A while ago, home educators watched (if they could bear it and weren’t too busy packing ready to claim asylum in the US) the reading of the latest Education Bill as it went through the House of Lords. We had some fairly strong support, which was heartening and said a lot for the people who had worked so hard to inform the various Lords about the plight of Home Educators in the UK. And then there was Lord Soley, who i suspect is just someone who “doesn’t get it” in the same way that people find they have conversations with friends who just say they can’t see how HE works while moaning about the school their kids go to.
And then there was Baroness Deech, author of two of the most poisonous blog posts i have ever seen. And honestly, after i had watched her in the Lords, where she spouted the most venomous, vitriolic speech i think i have ever heard, i was moved to wonder what on earth we could have possibly have done to make her so determined to attack us. I suspect it was that we dared to argue.
It is quite an odd thing, to see a Peer of the Realm actually and determinedly turn on a law abiding section of the community of the country she represents. Not terribly elegant at best; perhaps even something of an abuse of power.
Variously, Baroness Deech has referred to the Home Educating parents who bothered to respond to her as a lobby, or lobbyists (ha! not paid for our time in trying to make the law different or fairer though, are we?) and yet been apparently quite horrified by the lack of cohesion and “mish mash of views” we expressed. That doesn’t sound much like a lobby, that sounds like lots of individuals, with individual feelings and thoughts – people prepared to have a large conversation and exchange of views in the name of better information and thought.
But perhaps that is just me.
I could go through that speech point by point and perhaps i will. I think the part that staggered me most was the inference that in the UK we as HEers get more rights to do so than in Germany, where the Nazis banned home education and the ban has never been repealed. Baroness Deech comes from a family that fled from the Nazis. A family has just been granted asylum in the US after fleeing Germany after they were stopped from HEing. You’d think she would know better really.
But the part of her speech that shocked and threw me the most was her determination “to speak up for the rights of the child” in terms of home education and her later comment (if you follow the link) which followed a thoughtful and well argued response.
Baroness Deech said, “It is insufficient to “take children’s rights seriously”, as home educators claim they do. Rights have to be enforceable by an authority outside the two parties involved, otherwise one is subject to the other. That is why we have a Bill of Human Rights. The same is true of “listening to the child’s voice” – there has to be a third party ensuring that that is the case.”
It has taken me a long time to write about this because, to be honest, i really just struggled to imagine what on earth she was talking about. I find it hard to believe that a Peer of the Realm would be ignorant or uninformed enough to lump all home educating parents (but not schooling parents) in with the parents who we must all believe do not do what is best for their children – the ACTUAL abusers, starvers and killers of children. I find it hard to believe that a person involved in the politics and law making of this country would not see and know that the vast majority of parents are in fact doing right and good by their children and can be trusted and left alone. I find it hard to believe that she might not think that parents are generally good guardians of their child’s rights.
It struck me, as i thought about it, that it is an odd thing to pass down judgement on people and their freedom of choice in life and education, if you are a hereditary peer who has taken up the family career reins, with a privileged and expensive home that you can inherit and who probably went to boarding school privately regardless of personal wish, because life that way is how ‘it was done’ and the parents and family decide.
In keeping with Baroness Deech’s approach, i did exactly no research here on BD in person, this is an assumption and generalisation about what i think i know about the Peers and Ranked Classes of the UK. It may not feel nice to be generalised about i suppose. Obviously, as part of the mishmash/riffraff, i couldn’t possibly comment.
So i spent some time thinking about RIGHTS. I thought about what rights i saw myself having as a child. Not the ones i had, but what i believed was mine to hold and have and define myself by. I was lucky of course in that i was always fed, warm and safe at home. Those are rights. I was educated according to the wishes of my parents, i had clothes that they thought appropriate, friends that they felt were acceptable, books they bought me, things to do they felt were good and right for me. If those are rights – to be safe, warm, well, educated and entertained, then i had them – and they were all provided and set by the values and parameters my parents set. No one else intervened.
On the other hand, i was viciously bullied at school and no one was able to help me escape. No route was offered, no alternative found. The bully was not stopped, i was not able to to stop her and i was not removed from the situation. In the end, no one protected me effectively or sufficiently and the legacy lasted a long time. If safety and protection are a right even in the non-life threatening environment of minor bullying, my rights were not upheld.
I was not really happy at school as i went through Seniors; the school was a good school but it was not really right for me and in fact, in the name of their exam results and reputation, i was actively discouraged and stopped from pursuing my passions and delights of craft, business and theatre. Ironic really, given i went on to go to Drama School and now run a craft business. If it is a right to be allowed to follow your dreams and desires if they harm no one else, my rights were not fully upheld – and that restriction was sanctioned by the institution and people responsible for me.
It is true, of course, that they believed themselves to be doing what was best for me. It is possible they did. We cannot (as Deech so eloquently puts it!) know what we do not know. I could be very different if i had been allowed more time to pursue my passions, for good or bad.
These days the rights of the child are enshrined in UN law – i can only presume that these are what Deech feels need addressing when she says home educators have “indifference to the rights of the child”. And i’m really not great at legal speak, so the thought of trying to find a place when parents making an individual tailored decision, based on their beliefs and the needs of their child is a bad thing was daunting. For Deech to believe that a home educated child, alone of all the children in the country, needs a layer of protection from the wishes of its parents to be in place, sort of suggests she must feel that the rights of parent and child are in direct contrast, directly at odds with one another.
And then i happened upon a document which explains the UN Rights of the Child in ‘child friendly’ language.
Reading this, there is so much that i feel should be so enormously empowering to children and to those who love them. They are a creed by which my family and i live, without having ever read them before. They are about justice, fairness, equality, opportunity, a voice, privacy, safety, time to grow, a place to be and a chance to aspire to more than where you begin.
There are many rights specifically spoken about in this simple document.
The right to play and rest.
The right to give your opinion.
The right to find out things and share knowledge.
The right to live with your parents.
I do not think that choosing to home educate, no matter how it is done, stops a child from having these rights. I do think that gruelling days that start in before school club and end in after school club, that involve large classes and overstretched teachers & the National Curriculum COULD stop you from having those rights, if not properly policed and alleviated by loving and caring parents.
You have the right to choose your own religion and beliefs. Your parents should help you decide what is right and wrong, and what is best for you.
Your family has the responsibility to help you learn to exercise your rights, and to ensure that your rights are protected.
You have the right to choose your own friends and join or set up groups, as long as it isn’t harmful to others.
You have the right to privacy.
It seems to me that family and parents in relation to the rights of the child are actually central to this convention, not at odds with it. Parents and family are enshrined in these words as being central to the welfare of a child, with protection and extra only being needed IF things go wrong, not in case things go wrong. That just as it was when i was a child, the family unit, being what it is, can normally be relied on to win through and produce whole people, even if that family doesn’t co-incide with some plastic moulded norm that someone has constructed.
It seems to me that a child is being trusted in these articles to have a voice, to have privacy and to have an ability to shape their own being, without needing too much help or protection from anyone. That a child is entitled to be in a place, believe in a thing, be with people or their family.
It doesn’t seem to me that being home educated would stop your parents from helping you learn right and wrong or discovering core beliefs, or stop you from exercising your rights, or protecting them. It doesn’t seem to me that being home educated stops you from having privacy or choosing your own friends, any more than living in a family of any other type might. Home Educators MIGHT choose the friends they want for their children or engineer situations to make certain contact more likely – but so might any other parents. My parents didn’t try to force any religion on me – but my school did, and my parents didn’t stop that. I had a right not to be bullied – but no one stopped that.
You have the right to get information that is important to your well-being, from radio, newspaper, books, computers and other sources. Adults should make sure that the information you are getting is not harmful, and help you find and understand the information you need.
Your education should help you use and develop your talents and abilities. It should also help you learn to live peacefully, protect the environment and respect other people.
Since BD drew the battle lines, i have to say that i think that home education provides a better access to these rights than school does and that when a child spends time in school, they need to have parents who will go out of their way to provide these opportunities elsewhere. No school has enough computers, radios, newspapers etc for every child. No school can provide all the resources needed to open up the million opportunities that would be wonderful for all children to have.
These rights are not about school or home education. They are not about home educating parents or schooling parents – they are about time, effort, energy, opportunity and experiment on an individual basis. And if a child has the undivided attention of a parent, they are very likely to get some or more of those opportunities. BD exclaimed that home education was like an experiment being performed on helpless children – well, no more so that the new directive per week that Whitehall sends to schools – but at least HE can be personal to the child!
All adults should do what is best for you. When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children.
There are many adults in the lives of my children who choose to do what is best for them and who care about that responsibility. I do not count the politicians who have torn our lives apart over the last year among them. Nor do my children, who are angry, resentful and disillusioned by the government that claims to speak for their rights.
You have the right to practice your own culture, language and religion – or any you choose. Minority and indigenous groups need special protection of this right.
Unless, perhaps they are home educators and their children. My children, who have the right to a voice and privacy, unless they ask to be left alone and not spoken to by an official who Baroness Deech thinks should invade their home on a 3 monthly basis.
You have the right to legal help and fair treatment in the justice system that respects your rights.
Hmmm… listen well Baroness Deech. Listen well.
Do not mock me with a pretence that i do not care about the disadvantaged and desperate children of this world. I know they are there and i care deeply that they exist. But it is you who chose to wage war against a law abiding section of the UK with a Convention designed to protect the very most desperate, not me.
My children, not just me, ask for our rights as a family, as people who have done no wrong, to be respected. We ask for our voice to be heard, our privacy to be respected, our right to live our life as we choose to be accepted. We ask to be heard as people not a mish mash lobby, we ask to be seen as individuals who can choose our life and our friends without government interference. We ask for the right to uphold beliefs as people and as family, to safeguard our children as law abiding parents, to develop our children’s talents in a way that suits their personal needs.
We ask not to be assumed to be child abusers because we wish to live our life without government help or interference. We wish to live our life knowing we do not have to flee before our government simply because we are who we are.
Will you respect that right, Baroness Deech?