For to be free is not to merely cast off one's chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
- Nelson Mandela -

Sunday, August 09, 2009

An autonomous young person's letter to Government

After a very intense period of living in the Dutch limelights because of our choice to home educate our children, we made the most of the relative isolation that came with life in The Vicarage. It gave us the chance to 'go back to base', enhance family life, focus on our own developmental needs and strengthen our autonomous learning process. It was invaluable.

But since our move into town we seem to have opened up to the outside world again. Even stronger, I like to think. And more than ever convinced of the value of autonomous living. It is slightly bizarre that a lot of the choices we make now, seem to bring us in direct contact - and even make us work closely together - with the authorities.
Our decision to start fostering again led to tackling lots of red tape, assessment by social workers, over and over again explaining / defending our choice to home educate our children, the scrutinizing of our family life, in short: it was quite invasive. But, it was our own choice, as a family. We had agreed to it and if we'd felt it was too much, we could have ended it.

If the recommendations made by Mr Graham Badman in the Report about Elective Home Education are going to be made law, there will be no choice, and such an intrusive treatment will await people for the mere fact that they have chosen to home educate.

The difference is clear to me and to the other members of my family:
For the fostering the authorities, who act in loco parentis to already damaged and vulnerable children, have to make as sure as possible that these young people will be safe and well looked after. I can see that as being supportive to the cared for children.
In the case of home educated children there is no reason whatsoever to assume that the parents are not fulfilling their legal parental duties to the child(ren), so no reason for the authorities to act in loco parentis. Unrequested monitoring and inspection of home educating families is not supportive and could even be abusive.

Just the idea of this possibly becoming law has caused a lot of unrest and resentment in our family. Not because we are scared that we couldn't continue living as we do; we have no such fear. But the sheer injustice of it, the fact that the government seems to think they have the right to take away basic freedoms of individual people - and we DO all believe that it will not be limited to home educators - and to interfere in the sanctity of family life, thát has raised our hackles.

Another hot topic in our house results from Owen's decision to sign up for the Army. We all know that this is what he has wanted to do all his life and although nobody likes to see a loved one going off to dodge bullets and roadside bombs in a far away country, we do accept that this is Owen's choice about his life. But what makes it utterly painful to bear is that this government seems to have little respect for the very lives of our loved ones. It is disgraceful that the armed forces are not fitted out properly with protective gear and that there are not enough helicopers, because Mr Brown, as a chancellor, has cut the budget (but he himself is transported by an American helicopter when he visits the troops in Afghanistan). The most recent disgrace is the MoD going to court to try and have compensation costs for injured soldiers cut by no less than 75%!

All these things together have now brought Myrna to write a letter to government, stating her dissatisfaction and urging them to change their attitude. It will be sent to Gordon Brown, Ed Balls, the Select Committee of the DCSF, our MP and maybe some other Civil Servants. And we will see how seriously she will be taken, how seriously children's rights are taken by this government.

Here is Myrna's letter:


My name is Myrna Tennant, I’m fourteen and I’m Home Educated. My mother works from home as a book translator and my father is a stay-at-home dad.
I moved to England when I was seven because it is very difficult to Home Educate in the Netherlands, you need to go to court to get exemption.
School was never the right choice for me, and it definitely wasn’t the right choice for my older brother, who has Aspergers Syndrome. Because of this mild form of autism he was left out and bullied at his school by the other students and was singled out by the teachers, who never even bothered to try to get to know and understand him.
My mother pulled us out of school for mainly that reason.
We held it out in Holland for a while, but it was a very big fuss and we were frowned upon by a lot of people who didn’t agree with Home Education.
So we decided to move to England, the homeland of my father.
We lived in Penton (Cumbria) for five years. In that time my sister, the eldest of my two siblings, started a job in a nearby Bed & Breakfast and my brother and I went to Archery, while he also went to Judo and Cadets and I started private music lessons and group drama classes. Through these activities and the Home Educators meetings we went to weekly, we met a lot of great people, some of whom are now my closest friends and through whom I also met a lot of other amazing people.
We moved to Carlisle two years ago which was a great change for all of us, moving me and my siblings closer to our friends and activities, and making it easier for my sister to get a good job.

These days, we have recently been approved for child fostering, my sister works full-time for Mencap after having finished college, and has just found her own place to live. My brother is studying Jujitsu together with my father after passing his GCSE’s with flying colours (with the help of our part time private tutor in Science, Biology and Maths) and will soon be joining the army. I have now been a classical singer for five years and am soon taking my grade seven exam in singing and my grade five in theory, and I also play flute and guitar. I have sang at a wedding and frequently get asked to sing solo at concerts. I spend my days going to my music lessons, singing with my lovely choir, doing art and spending time with my friends, band and boyfriend. I plan to start studying Japanese and join my brother and father in Jujitsu and will also be taking my GCSE’s when I feel I’m ready to do so.

So you see, we’re just like any other normal family. I have the best family, friends and boyfriend I could have ever wished for and I wouldn’t change my life for the world. Of course we have our rough times and I have had my unpleasant experiences in life, but what person hasn’t? Life can not be lived without regrets; only a person who is truly ignorant and arrogant could say he’s never done anything he regrets.

So before you make assumptions about autonomous learning and invade people's privacy and their homes and sit kids down to talk about if they really want to be Home Educated, why not think about why you are really doing this? Or maybe you could even consider going to a school and asking the kids there how they enjoy school? I have a lot of friends who go to school and I don’t often hear nice things about it. What I hear about school is how teachers no longer enjoy what they do, kids are only bored and take nothing in anymore, they rebel, they bully and they stereotype. They divide themselves up into groups and don’t let anyone else in who doesn’t go by a certain way.
And this takes effect on how kids act outside of school. Some of my friends may fit some people's opinion of the stereotype “emo” or “scene” or “goth”, and therefore I have often had people shout insults at me and my friends, and even had things thrown at me for absolutely no reason but the way we dress or the music we enjoy. I even sometimes get bullied for being a classical singer.
And that is what the government is doing to the Home Educators, they are singling them out and treating them like there’s something wrong with them, just because of the decision to keep their child out of school, even if on many occasions that choice is made because the child is bullied in school, like my brother was. And therefore we get treated differently, badly. All that the government is doing is stereotyping and putting labels on things, just because they have the power to. The government are just bullies in the way that they use their superiority as a way of belittling people, while they could be using it for so much better things.
Instead of making everything cosy for yourselves, how about giving some thanks and support to the people who serve in the forces.
How about doing something about the homeless, the sick, and the children who are actually being abused?
Of course, I will not deny that there is a chance some people could use Home Education as a cover, but think about how little parents abuse their children, and then think about the percentage of those people who could be Home Educators. Will you really use that small amount of people to change the law for tens of thousands?
The only reason you’re saying that Home Education is a cover for child abuse is so you will get more people on your side for campaigning against it, because you don’t agree with it because it doesn’t fit in with your idea of perfect.
Well, the world is just not perfect is it?

It’s going to take a lot more than petty assumptions to make us back down, we fight for our rights, like any other person would.
We fight to keep things as they are now. There is no need for changes, there is a good law that protects people who need protecting. And we will protect the law that allows us to Home Educate and do Autonomous Education.

Government, spend your money on things that make a difference for the better. Start making things, stop breaking things.



Gnomead said...

Wow! Well done Myrna, are you planning a career in politics now? You would get my vote!!!

sunnymama said...

That's an awesome letter :)

Susanna said...

Thanks for that, Myrna! Well impressed, hope someone bothers to listen. Cheers, Su

Beth Bodycote said...

Myrna, I loved your letter, I wish everyone would read it including those in the DCSF (Mr Balls etc..). Please try and get it published. Well done for writing and making so many good points and brilliant observations. They made me feel so emotional and inspired and I agree with everything you said, Beth

Maire said...

Wonderful letter, I have just realised your blog is missing from my sidebar, google seems to do this to me, last week it was Carlotta's. Does this happen to you?

Mieke said...

Maire, I haven't come to the stage of managing my sidebar yet ;). I'm desperate for some time and head space to write the follow up to this post, with the responses she got to her letter, and more of her plans to get people to listen to her. Time! I am accusing B&B of great time theft!

Mieke said...

And this is Myrna, recorded by Su in Bradford, telling 'm what to expect if they push her: