Thursday, 11 September 2008

Johann Hari and the Independent

Readers of this blog know that 1) Grit is always late with everything and 2) Grit never blogs on current affairs, like who might be the next vice president of the USA. She may be on her knees praying that Sarah Palin comes no nearer to power, but she doesn't blog about that. Plenty other people do, but they don't home ed triplets, so I stick to my area of expertise.

But there is Johann Hari. Hello Johann Hari. Johann Hari gets a regular space to air opinions on life and everything in the Independent newspaper. I guess he's on a salary for that. Most of the time Grit reads his opinions about current affairs and society today and probably can't remember them because she must talk to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger about what we can learn from Richard II and the struggle for power, or how 'any angle drawn in a semicircle is always a right angle' and stuff like that.

Well, Grit sees Johann's just passed an opinion on home ed. Not that he home educates kids of course. I guess no one needs even passing experience in any matters to have an opinion about them. Whether then you should be paid to air them in a national newspaper with an international market is another matter, and I may offer my opinion about that.

After reading Johann's opinions on home ed, I seriously don't know whether to laugh out loud in mockery of this man's scant awareness on this matter or hunt him down and punch him in the face.

Of course I will be measured: home educators are constantly working with opinions, judgements, and attitudes from family, friends, the wider public, and even the police, who can stop us in the street at any time and challenge our decision making. Then we usually have to work hard to tread these lines between defence of what we do, and assertion of our legal rights and responsibilities, while dealing with judgemental attitudes against us, and yet not wilfully piss everyone off, particularly those people who think we do a wrong and bad thing.

And we always have to be very careful in our language. For a start, if I go round presenting education as if it was a child welfare issue, I'd have the weight of the home ed community right down on my head in a very big roar. So we home educators not only have to juggle all opinions, defend ideas, present coherent arguments, we also have to think about what we say. Now how many people would willingly put themselves through that lot on a daily basis in pursuit of their beliefs in education otherwise?

So what has roused Grit to this sad state where she is not blogging her teaching about perpendicular lines, windpumps, and Plantagenet England, but all about an attitude to home ed?

It is this, in the Independent, a paper we receive here at the Pile, thanks to Mr Pooni at the newsagents down our road.
Across Britain, children are half-gleeful and half-groaning as they finally head back to school. But amidst the bustle of the school-run, there are tens of thousands of forgotten children who aren't going anywhere. They are being denied an education – and set up to fail for life. The children left outside the school gates fall into four quite different groups – and each one is a scandal.

The Untaught One: the "home schooled." Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to send your kids to school in Britain. If you decide to keep you child indoors and uneducated, you don't have to inform the local authority – and nobody will come looking. As a result, we have no idea how many children are kept at home. Nobody is counting. But the current estimate is 50,000.

Of course, some of these kids are well-taught – but there is disturbing evidence they are a minority. When the investigative journalist Rob Blackhurst journeyed into the world of British home-schooling, he discovered 12-year-old children who had not been taught to read. The most detailed survey of British parents teaching their kids at home found that 50 per cent don't believe in teaching literacy to eight-year-olds. This leaves Britain with a weirdly divided school system. The majority of kids are constantly cooking on the SAT-grill, endlessly tested and Ofsted-ed – while this minority are totally unwatched.

This means children can even disappear. Seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq, who was found starved to death in her home in Birmingham earlier this year, had been withdrawn from the school system to be "home-schooled". For precisely this reason, home-schooling is illegal in Germany. The law here needs to be altered so local authorities regularly interview home-schooled kids. If they aren't being properly taught, they should be required to enter the normal school system immediately.
To be honest, the confusion of arguments, the ignorance, prejudice, misinformation, lack of coherence or follow through, the misleading information and bizarre logic in that dog's dinner would take several hours to unpick and discuss. Basically, Johann, were you just gripped by the urge to scatter some juicy scandalised words on murder and mayhem?

But let's suppose Johann is right. And the decision to home educate our daughters was taken totally flippantly, without any thought to their education or learning, just yeah, we cannot be arsed to get out of bed, so let's make sure we don't have to! Let's keep them at home! And as this blog shows, we never go out! In Johann's words, we aren't going anywhere!

Great. Now we can use home ed as a cover for lying around all day on a piss-ridden sofa, drinking gin and sometimes beating up and starving Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. That's if we can remember where they are, because naturally we are so doped up we have forgot which radiator we chained them to.

And when we find our kids, the ones who are missing, unwatched, forgotten about, and probably abused - oops! Johann led us straight there to child welfare, mixing that up with education, as if they are exactly the same issues - if we find them, we won't bother ferrying our kids about to all those private lessons and clubs. Those that have routinely shoved Grit's bank account into those dangerous red borders - the ballet, gym, trampoline, ice skating, tennis, sailing, horse riding, RSPB, drama, French. Because what do Shark, Squirrel and Tiger do here anyway? Just meet other kids, learn the stuff they want to in a safe environment with specialists and experts, and become quietly confident and aware about the choices open to them in a rich and complex world. PAH!

But by implication from Johann, the only impulse we would have to take our kids to these events in the outside world is if we were forced to, by the inspectors at the local authority. I guess they would control and choose the clubs and lessons our kids attend. Oh dear, Johann, did you forget that would take a change in the law? Something to do about parental responsibility, and the child you have actually being your responsibility and not handed over to the state? Well anyway, say Mavis at the local council, and not me, their mother, was in charge of deciding whether or not Shark, Squirrel and Tiger should attend these lessons. I wonder what Mavis would choose to properly educate them. Would she choose needlework?

Of course Johann could be right in that I am denying them the type of education you can get at school. Johann, I should know about that. In the school I taught at there was a hammer attack, drug dealing, intentional arson, systematic bullying and pregnancy. And that was my form. So you could be right here. Squirrel is aged eight and what is she doing? Inventing her own coded alphabet. Tsk. She is not dressing like a sexualised doll, playing with Bratz toys, calling Moonbeam to complain that her effing parents won't buy her a new iPhone and see that Tinkertop who is so totally pregnant aged 13? You are right Johann, I have denied Shark, Squirrel and Tiger that education.

And apart from the line of Johann's article that we should all be watched because we are all probably homicidal parents dedicated to destroying our children, there is another line to the argument. That I have set up Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to 'fail for life'. OK, I've got nothing better to do now I locked the kids in the cellar. Let's go with this.

Shall I tell Shark, Squirrel and Tiger that now? That they have failed, so let's not bother? Tiger wants to be an architect right now but if Johann's wise words say that she's failed all her life, let's just not bother, Tiger. Well, Squirrel, say what? You want to take a GCSE in French when you are aged 12? What's that? You love French so much you now attend two lessons a week and have asked for a third? And that we've been supporting your love of that language with tapes, films, books and conversation? Now shall we just say let's NOT BOTHER because JOHANN SAYS YOU ARE GOING TO FAIL.

Fail, I said, Shark! Not sail. Shark, do not be foolish. Of course you are not going to sail round England exploring reef life because you want to be a marine biologist. Now put the bloody book down. I know it is Introductory Oceanography by Harold Thurman but let's be realistic, follow Johann's logic and accept LIFE LONG FAILURE.

I could go on. But now I'm all wearied of Johann's opinions and I'm going to take Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to a workshop to study how to make buildings stay up.

And I will just say to the Independent that if you paid for Johann's piece on home education, you could pay for my article on Sarah Palin. I could even do some research. I'm sure I can get a few ideas from the Sun.


Brad said...

Three cheers for the fourth estate

Bronx cheers that is.

sharon said...

That's put the cat among the pigeons! I have thought long and hard before posting this comment but decided I couldn't just let it go, so I'm sorry if this offends you.

First off, I sincerely applaud your decision to Home Educate but I suspect there is some truth in what the article says with regard to 'some' but probably not 'the majority' of children who are kept out of the mainstream school system. Unfortunately this will always be used to taint those, like you, who are doing a wonderful job, of home-edding. I chose to send my boys to school and while there were some occasional problems they were not insurmountable and certainly not every school is as bad as you portray. I think maybe a little live and let live is called for here Grit. Everything is not black and white, there are many shades of grey and, as parents, we can't always get that Persil brilliance from the choices we make. Not everyone can do what you are doing, even if they wanted to, and that doesn't make them bad anymore than you should be judged so for not sending your girls to school. Well that's my two pennyworth anyway. Perhaps you should write to The Independent and see if they will publish a rebuttal to the offending article.

Totally agree with you re Sarah Palin though, it sends cold shivers down my spine to think that there is even the smallest chance she could be President of the local Tiddlywinks Club let alone the USA.

Grit said...

hi brad! oh dear! what sort of cheer is a bronx cheer?!

hi sharon! the only thing I have found offends me is the type of entertainment where people pay to see other people eat razorblades and that sort of thing. my children sometimes offend me, but they teach me love and forgiveness too ;)

articles like hari's invite mass and easy judgement on all home edders, but he has given no in-depth thought to the points he makes. such sensationalism does not carry well either in the independent which has historically positioned itself as a 'thinking person's' newspaper. perhaps it's changing recently.

the independent has already published a letter in response to the article, and there are probably many reponses to his view around in the home ed world.

actually, i believe we are not far away from the point where all home edders must register with the la, but to suggest this should be because of child protection reasons is to cast doubt on every home edder's motive and their relationship with their child. that is not a suspicion every parent has to live with.

and there is no discussion but good discussion in my book. :)

K said...

Great post grit, now can we hunt him down and punch him in the face???

Dori said...

We were taught a thing called "research" in journalism school. And to not make things up. Mr. Hari seemed to take some fairly large leaps in the one piece. I think maybe he should be enlightened? Something for the little gritlets to know, on one of those days when you just can't find a field to slog through. :D

Ruth said...


There are 'some' people who grow pot in their greenhouses. Nobody knows how many, but I don't see that as justification for police monitoring of ALL greenhouses.

Johann Hari has issues. He's rabidly anti-religion and gay. I don't have problem with either of those things but in his case they seem to have combined with watching too much TV with the result that he believes that 'home-schooling' is carried out by religious fundies who teach their children nothing all day but the literal truth of the bible and to hate gays.

His misrepresentation of other peoples work makes it clear that he has done some research, it just didn't provide any material which supported his anti-HE attitude so he distorted it.

In short there is no truth in what he says, he wouldn't know the truth if it walked up and punched him in the face.

sharon said...

Hi again Grit, sorry to hijack your comments but....

Ruth, I think my point was that not all mainstream schooling is bad and not all home education is good. I very much doubt I would agree whole-heartedly with anything any journalist wrote anywhere, preferring to use my own judgement to form an opinion. Perhaps here I should admit to being brought up as a Roman Catholic and that I have an openly gay son so does this make my opinion valid or invalid? I haven't set foot in any 'place of worship' other than for weddings, funerals or architectural merit since I was 15 so I suppose I could be leaning towards invalid. However, I expect I will continue to see the world in shades of grey rather than in black or white and I am quite comforted by that.

To return to you Grit, I don't think the decision to monitor HE should be made on Child Welfare grounds either. Not sure what the answer is there - that's because I don't know everything ;) - but for those children who are at home and not being educated there does need to be a safety net of some kind. I also think that the parents of those children in school but not achieving also need some kind of follow up as parental input has a huge impact.

And I think a Bronx cheer is a very loud raspberry!

Samurai Beetle said...

I would LOVE to see your piece on Sarah Palin, do share!

I think any of your daily blogs could refute the "findings" of Johann Hari.

My interest in home education has gone up tremendously since reading your blog. I never knew it could be so diverse and interesting. Since I live in South Florida I'm thinking of all the interesting things there are to see in nature in our Everglades and sea life.

Recently I watched a documentary called "Jesus Camp" and midway it shows a mom who home educates her children. One of the points she was fixated on is there could not possibly be global warming because it's only gone up 0.6 degrees. So the mom and her son deduce it's not a big deal because that's such a small percent. Here is a link on You Tube - it's really baffling as to how bizarre folks can be.

However, my point is I bet this mom would teach her son the same things regardless of if she chose to home school him so I don't take this as a cause to mistrust home educators.

Grit said...

Hi K! thank you for that LOL moment!

Dori, this is an excellent idea, and I shall reserve it!

sharon and ruth i will let you get on with this, no problem.

i totally agree sb, and thank you for your kind comments. i think parental attitudes are hugely important, school or no school. it worries me that here in the UK we are constantly being given more 'good reasons' why we should be supervised and watched in all our areas of life.