We were staying in San Gimignano, a pretty Tuscan village with slightly bizarre towers, when I was arrested by the local police. I had left my daughter, Alex, then aged ten I think, in a café while I went round the corner for ten minutes to collect our washing from the laundry. I had given her some maths questions to do while I was away. On my return, I found two policemen in the grand costumes they wear there. They asked me if I was my daughter’s father and then required me to bring my daughter and both our passports to the police station.
As I collected the passports from the flat where we had been staying for ten days – learning Italian, reading some Italian history, visiting Sienna and Florence, viewing and learning about Renaissance art as well as keeping up the maths and so on – I told myself to stay calm. Reason would surely prevail.
In the police station one of the officers was clearly in two minds as to whether to put me in handcuffs. I suppose it might have been the sight of poor Alex clinging tightly to my arm that persuaded him to think that, actually, he would be doing her no favour by taking me away from her and into a cell.
Hang on a minute, you may say. This has precious little to do with the government’s intention, announced yesterday, to inspect parents who educate their children at home and ensure they teach in an approved way. Yes, there is a difference in the quantity of state interference which I experienced in Italy and what is proposed here. But it is measured on the same scale. What is more, the state has form on this issue. When it started to get involved in education in the early 19th century, it merely offered financial help. Then it decided it had better inspect the schools it assisted. After that, it came to believe – incorrectly – that as many as five per cent of children were not being educated . So it pushed further ahead with state education and then wholly free state education. This free education crowded out most of the private and many of the religious schools. The state then bought up their school buildings on the cheap. At last, it was totally in control.
The same happened with universities. At first the state just wanted to ‘help’ again. No strings attached, honest. But after some years, strings were duly stitched on and our universities now have the independence of a toaster. So when proponents of state interference in home-schooling say, “we’re only here to support you” forgive me if decline to believe it. Even for a start, the government wants to send an inspector into the home of every parent who dares to teach his or her own child. This inspector will demand to know what and how the child is taught. He or she will then have the right to insist that you, the parent, step outside to a different room to in order that your child can be interviewed alone. What questions will your child be asked? It is not specified. Perhaps, how does your parent treat you? How much work do you do? Does your parent scold you? Do you ever cry? You can readily imagine how a ‘wrong’ answer could put you on a “cause of concern” list.
The government wants to insist, from the start, on its own educational theories – teaching according to its own idea of a “broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated” curriculum. In due course, no doubt, if the government believes that the earth is flat, you will be in trouble if you teach open-mindedness and willingness to consider that the earth may be round. Or to use a more current example, the government believes that global warming is happening and is created by mankind. It is in the curriculum. In due course, a home educator who teaches open-mindedness to evidence on the issue would have a mark against him or her. Many would-be home-educators will be discouraged by this domination by bureaucrats and not undertake it at all – which is against the interests of their children who would benefit from one-to-one tuition in the vast majority of cases.
The report that led to the government decision to legislate on home education was prompted most strongly by a supposed fear that home-educated children might be abused. The report, as it emerges, declares that actually there is no evidence of any such correlation. But of course, once the process of making a report gets going, there is something in-built which causes the author to find reasons to say that inspections should take place anyway. Mr Badman, in this report, is full of pseudo-liberal reasoning. I say ‘pseudo-liberal’ because it has nothing to with the spirit of freedom, which lies at the origin of the word ‘liberal’. This ‘liberal’ is in the new and opposite sense of ‘we, the elite, will make you do the right thing’. We hear a well-modulated, reasonable tone. Beneath is the harder reality: they will come to your home. You will do as they say.
When I was young, in the 1960s, it was not unusual to hear people say, “It’s a free country, innit!” People used to scoff at the Germans and the Swiss for the bossiness of their governments. Now we have less and less reason to boast of our freedom – less and less reason to be proud that in Britain, if nowhere else, the state is our servant, not our master.
"Parish aid has a tendency to remove all shame"
Report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Law, 1834
"A splendid book. It's a devastating critique of the welfare state. A page-turner, yet also extensively sourced. Demonstrates how attempts to achieve good intentions have led to horrible results -- increasing crime and violence, worsened conditions of the very poor, an extraordinary deterioration in the quality and character of British life.
Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize-winner.
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Before the welfare state
The Greycoat Hospital
The Greycoat Hospital was once a workhouse. It has since been a hospital and a school. It has a very long welfare history. It has now been taken over by the state. No related posts.
- The Greycoat Hospital
Education and State
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