Wednesday, 17 October 2012

An Unpopular Opinion

Having watched this morning's education select committee session there are many things I could write about: the barely concealed dislike of home education; the squirming when asked if there was any evidence that home education is a safeguarding issue; the call for changes to statutory law so that a clear definition of suitable education might make their jobs easier, whilst not wanting any kind of oversight of their own behaviour; the minister saying not once but at least twice that *they* give us our freedom and responsibility...

But it's none of those things that I want to talk about.

I know that Graham Stuart has been a great ally. I know that he has worked hard to try to help and support home educators. I know that his questions to Badman at the select committee in 2009 were rapier sharp. I know all of this and don't get me wrong I, like his countless supporters in home ed land, appreciate all of this.

You know there's a but coming don't you?


I am finding the regular jibes at our expense tiring. It started, from what I can remember, with the hat tip to Monty Python's Life of Bryan.

Oh yes, all very amusing.

Believe it or not I do have a sense of humour, and I do indulge in sarcasm, so I can appreciate these little interjections (to a degree) although I have found them increasingly uncomfortable.

During today's committee hearing there were several little digs, all sent forth with a wry smile and a twinkly eye. This made me feel deeply uncomfortable, particularly when the comments were addressed to the new minister who has home ed in her portfolio. It felt like I was witnessing an old boys network giving the newcomer the lie of the land. That these home educators are a tricksy bunch, bit tiresome, but they are after all an insignificant minority and as such us good old boys (and girls) need to do our bit to at least try to support them (might even get them off our backs for a bit.)

I couldn't pin down exactly why it made me feel so uncomfortable, other than it felt disrespectful to take the micky out of a group of people that you purport to support, but I couldn't get away from the fact that something just felt wrong about it.

Now I appreciate that a lot of people don't have much if any time for the social sciences, much less for their assault on humour which has possibly lead us to the point we are at now where people can be sentenced to prison for expressing unpleasant opinions on social media sites. I appreciate that humour and sarcasm are Great British traits that have often seen us through many a difficult situation. I also strongly defend the right to free speech. You hear that but again right?

I honestly feel that, when members of parliament are supposedly trying to help a minority group (which home educators undoubtedly are) that to use, what I discovered is called disparagement humour, is abusing their position of power, and it does nothing to help the minority in question. I know it's tiresome to make the comparison with race, religion and sex, but let's be honest, if an MP were to make witticisms based on those things they would be hauled over the coals. So why are we not afforded the same respect? And what's more, why do we collude in this debasement by laughing along?

I'm just going to copy across a little paragraph from a paper titled "Consequences of Disparagement Humor:A Prejudiced Norm Theory" by Thomas E. Ford and Mark A. Ferguson of the Department of Sociology Western Michigan University. [The full paper can be read here in a pdf]

"The Prejudiced Norm Theory Taken together, Ford (2000) and Ford et al. (2001) suggested that disparagement humor is likely to increase tolerance of other instances of discrimination against the targeted group, above and beyond its specific content, for people who are relatively high in prejudice toward the disparaged group."

Which would suggest that through his use of denigrating humour about home educators, Graham Stuart, instead of helping the intolerance we have to deal with on a far too regular basis, is actually helping to continue it. Woah, that's a bit of a heavy accusation I hear you cry. Perhaps, but it is something that he needs to think very carefully about, in my opinion, if his intention towards us is as honourable as he would have us believe.

I would also add this as food for thought:

"That sense of superiority or contempt that the abuser feels towards his partner can manifest itself in constant low level sarcasm or mockery masquerading as wittiness. This is one trait that may be used in company since it can be passed off as humour, other people enjoying the joke, little realising that how often the partner has been the butt of the abuser’s mockery. Mockery is just as powerful a put-down as anger – more so in fact." [the whole article can be found here.]