Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Life is simple in cartoons

Roger Bolton introduces a Sunday morning religion programme on Radio 4. I usually don't listen because Sunday I like to lie in bed cosying up to a hairy devil of a hangover.

But of course round those blogs I'm catching up on the discussion about last Sunday's programme. The one where Roger Bolton interviewed Schools Minister, Diana Johnson, about religion and home education.

Diana says home education is under scrutiny today because spooky home educators might be doing religion (but we're only doing evangelical Christianity, obviously, because she possibly can't mention Islamic fundamentalism; that would sound too provocative).

Diana probably thinks all school choosing parents should know that something religious and sinister is going on behind lace curtains near you. She doesn't know what though. It could be anything. She worries that she doesn't know what home educators are up to. You can hear it in her voice. She even cried out, 'we don't know what's happening!'

Well Diana love, take a tablet and read this blog. That'll save you a few hundred quid on the wages to OFSTED and your staff at the Local Authority. You won't need to pay them to come peep through our letterbox to find out what we're doing, and whether I'm evangelising Christianity, or Islamic fundamentalism, to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, while chaining them to the radiator. You might even learn something about how children learn while you're here.

But it wasn't Diana wailing about her own ignorance and overactive imagination that tickled me. It was Roger Bolton.
There may be cases where a child is with very authoritarian and dominant parents and doesn't have the fresh air of school and mixing with other people, and if you think back to those Victorian periods where evangelical parents, usually fathers, intimidated their children, threatening them with God, with Sin, with Hell, if they don't do things, some people will worry that this is possible now under home tuition, that this could happen and you'd not be able to do anything about it!
Well I barely know where to start, there are so many options.

So I'll keep it personal. Mr and Mrs Timms are evangelical Christians who live in our town, and they home educate three daughters, just like us. In Grit's world, I nod hello to them, because I know them from the local shops, the library and Shark's drama club. They hold jumble sales at the Church. Squirrel used to play with one of the mini evangelical Timms at tennis until the idle Squirrel couldn't be arsed to roll out of bed for Tennis club at 9am on a Saturday morning. I think the mini Timms still attends.

In Grit's world, we mix with people of the Timms and non-Timms variety every day of our lives. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger attend events with people of many religions, and none; they see schooled children, and home educated children; they play with kids of all colours, shapes, sizes, dispositions. And at some events, I've even seen the mini Timms.

In this world, I've also known a complete nutcase on the religion front. The name of her shall never pass my fingertips; the memory of her sends shivers down my spine; and I still live with the mental horror of her throwing herself to the office carpet delivering prayers to God. Incidentally, she sent her child to the local primary school. That same child had seven kinds of shit beaten out of her, mostly for having a lifestyle where she couldn't celebrate Christmas, birthdays or Easter.

The point is, being a religious zealot, or even authoritarian, is not the preserve of home educated parents. What you gonna do then, Rog and Diana? OFSTED all parents? Last year that suggestion would've sounded ridiculous. This year, it sounds like a government plan for next year.

But in Roger land, Grit's description of meeting ordinary folks who have a diversity of beliefs doesn't work. In Roger land, there are schooled and home 'tutored'. The two never meet! There is no 'mixing with other people', because home tutored people like us, or like the Timms, have no neighbours, use no community, and see no-one.

Where Roger lives, in a Victorian cartoon, Mrs Timms wears a mop cap and a look of ruddy-cheeked satisfaction, knowing she is saved, and the rest of us are damned to burn for all eternity. Obviously, she is never to be parted from the five-foot crucifix she grips between her scrubbed clean fingers.

But she is merely a cover. Mr Timms is the malign force behind the home tuition and inflicts mental torture on all the mini Timms at every waking hour of their miserable, wretched lives. Mr Timms is striding about a dusty Victorian parlour even as you read, stroking his mutton chops, plotting his sermon on Sin, Despair, and Saturday Tennis for the chastised and beaten mini Timms. The fact that they are home tutored, as everyone knows, means the Victorian mini Timms never leave the house, and never see another soul. Look carefully; you may see their wide and terrified eyes staring from the broken window pane in the attic window.

So feel sorry for Roger, living in a two dimensional cartoon world where mutton chops are in fashion, and we hope just for the men. A world where Dan Dare is real. Tin Tin, Snowy and Captain Haddock dash by on their latest adventure. Mickey Mouse may be hiding round the corner.

But there is comfort there, Roger. When there is wrongdoing down the Evangelical Hall, and some people fear for the evangelically oppressed home tutored, you can hope that there will be Diana, shining and resplendent in her Superwoman costume, come to find out, and she, bringer of the fresh air of school, can do something about it all.

But don't draw in Grit to your cartoon.

1 comment:

sharon said...

Pity the poor children in Roger land. 'Choice' seems to be the thing that the current regime cannot get their heads especially when the word is coupled with 'free'!