Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mr Vijay Patel of the NSPCC

... because, really, his attempts to keep slinging mud in the hopes that eventually some of it will stick Have To Stop.

Emailed to

I was horrified to read in today's Independent a quote from Vijay Patel linking the horrific Victoria Climbie with home education. As I am sure you know, Victoria Climbie was not home educated, and "home education" playeed no part in the failure of government agencies and indeed your own organisation in failing to safeguard her.

I look forward to reading a full retraction from Mr Patel, together with an apology for the unfounded slur he has attempted to cast on a minority group within society.

I am sure Mr Patel is sick of being reminded that, when pressed, he had to admit on national radio regardimg his claims that HE could be used to hide abuse "We.. the inf.. We don’t have the evidence there statistically, no." Please, the NSPCC MUST stop circulating vicious and unfounded allegations about links between the home educating community and child abuse, and you must stop employing people who persist in such malicious beaviour. After learning of Mr Patel's full retraction and apology, I look forward to reading of his resignation.

Yours faithfully,

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Dear Mr Badman,

I am writing to express my concern about the constitution of the panel of "experts" attached to the Home Education review. While I am delighted to see Paula Rothermel on the team, I am flabbergasted that the rest of the panel seems to be made up of people with no experience of elective home education. How can this be considered a panel of experts?

I would have expected to see a lawyer with understanding of the law as it pertains to elective home education, particularly given the apparent lack of understanding of the law demonstrated both by the 6-questions open to the general public and by the 60-question survey offered only to LAs. Ian Dowty is the most notable expert - why on earth is he not on the list?

I would have expected at least one if not more representatives of the major elective home education organisations - drawn perhaps from the Education Otherwise policy group, or from the groups AHEd or THEN-UK.

I would have expected not only a university researcher on elective home education, but also researchers and writers with practical, personal, in the field experience. There are several names to choose from here, but the instant ones springing to mind are Jan Fortune-Wood, Mike Fortune-Wood, Roland Meighan, Harriet Pattison (co-author with Alan Thomas - who would have been another obvious choice! - of How Children Learn at Home, which I assume all your panel members will have read).

I would have expected representatives of the minority groups likely to be particularly impacted by any changes to the existing legislative framework - at the very least, representatives of SEN home educators and religious minority groups.

Please could you explain your rationale for choosing a team of people largely without expertise in and experience of elective home education? Will this not have a negative impact on the validity of any findings of the review?

Yours sincerely,

(signed with all my most impressive titles. You know, CBE, OBE, Victoria Cross, Dip SMELL etc)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

John Taylor Gatto - "Dumbing Us Down"

The solutions that Gatto comes up with to the problem of school:

1. Put less money into schools, give children time for independent study, give children more family time. Makes sense to me - school has a big influence of children, and it is hidden under the guise of being a Good Thing when actually a lot of it is to do with free-at-point-of-delivery childcare, increasingly wrap around, with breakfast clubs and twilight clubs and everything else. This child care makes it possible for both parents to work. Quite why two full-time working parents is seen as the golden chalice I do not know, but society seems to have got brainwashed into thinking that this is progress. So yes, I agree with all of this.

2. Introduce free-market education rather than government-monopoly education. Refund all the relevant taxes and leave communities to find their own solutions. What can I say except "yeah, baby!".

The last two essays in the book are about networks and congregations, and I confess that I understood less what he was trying to get at in these.

The networks idea is that a network of people is efficient in the pursuit of a limited aim, but it doesn't embrace the whole person. If you want to solve a problem, you might make a network to solve it, but you wouldn't then ask your collaborator to join you for Christmas. And he sees schools as networks, where only parts of a child's personality can be expressed and only parts of it are appreciated, rather than as communities, although schools probably usually see themselves as communities. He says that communities have people of all ages in them. But I'm not exactly clear what stops schools, necessarily, from being communities. And actually, I'm not sure that networks are as evil as he says they are.

The congregations idea is about a community having the right to freedom of association, and that people within a community can leave it and find another one if that one doesn't suit them, like church congregations (and his model is the early colonial era congregationalists). And yes, that kind of makes sense, although again, I'm not quite seeing how it could translate to mass schooling.

"The Psychopathic School" by John Taylor Gatto

This is essay 2 in Dumbing Us Down.

Here, Gatto lists lots of evils which, he claims, are the result of TV watching or schooling, since that's what takes up most of most children's time. The short list of evils includes suicide, depression, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse... and, since he doesn't explain the causal link in any case, might just as well include ingrowing toenails, water on the knee, and the prevalence of cadbury's creme eggs next to the check out in Tesco.

He says that schooling makes children

- indifferent to the adult world
- lacking in curiosity
- have no sense of their future
- have no sense of their past, and how it shapes their present
- cruel to each other
- uneasy with intimacy and candour, since they have to develop protectivelayers of fake personalities to survive in school
- materialistic (since teachers materialistically grade everything, and because of TV advertising)
- dependent, passive and timid in the presence of new challenges.

This was odd to read. I think Gatto is more astute about what he is doing to children (as described in the 7-lesson school teacher) than in this description of what the impact is on the children in question. Not all schooled children are cruel, materialistic etc etc. And it's not immediately clear to me how the institution of school has these effects on people.

I also think his anti-TV stance is based on the bucket theory of learning - the idea that children sit passively and uncritically while the culture of TV is poured into them for hours a day. I suppose this is more likely to be the case if a child is schooled into the passivity of scheduling being done for them by teachers for most of the day and then TV watching is just an extension of it, but active use of TV is a wonderful resource and it's just the usual fearmongering about the evil of the TV set here I think.

I can see that if one had a child in school who was beginning to display these characteristics, one might be persuaded to remove them by reading this essay, but otherwise I was less impressed by the argument here.

The Seven Lesson Schoolteacher by John Taylor Gatto

This is the first essay in Dumbing Us Down

The central message in this essay is that, contrary to what educators might claim they are doing, the national curriculum (and he's talking about the USA, but it applies equally here in the UK) consists of teaching children:

1. Confusion. Everything is taught out of context. Rather than following a child's pace and interests, we present children with all sorts of things but never help children connect them or build up a coherent picture of the universe (which is much easier to do if the person trying to make the coherent picture chooses what to look at next)

2. Class position. He conflates two things in here. First, that in a school, you have to be in the assigned class, like it or not. If all your friends are 11 years old or 6 years old, but you are 9, then tough luck, you have to spend most of the day in a room with the other 9 year olds. No freedom of association. Second, that exam results and grading are seen to be very very important, even though actually future employers, or future customers if you are going to set up a business, are probably considerably less interested in your portfolio of exam results than the schools claim they will be. I was feeling quite resistant to this one, thinking "surely nowadays teachers aren't constantly grading children's work?" and then I remembered the SATS tests. So I guess it is still operational, though I'm certain that all teacher trainees nowadays read the stuff about how summative assessment is a demotivator (well, duh).

3. Indifference. Schools teach children to be indifferent to everything because of the constant interruptions of lesson change and bells ringing. We teach them that it is never worth while to spend the length of time on a task that the task requires, but instead that external factors like bells ringing are more important than finishing a train of thought.

4. emotional dependency. Teachers mostly operate through carrot andstick, punishment and rewards, however sugar coated. The way a child is treated is conditional on the way (s)he behaves in school. Teachers have huge power over a child's happiness - they can prevent a child from going to the loo, even. Children have to learn to keep the teacher happy in order to be treated kindly.

5. Intellectual dependency. School children don't often go into the building and get going on learning. They enter the classroom and a teacher tells them what to do. The teacher then judges whether or not they did it adequately. There is little space for self-motivation and self-criticism when someone else controls the timetable.

6. provisional self esteem. This is the one I am still struggling with. Gatto says that the self-respect of a school child depends on the judgement of the teacher, who tells people (usually implicitly, I imagine) what they are worth. I am thinking that this is just a summary of points 4 and 5.

7. no hiding place. In school, a child is under constant surveillance - and privacy is vital for creativity (have none of them read Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own?!). The surveillance continues at a distance, through homework - some of a child's "free" time at home is tied up with tasks for school.

THe vital thing, he says, is that schools are not about education at all, they are about schooling. And THIS is what schooling is - it teaches all these things so that society is kept filled with people to take up the most common professions (in the USA in the 1990s, it was Walmart sales clerk, McDonald's burger flipper and Burger King burger flipper, in that order) - professions which need people whose creativity and self worth has been squashed out of them. And also that schooling is a big job creation scheme for "educators". There is no way any educational reform led by educators would say "what we need is less school, less money, less hours of education..."

I could see this essay persuading people not to send their children to school.

Lest you think I am completely uncritical of Gatto, I now have to do a Mr Bennett: "Read on, Lizzy, read on".