Freedom of education

I count myself fortunate that as a parent, while I had some criticisms of the schools my son attended, they were not major. The prospect of taking him out of school to be educated at home did not arise and in the main he had a good educational experience while at school.

I realize there are some parents (it is difficult to say how many but I suspect it is a significant number) who are not in that happy position and the home school option for some of these is a real one and some of the some will go down that path to get what they want. Some even do so before even sampling what is available or having seen what is available consider homeschooling the right move for their child. Back in 2009 when I wrote my “A Parents Guide to the 11+” I considered the advantages and disadvantages of homeschooling if a parent were unable to get their child into the school of their choice or one that met their expectations.

What is evident from listening to the 6 o’clock news is many parents do home school and while precise statistics are not available as to numbers, reasons, how parents go about it, etc., the indication is this is on the increase. As I reflected on this phenomena, I came to across an article by the Christian Institute titled: “Govt fears homeschooling parents are ‘poisoning’ kids” that begins: “The Education Secretary has ordered officials to review home education in England over fears that parents could be ‘poisoning’ their children’s minds. According to senior Government sources, home schooling is now “on the radar”, and they want to discover exactly how many children are taught at home, beyond the reach of inspectors. But concerns have been raised that regulation of home education greatly undermines the role of parents”.

My own view is that government should only interfere with how a parent decides to bring up their child when it is clearly in the child’s best interest for them to do so, e.g. there is a safeguarding issue. When it comes to parents deciding to home school their children, providing certain constraints are met, e.g. attainment of minimum education standards are in place, and are seen to be met, then parents should be allowed to get on with home schooling their children as best they can, away from government control.

Also today, I reflected on a very different story around the theme of education, but where there are similar concerns that freedom may be curtailed, even though in the light of recent events the reasons for doing so may be understandable. As is my regular want, I happened to listen to Radio 4’s “Thought for the day” and was inspired and informed by what I heard. In his less than thee minute slot, Bishop James Jones reflected on the notion that political correctness in universities may be contributing to the killing of free speech.

What sparked of this line of thought was the demand by some that the statue of Cecil Rhodes, a founding father of much of colonial Southern Africa, be removed. The Bishop argued that free speech is coming under attack from “below” by radical types using social media etc. trying to expel anyone that digresses from their own convictions and from “above” by establishment types invoking new legislation to prevent proselytising by extremists. The result is that university campuses are no longer the wide open field of ideas but are hedged about by wary caution as to what can be said in public.

The bishop cited examples in his student days when so called extremists were welcome onto university campuses and were well received even if most disagreed, whose ideas were widely discussed. It was like that when I went to university in the 1970’s. I recall there was a left leaning radical streak within the student community and yet those presenting very different views were allowed to do so. I recall on one occasion being visited by the IRA and yet when I was active in the Christian Union there was nothing to prevent us inviting speakers of a more conservative and fundamentalist ilk to speak to the students. Like the bishop, I agree this free flow of ideas is something to welcome yet we are in danger of losing this. The bishop ended his message by saying that Christians in the early church felt it was their responsibility to speak the truth and did so even if asked not to and sometimes were even killed when they did.

In placing restrictions both in the realms of homeschooling and in the flow of dissenting ideas in universities, we are in real danger of losing something that matters a lot, and we would be much the poorer if we did. I am merely stating the obvious – the day is coming and is already here when long held civil liberties will be taken from us! The bishop made the point it is not freedom that characterizes a nation but the way we qualify our freedom (something we need in this age of child abuse and radical terrorists). My concern is we may not be qualifying our freedoms as we should and the character of our nation may change for the worse as a consequence. It is sometimes said that education leads to freedom, but  for that to happen the way education is delivered must be free from restrictions in the first case.

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