Friday, March 06, 2009

The British Humanist Association's Response

To the BHA,

As a professed home educating humanist, I am saddened to read that the BHA seem to know very little of what actually goes on in the HE community and in schools.

Whilst it is the case that a small number of HEors do teach creationism to their children, it is also actually the case that quite a lot of us choose to home educate at least in part because of the mixed value system that is perpetuated in schools. By mixed value system, I mean a fudging of the fundamental principles of a world view and a huge confusion over how to manage ethics and epistemology in schools, all of which should be quite enough to make most right-minded humanists weep.

I myself was raised at school in an environment of high-church religiosity one minute, and then off you go, pass your physics test the next, and don't ask questions about how it all fits together. It bugged, unnerved and confused me for my entire youth and it took a good further fifteen years and a grounding in critical rationalism as delivered by the home educating on-line community to rid myself of this confusion.

However, as far as schools go, nothing, sadly, has changed in the meantime. When Richard Dawkins recently asked some science teachers if they would explicitly explain to their charges that the scientific and religious world views are incompatible and that pupils would be better off making a choice, the science teachers looked at the floor, shuffled their feet, looked out the window and eventually admitted they wouldn't say this explicitly, no.

And anyway, really, what does it matter that a few families teach some unusual ideas? Far better that a genuine pluralism exist than everyone is reduced to the poverty of explanation that are the standards of suitability as determined by the state. Do we really want to reduce the entire population to the confusing relativism that is current staple diet of education in state schools, and do we really want to expose ourselves to the risk of state indoctrination? The BHA should be aware that totalitarian regimes ban home education and yet if all home educators are monitored for suitability of education as determined by the state, we essentially become a part of the system, the state determines the nature and limits of suitability and we are one step further down the path towards 1984.

Just in case this point is missed: schools don't help the humanist cause. They don't teach rationalism and free thought. A good number of home educators actually strive to do this very precisely.

On another point of ethics and law, in English law education must be suitable for the child. Given that children are unique individuals who all learn in markedly different ways, it seems highly peculiar that anyone should endorse a system where all children are delivered of a bog-standard curriculum that is not tailored to their different needs. Home educators on the other hand are far more likely to be able to tailor the education that they provide to their children than schools ever will be and indeed they almost always find that they are so much more answerable to their children, (their children don't play ball when they don't want to), that HEing parents simply HAVE to provide a suitable education that engages the child. School children have far less freedom to express dissatisfaction with the education they are provided. They can't just walk out the classroom as my daughter did this Tuesday when she knew that she was free to walk out of her freely chosen after-school class when the teacher and a boy misbehaved.

I very much hope that you will reconsider your submission to the Home Education Review and write to the reviewers accordingly.

Yours sincerely,

UPDATE: Confusingly, Mr Copson doesn't seem to have been overly impressed with school education only last summer and was cross with exam boards only last autumn.

A home educator writes:

"On the one hand, he says schools are inclusive and pluralist and on the other hand he says they aren't nearly humanist enough....but the solution is to send children to school because...?

Well I have to say it just seems an article of faith for Mr Copson that it is better to send children to school."


Ruth said...

I am confused by what this review has to do with them tbh.

Anonymous said...

The BHA has been against free thought and rational thought for a long time. I am not at all surprised by their response.
I watched a spokesperson from the BHA argue with another blogger once and was spooked by their control freak agenda.
You tell 'em girl.

Anonymous said...


Note how this is the type of replies they will take seriously.

Gill said...

L has just left the following comment on my post of today:

'The Humanism Association piece starts with the phrase: "The BHA has responded to a Government consultation on the future of home education in Britain which was launched ahead of plans for new regulation."

What plans for new regulation? Do they know something we don't, or have I just missed something that everyone else knows??'

Gill said...

That's a great response BTW, Carlotta.

Carlotta said...

I will chase up that point, Gill. Would be interesting to know.

Firebird said...

And they are even stakeholders HOW exactly?

Avoiding religious brainwashing was actually one of the reasons I decided to HE in the first place! The local primary, despite being listed as non-religious, is run by a Christian activist and used to boast about its 'close links' with the local church. The claims have vanished from their web site but nothing at the school has changed.

The BHA either has an agenda that the name doesn't automatically suggest or they are both ignorant and arrogant.

Tom said...

Wow that's a superb letter

Anonymous said...

Thanks for highlighting this Carlotta. I have emailed Mr Copson regarding this. Esp as most of the families I know who HE, are not religious....

It seems to be that because in America there is a lot of HE families that are Christians, people assume that is the case here. They couldn't be more wrong.

Firebird said...

They may just be so desperate to 'get' the very few religious families that they don't CARE what damage they do to the rest of us. Being non-religious doesn't seem to preclude an irrational obsession with the subject.

Lanna Rosgen said...

I like your post, particularly where you draw a distinction between pluralism and relativism.

Thank you for the comment in my blog. I enjoy yours, and look forward to having the time to work my way through your links list :)

Anonymous said...

Carlotta, how about conducting a poll to ask what percentage of HE families are humanist, atheist, agnostic or otherwise non-religious? And then to ask, of those that are, whether the BHA's response in any way represents their views?