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February 25, 2009


Andrew Duffin

I haven't read the very latest in the Semple/Hill stramash, but you may be misinterpreting His Grace's viewpoint.

He wasn't claiming that home schooling is better - or worse - than government schooling.

Whichever way that one might fall doesn't affect his argument.

His argument is that home schooling should be allowed, ie, that the State should not take the power (which it doesn't have at present, but the signs are ominous) to force everyone's children into official schools.

It's a freedom argument, not one based on any dispute about the academic or social results.


Insofar as that is his argument, I have no problem. But is calling people fascists and asserting that teachers know nothing really the way to advance it?


Would you rather a) do good or b) feel good? Most, me thinks, would answer a) but act in accordance with b).

Even for the business firm I worked for until very recently, I was struck with how much ego separated the "winners" from the "losers." Turns out I was to humble (skeptical and empirical) to win the battle for the pithiest soundbite.

Great post.

Bishop Hill

My posting was, granted, intemperate. Not usually my style, but we have been coolly analysing the departure of civil liberties down the pan for many years now without any discernable slowing of the pace of change.

Andrew Duffin has me right. This was not an attempt to show that HE is better than the alternatives (although as you say, it probably is), it was a civil liberties post (although in passing I took some potshots at some of David Semple's more obviously preposterous claims about schooling versus HE). The fact is that it wouldn't matter if HE was on average much worse than schooling. It is (or should be) for the parents to decide on the education their children receive. That principle is a basic bulwark against indoctrination by the state. It's also the basis of a liberal society - see JS Mill on the perils of state education for example.

I take strong (as you can probably tell) exception to the idea put forward by David Semple that the state can determine what children learn regardless of parental objections - fascism is perhaps not the best word for this, maybe I should have called it totalitarian. Whatever it is it's not liberal.

If you are not angry about this, I think you should be.


“human beings are born with more or less equal potential.”

As they say in blog-speak: lol

David Semple

Chris, I'm only going to make one comment on this article - which I think is excellent - because I don't want to waste your time and repeat the vitriol engendered by my own blog post.

In answer to some of you points...

1. No, we haven't given empirical evidence, but I've actually mentioned that at LibCon. I want HE to be open to the same scrutiny as School Ed. Then we can amass evidence. Not all but certainly some HE advocates have claimed this to be an infringement of their liberties.

I accepted their premise and sought to defend such an infringement.

2. I have a list of things which I'd like to compare between HE and SE, and who knows, I might even get around to writing an MEd on the subject, but they run like this:

- Is there a class bias to HE, i.e. is it wealth dependent or biased?
- How many parents who HE their kids are actually familiar with the detailed HE philosophies of writers like John Holt?
- For what reason do parents HE their kids?

The latter is particularly important, because if HE kids are getting something that SE kids aren't, and performing better post-childhood, socially and academically, then we need to adjust the system to provide it.

The various HE people have belligerently argued that HE produces better results - and I'm not disputing that. You hit my points on the head when you mention soft skills and query whether or not these are the sort of kids who do better in school anyway. That should be studied.

3. You are right to draw a contrast between a facts based approach and an intuitive or anecdotal approach. I advocate the former, of course. Yet there is a philosophical element to all this as well.

I have been accused of saying that the State can and should determine what children learn, regardless of their parents. The basic philosophical question is: who is responsible for children and their education?

This can't be solved by empirical means. I'm not going to regurgitate my arguments - I'm sure if you've read the forty-something comments on the blog, you understand my arguments well enough, whether you agree with them or not.

If you wish to discuss any of this with me, you have my email address.


I think we have to understand that like basically all political questions, home education doesn't exist separate from a whole complex of issues relating to power structures. There is more than how well children can read etc... There is who decides what sort of ideas they will be exposed to (or even have inculcated). These sort of questions are not necessarily easily detectable using simple scientific methods as the questions examined will always have suppositions about what constitutes a 'better' outcomes and what sort of interests are being supported or denied behind the scenes.

I support a right to home education, not because they necessarily produce better outcomes, but because such a right helps to keep education a contested and fluid notion. Once it falls primarily into realm of the state, it will be for the state to define what education is. A dangerous situation to arrive at.

Bishop Hill

For those who are interested in research into HE in the UK, the main source is Paula Rothermel at Durham.



“human beings are born with more or less equal potential”: I dare say that he can cite a paper from the Journal of Wishful Thinking.


I find in general on the blogsphere, that pointing out the lack of data for a poster's argument does not often result in a change in the blogger's or his commenters' views.

Danny The Dog

"I suspect that we live not in an age of science and empiricism, but rather in an age of ego."

Has anyone seen this ego thing, you know under a microscope, in a scanner maybe? or is it those pesky humans just being human?

I think you are right about Math and genetics, I believe Math is very much part of spacial awareness.

It would be interesting to see some data on Math Ability related to shooting sports.
The snipers I have meet in the forces all seem to be very good mathematicians.


"I want HE to be open to the same scrutiny as School Ed."

Not that much then? School inspectors are like the Queen - they think the world smells of fresh paint.

Two completely weird posts you've linked there, Mr Dillow. In particular I'm thinking Mr Semple must work in a rather different environment than the one I do if he thinks this topic was worth the keystrokes. How many kids in Britain are home-schooled? I'd imagine a fraction of those who receive no education at all because they're hardcore school refusers.

I would go on but I've got some "indoctrination in left-wingnuttery and environmentalism" lessons to prepare for tomorrow.



The debate that is going on between David Semple and Bishop Hill is not one that can answered empirically as you claim.

They are not arguing about the benefits of HE vs SE they are arguing about who has the right to educate children, these are value judgements not something that science can decide.

Bishop Hill states in comments above:
This was not an attempt to show that HE is better than the alternatives (although as you say, it probably is), it was a civil liberties post

David Semple states in comments above:
The basic philosophical question is: who is responsible for children and their education?

This can't be solved by empirical means

Both can cherry pick the science that best suits their arguments and do in their comments above.

Bihop Hill:
This was not an attempt to show that HE is better than the alternatives (although as you say, it probably is)

David Semple:
You hit my points on the head when you mention soft skills and query whether or not these are the sort of kids who do better in school anyway.

If you haven't already I strongly recomend you look at Roger Pielke, jr and what hes has to say about science and politics.



"But there seems to be a big genetic component in maths ability". Indeed it is. My elder brother, two years older, came top in his class for maths/algebra/science for six years of secondary education. I could not grasp concept of using letters rather than numbers. I failed maths at every level.

A younger brother, tone deaf, married a musically gifted woman. Every one of their six children play a musical instrument to a high standard, one has her own band and another makes the odd appearance at Carnegie Hall.

Bob B

Let's get our priorities straight. Have they tried the exorcism route yet or extraordinary rendition or already agreed on the burning of Gail Trimble?

Have the faggots been piled up yet? Shurely the site must be outside Balliol, close to the plaque commemorating the burning of Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer.


There is a wealth of stats on wealth, educational achievement and different school systems.

Read the OECD's PISA research, there is a lot to get your teeth into. http://www.pisa.oecd.org/


A) Gail Trimble - I didn't realise that being clever and knowing stuff was now socially unacceptable. I shall burn all my books immediately, and get a frontal labotomy. I wouldn't want to be out of tune with the zeitgeist.

B) “Human beings are born with more or less equal potential” - If you believe that you'll believe anything.


The basic philosophical question is: who is responsible for children and their education?

The parents, of course. How can there be any other answer? (Or are you under some kind of confused impression that "education" is something that happens between 9 and 5 in a big building run by the government?)

I am responsible for my children. I am responsible for seeing that they are fed and clothed, that they are educated and protected, and that they grow into decent, capable adults.

Most people choose to use the education system provided free by the taxpayer to help meet their children's education. Some prefer to pay for private schooling, and a few prefer to school them at home.

But unless you can prove in a court of law that I am a significant danger to my children, the buck stops with me. You are free to offer advice, and I am free to tell you to take a hike.

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