Learning to Understand

What’s been said?

GP Taylor, renowned author and broadcaster from Whitby, had a spirited defence of educational freedom of choice published in the Yorkshire Post on 13 February. Headlined “Learning to understand why parents, like me, educate their children at home,” it throws out many challenges to those commonly held assumptions we will all have encountered – views like, “they should be in school like everyone else,” or “home education is for weirdos.”

Opening with his own daughter’s experience of HE, Taylor relates how “It soon became clear that school was not for her,” then how “as a family, we took on the adventure of educating otherwise.”

At the age of ten, she “went back into state education and excelled in her GCSEs and A-Levels, ending up with a university degree,” but not before her parents had encountered serious prejudice towards their educational choices – “A lot of the people we knew thought we were weird and, in one annual assessment, my boss wrote: ‘I am glad to say his daughter now attends school.'”

Taylor goes on to explore reasons behind parental disillusionment with schools, detailing concerns about unsafe school environments expressed by both parents and teachers. He highlights unhelpful bully-boy tactics employed in some schools, such as unreasonable pressure to attend when unwell, rewards in the form of unhealthy snacks, or even threats of social service visits for non-attendance or lateness.

Lack of teacher time or resources to properly help with SEN also come under his spotlight, along with the observation that the amount of time in a school day when genuine learning takes place can be surprisingly limited.

After citing Carrie Herbert’s views about the rise in home schooling, Taylor follows up with several memorable observations of his own, and concludes by suggesting that the Government should be more flexible in their approach to education “and… start to sort out the growing problems and petty obsessions dogging state education in our county.”

Why does it matter?

Though somewhat heavy on schools’ shortcomings and light on the actual benefits of home education, this is an eminently readable piece which does achieve its purpose – to defend educational variety and identify those subliminal responses many of us will have sensed at one time or another: “It was as if society could not understand why someone should ever want to educate their child at home. They felt affronted and threatened by home schooling.”

The use of the phrase “learning to understand” in the title demonstrates Taylor’s grasp of the magnitude of the task. “Society has to get over the obsession that a good education means you have to go to school,” he writes, thereby bringing home to his readers the fact that replacing the stereotypical negative take on HE with a more accepting, upbeat view is a long haul.

Other memorable remarks include: “The one-size-fits-all approach to education is outdated and not fit for purpose in the all-inclusive and diverse society in which we live,” and “Not every child will benefit from being educated at home, but not every child will benefit from being educated at school.”

What can I do?

Commit throw-away lines such as “As there are many different types of family, so there should be many different types of education,” to memory to interject into future conversations.

Remind yourself how quick people are to assume that what is seen as “normal” in today’s Western societies has always been the norm – not too many generations ago, education was much more of a family and community-orientated enterprise.

Make use of Taylor’s article to refute and challenge underlying bias against HE when you encounter it, encouraging your listeners to take a wider view of education, its methods, aims and outcomes.