I ask you to imagine the unimaginable.
I ask you to imagine a country where the fabric of society has broken down. I ask you to imagine a place where crime is rife, where the young people roam the streets and schools with knives and guns in their pockets, where the disaffected gather on street corners and terrorise those who wish to walk the streets in safety. I ask you to imagine a place where entire sections of a town or city are no go areas for police, or fire crews or ambulance staff.
I ask you to imagine a place where child after child comes home from a day at school to an empty house. I ask you to imagine a world where it is normal for children to experiment with drugs, where 1 in 4 teenage girls have had at least 1 STD, where teenage pregnancy is rife and where, in an effort to prevent future illness, the government decides to assume all girls will become sexually active some time shortly after their 12th birthday and vaccinate them all against an STD.
I ask you to imagine a place where the latest clothes, trainers, ipods and games are more important than anything else. Where it is normal to find casualty full of blind drunk teenagers in the evening, where to learn or join in with sports or activity is embarrassing and not to be encouraged.
I ask you to imagine a country where 60 social care professionals can argue the toss about who is in charge of protection and whether the human rights of the parent are being infringed, while a child dies quietly in a room everyone knew about, or a baby eventually ends up broken in pieces in front of health professionals who had seen him countless times before. Or imagine a child of 7 starving to death in a street where people had heard her scream, heard her beg and plead for release and mercy, seen her almost naked, scavenging for food left out for birds – but did nothing because they WERE AFRAID TO INTERFERE.
Imagine a world where parents arrive at a government registered, government approved nursery to find that a care worker has been abusing children and making pornographic images of their children.
Imagine a place where children, ready or not, are expected to leave the family home and spend the day with strangers, in a room of children they didn’t know, with people they could not possibly expect to be loved by, or hugged by if they were hurt, or supported when they were frightened. I ask you to imagine a society where truanting is so serious a problem, by children who claim that school is boring and meaningless and a waste of their time, that the government fine and jail the parents who dropped those children off into the care of school that morning.
Imagine a government education system, costing billions of pounds, where 1 in 6 children leave school without basic reading, writing and numeracy skills. Imagine an education system where everyone learns the exact same things. Imagine a system where it is not cool to do well, not cool to get great results, where if you know a subject well and want to prove you do by putting in considerable effort, you are immediately accused of cheating by a disbelieving teacher.
Imagine a status quo where 10’s of children kill themselves each year because of their despair at being bullied.
Imagine a system where the data of every vulnerable child is collected on a database that the government promise is safe and will be responsibly used, but that the CHILDREN OF THE MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT will have their details shielded on, so that no one can check up on them.
And now, i want you to NOT imagine something. I don’t want you to imagine that in the face of this society, they decided that they would spend millions of pounds on a review, then a consultation and then a legislation change to check up on less than 1% of the children in the country, among whom there has never been a reported case of serious abuse, who are largely considered to be happy, well adjusted, interested and meaningful contributors to society. I want you to imagine instead that they celebrated that these people had decided that responsibility for their offspring was entirely their own, that they would bear the full financial responsibility for them, take full responsibility for their education and do their best to ensure that they became enthused, excited, passionate contributors to society, with an eclectic mix of interests and ideas, a broad base of knowledge and a confidence in their self and their path through life.
I want you to imagine that the government did not only speak the rhetoric of parental responsibility and social cohesion, but actively supported those who engaged in that idea.
And now i want you to think on the reverse, the truly unthinkable.
I want you to imagine that this government who supported the home educators had some radical ideas. Imagine the really unthinkable, that they might blame the people who sent children to nursery at 4 weeks old, from 8am-6pm, 5 day a week, who used school and breakfast clubs and after school clubs, who moaned about holidays and despaired at spending time with their children. I want you to imagine that they decided that it was so unnatural for a mother to want to return to work after giving birth that those mothers would have to be inspected on a 3 monthly basis to check they were otherwise engaging properly with their children. I want you to imagine that they set up a database of children in childcare from younger than 4 and insisted on checking the home of those children on a yearly basis to make sure those children were getting enough play, enough good food, enough exercise, enough parental interaction, enough real social skills practise so that they wouldn’t grow into disaffected youth.
This database wouldn’t only trigger a visit if someone suspected a problem, it would be a yearly check, whether any concerns were raised or not. While they were there they would be entitled to speak with those children, without a parent present and ask them if they were happy with the social and educational provisions their parents had made for them and offer alternatives their parents might fundamentally disagree with. While they were there, perhaps they’d check you had the sort of house they approved of – and perhaps do a spot check to make sure you had no stolen goods or illegal drugs in the house. Not that they had any reason to assume you did, but since they were there, since they had been granted the right to enter your house, they might as well do it properly.
If they were happy, if they decided your children were okay in general, they’d allow you to register as a pre-school child care user for another year.
But if your child looked anxious, or was too nervous to speak to them, or cried, or panicked and wet herself, or answered a question about what he or she had done today with “nothing” or “watched tv” or perhaps said “we haven’t had lunch today”, they might have reason to assume something was amiss and investigate you further.
What if we blamed societies ills on parents who choose not to spend their time with their children, or really aren’t emotionally up to it, or love their career as much or more than their children, or who have to work for financial reasons? What if we lived in a society where parents went to prison because they had chosen a school that had failed an Ofsted report. What if we lived in a world where, after the news story broke about the allegedly criminal nursery worker, we came after the parents for sending their children there?
NOT IN MY NAME, MR BROWN. NOT EITHER OF THESE SCENARIOS IN MY NAME.
I declare myself officially opposed to this government and ask them, if they still believe in democracy and freedom, to prove so by calling a General Election.
They came for the home educating parents, but i did not speak out because i was not a home educator. Then they came for the parents who chose a bad school, but i did not speak out, because our school was good. Then they came for the parents who chose the nursery with a sex abuser as a nursery nurse, but i did not speak out, because my children went to a different nursery.
And then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak up for me.