Give me evidence

31 January 2010 by Jennifer

A theory that our ethics and scepticism are being misconstrued/misrepresented as selfish blinkered naïveté.

I wrote yesterday about the discounting of first-hand voices in favour of external “experts”. Today I want to talk about one particular flavour of discounting, applied to parents from electively home-educating families.

Can’t see beyond our own noses, allegedly

I’ve begun to think that one of the stereotypes of us is as so blinkered and self-obsessed that we can’t comprehend why other people have concerns.

It’s as if the basis of all our objections is “My kid’s all right, Jack, to hell with the others”. The implication would be that we’re too stupid and naïve to see what our stubbornness is costing other children.

When someone plays the well-known ace of trumps “If it saves even one child…”, how dare we not give in, stop arguing, and agree immediately to cooperate! What kind of callous selfish idiots must we be??!!

(This is related, I think, to why we so frequently hear the explanation “We don’t mean you of course, but what about those other families?”)

Liberty trade-offs

The fact is I do care about children-in-general as well as mine, and I completely understand the principle that sometimes a little bit of one person’s liberty has to be sacrificed to protect the liberty of someone else.

What hasn’t been demonstrated to my satisfaction – or at all! – is the necessity for (or any value in) this sacrifice of liberty: meaning the kind of expensive intrusive bureaucratic licensing-and-inspection system for EHE which is proposed in the CSF Bill.

Well-founded scepticism

On the contrary, it seems clear to me that extending the system as proposed would be damaging both to EHE children (in various ways) and to vulnerable people who actually do need help (due to sucking resources away from them).

Even for “those other families” – the very few where the parents are out of their depth, and the even fewer where the parents may have bad motivations – what’s proposed in the Bill is not a system well-designed for the children’s support.

A lot of my worst fears about the Bill becoming law are for the children who need most support – the children with special needs, who least fit the picture of what children are “supposed” to be able to accomplish at a certain age.

Remember, we’re not talking about a completely new system unknown to any of us; the Bill system closely resembles many Local Authorities’ existing ultra vires* systems, only “with added tooth-points!” and removing the option to avoid the harrow. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to realise what the Bill’s laws would look like in practice, and we do have reasons for the hypothesis that its overall effects would not be benign. Our scepticism is well-founded.

* “Ultra vires” means “beyond the powers [of the law]”. What I’m alluding to here is that many LAs in England have already taken it upon themselves to monitor EHE families in more detail than is required by law. EHE families frequently encounter LA staff who misrepresent current law; either they’re lying, or they haven’t bothered to learn the law themselves, instead making up the rules to suit their own prejudices.

Actually, I don’t even know why anyone would suppose that its effects would be benign – considering that the Government’s case for such laws rests on a load of myths and fears and inaccurate statistics. That’s not the way to make good law.

Give me evidence

I say to the Government: You want to change my mind? You want to convince me there’s a problem I don’t yet appreciate, which we need to fix? You want to convince me you’ve got the best solution to it? (or even one that doesn’t do more harm than good – that’d be a start.)

Well then, give me the evidence, include the raw numbers so that interested parties can check them without hundreds of FOI requests, and stop misleading people in order to prop up your argument. I’m eminently swayable by actual facts.

That demand isn’t coming from any blinkered selfish “we’re all right Jack” self-interest. It’s coming from a principle that truth is an essential foundation for ethical choices.

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