Sunday, November 15, 2009

On pragmatism

"Maintaining the status quo is out of the question," said Graham Badman to a home educator back in March.

He wasn't necessarily being truthful. He was staking a claim: marking out the territory that he had been instructed to conquer. His words were designed to have a certain effect in the minds of home educators: Get used to the idea of change, because it's coming - whether you like it or not, to make them feel powerless, as if complete resistance is futile.

The Borg

If it works, it's half the battle won, isn't it? People will believe that change is inevitable and that they'd better muster their forces to try to influence the direction of change then, instead of fighting against it. Pragmatism becomes the order of the day.

It seems to have worked.

But in actual fact this is an old government, breathing its last, desperate, dying breaths. Its protagonists know that its days are numbered: some have already defected to the so-called 'other side'.

I want to try and set out, here, a brief overview of some of this government's actions regarding children and family life in an attempt to work out the direction of travel:

First we had the National Curriculum (although this was begun by the Conservatives - take note!) then the Literacy and Numeracy hours, so unpopular with at least one of my children and their teachers. The 2004 Children Act introduced the dreaded five Every Child Matters outcomes: at first supposedly as a guide for local authorities [opens pdf], but increasingly (in true frog-boiling style) seen as requirements to be imposed on all children regardless of what their own aims and objectives might be. Lord Adonis then famously identified home educators as the 'anomaly' - because so much of the ECM agenda involved a checking and monitoring regime centred around the schools and other professional childcare environments. The legal position on truancy was strengthened and then duly ratcheted up to its current, tight position over time.

And so the flexibility in education was gradually eradicated and the traditional escape routes from the new regime were systematically closed.

But news of a secret grew. A remnant of freedom; a chink of bright light beyond the closing pincers: the legal right of parents to deregister their children from school - or to never register them in the first place - and to teach them at home, themselves. In this last bastion of family life, children could still learn in freedom, largely untouchable by the claws of the State.

Their numbers swelled, enough to form a spanner in the works. Children learning in freedom?! It wouldn't do: they were at risk of finding out all kinds of dangerous things. For years now, this has been seen as a problem to be dealt with: an anomaly to be ironed out; the last loop-hole, in the end, to be closed.

But government must be seen to be open. Democracy must give the appearance of being in process. Softly softly, catchee monkey. In 2003, the process began. With the single-minded doggedness of an EU referendum, the consultations came again and again. But still the right answer was not found and could not be spun.

Next came the carefully crafted weapons of war and the review with its predicable outcome [opens pdf], ignoring the loudening clamour of rebellion. Then the Select Committee inquiry, which seemed to yield some small signs of hope, on the part of the exhausted quarry. Could it be that the enemy was divided? That some friends in high places might at last be persuaded to try to hold back the inevitable surging tide from us?

This is the time when a choice must be made. Do we believe the boldly staked claim on our territory? That maintaining the status quo is out of the question? Is our plight so absolutely desperate as some would have us think? Is it sensible, at this stage, in our current embattled, beleaguered state, for us to panic and to throw our lot indiscriminately with anyone who sounds vaguely like they might be on our side?

Surely, time is of the essence and an element of carpe diem is in order? If some change is indeed upon us then we need, at least, to take our places at the great table - the better to catch any crumbs that might fall? And now we're being flanked by the big guns. The situation looks hopeless. It seems like we have nothing to lose by being pragmatic.

But not everyone has followed the herd down this alluring but closing path of panic. There are some who still say NO. People who wait, draw breath, and take a long view. People who refuse to believe that maintaining the status quo is out of the question, just because Graham Badman said so.

I think I'll stand with them.


Blogger Firebird said...

If this is a call to not sign the parlimentary petition then I call strawman on the argument. I wrote a submission to the Select Committee and will co-ordinate the petition for my constituency NOT because I think either will magically save us but because not doing so is less productive. We had the same issue with the licensing consultation. Yes, we know they'll ignore what we say but 5000+ submissions means they can't claim that we didn't care.

I do not believe that government interest in my child is legitimate and I do not accept that they will take more power over me, I will in fact tell them just where they can stick it!

Although Badman's intentions were as you say he accidentally spoke the truth when he said that the status quo was out of the question. He has woken a slumbering beast. HE parents who were quietly going about their business, not rocking the boat, have been roused into angry political protest.

Change isn't inevitable, it's already happened. HE is now in the public eye, one national newspaper has even given it its own section on their web site. MPs who had never heard of the idea have been lobbied and informed. The 'secret' isn't secret any more.

If the Badman report is scrapped things will still have changed forever because the kind of day-to-day pettiness that the majority had put up with from their LAs will simply not be tolerated any more.

1:04 pm, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

OK, I take your point about change Ruth, especially your last paragraph. But the lack of openness in the development of this petition worries me. Rather than straw man, it could be a trojan horse. I'm not saying that it is, but it could be. I struggle to trust something that's developed in private for us all, then presented as a fait accomplis with a ticking time limit attached, especially bearing in mind the EO/Lucas plans for a home education committee.

1:54 pm, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Tech said...

Yep, it's the utter rushed panic that is being created that sets many alarm bells ringing for me, that and the total lack of any transparency.

2:16 pm, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Mieke said...

Warning, long comment (sorry, Gill;):

For me it's been a real struggle what to do with that Petition. I desperately want to bridge the gap and get MP's - and the rest of the world - informed about home education, and to create a parliamentary platform. And of course I do not want the Badman recommendations implemented in any way or form.
So when at first we were asked to help get a parliamentary petition signed to enable debate about Badman in the Commons, I signed up to represent my constituency. But then I read the whole Petition.
See, I like to agree with not only the intention, but also every single word of a document I sign. I have this (silly?) idea that my signature represents me, in all my autonomous glory ;).
I tend to believe that Graham Stuart is against Badman (and Balls, and Labour) and would like to deal them a huge blow by scoring on this EHE issue. I even believe that he is sympathetic towards home ed in general.
But up to now - and to my limited knowledge - not one Tory has openly said they were against compulsive registration of any kind for home educators. They have not committed to, for instance, promising home educators would be left alone to educate their children at home if they come into office. I have no reason to believe they really do understand what our issues are with signing our freedom over to the state, in whatever form.

The wording of the petition leaves too much open to interpretation. It has been explained that this has to do with 'parliamentary correct language', which is prescribed and must be used at all times. Fair enough, but if the only way I, as a citizen of this presumably democratic country, can be heard in parliament is by saying it in a roundabout and indirect way, then I decline the offer to speak. I want to be able to at least know and agree with what I am saying.

And then there's the matter of how this PP was flooded on us. I still haven't seen any proof of Badman really being debated on 3 December. If *they* know or suspect it, they must base that on something. As they are - after all - working for us, why don't we know? Why has there been no feedback to home educators - stakeholders *spit*? And why should I put my trust in people who are afraid to ask my opinion because they think I might oppose their ideas, argue against them?

Too many why's, too little information, too little true democracy.
If I would be signing a contract for, say, a mortgage or a job, on that basis, everybody would declare me silly and irresponsible, at the very least. So why is it different now that it's about basic freedom for myself and my family? Whatever anybody else tries to imply, that *is* still my responsibility. And I take it very, very seriously.

2:53 pm, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Tech said...

Ah Mieke :) Fabulous reasoning :D

3:44 pm, November 15, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, yes ... it's the devil in false clothing again then maybe? It's like enticing you into Sunday School with the promise of chocolate ... but hurry along .. coz it'll all get eaten up before you get here.

Yep, I'm suspicious. But the temptation is there.

I'm with Tech regarding waiting to see how Graham Stuart answers the concerns raised ... and gets clarification on which groups are really represented in the secret group!

***** blaspheming of some sort ***** How can people talk as if they represent AHED for example when anyone can sign on the list, lurk, say nothing, do nothing and then say they are part of AHEd as if they represent the membership!
Problem is folks are too used to the sort of representation EO does with it's oligarchic executive and think that anyone who says they are a member of AHEd must be part of some oligarchic leadership also. We are all, generally, too used to undemocratic organizations.

Thank you Gill, for this post.
Thanks Meiki for posting about very similar qualms to the ones I'm having and the points you arrived at. It was useful because I didn't want to go with something I felt uneasy about and yet pressured to do.

Thanks Tech for cautioning us all that we may be suffering from Head Disconnection in Adversity Syndrome!

5:54 pm, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Maire said...

Thank you Gill and Mieke, this is my first personal experience of how duplicitous EO and it's trustees can be. To my mind they stole this opportunity and so prevented it being the useful thing it could have been.

The fact that we might dissagree is one of the reasons for this being done behind closed doors for goodness sake.

As one of those who have devoted a good part of the last year to working to defeat Badman I would like to see EO disolved, they are a loose cannon and any good they do is far outweighed by the harm.

6:23 pm, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Elaine said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:44 pm, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Raquel said...

Firebird, I don't think not doing something which you believe is flawed is less productive. Raising awareness and getting MP's to block this legislation can happen in other ways. All is not lost for those who don't take this course of action. There are many ways of being productive.

7:15 pm, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Dani said...

I tend, as always, to favour cock-up over conspiracy.

I have been vocal about my dissatisfaction with the process that led to the petition, and I am not in the business of defending that.

But on the question of whether to sign or not, I am with Firebird. The petition doesn't advocate compromise. It says only that proposed changes should be withdrawn and existing guidelines should be implemented. In other words, the status quo.

Surely that's what we want.

However it came about, the petition does give us an opportunity to create a stir, and to get hundreds of MPs to act on our behalf by presenting it in Parliament all at the same time. It's like getting the MPs to take direct action for us.

Of course Raquel is right that everyone should do what their conscience demands. But I don't believe this petition is a trojan horse. I prefer to take things at face value and I know that collective action is stronger than atomised resistance (though I accept that we need both, in the situation we face).

I'm coordinating the petition here, and I hope it has as much impact as possible.

I have thought from the start that the divided state of HE meant we were going into this fight with one hand tied behind our backs.

We've survived this far because of our diversity and resourcefulness, and the fact that we do all, by and large, actually agree on the important things.

If the petition said something I didn't agree with, I wouldn't sign it. But boycotting a useful tool because you think it *might* represent a conspiracy just seems like cutting your nose off to spite your face to me.

8:37 pm, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Raquel says: "All is not lost for those who don't take this course of action. There are many ways of being productive."

What other ways are there to be productive now to defeat the Badman review? What can we actually do that will be more effective than what has previously been done, and what is proposed?

This is a genuine query-and not meant to spark controversy--I really think we need some new ideas--and I haven't got a clue--and I haven't heard any suggested anywhere else. I'm really not in the mood to wait and see if Labour lose by a landslide like the Tories did in '97.

(I'm in agreement with Dani & Ruth and after careful consideration, I will coordinate for my area.)

9:08 pm, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Tech said...

I resent the *conspiracy* dig, Dani.

There are other possibilities and if we had been given the opportunity to have an open discussion, we might well have come to find wording and a way forward that we could all support.

This is not the last chance, and I think that the way people are on their knees begging and pleading about having their life saved by this petition is absolutely pathetic, and nothing short of emotional blackmail. I will not be party to it, in it's current form.

I am waiting to hear back from Graham Stuart - he has promised a considered response to my facebook note - on Monday or Tuesday of this week. A solution that we could all agree on would, I'm sure, be better for us all, and I'm hoping one can be found.

9:52 pm, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Tech said...

Oh and erm, you might all like to read Chloe Watson's comment about all this here:

10:28 pm, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Mieke said...

"But boycotting a useful tool because you think it *might* represent a conspiracy just seems like cutting your nose off to spite your face to me."

Dani, I think that really doesn't do justice to the reason why at least I personally chose not to sign the petition.
When I eventually changed my mind and chose not to sign, it was not a rash or emotive decision. I chose not to sign because - based on what I read in the petition and the accompanying blurb - I believe the petition does not properly represent my views.
And because I have had no possibility to ask anybody why it was worded the way it was, what the intention behind certain phrases was, and what the possible consequences might be, I was left with the choice to either sign, keep my fingers crossed and hope that it would be alright in the end, or not to sign because I am left with too many questions and do not feel I can oversee the possible consequences of.

It is often said that nobody within the Home Ed community should or can speak on behalf of others. I found it immensely difficult to make up my mind about whether or not to sign. As a consequence of that choice I am in a position where the choice of others to sign the petition will, whatever the outcome, have an effect on me. Where *is* the fairness in that? But still, I will not sign, because at the end of the day it is my own conscience I have to live with.

I sincerely hope that if a lot of people decide to sign (and thereby in a way speak on my behalf, because there is no other way than not signing for me to make clear that I have a different view) the petition results in the throwing out of the Badman recs, no more consultations are going to happen and we all live and home educate happily ever after.
But just in case it doesn't have that effect I at least would not want to have that on my conscience. So therefore I made the choice I felt was most in line with my first and foremost responsibility, to myself and my own family.

You say:

"It [the petition] says only that proposed changes should be withdrawn and existing guidelines should be implemented. In other words, the status quo."

That is just not true. It says a lot more. I will not pick it apart here, but only quote a few phrases that have left me with questions: "closer monitoring" "extremely rushed" "tighter registration" "in the absence of a thorough independent inquiry into the condition and future of elective home education in England".

I genuinely think it's a tough choice whether to sign or not, and it's a slap in the face of democracy that we've been put in such a situation. Therefore, not signing is most definitely as active a choice as signing.

10:35 pm, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Allie said...

Tech, sorry but why do you assume Dani is having a dig at you? She wasn't. Participating (in any way) in the home ed online world at the moment is like playing on the motorway. I've no more energy for the constant collisions. I think I've run out of hope.

10:36 pm, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Tech said...

Allie, I said I resent the dig because it's the umpteenth time in the past 24 or so hours i've heard it. I've heard it every time I've said anything about EO's behaviour over the past several years. I resent it on behalf of all the other people who, like me, do not agree that this petition is a good thing. It belittles our perfectly valid and legitimate reasoning. This is not a decision that has been taken lightly by any of us, and to suggest we are cutting off our noses to spite our faces because of some potential for conspiracy is really so far wide of the mark as to be utterly absurd.

I'm not saying that Dani is having a direct go at me personally, but I think I am perfectly entitled to say that I resent it none the less.

10:54 pm, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Firebird said...

People have given it careful though and decided one way or another and would like their choice to be respected. Meanwhile the 'debates' rage on and terms like 'cutting your nose of to spite your own face' and 'naive' and 'traitor' get used and we all end up feeling offended. When you've been on the receiving end it's hard to resist snapping back and so it escalates.

We ALL need to take a major chill pill and let people decide for themselves and do what they feel is right. No warring factions, no recriminations, no un-following blogs in a fit of pique. The issues with how this was done and the whole EO situation are there and serious but splitting the entire HE community on 'did you sign the petition or not' lines is wandering into Life of Brian PFJ vs JPF territory, which would be funny if it didn't sand to cause so much damage.

Drawing up alternative petitions is still possible. Mass lobbies are still possible. This mass petition is ONE thing, agree or disagree, JUST one thing. It won't save or damn us, parliamentary petitions never have that much influence. We need to still be talking to each other if we're going to have the numbers and the energy to do the next thing that someone comes up with.

11:35 pm, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Dani said...

I wasn't trying to have a dig at anyone. I was just stating my opinion about the petition and its wording. I'm sorry you were offended, Tech, but I've read over my comment and I think it's hard to see it as having a dig at anyone.

I think part of the problem we have is that political and tactical disagreements are taken very personally by everyone (I am guilty of that too - I think my post on the picnics list the other night was unhelpfully emotional, for example - and I understand exactly how that happens. We are all passionate about this issue, as it has the potential to affect our lives very profoundly and entirely.) But that is how diversity becomes division, and that is how we end up being unable to offer any effective resistance to what is hanging over us.

We need to be able to disagree respectfully with each other and to listen to each other's opinions without feeling that we are being attacked. That is why setting up secret organisations and keeping everyone else in the dark is such a mistake.

I don't know if you are on the BRAG list, but I have said very clearly on there that I think the way this petition has been drawn up was wrong and has been very damaging. I absolutely agree with you on that, and I am quite angry about it.

But I am trying to separate my feelings about that from the question of how best to influence things in Parliament, where our differences and disputes with each other are completely insignificant and incomprehensible.

I have no illusions that this petition will save us all. I don't believe anybody thinks that. I do think it could be a valuable media opportunity, as Firebird said on Carlotta's blog.

I think, especially given its provenance, that the wording of the petition could have been a *lot* worse.

As I said, of course if people don't agree with it they should have nothing to do with it. All I was trying to do was to outline my reasoning for taking part, despite my frustration at the behaviour of those who have put it together.

11:42 pm, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Tech said...

I agree Firebird, but you know there are people who are widely respected within our *community* who are saying very emotive things such as *it's our last chance to save home ed* and that's just crap.

I am not going to think less of anyone for signing this petition, it is a very difficult, and very personal decision.

I do not have any respect for the people who thought it was ok to decide these things on our behalf in a select little invite only club. This is what has painfully divided people, in my personal experience.

11:43 pm, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Tech said...

Dani I appreciate that you weren't having a go at me directly - I said as much to Allie, and I absolutely agree with you that we are all so fired up and defensive because this is our lives that are being played about with here. I guess if you haven't had the *conspiracy theorist* label thrown at you every time you voice an opinion that is a little off centre or whatever, then you won't see why anyone would take it as a dig, but like I said, I've heard it that many times that it has become one of my buttons.

I think what is clear here is that we are all largely in agreement, which is something of a coup, no?

11:51 pm, November 15, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that people are in a heightened reality state at the moment. I also think that we must be wary of anything promoted by the government simply because it is the government. Politicians might be allies then, again, they might be enemies.

We all have to do what we think best. But the heedless panic to do something/anything can cost home education dearly.

Personally, I now feel that Parliament is a dead horse. I rest my trust in the British people. In the genes of all those who rose up against tyranny in times past.

Our diversity is our strength. We are thinkers; we are not a herd of silly sheeple. We learn and consider. We argue and fight. All of this goes to the core of us. It is a strength.

We will win simply because we cannot lose. We will win because we have more to lose. It is not about what we believe but it is what we live. It is our children's future and I refuse to let my children be cynically manipulated by shadowy people whose only interest in them is as economic slaves.

We are victorious.


9:20 am, November 16, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't decided what to do about this yet.
But what I would like to say is that forging new ways of doing things is always painful and yet that is what is happening. new ways of interacting and coming together are really coming into their own such as the badman review action group, the right to reply document, ahed and the wiki, the picnics, the mass lobby, the blogs and twitter.
Yes they have been around before but they have really come to the fore and show how collaboration on a wide scale can happen. Its not perfect but it is showing a new way that threatens some of the older structures.
People who cling to the older structures may well become more secretive but it doesnt mean they will be succesful.
We have all been upset that the APPG group seem to be only liaising with this secretive working group but it doesn't mean that has to stay that way. Tech has facebook communication with Graham stuart. WE have ways in to see if there is a better way forward. There may not be. The APPG may not liaise more widely etc. But now this has hit the lists we can all now see it unfolding and work out our own stances and ways forward.
Yes their are people trying to cling on to old structures and hierarchy but they are constantly being found out and more and more frequently bypassed.
It is painful and I am not at all confident about the outcomes for home education but these other moves forward in ways of communicating and coming together sometimes take nerves of steel but are really inspiring.

9:58 am, November 16, 2009  
Blogger Tech said...

Graham Stuart has posted a response on facebook and on the forums:

4:53 pm, November 16, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Thanks Tech. I like your comment on his Facebook note and I hope it yields a proper answer.

5:05 pm, November 16, 2009  
Blogger Chloe said...

Arriving at this discussion a bit late, I'd like to contribute one thing - Graham Stuart did candidly tell me (not during a recorded meeting, but in the presence of other HEYC members) that he thought registration was a complete waste of time.

Just to let you know, Mieke.

As for my personal stance on the petition...I will sign it, because it is against the proposals, however badly (deliberately or otherwise) it is composed. However, I won't be coordinating, as someone else has already taken that on for my area.

My view is that taking the time to sign might help, and takes very little effort. It won't use up all the energy I put towards fighting these recommendations, or change my determination to say NO, and I don't see how it can do harm in and of itself.

I think people are overestimating the effect their one, solitary signature will have, and hence getting angry. If you think coordinating will reduce your ability to fight the proposals, don't coordinate. If you think signing will do more harm than good, don't sign. But lets not get bitchy about it.


12:24 pm, November 17, 2009  
Blogger Mieke said...

"Graham Stuart did candidly tell me (not during a recorded meeting, but in the presence of other HEYC members) that he thought registration was a complete waste of time."

Thank you for sharing that, Chloe. It's not the first time that this has been said by a Tory politician. Now all we need is for one of them to say it on the record, officially, and declare it party line.
Until then I remain sceptical.

1:27 pm, November 17, 2009  

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