"Upsetting both sides of the argument.."
On the whole, the issue of home education was represented well I thought, reflecting the many hours of hard work spent by home educators in patiently educating their MPs and in generally raising awareness. (Here's a good example of part of that work.)
But it was a throwaway, largely unconnected remark made by Mr Balls in another part of the debate that particularly attracted my attention:
Did you get that? He said:
"I think, um.. upsetting both sides of the argument is often the best way to get to the right outcome."
And the men on either side of him (that's Iain Wright to our left there, and Vernon Coaker to the right) are highly amused. Mr Coaker guffaws loudly, while Mr Wright smirks over his folded arms, triumphant, openly and gleefully leering throughout the rest of Mr Balls' response.
(This exchange occurred at 2:29:26 in the video if you're interested in seeing it in context.)
This - his lazily boastful choice of words and their crowingly sycophantic reaction was a more telling moment than any other I've seen in the Commons for a long time. These men do not care about our children. At least, not with anything approaching benevolence. We can all bust a gut, work around the clock, tire ourselves out trying to convince them that we're good parents really, our children are happy and learning and not being isolated or abused and it will be a complete waste of time and energy, because they're not interested in that. They want to upset us. In fact, the more upset they make us, the happier they are.
It's a game to them: we're just another pawn on their chessboard. I don't even think they care whether they win or lose. It's all winning to them. A point here, a concession there. So what? They still think they are the crème de la crème and we are the dregs. I don't think they rate the happiness and genuine wellbeing of children as having any importance at all. Obedience, maybe. The ability to fight rough, be competitive, get to the top, take it on the chin - these things will all be prized by them, but contentment? Security? A healthy, flourishing, properly-facilitated curiosity? No, I don't think so. I think a child living in that kind of a protected environment will be seen as soft and overprotected at best, and potentially dangerous at worst. I mean, what if it spread? What would the world come to if the plebs got too big for their boots and resisted the schooling process en masse? What a nightmare, for the Balls and the Coakers and the Wrights of this world. (Not to mention the Goves and the Laws, a man who is anything but liberal and democratic according to his performance of yesterday.)
So I'm going to remember that moment, when it comes to choosing my battles in 2010. With five children (even though some have grown up, they're all still here and I still want to chat with them etc.) there are many demands on my time and energy and I'm not going to throw any of it away on Mr Balls.
They can get on with their light touches, soft touches and whatever else they want to get on with. They can count us, register us, check and measure us. We may comply, or we may not, depending on what we feel like and how we weigh the odds. But they can't take the essence of us: the family unity and the unassailable truth that we've got and they haven't. They wouldn't know it if it stared them in the face and even if they do recognise it, they don't have the power to damage it.
I hope the likes of:
Mark Field ("Does he not see that the Badman report effectively takes a one-size-fits-all approach, which is directly opposed to the fact that there is a whole variety of different reasons why home educators keep their children at home and educate them there?");
Kate Hoey ("If such registration happens, should it not be about the education of the child? Is that not where the real problem lies? People fear local authority bureaucrats, many of whom they would not want to look after their children, coming into their homes and telling them what to do about something they know nothing about," and "In reality, what starts out as light-touch, particularly when a local authority does not necessarily operate in the best possible way, can easily turn into something more than that-something that becomes another burden and is about controlling and changing what home educating parents do. I very much resent that, and I wish that it did not happen.");
Michael Gove ("I am deeply concerned about the additional bureaucratic burden that will now potentially be placed on thousands of our fellow citizens whose only crime is to want to devote themselves as fully as possible to their children's education.");
Graham Stuart ("I wonder whether my hon. Friend is aware that New Zealand introduced a similar licensing and monitoring system a number of years ago but last year gave it up on the grounds that it was a waste of time and money. Have the Government learned nothing from the foreign experience of this system?" and "I wonder whether my hon. Friend finds it bizarre, as I do, that this Bill, unlike any piece of legislation to deal with children going back to 1989, fails to make the interests of the child paramount in any consideration. Instead, the Bill considers any administrative failures on the part of parents as being an open and shut case for the revocation of home education, regardless of the interests of the child, and that is simply wrong." and much, much more);
Andrew Turner ("Though some may disagree, I argue that home educators understand the responsibility placed on them. They understand that the responsibility for a child's schooling falls on nobody but the parents. Unfortunately, in yet another example of a Government obsessed with conformity, the independence that home educators currently enjoy is to be placed under threat. The plans in clause 26 to ensure that home educators conform with the requirements of the national syllabus will stamp out the individuality that many home educated children cherish. Is not the whole point of home schooling the provision of an alternative channel for education?");
- and others who spoke so well for us really are conviction politicians and if so, that they really do manage to wield some parliamentary power in the coming months and years. Sadly, on being faced with a Mr Balls at the dispatch box, the temptation is to tar them all with the same brush, but I try to keep an open mind.
Meanwhile, I'm planning to continue focusing on maintaining my strong and happy family, and feeling privileged to have the time to spend happily so doing.