Take Home Education Out of the Shadows

What’s been said?

Writing in the Comments section of the Times on 28 February 2018, Alice Thomson, privately educated Times journalist and close friend of David Cameron, calls for home ed to be taken out of the shadows. The line of her argument isn’t always clear, but she seems to be contrasting the case of Tara Westover with Lilian Hardy (and here). Dr Westover has recently gained a Ph D from Cambridge, after being given little in the way of academic education by her parents on the Idaho farm where she grew up. The commentator appears to think that escaping from a strict Mormon background to achieve academic success is valid, where gaining a coveted role in a West End production (which Lilian pursued at her own behest) at the age of 12 is not.

The opinion piece mostly offers up the customary diet of anti-religious fervour and hysteria about unregistered schools, but it makes 3 key points which need addressing:

  • “there may be good reasons for parents to educate children but the state must have the right to check they are safe”
  • “parents don’t need to prove any aptitude for teaching”
  • “for a country to feel cohesive, children need to learn to work together and absorb shared values rather than retreat into their own sitting rooms or cultures”.

Why does it matter?

These 3 points go the heart of the current biased debate.

  • With regard to the rights of the state, Article 28 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child says: “State parties recognize the right of the child to an education” and Articles 27(3) and 18(2) make it clear that the state’s role is to help parents fulfil their responsibility, not to dictate what form that education must take. And while Article 19(1) makes provision for safeguarding, it does not allow the state the right to check on children without genuine cause for concern.
  • Westover comments that, “a lot of people have grown up with the idea that they can’t learn things themselves. They think they need an institution to provide them with knowledge and teach them how to do things. I couldn’t disagree more”. Parents don’t need to prove teaching aptitude – they need a desire to enable learning.
  • Concerning the need for children to get out of their homes and cultures and go to school together in order to absorb shared values, ponder on the thought that sitting in an igloo doesn’t make you Inuit. It’s a myth that school attendance makes you a good citizen, but this argument demonstrates the mistaken belief that if you get every child in the same place at the same time, you will create a social amalgam in which everyone adheres to the state belief.

What can I do?

Tara Westover, despite the vagaries of her own upbringing, says that if she had children she wouldn’t send them to school because “they might think education is sitting quietly.” This is a powerful argument for EHE.