The Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents

Schooling and Unschooling at Home

Basically, homeschooling refers to doing school at home. That is, reproducing the teaching methods of school, but doing it at home. Now, this can be done in many different ways along the scale between homeschooling and unschooling. Some people carry it to the extreme of setting the alarm and being at the kitchen table (or whatever their chosen workplace is) at 9am saying prayers, or singing “Oh Canada.” They then proceed to cover the usual text books, take recess breaks and even have tests and unit studies. This is not my style, but it does satisfy many people. They feel they’ve covered the education they want to cover, and that they’ve avoided many of the difficulties of the school system, such as the negative social experiences, bullies, belittling teachers, or poor role models. They also are more involved in their children’s lives and have the possibility of being closer and more of an influence on them as a result. Unschooling means a less structured style of learning at home. At the far end of this spectrum, it means simply letting the children do what they want to do and trusting that they will learn what they need to learn. Perhaps surprisingly, it seems that this often works very well. Humans are driven to learn and grow and they do. Often these children are the ones who develop a passionate interest in something and in pursuing it independently they teach themselves many valuable study skills. I have seen people who carry Unschooling to the extreme that they actually avoid teaching. This seems to me to be a misunderstanding of the concept. I feel that unschooling is more of a mentorship relationship, being available to answer questions and provide direction and resources, but following the child’s lead. Perhaps leaning more toward the middle of the unschooling spectrum, my personal style has been to create an environment that surrounds the child with interesting possibilities that may capture her interest, and then play the part of mentor or facilitator. I also have workbooks that cover the basics of spelling and math, just to have these skills available for whatever study grabs her interest. Now, the way we use these workbooks is definitely on the UNschooling side– Tessa will suddenly be inspired to do math and will spend several weeks doing little else– and then will lose interest and leave it for the rest of the year, except for maybe an hour or so now and then. The funny thing is that even when she hasn’t done any math or spelling for months, she comes back to it with improved skills. The hardest part of unschooling is learning to TRUST. Just as we had to trust that our toddler would stop wetting diapers, we have to trust that our child will learn. Just as with toilet training, we provide the example (we use the toilet ourselves), and the materials (the potty) and then let our children show readiness. We also provide support and encouragement along the way as she works on these skills. The hardest part of school-at-home style homeschooling is the stress and having to play disciplinarian teacher. (I suppose my potty training simile works here too–as some people are more structured in this area as well!) I am not comfortable in this role, and prefer to keep my relationship with my children on a more egalitarian basis. OK, have I confused you? I am now in the happy position to be able to say that our unschooling has been tried and proven. Our oldest two are now in university and college. The middle one went to high school after unschooling until she was 12, and graduated with honours. Their passionate interests in a wide variety of subjects and their professors’ appreciation of their enthusiasm for learning show me that for them, unschooling did what I hoped it would do. It preserved for them the love of learning that they were born with, and that I feared that school-style enforced learning would stifle. © 1998 Terry Stafford

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How People Learn

It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; with out this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. Albert Einstein   His eyes follow her as she moves through the room. As she bends to say hello she is surprised to see her baby’s legs and arms flailing about in effort, as he pushes his pink tongue out of his mouth. She doesn’t remember she stuck out her tongue at him this morning when trying to give him a bottle. He spent half his nap time thinking about it, and now he has returned this expression in an effort to communicate. Late for work she bundles him up and rushes to the baby-sitter’s, telling the care giver, “he spit up after his nap, and was making faces, I hope he’s not sick. The evolving self knows itself through feeling. Dennison   There is a moment when we look into each other’s eyes and we know we are seeing ourselves. We hold each other’s hands and we realize ourselves. We speak each other’s name and we know each other. This baby is present and more aware than we tend to think. The infant’s use of gestures, facial expressions, and sounds is at every stage of his progress the true medium of his being-with-others & the music of our ordinary conversations is of equal importance with the words. It is a kind of touching: our eyes “touch,” our facial expressions play back and forth, tones answer tones. We experience even the silences in a physical, structural way; they, too, are a species of contact. In short, the physical part of everyday speech is just as important as the “mental.” Dennison   What a miraculous self-regulating complexity we are! We have some tools to understand and explore but mostly we have what we have always had, if we chose to use it: ATTENTION. The Society for Neuroscience found that denial of a caregiver’s touch had serious biochemical consequences for the baby. A mother’s caresses seem to help moderate production of a hormone affecting the body’s reaction to stress. Abnormal levels of the hormone have been linked to changes in a part of the brain involved with learning and memory. Indeed, children with the greatest peaks and valleys in that hormone level scored lowest on test of mental and motor ability. US News and World Report   I remember my niece when she was around 6 months old, lying in the carriage under the apple tree. I could see her chubby legs sticking up in the air as she ran her toes through the leaves of the overhanging branches. What amazed me most was listening to her as she went through, very methodically, all the sounds she knew. “baa baa baa, daa daa daa, maa maa, dee dee dee, laa laa laa, etc.”. She was practising. Children hear what corresponds to their own way of voicing words, not the sounds adults hear themselves making. Bassett   In regards to what is happening in the brain it is instructive to look at what we now know is happening in learning disabilities. It is no coincidence that both the acquired and developmental disorders affecting reading have in common a disruption within the neural systems. National Academy of Sciences   With the use of new technology, called functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI), which enables researchers to look into the brain as it is working, it has been discovered that brain activation patterns of dyslexic readers were significantly different from those of non dyslexic readers. The saying “if the only tool you have is a hammer, every thing becomes a nail” is apt. If people access information in different ways, if they perceive things differently they will not learn in the same ways They will be described as having learning disabilities. This does not mean that they do not learn. The individual’s internal store of information about the world is in fact a theory of what the world is like, and that all of our mental life —our perceptions, attitudes, plans, expectations— is colored by this constantly changing internal theory of the world… Bassett   It has been my experience when drawing or painting that I feel a shift or a ping, something like the sensation one feels when, going down a stairway, one expects there to be another step and there is not. As a child this sensation was more dramatic and I would have periods when after a lot of concentration I could not speak. The magical mystery of drawing ability seems to be, in part at least, an ability to make a shift in brain state to a different mode of seeing/perceiving. Edwards   Temple is an autistic professor who cannot decipher the simplest social exchange between humans, but has built a career out of her intuitive understanding of animal behavior. In an article Temple wrote in 1990 she states: If the genes that caused these conditions (schizophrenia, autism, manic depression) were eliminated there might be a terrible price to pay. It is possible that persons with bits of these traits are more creative, or possibly even geniuses… If science eliminated these genes, maybe the whole world would be taken over by accountants. Sacks   I hope that the attention now being paid to the brain and how it works does not lead to some sort of attempt to genetically control human evolution. As long as perhaps sixty percent of the school age population are “passing” the requirements of the education system, WAIT A MINUTE… What does any of that have to do with learning? My own experience working with children in a lunch time art program at a school in Ottawa was that often kids labeled “behavior problems” were actually very visually inclined. One such boy and I spent an hour

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So —— What About Socialization?

I have never in my adult life been treated as cruelly as I was for the 7 years of elementary school. If that was supposed to prepare me for “real life,” I guess I haven’t yet entered “real life.” Tia Leschke, homeschooling parent My objection to the social life of almost all schools is that it is for the most part mean-spirited, competitive, ruthless, snobbish, conformist, consumerist (you are judged by what you can buy, or your parents buy for you), fickle, heartless, and often cruel. Most children come out of school with far less self-esteem, less sense of their own identity, dignity, and worth, than they had when they went in. I know this was true of me. Most children in school feel like losers and outsiders, and most will do almost anything that will, if only for a short time, give them the feeling of being insiders, truly “One Of The Gang.” John Holt, homeschooling advocate and pioneer One of the lessons I seem to be learning in homeschooling is to look at the world from a broader perspective, to move beyond the cookie cutter ideas of education to the essence of learning. I’ve seen it work with math, reading and writing. I also see it working in social skills. Just like learning to read doesn’t mean basal readers and worksheets, so, too, learning social skills doesn’t mean lots of contact with large groups of one’s age-mates. Social skills can be learned in large and small groups, formal and informal settings, among people of all ages, at the park, at the grocery store, in places of business, in places of entertainment, in private homes, with friends, relatives and strangers. Learning to take a proper telephone message is a social skill. Manners are a social skill. Communication is a social skill. Taking a chosen item to the checkout stand and paying for it is a social skill. Ordering a meal in a restaurant is a social skill. Writing a thank you letter is a social skill. Comforting a hurt sibling is a social skill. Once learned, these skills are easily transferred to other situations with other individuals. It is the quality, rather than the quantity, of social interactions that will teach our children how to successfully relate to other people. Heather Madrone, homeschooling parent I think a child’s need to be with his mother in the early years is as basic as his need for food. There is nothing overprotective about you wanting your son close, at 5 years old he’s not supposed to be on his own! I think our society pushes independence on children far too early. Gina Rozon, homeschooling parent Nothing enrages me more than when people criticize my criticism of school by telling me that schools are not just places to learn maths and spelling, they are places where children learn a vaguely defined thing called socialization. I know. I think schools generally do an effective and terribly damaging job of teaching children to be infantile, dependent, intellectually dishonest, passive and disrespectful to their own developmental capacities. Seymour Papert, one of the principal developers of the Logo programming language and Lego Professor of Education Research at MIT My students’ parents have often expressed, in our conferences together, dismay at how school has shaped their children, and this dismay needs close examining. It is part of the growing alienation they feel from their children, who gradually become estranged from them as they become ever more deeply immersed in the universe of their school peers — an alienation parents erroneously conclude is a “natural” part of their children’s growing up, a necessary prerequisite to their independent adulthood. This distance, though, is far from natural, and the dismay parents feel about it ought not to be repressed. There is nothing natural about children obsessed with their peers and acutely attuned to a pre-adult commercial culture. This is a sea that will not be turned back and that has behind it the force of years. It begins at least as early as kindergarten, when the child is introduced into an institutional life among peers and uprooted from family and community. David Guterson, high school teacher, novelist and homeschooling parent I find this idea of “socializing” as the justification for sending kids to school quite absurd. I have seen the results of this so called socialization recently and so have my two oldest boys who have never been “socialized” by the education system. My oldest boys are taking Karate lessons 5 days a week. The lessons are in the evenings of course, since this is the only time they are offered — all the other kids go to school during the day to be “socialized.” So it is quite interesting (actually distressing) to see the behaviour of “socialized” kids. The “socialized” kids are: rude to the instructors and fellow students always interrupt instructors with stupid questions act up and act foolish always complain about how “hard” everything is seldom pay attention and need things explained over and over again cheat all the time (whenever the instructor isn’t looking they put in the least amount of effort) always interested in achieving higher rank without putting in the necessary effort status seems very important to them play dangerously with the equipment and need to be constantly yelled at to “put things back” cannot stand still for more then a few seconds I have had to explain to my children how this is typical behaviour of kids that go to school, where they are herded like prisoners and made to do things that they do not enjoy. Actually most kids do describe school as prison (if only parents would listen). Is school the kind of “socialization” that children need? Ondrej Recnik, homeschooling parent I pulled my 13 year old (grade 8) out of school due to bullies. I did give the public school a chance (obviously it took me nine years!) before I pulled her! The system’s response was that my child

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Q & A: Experience with Late Readers

“Questions and Answers” is a forum for OFTP members to inquire, share and learn together. We look forward to your input and experience as we put forward questions and answers from home-learning families across Ontario. Q: Help! Does anyone out there have experience with late readers? My daughter is seven and not reading well yet. She has resisted learning and I have tried to handle it in a relaxed manner, reminding myself that Grant Colfax did not learn to read until he was 10. However, with extended family members and group activities like Brownies, there is the expectation that she SHOULD be reading. At a sleep-over with her grandparents, who heavily disapprove of home schooling, they insisted that she couldn’t be given a “holiday” from her schoolwork, and that her “work” be sent along with her. I want my daughter to enjoy her family relationships and group activities. I am not a total unschooler but I tend in that direction. My reason for choosing homeschooling is that I really want my daughter to enjoy learning. How did you handle family and social situations? P.C., Markham, ON A: This could be my child. Sabrina wouldn’t discuss reading or stay in the room if anyone tried to bring the subject up. Her older sister read at 3.5, so I think she felt a lot of pressure, even though we tried very hard not to do that to her. Anyhow, she, too was (probably) beginning to read at 7; I would occasionally come into a room and find her with a book, which she would immediately close and get up and leave. She is also a very physical person, she does circus three times a week, plus gymnastics once a week. At 7.5, in our case, Sabrina began to read. We were pleased but didn’t make an enormous deal out of it. By 9.5 she so enjoyed having Lord of the Rings read to her that she started right in on it herself when we were done and read the whole thing twice through. She’s now 11.5, still very physical, still giving little time to academics, but she does enjoy reading for pleasure and reads all kinds of things, from Elfquest to science magazines. Well, the first option is what I did. I’d be very wary of getting into any kind of “battle” over reading, as I can only foresee it taking longer for her to find her own way if she’s fighting you. She might never discover the enjoyment of reading if reading becomes a big issue between you. I’d let it lie. Read aloud, yes —– both my girls still enjoy our daily read-alouds, we now tackle stuff like Austen and Dickens and Hugo –— read on your own, you bet — — and share what you’ve enjoyed/learned from that. And be positive about the successes she has, whatever they are. Diana Sandberg A: All 3 of my children were late readers, in fact my 9 year old is still not reading. In facing the world, especially your parents, it is important to remember that you are the parents of the child, not them, and you don’t have to answer to them. If you don’t want them doing schoolwork with your children that is your decision to make. I have seen cases were interfering grandparents have ruined their relationship with the children by this sort of interference. As far as social situations with kids their own age, that is a tough one, but remember there are lots of late reading kids out in the schooled world too. My 2 eldest children are both excellent readers now so I have no regrets about letting them come to it on their own terms. I have to confess that it gave me fits to trust that it would ever happen because I so badly wanted them to validate my decision to homeschool them. Whatever you do, keep reading to them. Ruth

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OFTP at Bill 160 Legislative Hearings

OFTP President Albert Lubberts outlined for the committee the education choices available to Ontario residents under the Education Act of this province. He stressed the fact that parents may, without government interference, choose to provide a learning environment at home under the sections dealing with private schools or under Section 21 which speaks of home based education. These provisions under the Act support the parent’s “right to choose whatever program they believe is most satisfactory for their child. This may be in the public school, in an inspected private school, in a non-inspected private school or at home with a program designed by the parents.” He spoke against the current attitude which views children as “clients” who are being served by “experts” and the increased risk facing families from a bureaucracy which has shown a disregard for the law and a leaning toward personal biases and prejudicial decisions. To support this statement he outlined three scenarios, all of which have happened with alarming regularity in the home education community within the past few years. The first concerns the involvement of social services agencies and children’s aid agencies by some school boards when they are confronted with families who choose to home educate. The second detailed the government’s attack against private schools set up by home educators and the third involved the blatant disregard for the Education Act in an ad placed in a Haliburton newspaper warning home educating parents of repercussions if they failed to comply with the superintendent’s wishes. Albert traced all of these scenarios back to the Ministry of Education and Training staff who appear to be carrying out their personal agendas in these areas. He closed his address by commenting on the superior results obtained by children educated at home and the enormous tax saving to residents of Ontario due to several thousand families who are choosing to educate their children themselves. The final comments he made are as follows: “OFTP looks forward to the time when parental rights will be respected and honoured by the government. Home based education, despite the best efforts of this regime, has flourished and established a successful track record. Home based instructed children are growing up, maturing and continuing to enjoy learning as a life long experience. They are succeeding to be great citizens of this fine country, in whatever career they choose. There is no door closed to them despite the efforts of obstructionist authorities. OFTP wishes that all children, in whatever form of education that their parents choose for them, have the same success. We trust that the Ontario government will look long and hard at the changes it wants to make with the Education Quality Improvement Act, 1997 to see if these really meet the needs of children as determined by their parents.”

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Support for Home Based Education by U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley

In the March 5, 1997 issue of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, [United States] Secretary of Education Richard Riley is quoted as saying that he wants homeschooling representatives to attend a national forum to bring “the nation’s best teachers” together to address [the] country’s education challenges. The article states: “Home-school students score significantly higher on standardized achievement tests than their public-school counterparts do. While by definition public school students average at the 50th percentile on standardized tests, this nationwide study conducted by Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, reveals that home schoolers have average scores between the 80th and 87th percentiles on every subtest (including reading, listening, language, math, science, social studies and study skills). The average score on the basic battery of skills is in the 85th percentile, while the average complete battery score is in the 87th percentile — a phenomenal 37-percentile differential.” The article goes on to say that home educated children who are part of minority groups do equally as well as others when they are home educated – unlike at government-run schools.

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Home-Grown Ontario Kids Grow Up

Editor’s note: Because so many new home educators are concerned about how this “radical” decision to take responsibility for their own children’s education will affect them in later years, it is sometimes helpful to look at what has happened to kids who have been through the experience already. I asked Brenda Shaw, a home-educated young woman living in Kingston, to talk to some older kids and report back to us. Brenda herself is an accomplished writer, who was chosen as an editorial writer for the Kingston Whig-Standard, and who plans to pursue university studies in astrophysics. The following is taken from her interviews with three older Ontario home scholars. Steacy Clarke is 16 years old, and after one year of public schooling, at age 6, she had had enough. Formerly a resident of Tamworth, Ontario, she and her family now make their home in (balmy) Victoria, B.C. (Hey, it’s February. I’m in Ontario. I could feel the ten degrees Centrigrade breezes over the phone). Her father, Alan Dolan, is a public relations consultant, and her mother, Susan Clarke, is “a mom.” Her brother Adrian is 13. Brian Mumper was in fourth grade when his parents, Randy and Ellen Mumper, made the decision to teach their kids at home. Brian was born in Greenville, South Carolina, and his family’s missionary work carried them to Antigua, then to New York, and finally to Kingston, Ontario. At 15, Brian is the president of his own company–Family Outreach Studios. He writes, produces, directs and acts in his own radio dramas for children (with a little help from friends and family). He also has a sister Jessica who is 13 and a brother Terry who is 11. Andrew Hackett is 19 years old, and lives in North Gower, Ontario. His sister Leah, 16, is also homeschooled. Their parents Arthur and Ellen, are respectively a government research scientist and a homemaker. They started homeschooling twelve years ago when Andrew was six, Leah was four, and older sister Julie was ten. (Sisters Lisa and Ruth, and brother A.J. were already out on their own). Q: Describe briefly your homeschooling experience. Why did you start? Steacy: I don’t think my mom was ever happy with the school system at all… we were always looking at alternatives. When (I was) about kindergarten age, she met someone who was homeschooling, so that is how we started. I went to school for one year, and we came out of school… and started out with some curriculum and basically worked up to being deschoolers with absolutely no curriculum whatsoever. Brian: We did not like the schools. When we moved up to the U.S., we did not like all the drugs and all the stuff that went along with it. Also, we moved a lot, and we did not want to keep switching. That was the main issue. Andrew: Mom was actually going to give my older sister (Julie) and me just a year at home, just to help us out with our school work, and then we were going to go back, but we ended up both not going back, and just doing it right on through high school at home… Because we live out in North Gower — we went to a Christian school in Ottawa and that would mean we would have to be up early… it was very long for a six-year-old kid, to have to do that, to not get home until supper time. Q: What kind of curriculum, if any, did you use? Steacy: We had curriculum to begin with, the Workshop Way program, and then over the years we just got rid of all our curriculum and now we are deschoolers. Brian: I was taught by textbooks that the school (Bob Jones University, a Christian-based curriculum provider) sent us. We learned by the book. Andrew: When we first started out, we had curriculum from the Christian school, that they lent us… growing up, it was pretty much unstructured, except for math… we learned as we went along — we’d go to museums, and the art gallery, and outings a lot. We were out every Friday on some sort of trip. Q: If you were attending high school, you would have access to “extra-curricular activities” like science fairs, marching bands, various clubs and teams, dances, etc. Do you think you have missed out on these sorts of things? Steacy: I don’t think I missed out on anything there. I felt when I was in school — most of the time I was just confused, there was just a lot of confusion. Way too many people. And what I see happening in school is you get to taste little bits of things but you do not get to pursue anything you really love. You get to do lots of test, but most people do not love tests! So I don’t think it would really be serving my needs to be there at all. My interests are in the arts, so it really does not serve me at all. Brian: We don’t really participate in anything because we did not know about anything… the only thing we have been doing is assisting, like at libraries, and going to museums. That’s really all. You could say that (karate) lessons are like gym. Andrew: No, I don’t think so. Q: Are there activities that you do participate in that you wouldn’t be able to if you were attending school? Steacy: Figure skating is something that takes a lot of my time and I don’t think I could be as dedicated to it if I was in school. And writing is something that takes up the rest of my time, and I want to write a book this year, a compilation of my short stories about skating. And I don’t think I could do that if I was in school either. Brian: If it weren’t for (homeschooling) I wouldn’t have very good attendance (at karate). Andrew: Not really, no. Q: Do

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Home Education and the Law (1996)

All homeschoolers in Ontario should know what the Education Act says about homeschooling. In section 21[2], the Act says that a child is excused from compulsory attendance at (public) school if he or she is receiving “satisfactory instruction at home or elsewhere.” Section 24[2] states: “Where the parent or guardian of a child considers that the child is excused from attendance at school under subsection 2 of section 21, and the appropriate school attendance counsellor or the Provincial School Attendance Counsellor is of the opinion that the child should not be excused from attendance, the Provincial School Attendance Counsellor shall direct that an inquiry be made as to the validity of the reason or excuse for non-attendance and the other relevant circumstances, and for such purpose shall appoint one or more persons who are not employees of the board that operates the school that the child has the right to attend to conduct a hearing and to report to him the result of the inquiry and may, by order in writing signed by him, direct that the child, (a) be excused from attendance at school; or (b)attend school…” This, unfortunately, is not a lot of help in negotiating the legal, political minefield that homeschooling in Ontario seems to have become. This article will address the reasons for Ontario’s complicated home-based education legal landscape, and suggest some short-term and long-term solutions. If the Law Protects Our Right to Homeschool–What’s the Big Deal? As you can see from the sections quoted from the Education Act, home-educated students are not required to attend school, assuming they are receiving satisfactory instruction. The Act does not attempt to define satisfactory instruction, but obviously, no more can be expected of homeschooling families than that which is deemed satisfactory in the public school system. Should a board form the opinion that a child is not receiving satisfactory instruction, then the Act provides that the Ministry (not the school board) may conduct an inquiry to determine whether the instruction is satisfactory. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education and school board officials are under the impression that the state, in the form of the school boards, must excuse the child from school attendance. In fact, under the law, children are excused from school attendance by virtue of the fact that they are receiving satisfactory instruction at home, just as they are excused when they attend a private school. 2013 Web Editor’s Note: the current policy (PPM131) has somewhat changed the stance of the Ministry and school boards as described in the above paragraph. The government now directs school boards to accept the parents’ letter of intent to homeschool as sufficient evidence that they are providing satisfactory instruction, unless there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect otherwise. The school board’s only responsibility, according to the Act, is to report to the Ministry the number of school-age children in its jurisdiction not attending public school, and the reasons therefore. Hence it is legitimate for a school board to contact a family and ask them why their school-age children are not attending school, but to go any further is beyond the requirements of the Act (and in fact, they can fulfill this obligation by using the census). If contacted, a family need answer only that they are providing instruction at home. (This same procedure holds true for families whose children attend private schools, although, for some mysterious reason, they are rarely, if ever, contacted.) School officials also sometimes maintain that “someone,” (read, a school official) must determine whether or not the instruction the child is receiving is satisfactory. Nowhere does the law require this. In Canada, the courts presume one to be innocent until proven guilty. Case law has made it clear that with regard to Ontario law and homeschooling, parents must be presumed to be providing satisfactory instruction. Parents cannot be presumed to be providing unsatisfactory instruction. This is tantamount to a presumption of guilt. Therefore there are no legal grounds, except in cases in which there is reason to believe otherwise, for the state to question whether satisfactory instruction is being provided. Where there is such reason, the law provides for the procedure of an inquiry. Because of these false presumptions on the part of Ministry and school board officials, a number of families have been forced to go through the inquiry process outlined in the Act. The problem is not the inquiry process in itself. It is, rather, that school boards have presumed that the instruction families were providing was not satisfactory, and with no evidence to support this presumption, have demanded an inquiry. We will examine the inquiry process, but first, to go further in determining the limits of Ministry and school board officials’ power, we must turn to the case law. Case Law and Homeschooling In Lambton County Board of Education vs. Mireille Beauchamp (1979) Judge Kent put the onus clearly on the school officials to prove that satisfactory instruction was not taking place. In other words, the school board had to produce clear evidence that the home-educating family was not providing satisfactory instruction. This decision was consistent with the basic principle of North American and British legal systems that one is innocent until proven guilty, and in addition, clearly respected that the parent has primary and ultimate responsibility for the education of the child. As Wendy Priesnitz, founder of the Canadian Alliance of Home Schoolers, has noted, it is ironic that “this case was the justification the Ministry gave when circulating the ‘Johnson memorandum’ (see below) in the early 1980s encouraging school boards to “monitor” home-based education…i.e. if they were going to charge families with not providing satisfactory instruction, they needed to have evidence!” In Jones v. Her Majesty the Queen (1986), the Supreme Court upheld the conviction under an Alberta law of Pastor Jones, a minister who ran a private school in his church’s basement, on three counts of truancy, and ruled that: “a requirement [as per the Alberta School Act] that a person who gives

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Public Perceptions of Home-Based Education

Many home-based educators know Ontario writer Paul Kropp from his critically-acclaimed book The Reading Solution, a cogent analysis and discussion of how and why people learn to read. Last year Mr. Kropp moved a little further afield when he produced The School Solution (Random House of Canada). In his new book, Mr. Kropp devoted exactly one page to the topic of “Home schooling,” and within this page he displayed a profound lack of understanding about home-based education, assuring his readers that it is “difficult, time-consuming, lonely and virtually impossible to do on your own.” He states further that, “In Canada it is the schooling of last resort. If all your other options seem hopeless, if you have the time to spend four hours a day teaching your own child, if you can somehow make up for your child’s isolation from his peers, then perhaps home schooling is for you.” Here are some other misconceptions. “As a home schooler, you are both parent and teacher, following the provincial curriculum in a program that must be monitored by someone in your local public school system….It is difficult to give home schooling a try and then abandon it if it doesn’t work out. Home schooling is a commitment and a philosophy, but one shared by only a handful of families, most of them in rural Alberta and British Columbia.” Mr. Kropp rather begrudgingly allots one third of a paragraph to positive statements about homeschooling, and in a sidebar lists some advantages, such as efficiency, convenience and the ability to create an individualized program. Many homeschoolers will find his list of “disadvantages” laughable. For example, he asserts that, “Few parents have sufficient expertise to tackle all senior high subjects,” “Few parents have training in teacher techniques,” “The educational bureaucracy is often not supportive,” and “Children are isolated from their peers.” At least two families in Ontario took exception to this cursory dismissal of our chosen educational option, and wrote to Mr. Kropp. Here are some quotations from their responses. From a homeschooling dad: “After reading this dismissive page, I could only shake my head in amazement that someone could so completely misrepresent a rapidly growing educational movement that approximately 5,000 families in Ontario alone have chosen. Did you actually interview any families that practice home-based education? Did you go any further in your research than the one 14-year-old book that is listed in your notes?… The biased, pitifully short portrait of home-based education your book presents will probably do considerable harm. Because of the high quality of your last book, readers will be expecting the same level of research and analysis in this book. You may well discourage, or at least raise unwarranted concerns, in the minds of many families considering home-based education, not to mention the fact that you have reinforced unjustified prejudice against this educational option. Many families experience negative comments from family, friends, and strangers when they choose to let their children learn at home, and unprecedented numbers of families are having trouble with school officials who seem to be unfamiliar with the fact that home-based education is a completely legal option. You have irresponsibly made things harder for many families.” A homeschooling mom in Pickering wrote: “Your opening paragraph pokes fun at the Colfax family. Does their success disturb you? I see in your notes that you did refer to one 14-year-old book. Did you read anything by Andrew Nikiforuk, Dorothy and Raymond Moore, John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, or David and Micki Colfax? This would be a good start. Better yet, did you talk to any families that are actually doing it? “Mr. Kropp, you did not do your homework on home schooling. Your false statements do much harm to our hard work and reputation. If you met my children you would find they are bright, confident, well-adjusted young people. Quite normal, in fact. Our family enjoys the freedom home-based education affords us. We rarely have the ‘stress’ you mention constantly in your book….My children…can focus on the joy of learning and not worry about being knifed in the hall on the way to the bathroom. They are well aware it is a tough society out there, but I can see they are becoming the kind of people who will help make changes for the positive.” Mr. Kropp responded to these two parents by sending each a postcard. To the first he wrote that he had made some good points but he just couldn’t go along with his thesis. He told the other that her family sounded special, but he stood behind his research and advice. He assured her that home schoolers should be monitored by the government, and that very few children in public schools ever see a knife. Publicly-stated misconceptions about home-based education propagate our current environment of fear and uncertainty. Some families decide to try home-based education in spite of negative public perceptions, only to find that they, and many other families, are having wonderfully positive experiences. How many families never get up the nerve to try something that could change their lives for the better?

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