Recently OFTP was asked to comment in the press about the newly proposed tax credits for families sending their children to private schools. Donna Sheehan and members of the executive drafted and sent a brief statement after inviting email discussion about it. I just wanted to thank everyone who contributed to this request, showing their dedication on our behalf yet again.
I personally really liked the release. More than that, I found it an education to watch it develop.The handling of this request was such a good example of the collaborative way the group operates, for which I'm very thankful. The exchanges about it were stimulating and vigorous, as is typically the case in OFTP, and continued even after the release was sent out.
In the fast-paced timeframe of the press, it is always going to be very hard to craft a statement like this that can be ready in the time needed by reporters to be useful for their stories, and yet get full consensus from the group. One thing dialogue does, as was the case with this one, is open discussion up about issues from perspectives people might not have considered before. So, let's consider all of this a "learn together as we go along" process.
Being asked for this press release, reminds me of that old stone soup fable, where the first ingredient was simply a stone for the pot and everyone else added their ingredients for the taste. In the end, when the stone was removed, there was delicious soup.
As the press statement developed, each comment made was given weight and taken to heart. Invariably, as I read the points raised by all, I found myself thinking in new ways about the ideas they represented. Often it seems to me, the diverse positions of the group seem to include a few rich themes. We will always be exploring these themes together I think, and the discussions around the press release were tasty stone soup, as always.
I think that the link between, and the distinction between, private schooling and homeschooling is a key theme that will resurface.
Similarities between private schooling and homeschooling - both are alternatives to the public system,
Differences - private schooling still tends to represent a form of "institutionalized" learning (school) as compared with family and community based learning.
The implications of publicly funded vs. family funded education will also always be around. Tied intimately to this - "Who is responsible to educate our children and all the children in our province?" Accountability, control, freedom, rights, responsibilities, etc. etc. etc.
The theme of credentialism will always also underlie any discussion about funding. When people think of funding alternatives, they can't help but wonder "What is legitimate? Who will tell us? Who determines what is important to learn? What constitutes the stamp of approval bureaucratically?"
And further, without dwelling on it here, the theme of competency. "What does it take to be entrusted to teach?"
I really believe these concepts will continue to affect how OFTP decides to word future position statements of any kind.
And, of course, all of us have differing views on each of these topics. It will be interesting in future, to think together more about what is involved in making sure OFTP continues to speak for all its diverse members to represent them well, and still continue to have juicy condensed meaty statements that pack a wallop.
Regarding this recent request for a statement from OFTP, I have been struck generally by the news articles about the tax credit, because of how much kerfuffle there was in them about whether the Harris actions threaten the public system.
I wonder if OFTP was asked to comment because homeschoolers are sometimes unnecessarily considered "anti-schooling" and therefore a threat, i.e. if we thought the tax credit for private schools was a good idea, it might mean it is generally bad for the system.
I saw an interview with two administrators from private schools lauding the tax credit but being very careful to say while the credit would help private schools, "the public system is also doing excellent work and we need a strong public system in Canada." It somehow bothered me to hear them taking such great pains to say this, because it sounded so politically correct.
As a homeschooler, I'm starting to think more and more about what needs to be in place in our communities to educate everyone in them well. I'm a tremendous optimist with regard to the resources we have in Canada to educate every person.
I really believe as homeschooling is more accepted in society, it helps trigger better educational opportunities for everyone. The focus shifts away from warehousing kids to teach them, and on to effective community based learning resources and lots of ways to learn.
In my opinion, it is a healthy shift. However, I think homeschoolers are perceived as a threat whenever we are seen as the catalysts of, or advocates for, that change.
It's important to realize that this shift in focus is happening not merely because of homeschooling. Roles rearranging in society, the advent of new technologies, and the difficulties the system is experiencing in meeting all the needs of every learner are also building pressure for lots of change in the way traditional systemic education is delivered.
Some people may be feeling threatened by the change. Maybe many caring parents can't picture getting any more involved in their childrens' education than they are already, and fear if the system crumbled they would be left without experts to help their kids. The cynic in me believes there are a few "experts" entrenched in the system who feel it their duty to fan such fears rather than allay them.
Maybe some people in our society feel they must protect the status quo at all costs, and are worrying needlessly that no one in Canada would care about education unless the government mandates this.
In contrast, I tend to think of the public system as an immensely well-funded juggernaut, not some fragile house of cards that homeschoolers could possibly threaten. If anything, the presence of homeschooling proves that the interest of Ontario parents in learning is alive and well, wherever we choose for our children to receive their life lessons!
Donna did a difficult job beautifully, so ably as always, to get the essence of all our thoughts "out there". Requests, such as this one from the press, flow by quickly in rapid succession. Our executive deserves kudos for their conscientiousness in meeting these amid their time devoted toward the long-term initiatives OFTP has on the go, not to mention all of their other personal commitments... including actual homeschooling.