Thursday, November 09, 2006

The BCSE, Educational Incompetence, and the Nazis! (Part 2)

This is part 2 of our look at the BCSE's internal discussions of home-education. Part one is here. If this is your first time here, then you probably want to skip over these articles and see some of the more basic material about the BCSE.

Setting the Context

Let's remember the slogan at the bottom of the BCSE's web site:

BCSE believes in the tools for everyone to think for themselves - Science, Education and Reason - and the outcome – Democracy, Pluralism, Freedom and Righteousness.
What we've seen so far is that this is more a slogan that a reality. In fact, the BCSE had a serious internal discussion about what they could do to get the state to prevent parents passing on criticisms of Darwinism to their own children. But I'll assume that you've read all of that.

Where we left off last time, we had seen that Michael Brass had given his fellow BCSE members a completely wrong account of how UK laws deal with home-schooling. Nobody else in this group of purported educational authorities jumped in to point this out. Instead, they begin to build upon it.

What Happened Next

From this point on, the BCSE members assumed that they had a sound understanding, and began to move forward. Roger Stanyard then proposed the four fundamental areas that should be the focus for the BCSE. Here are numbers 3 and 4[8]:
3. The regulation of schools and home schooling.

4. And the related issue of inspection and monitoring of education.
There are no significant turns in discussion after that - it is mostly the BCSE's core chiming in to voice their agreement. Parents talking to their own children is dangerous - and must be monitored! There must be regulations. Creationism and intelligent design are ideas that need to be censored - whether in schools, around the breakfast table, or wherever.

So there it is. The BCSE don't make their charter public on their website - but one of their four main priorities is to have more regulation of what parents teach their own children. That's not very liberal is it? It appears that the BCSE's commitment to "plurality" doesn't extend as far as disagreements about Darwinism. They're all for tolerance - but only of people like themselves!

The State And Parents

Well, let's move on. In another discussion a couple of months later, the topic of parents and the state arises again. And again we find Michael Brass contributing - to again express some extreme statist views. Brass appears to have no children of his own, but those of us who do can only feel a chill coming down our spines when we read words like these[9]:
Schools are not an extension of a family but a public resource and facility. This is actually where a lot of problems come in because some parents believe they know better than educators on how their children should be educated.
Yes, you did read that correctly. Schools aren't there to help parents with their responsibility to raise and train their own children. Schools are there because parents are incompetent, and the state knows better than they do. Parents have this rather naive and ignorant belief that they know their own children best - but thankfully the good old state is there with its schools to raise those children as they ought to be raised.

Now, I'd like to think that Michael is only speaking about his own family experience. But frankly I don't think he is. He really means it. In Michael's mind, "pluralism" and "freedom" are only good up until parents start discussing ideas from science or religion that he doesn't approve of. At that point, he'd like the state's inspectors to be knocking round, to tell the parents to stop it.

The Sobering Ice Bucket Of Reality...

Michael doesn't seem to show any awareness of the complete absurdity and hopeless mess of contradictions in his position. Here are a few obvious points:
  • Does the state really always know better than its individual parents? So, the state. Would that include... the Taleban in Afghanistan? Nazi Germany? Communist China? Stalin's Russia? Would Michael be happy to have any of his children raised by the state in today's Iran, North Korea, or Afghanistan - because they know better than he does as a parent? Does he believe what he's saying?

  • Different states, very obviously, have enforced mutually contradictory ideas. Medieval Spain enforced Roman Catholicism and so everybody's child was raised a Catholic; Communist Albania enforced atheism and so everybody's child was raised an atheist. Did the state know better than parents in both cases? If not, just when does it actually know best?

  • In actual fact, of course, our present state, in its settlement (national church, bishops in the Lords, etc.), asserts the superiority of Christianity. But as we've seen, the BCSE's core activists very definitely do not believe that the state knows better than them about this...

  • If the state is always automatically right... then why is the BCSE bothering to lobby it anyway? If the state does know better than parents about raising children... then surely it knows better than an ad-hoc group of unqualified Internet activists?

  • What if the state says that the parents know best? Catch 22! And as a matter of fact, the present law in the UK quite rightly places the responsibility for education very firmly upon parents and gives them great individual freedom for it. So if Michael thinks the state knows best, then he's going to have to accept that the state today gives very wide freedom for home education. In other words, the logical conclusion of Michael's belief that the state knows best - is that Michael is wrong.

  • If Michael thinks that the state knows best, then logically the BCSE ought to stop campaigning. Because the fact is, that the present law is that schools can teach whatever they like. There is a National Curriculum which forms a minimum common core for state schools; but once that common core is taught, schools can supplement it with whatever they like. And that includes creationism, intelligent design, and anything else that the governors and teachers deem best. However this cuts away the basis for the BCSE's whole lobbying campaign - the aim of which is to prohibit any teaching of alternatives to Darwinism. If Michael really believes that the state knows better than himself as a private individual, then he ought to stop campaigning against it!

  • And finally, the ultimate conundrum for Michael. What if the state actually required the discussion of creationism. Will Michael still hold to his belief that the state knows best?
Well, we think we know what Michael really means.

What he means is - "The state knows best - as long as it prohibits criticisms of Darwinism! Otherwise, the state is completely foolish and stupid!" If the state does allow criticims of Darwinism, then it is completely wrong and needs the BCSE's educational expertise to re-inform it. After all, that's the official reason why the BCSE exists.

Meanwhile, back in the real world...

I am glad that the BCSE's activists' ideas have very little correspondence with the actual rules governing home education. Whilst the BCSE is labouring under the impression that what is said at home is subject to inspections to enforce a curriculum and prevent the discussion of illegal ideas, nothing could be further from the truth. The National Curriculum applies to state schools only - not even to private ones, let alone home ones. Parents are legally free to educate their children any way they please, as long as it equips the children to live as competent citizens in our society. And that doesn't require an uncritical indoctrination in Darwinism. Phew!

Winding Up

The BCSE look worryingly ignorant in the areas meant to be their core specialities, don't you think? How come I know more about this stuff than they do? After all, I'm just a private individual, tapping away at my keyboard at home. I'm not a public educator. I'm not writing to MPs in the guise of a "Centre for Science Education". I'm not representing myself to the public as an expert.

Let's now wind this thing up and ask some questions:
  • What does the fact that the BCSE didn't know any of that tell you about their educational expertise? What does it tell you about their competence to lobby parliament? Are they credible?

  • Do the BCSE's views on the policing of what is said by parents to children in their own homes strike you as just a little, well, oppressive? Does it endear them to you as the kind of people you'd like to influence your children's education?

  • Does it seem as if the BCSE have even begun to think through the implications of their view for democracy and freedom? Do you think that their protestations about loving these values are really heart-felt and intelligent - or just empty sloganeering? Are their actual ideas in fact some of the most oppressive and anti-freedom ideas you've heard for a long time?
It seems to me that the BCSE have only just begun to think through some of the very basics about education. They're still at the stage of making some real schoolboy howlers.

Or in other words - you just can't take them seriously.

Epilogue: Some Moral Support For The BCSE

(You'll have to have read the first paragraph of part one to get this...)

Well, the BCSE aren't totally alone. There have been others in history who have felt that home-schooling was dangerous. Others down the years have been concerned about its potential to breed citizens who might critically question the official dogma - whether that be Darwinism or something else.

There is one country in Europe which still has on its statute books a law banning home-schooling. Only one though. It's had that law since 1938. The country's leader passed it himself.

You do know who that was, don't you?

David Anderson
bcse-blog at dw-perspective dot org dot uk : Non-anonymous factual corrections welcomed.

The BCSE have taken the BlackShadow Yahoo group off-line so that it can no longer be publically viewed - but anyone wishing to determine the accuracy of my quotations can ask me for a copy.

[8] BlackShadow Yahoo group message 2066

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