Saturday, 28 February 2009

Why it’s a mistake to say ‘If we were any other minority, this wouldn’t be allowed’

I have noticed this line of argument coming up with increasing frequency on home education lists and blogs. AHEd included a version of it in their recent press release about the Home Education review.

I can certainly understand the temptation to respond in this way to the repeated government consultations, apparently fuelled by the desire to limit our freedom to home educate in the wonderful and diverse ways required by our individual children.

I am quite used to being in a minority. Indeed, looking at my life choices, you would think I preferred it (maybe I do, subconsciously). I’m a mother who is a lesbian, and a lesbian who is a mother. A middle class parent without a car. A home educator who supports vaccination. Most of these things are a result of my free choices, and I’ve made those choices because they make me happy. If other people misunderstand or disagree with me, that’s up to them. I’m extremely lucky that I live in a place and at a moment in history where I have the freedom to make some of these choices.

Still, being in a minority is sometimes hard, and it does sometimes feel as though nobody understands and everyone is out to get you. When the difference that puts you in a minority is something you passionately identify with, questions and challenges can feel like attacks on your very being.

But I think that for home educators to compare our current predicament unfavourably with the situation of unspecified but better protected “other minorities” is a mistaken and dangerous argument.

First of all, it’s not true. There is no legal protection for all minorities in this country. Some groups have legal protection because of historical injustice, but not all of these are minorities. The Sex Discrimination Act gives some protection to women, but women are not a minority. The legislation was part of a struggle to alter the historical imbalance of power between men and women. It was a question of power, not numbers. There is also no protection in place for most minorities - for example, the minority of people who voted Labour at last general election, or the minority who choose a vegan diet.

When people talk vaguely about “other minorities”, they are of course not talking about pigeon fanciers or ballroom dancers, but about groups whose legal protection against hatred and discrimination has been hard won after decades of struggle. That protection has not been achieved because lawmakers think minorities need protection per se, but because the specific history of those struggles has led to a political recognition of the need to make a stand against racism, homophobia, or prejudice against disabled people.

If we claim that we need protection, just like those other groups, we are not only belittling their specific histories, but also losing an opportunity to talk about our own particular issue. This is my second problem with the argument. When people misunderstand or criticise home educators, it is an opportunity for us to say important things about education, about privacy, and about freedom. Whether they listen or understand what we say is up to them, of course. But if our response is merely to claim special concessions on the grounds of being a minority, we deprive ourselves of the chance to explain why the freedom to home educate is important for every parent.

Keeping educational options open and free of state control is something of immense value to parents who currently use schools, as well as to those of us who are currently home educating. It’s not really about us being treated unfairly, but about everyone’s future choices being restricted.

I think what I am trying to say has been said better in this post, by a talented US blogger I read regularly.

There is an important point to be made about acceptance of difference and diversity, but claiming we are an oppressed minority is not the way to make it. Freedom of choice is not the same as freedom from hatred.


mamacrow said...

I really liked this post. well said. I'm always excited to see you've got a new post up, because you always have a different way to look at things, and get me thinking...

a said...

Thank goodness somebody said it. And in wise words too. Thank you.

Gill said...

Yes, I'd go with that argument. Plus, pleading special treatment tends to put people's backs up I think. There is already that element that thinks we're arrogant for HEing and 'thinking we're better than schoolteachers'.

I much prefer the idea of focusing on the legal status of education generally.

peri said...

Very interesting post. Thank you.

Jax said...

Yes, that was good for me too.

Elaine, Littlesheep Learning said...

I like this post too - and I agree with Gill it's the legality of ALL parents to choose the education that best suits their children that is important which is why even though my child goes to school, I am so supportive of the right to Home Educate.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this one- it sums up the fact that if we were all as understanding of each others beliefs, principles and morals as you are of others', then the world would be a much better place!