Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Leave Them Kids Alone

The Government is saying that home-schooled children are at greater risk of abuse or neglect than state-educated children because they can't keep an eye on them. The Times, today, reports that "the review follows mounting concern from local authorities that their overarching duty to promote or protect child welfare is undermined by the present rules, under which responsibility for a child's education rests squarely with the parents." 
Plato's Republic imagines a group of ideal rulers, the Philosopher Kings. These exalted beings, possessing unimpeachable morals and complete control over the citizens, take a child at birth and decide whether it has a gold, a silver or bronze soul, the metals being equivalent to rank: gold is the highest, bronze the lowest. From that point on, the citizen's place is absolutely fixed in society: the Philosopher Kings' word is final. The parents' wishes or desires for their children are unquestioned, irrelevant; once the child has produced, they have fulfilled their purpose. They have created another citizen of the state.
The scheme being contemplated by the Government is a gross abuse of parenthood itself. Not content with infantalising the adult population, it is attempting to take control of the child in every conceivable way from the moment of its birth to that of its death. In this scenario, the power of local authorities would be greatly extended to create a database of those children being home-schooled and '... to take appropriate action if a child is not getting a "suitable" education"', including being able to enter the home in order to ensure that the parents are sticking to governmental criteria. But what does the government deem to be suitable, quite aside from all the human rights and privacy issues? Surely the reason that children are home-schooled is not to force them into arranged marriages, as the Children's Minister is suggesting, but because the parents despise the state of the educational system?
School standards have been slipping since the 1950s - on average, an 11-year-old child then could competently polish off today's 15-year-olds' mathematics homework - and have declined to such an alarming extent during this government's tenure that children are wearing stab-proof vests to school in case of an incident. Children are being taught according to 'themes', coached for exams rather than being taught to reason from cause to effect, and are subject to minimal discipline. Entire swathes of history have been discarded; a child does not even need to know how to read a score to pass GCSE music these days, and some examiners have even passed candidates who have written their English papers in 'txt spk'. Given this truly appalling state of affairs,  is it surprising that intelligent, socially-aware, intuitive parents would rather teach their children according to good, old-fashioned methods rather than send them through a metal detector each morning?
In creating an aura of uneasy suspicion and fear around the 'dubious' methods used by parents who at present are not answerable to local authorities, Baroness Morgan will undoubtedly receive an all-too enthusiastic response to her request for yet more intolerable meddling into our personal affairs. She will not consider, for example, that those who have chosen to home-school their child will have carefully assessed the tremendous responsibility and drain on time, energy and resources that invariably result; rather, her 'suggestions' that 'in some extreme cases home education could be used as a cover for abuse' or that 'some parents were suspected of pulling their children out of school to make them look after young siblings' are nothing more than insinuations, and nasty ones at that. The problem is that in order to refute such rumours, people will be forced to open their doors to a Government that lives up too well the the adage of 'a fearful master and a dangerous servant'; it fundamentally distrusts the idea that any child could be taught to think beyond the reaches of the state in case it might disagree with or challenge its authority. It is prepared to pass draconian legislation in order to impose control over this rebellious segment of the population. 
Washington goes on to say: 'government is not reason. It is not eloquence. It is force.' But force may only be used meaningfully against those prepared to accept it. Rather than fearing those who distrust government, distrust a government that would instill fear through force. Actively respect the individuals who fear it, and join them in challenging it. 'Fear of the state is in no sense coercive,' writes historian Jeff Cooper. 'It is, to the contrary, the healthiest political philosophy for a free people.'

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Life is to be lived, not controlled, and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat -Ralph Ellison