my opinion and no doubt in Michael's also, arrogant, supercilious idiots. But give them some credit. I believe I detect here an understanding on their part of the grief that the abolition of the right to "education otherwise" might bring to the British teaching profession. I mean, imagine having to deal, day after day after day, with the likes of Michael Peach and his brood, full of intellectual self confidence, clever, independent minded, always wanting to do their own thing, angry as hornets at being incarcerated day after day after day. Well, the good news is, some of these not totally idiotic teachers have imagined that. And they don't like the idea.

Good. People who loathe and despise one another shouldn't be obliged to have to spend any time with each other at all. That's one of the absolute best things about freedom. If you hate somebody, you can just stay away from them.

In the coerced society, on the other hand, the society in which people have to go where they're sent and have to stay where they're put, it doesn't matter how much they hate one another, they have to go on enduring each other's company. This is one of the worst things about tyranny, educational or otherwise.

In a sane world, no teacher should be obliged to teach anyone whom he or she really did not want to teach. Educational compulsion can often be a horror for teachers, not just for pupils.

There's far more to freedom than merely having a nice washing machine, very nice though that is. And there are far worse things about tyranny than merely having to do your washing by hand, very tiresome though that is.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:14 AM
Category: Home education
December 07, 2002
Cryptic comedy links

Daryl Cobranchi thinks that this is funny. I agree.

Question: are cryptic links like this, Instapundit style, a good thing?
Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:05 AM
Category: Home education
December 06, 2002
The academic origin of Silicon Valley

Here are two theories about the relationship between universities and economic development:

Theory One: Economic development causes universities. The idea that paying energetic young people to sit around talking about post-modernism is good for the economy is so far beneath beneath contempt it needn't even be discussed. The relationship is like that between the husband being rich and the wife having a diamond necklace. His wife has the necklace because he can afford it. The necklace absolutely does not make him any richer. Quite the reverse.

Theory Two: Good science and technology universities can cause economic development.

In his book Cities in Civilization (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1998), Peter Hall identifies the key fact that created Silicon Valley as the move by one academic, Frederick Terman, to Stanford University (p. 427), in 1924:

Completing his Ph.D., Terman accepted a faculty position at MIT. But, before this, he was stricken with tuberculosis while visiting his family and spent the year 1924 in bed; he stayed at Palo Alto for his health, and became a professor of 'Radio Engineering' at Stanford.

Hall then quotes Silicon Valley Feaver: Growth of High-Technology Culture by E. M. Rogers and J. K. Larsen (Basic Books, New York, 1984. p. 31):

Thus, but for the fickle fact of being struck with a serious illness, Fred Terman would probably have become the godfather of Boston's Route 128, instead of its counterpart in Santa Clara County. And without Fred Terman, Silicon Valley might never have happened.

Says Hall:

It is not an exaggerated verdict: his role as godfather of the incipient industry was crucial, and without it the rest of the story would probably never have taken place.

Hall then quotes M. S. Malone's book The Big Score: The Billion-Dollar Story of Silicon Valley (Doubleday, Garden City, NY, 1985, pp. 20-21):

During his tenure as head of the communications laboratory (1924-45), it was the focal point of the college careers of many bright young scientific minds on campus (much as the computer lab is to 'hackers' now). Because of this, until the end of the Second World War and Terman's promotion to dean, the Stanford communications lab was the heart of technological innovation on the West Coast. By the time Terman moved on, the ties between Stanford and the surrounding electronics industry were so strong that the university was all but guaranteed its present role of providing apprenticeship to each generation of high-tech leaders.

In Hall's next few paragraphs student names like "Hewlett" and "Packard" figure prominently.

And then another fluke happened. Hall again (p. 429):

At this time Stanford's main problem was how to convert university land into money, since the original Stanford land gift forbade the sale of any part of the 880-acre Farm. Terman, by now vice-president, and Wallace Sterling, president, hit upon the idea of a high-technology industrial park. The 660-acre Stanford Industrial Park, created in 1951, was the first of its kind; Terman called it 'Stanford's secret weapon'. Leases, necessary because of the injunction against selling, were granted to high-technology firms; originally the scheme was just a means of making money, but soon the idea developed of technology transfer from the university to industry.

Let me say it again, when Hall asks himself what the key event was that make Silicon Valley into what it became, he says: Terman. He even argues that the other candidate event, so to speak, the move by William Shockley, co-inventor of the transistor, from Raytheon in Boston to Silicon Valley in 1954. Hall reckons that, one way or another, transistor knowledge would have found its way to Silicon Valley anyway, with or without Shockley. The momentum of Silicon Valley, by then, was simply irresistible.

Having both contrived and to some extent lucked its way to the "Science Park" formula, Stanford University has now become a model for similar developments all over the world, not least here in Britain. (Thanks to John Ray for the link to this story.)

There, we sat in a modern conference room, indistinguishable from its counterparts in Santa Clara or Austin, and listened to a presentation by Powderject Ltd. on its new yellow fever and Hepatitis B vaccines and non-invasive powdered vaccine injectors. Some of the technology was more sophisticated than anything found at largest U.S. pharmaceuticals (one of which will likely buy Powderject any day now).

Powderject is, as we learned that morning, only one of dozens of new start-ups being backed by Oxford's own venture capital operation, called ISIS Innovation Ltd. Most are biotech, arising from the school's world-class chemistry and biology programs.

We in Silicon Valley like to pride ourselves in having no past, as if would impede our forward progress. But Oxford, which would seem to have the biggest legacy problem imaginable, also appears to found a way to build off that past, to even use it as a springboard into the future.

And if you follow that link, who do you find at the end of it, writing this ABC News story? A certain Michael S. Malone. That's right, the same man whose 1985 book is quoted in Cities in Civilization. This guy has had his teeth sunk into this Science Park story for the best part of two decades. If the example of Silicon Valley is now there for all the world to follow, it's because of people like Malone, who wrote the Silicon Valley story up in the first place.

This Oxford science park could be looking like a British success story in the making, except that, according to Malone, the European Union may be about to regulate it out of existence. But now I'm straying from my core curriculum.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:15 AM
Category: Home education
November 28, 2002
Schools versus learning

Joanne Jacobs says she's not sure about it, but reckons it's "worth a read". I'm sure Joanne won't be amazed to learn that I think that this Colby Cosh piece is a lot better than that. Sample quote:

See, this is the comical thing: tutors, as opposed to teachers, are doing more and more of the heavy lifting of a failing educational system. We've got these Kumon outfits, these Sylvan Learning Centres and the like, that are teaching math and reading to whole generations of children who are apparently coming out of public schools with no clue how to multiply five and seven. I notice, too, an increasingly lucrative trade in private tutoring for high-school students. I went to high school in the late '80s, and no one I knew was seeing a tutor or was employed as one. By 1995 I had friends who were basically earning a living on these kids. It's just standard now, it seems, for parents to send their kids to high school during the day and then pay someone to actually teach them, on the side.

What are "Sylvan Learning Centres" like? Anyone?

Cosh's further thoughts yesterday will to many be even more interesting, being his personal impressions of one home-schooled kid that ring very true to me, and confirm my impressions of such children whom I've met.

David Deutsch, pursuing his vision of what education should be in his logical, Oxfordish way, brings us to a similar conclusion:

So if we pursue the vision in a logical way, we come to the conclusion that the existing institution that comes closest to a non-coercive school is the entire town (or city, or society, or internet) that the children have access to, including their homes, and their friends' homes, and excluding only the existing schools.

This was the piece recommended by lars in his comment on this.

If I know Deutsch (which I only do from a few of his writings and by hearsay from various TCS people), he would forbid tutors that children themselves did not freely consent to. "Earning a living on these kids" wouldn't sound good to him.

Me, I'm just passing on what I read and like, even if a lot of it contradicts amongst itself quite a lot. When I try to teach these are the kind of prejudices I bring to it, if I can. If I ever have children, ditto.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:21 PM
Category: Home education
November 20, 2002
Another good home-schooling blog

I mentioned the acronym HSLDA in my recent home-schooling posting on Samizdata. This stands for Home School Legal Defense Association, and this looks like a good blog to learn more about what it does, and about home-schooling generally.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Internet could be the difference between home-schooling becoming an ever bigger and more significant movement, and being wiped out by its implacable state-education-equals-education enemies.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:25 AM
Category: Home education
November 15, 2002

Thanks very much for a link, and for a quote from here and a supporting comment, to Daryl Cobranchi of Homeschool and Other Educ. Stuff, which is definitely going to be a regular read for me. (The "and" is supposed to be a squiggle but Samizdata Blogczar Perry de Havilland says that can cause trouble. I know. You learn something new every day.) Daryl, expect more references from here to you. And thanks for commenting on something else here, and thereby letting me know about this.

And apparently I have Steven Gallagher (who thinks and therefore can't sleep) to thank also. So thanks also to Steven.

Patrick (he's the BEdBlog caretaker), please can you put Homeschool etc. on the "Education friendly blogs" list? The link to the sleepless thinker will have to wait until the big links sort-out that I'll be doing Real Soon Now.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:33 PM
Category: Home education
November 10, 2002
Some thoughts from the LA/LI conference

Yesterday was day one of the Libertarian Alliance/Libertarian International conference at the National Liberal Club, Whitehall Place. I attended, but had not expected to get anything from it to say on this blog. However, Professor Christie Davies (author of among many other things this) proved me wrong.

Davies, who was a last minute replacement speaker, talking about Equality, mentioned how raising the school leaving age has increased violence in schools, by imprisoning frustrated low IQ man-boy hulks who then take it out on their teachers. Do you know, he asked, which state in the USA has the most school violence? We didn't of course, and he told us the answer: Hawaii. That's because the many Japanese people living in that state, fanatical about the virtues of education no matter what, have caused the school leaving age to be eighteen, no less. The other ethnic groups, not sharing the Japanese passion for education, are the ones directly responsible for this distressing statistic.

One other thing. During the Q&A after Davies' talk, he had an interchange with Sarah Lawrence (of Taking Children Seriously), who had been the first speaker at the conference, but who had talked about the similarity between political and parental tyranny, along the lines of a publication soon to be available on line from the Libertarian Alliance. They talked about education vouchers. And I discovered that I think I oppose the idea of education vouchers. This is because vouchers will necessarily involve the government roaming the land, deciding what is and what is not a school. And the less of that they do, the better. If the vouchers people ever get what they want, look out home schoolers. In fact look out any place where the people there think they're doing education, but which the government does not now control.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:10 PM
Category: Home education
November 09, 2002
"We care"

A whole world of inter-generational and inter-adult rivalry is summoned up by the question ("It is a good question" is the start of his response) that John Clare selects as number one for his Telegraph column of last Monday.

My granddaughters, aged eight and 10, have been educated at home for the past two years. I'm worried that they're not learning much, but there's no way of finding out. They don't take the national curriculum tests. All that Kent County Council does is send an educational psychologist round once a year. Are there no national standards? Don't we care about home-educated children?

It's a long time since I've seen the connection between "we", "care" and compulsion spelled out quite so clearly.

It also suggests a whole new slant on the expansion of the state: gran-power! Now that the baby boom is starting to fuss about its grandchildren, will it try to vote "education otherwise" out of existence?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:08 AM
Category: Home education
November 06, 2002
Free range Bachini

Thanks to Alice Bachini for this link to the Free Range Education website. You probably thought, what with me having started BEdBlog, that I would already know about things like that. Wrong. I started BEdBlog to find out about things like that.

Alice also has some mock-naïve yet substantial thoughts of her own about Home Educating. Or as she puts it, "Home "Educating"(?)" She's not convinced, in other words, because it's too much like school.

Alice also included a link to something called Choice in Education, although in a manner which suggests that maybe this was a temporary error on her part. It sounds as if it will soon be good, but so far I haven't been able to get past the new front-end, so maybe they're still working on it and Alice left it in her posting by mistake.

This link worked fine.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:34 PM
Category: Home education
October 28, 2002
Saint Patrick's Day

This must be like watching the keystone cops at work.

I told you I believed in Brian's Education Blog being about Brian's Education as well as about Education.

So anyway, Britain's Minister of Education, Estelle Morris, has resigned on account of being out of her depth, and having presided over a huge exam-fixing row/cock-up. All kinds of bloggers are making interesting points about education in, you know, various places in the blogosphere. AND, Patrick Crozier is coming round this evening to see if the two of us sitting next to one another can't make some sense of this Movable Type thing.

It just goes to show that learning, like most other things, works better when done by and between people who are able from time to time to actually sit next to one another and be clearer about what exact thing they are each talking about than they can be over the phone, or by such ungodly and unwieldy things as emails, letters, messages in bottles, bits of paper in arrows, pigeons, etc. In fact, I think any hour/day now I might put something to this effect up on Samizdata, the link for which can be found, somewhere. And if things don't go well this evening, I might also post a cri de coeur for all Movable Typists in the London area to visit my kitchen (already one of London's most popular tourist attractions, according to Alice Bachini last friday) and get me truly sorted.

All this because (a) Patrick agreed to visit me this evening, and then set to work trying to do some Movable Typing himself, but (b) declared himself baffled and blocked at every turn and gave up, and said (c) that there was no point in him visiting this evening. I then (d) took a look at BEB myself, and found it made far more sense than it had been making, and as a result was able (e) to persuade Patrick to come and visit after all, and with luck he will, and with further luck we'll make enough headway for BEB to go public Real Soon Now.

I've given up caring what it looks like. Text is the thing. If that stays interesting, it's a blog, especially if there are links, unlike in the above. If it looks pretty but is boring and unlinked to anything, no go ...

I'm impressed that you at least are trawling through the back numbers. That's the only way anyone else would ever be reading this thing.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:03 PM
Category: Home education
October 21, 2002
Baffled as usual

I've categorised this as Home Schooling, because this is me, schooling myself, at home.

I'm trying to understand this thing of actually running my own blog, but of course I don't. Still, I have at least got the "BRIAN'S EDUCATION BLOG" bit at the top to look at bit less embarrassing. But where have my previous two test posts vanished to? Have they archived themselves? Perhaps.

Still, about this learning business: The key to it is to get in touch with your inner ignorance, and not be afraid of it becoming your obvious-to-everybody ignorance. Ignorance is not stupidity. Be willing to learn in public, which you can't unless you start by admitting what you don't know.

Like this. (You have to look at the first comments as well.)

Next tech-question: Do links TO Samizdata work like links WITHIN Samizdata? It never ends. Well, according to "Preview" it seems to work okay.

But will this show up now I've written it? If so, I will comment: hurrah!!

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:07 AM
Category: Home education