Thursday, 12 July 2012


Oh, there are a few around. Consultations, I mean. There always seem to be a few around. Asking us what should we do about...' They have to ask us. Or they have to seem to ask us. However, have they already decided what we should say? You can slant questionnaires and questions in certain ways to produce certain answers. I used to think about questionnaires for hours. I worked for my local police department and, even amongst our small number of people in the office, I found that people defined words differently.

I'll give you an example. I think a porch is part of the building. M. who worked with me thought a porch was outside the building. So an outside light could've been inside a porch, but outside the building because a porch was, in her view, on the outside of a building. However, I thought that a light inside a porch was a light inside a building.

It was something very simple, even something quite silly, and we laughed about it. But it made me think. It made me wonder which words we use can mean other things to other people.

I learned somewhat to be careful what I thought about words, and the way that I used them.

That's part of the reason that I believe writers are underrated, and that words can be minefields.

There was a saying going around some years back. People would ask 'Have you stopped beating your wife (or husband or partner) yet?

It's a simple sentence, yet to answer the question involved is difficult. If you say yes, you admit that you've been beating up your partner. If you say no you plead guilty to continuing to beat up your partner.

If you answer yes or no, you can't win.

Sometimes you just cannot answer a question because of the way it's stated.

I don't like consultations. I really question whether the answers Mr and Ms Public turn in are ever read or, if they are read, whether they are understood. I wonder whether the wealth of knowledge that the 'experts' (like home educators) are listened to or can change anything if they are listened to. I wonder whether the people who compile the questionnaires or the questions see the porch light as part of the indoor lighting system or outside lighting.

What difference does it make? Well, the questionnaire that I was charged with designing was to ask householders about their houses. Those householders had been burgled. The burglars didn't like outside lighting because it showed up their activities, but they didn't care about inside lighting. That was just one question on one questionnaire. But that questionnaire was quite important in the 'war against crime' that the local police were carrying out. Those questions were helpful in knowing what to do with people's houses to make the houses unattractive to burglars. They helped to target police funds too. They gave householders some clues about why the burglars chose their properties to burgle.

So consultations, when you are really interested in the answers, can be illuminating. If you are just going through the motions because the system says you should consult then it's all a bit dark, isn't it?

Consultations. We, home educators, know a lot about them. More, I would wager, than the average citizen. And we've filled in (or filled out) a few of them in our time.

Consultations. They can be illuminating. Or not.
(Apparently, the e-consultations tool has been taken offline due to technical problems)

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