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« Lynne Featherstone responds | Main | Half-term »

An open letter to Lynne Featherstone MP

Dear Ms Featherstone

Your blog post today is about your being lobbied by home educators.  You observe their fear that their way of life is being destroyed, that they will be subject to inspection and that a state-mandated curriculum will be imposed upon them. It is, you say, a conundrum to choose between the parent's freedom to educate their children as they see fit and the demands of the state to "ensure safety".

It is not a conundrum at all.

You see, this kind of issue is easy for a liberal. This is first principles stuff: the state needs to prove reasonable grounds before it can enter someone's home; it has to get a warrant first; you are innocent until proven guilty. That kind of thing.

These are simple concepts that have been the bedrock of British freedoms for centuries. These are fundamentals. I'm therefore struggling with the idea of a Liberal Democrat MP - a Liberal Democrat MP - in a quandry over whether warrantless searches should be permitted or not. Imagine that - an MP who declares themselves a liberal can't work out whether a fundamental civil liberty, fought and died for over the centuries, is a good thing or not!

Here's a clue - on release from prison, criminals may not have their homes searched without a warrant. Important that - you've served your time, now you go back to where you started from: innocent until proven guilty. 

Yet you seem unsure if people who have been found guilty of nothing should be subject to search by government officers. Why, oh why, do you feel that innocent home educators are so much more worthy of state inspection than ex-cons? What prompts you to even consider treating them this way? Have the Liberal Democrats forgotten everything that mankind has ever learned about liberalism?

Consider the impact of what you are saying. Why should families of preschoolers not be subject to inspection but home educators should? Where is the difference? There is none. Tell us that you would have supported the idea of your children being interviewed by education welfare officers at age 4, in your absence, on the off-chance that you were abusing them. Would you have supported this? I think not. How then can you justify treating home educators in this way?

If you come down on the government side on the question of the Badman review, could you really call yourself a liberal again? Wouldn't your party just stand for the same authoritarian consensus that grips Labour and Conservative parties alike?

What is the point of the Liberal Democrats if not to speak up for liberalism?

Liberal societies have created constitutions and bills of rights to protect fundamental civil liberties from the depredations of politicians in the grip of whatever madness is gripping their thoughts at the time, whether it is safety or drugs or reds under the beds. Child abuse is just another of this long line of horrors. You have a choice: a free society or 1984. You will get child abuse in both.

Now you work out which way to vote.


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Reader Comments (21)

Wow! Fantastic! I think I love you! :)

Oct 13, 2009 at 11:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterJem

Yes , a new front line is being established.
Interesting to see who is on which side.


Oct 14, 2009 at 12:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterRonnie

Yer Grace... what makes you think that the Liberals of today have anything in common with the Utilitarians and Classical Liberals like Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill? These people are less interested in individual liberty than they are in the suppression of individual differences. I've taken a renewed interest in the work of MIchel Foucault... I used to dismiss him as an angry, gay Euroflake.... but someone(s) read his work and thought "what a marvelous idea!"

Oct 14, 2009 at 5:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobert E. Phelan

A brilliant assessment of the current threat to home educators and their children! Thank you, Bishop Hill, for understanding our situation so well, and for commenting on it so succinctly!! You have done home educators a great service in writing this, and making their plight a lttle more understood! Thank you!!

Oct 14, 2009 at 9:59 AM | Unregistered Commenterjules carr

'Lovely job' (as they say down here in the South-west!)
Thanks for caring Bishop Hill... because I am pretty sure most MP's couldn't give a damn about home education and in fact see it as a threat to their narrow view of how the world 'should' be. Elective Home Education, especially Autonomous learning, poses a threat to this government (and any that may succeed it) because it highlights the failings of a schooling system based upon methods which have not only been proven to be flawed, but which can actually be damaging to some of the individuals forced to partake in it... Home education allows parents to decide what is appropriate & the child to decide what they are interested in... as opposed to the government making these choices for them via blanket policy... THIS is why the government would like to see an end to it.
Child abuse has NOTHING to do with it and, in fact, just as teaching & child care positions are much sought after by the predatory, I believe that creating yet another forum for strangers to come into contact with children WITHOUT their parents, or another adult that they trust present, is most certainly going to lead to further child abuse not less... and if the example of Mr. Badman is anything to go by, these kids will not be listened to if they criticise the process (even if abuse takes place) because it will be assumed they are just speaking out according to their parents agenda rather than their own... oh what a horrible, horrible mess we are sleepwalking into.

Oct 14, 2009 at 11:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterLoubeeloo

Thank you for that. Common sense is such a refreshing thing to read. It's so rare these days. Chesterton was right-the purpose of modern education is indeed to deprive the common man of his common sense.
Just watched Baz Sheerman on the committe this morning. Dear me he was cross about something.

Oct 14, 2009 at 11:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterShell

The liberal democrats are neither liberal nor democratic, which is borne out by Ms Featherstone's stance on home education, in which children are safer and better educated than in most schools. God help any administration which finds itself dependent on their support.

Oct 14, 2009 at 12:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrugal Dougal

"Why should families of preschoolers not be subject to inspection but home educators should? Where is the difference? There is none."

Think this kinda misses the point. This is nothing to do with Home Ed ; it's to do with micromanaging control freakery. First, the Private Schools, then the Home Eds, next, yes, you probably will be a "bad parent" if you don't follow the government's asinine "Preschool curriculum".

HomeEd children are less vulnerable to abuse, with the exception of two groups. The so called "travellers", who won't get any education, and some ethnic groups who want to minimise their children's contacts with western values.

Needless to say, neither of those will dare be approached.

Oct 14, 2009 at 12:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul

Here in BC, Home education is properly supported, and funding to pay for a childs education only goes to the home educating family subject to weekly reports of academic progress. No reports, no money. Parents who opt for home education, over this side of the water anyway, appear to be very committed to getting the best for their children.

Oct 14, 2009 at 3:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterBill Sticker

@Bill Sticker
Weekly reports of progress=money. Bog off I'd say, our children educate themselves with our parental support. They do it because people love to learn, we need no pay and we do not need to report to anyone on the progress either. Long may this freedom last. As soon as ithe freedom is curtailed real passionate learning is curtailed too.

@Robert Phelan
re: MIchel Foucault... You might like "Unlearning, How to be Ungoverned" by Nader Chokr heavily inflienced by Foucalt who seems to have varied his philosopy as time went by.

@ Bish
Indeed, as Jem says, we love you, thanks for the ongoing education. We home ed parents have learned so much from this battle.

Oct 14, 2009 at 9:49 PM | Unregistered Commenterelizabeth

Oh we've always voted Lib Dem, except when we've voted Green in European elections (sorry your grace) We will not be voting lib dem again till they start to really look liberal and democratic. We certainly hope to see more libertarian approaches in the Green Party. Frankly I hold more hope of this than of seeing liberal democratic practices in the lib dems.

Oct 14, 2009 at 10:00 PM | Unregistered Commenterelizabeth


Take a look at Lynne's comment thread now - do you think I've persuaded her?

Oct 14, 2009 at 10:05 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

It is a long time since the Liberal Democrats have been either liberal or democratic. I did think that they had been working back that way, but this among other things (Lisbon referendum for example) have disabused me of that notion.

Oct 14, 2009 at 11:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterDoubting Richard


"....more libertarian approaches in the Green Party"

Sorry but did I read that right? The entire point of the Green Party is authoritarian. The only amazing thing about Labour is that they are managing to challenge the Green Party in authoritarianism. Both seem to exist now to tell other people what to do.

Oct 14, 2009 at 11:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterDoubting Richard

Regarding B.C., reporting is only required if you choose a public distance learning program for your child. And yes, if you do so, you can get some money. But thousands of us choose to register only, and are not part of distance learning. We do not have do do any reporting whatsoever. We are in charge. So a lot of us do say "bog off," go about our business, and don't take the money. This is one of the options in British Columbia, and we will fight to keep it that way.

Oct 15, 2009 at 7:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterKelly

@ Richard I agree with you.

Oct 15, 2009 at 7:26 AM | Unregistered Commenterelizabeth

It is because I am interested in finding a way to back your freedoms that I firstly took time to meet constituents, secondly took time to write about the issue very broadly on my blog; thirdly took time to read and response to comments - and am open to the arguments people people have made. But if all the home educators'responses are simply about slagging me off for even wanting to hear the arguments, daring to examine the concerns raised by the Badman Review and see what the challenges are to complete and absolute freedoms - then how liberal are you? If you cannot tolerate discourse and scrutiny and your only response is to attack me ........

Anyway - you have all helped shaped my views and over on my blog there are one or two really good posts that I have found helpful and constructive.

Oct 15, 2009 at 1:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterlynne featherstone


Your blog does not suggest that you are merely listening to the arguments, it is quite clear that you accept that there is a case for the state to be generally concerned about home educated children and to interfere to some extent, your "conundrum" is as to what form that interference should take. From a libertarian or classical liberal position, there simply is no conundrum, the state has absolutely no role to play unless it has reasonable evidence of abuse that justifies further investigation. Those of us who are "true liberals" know this instinctively, we cannot see a conundrum because it is self-evident that parents should have the sole right to decide on the form of education they provide tor their children. Parents do not own their children, but nature has imbued in us a natural desire to do the best we can for our children (yes, there are parents who do not have this but those are the only ones society should be concerned with). We will not do a perfect job whatever we choose, but one thing is absolutely certain, the worst job a loving parent does will still be better than the best job the state can do.

Parents are the one constant unit, the state is an arbitary (and way too bloody big) construct that varies from nation to nation and even within nations.

The mere fact that you concede some general role for the state in this area suggests either you are in the wrong party or, more probably, your party is the wrong party for those of a classical liberal persuasion. Happily, we no longer live in the UK, but when there, our classical liberal values never tempted my wife nor I to vote for the Liberal Party or the LibDems.

Oct 15, 2009 at 3:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterDocBud

"If you cannot tolerate discourse and scrutiny and your only response is to attack me ........"

Lynne we enjoy discourse, it's a great way to learn. We are tired of scrutiny though, we'd prefer to have the time to scritinise oursleves and have friendly effective criticism that we consent to rather than be judged by professional educators and politicians who know little about the benefits of natural uncoerced learning.
I'm sorry that you feel attacked, please keep listening and talking. There is much to be learned about effective politics when freedom is being undermined and the safety of children seems to be at stake.

The freedom to learn is exciting. We love HE in our house and will emigrate if we lose the freedom we now have where parents learn and grow alongside the children. We'd been quietly getting along with it until it was attacked in this way, now we need to be clear in our requests for people to support us in protecting it. Sorry if we seem shouty in doing so.

My husband and I feel that we should have looked more carefully at your party as we voted for you all these years. As our family freedom to learn int he most effectve way for is now at risk we wonder where the liberals are. This has deepened our practical understanding of what it means to be liberal. I

We are aware that some of your party have been supportive but the pary line has not.

Oct 15, 2009 at 8:28 PM | Unregistered Commenterelizabeth

Superbly said! I admire your eloquence, sir.

Oct 20, 2009 at 9:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterJonnyN

I am not a home educator but I would think that any parent prepared to put that much work in (and forgo earned income) is pretty unlikely to be abusing children.
Many parents have no interest at all in the education of their children: they regard schools as free child care.

Jan 15, 2010 at 9:00 AM | Unregistered Commenterjulie

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