All students going through the Teacher Education Program at the University of Toronto must complete an internship in order to graduate. From the beginning of the year I knew that I wanted to do an internship that involved the topic of homeschooling. Even before we had children my husband and I seriously thought about the prospect of homeschooling our children. I thought that doing an internship on the subject would be a great way of getting more information.
Before the school year started I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I was pregnant. Therefore, doing an internship on homeschooling seemed even more intriguing because then maybe I would have the flexibility of taking my child with me while visiting families in their homes as they homeschooled. However, as the year went on I began to have doubts that I would be able to complete an internship at all because realistically it would be too much stress to visit families everyday for a month with a newborn. And sure enough when my son Oliver was born, he was too much of a handful to take around to an internship. But all was not lost. I had been in contact with Herb Jones, a member of the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents (OFTP), and it was approved by the university that I could complete a research project on OFTP at home for my internship. The following is a reflection on what I've done and what I've learned while doing my internship with the OFTP.
Basically, my goals were to find out what the educational climate was like when OFTP started, the reasons why OFTP started, and what OFTP is doing today. I spent a lot of time reading the articles found on the OFTP website. The website is very comprehensive in providing information about the organization and homeschooling in general. OFTP provides services like support groups and legal help. They organize Diversity in Education conferences and are currently working on a Post-Secondary Admissions project.
While researching the educational climate in the 1970's around the time that the home schooling movement began, my site supervisor J. Gary Knowles provided an article that he co-wrote about the origins of homeschooling from 1970-1990. The article is American based, but I'm sure it represented what was going on in Canada at the time as well. The article outlined 5 phases of the homeschooling movement: contentions (criticisms of public schools), confrontation with educators (court cases), cooperation with schools, consolidation (networking), and compartmentalization (like-minded homeschoolers joining together). I would say that it was during the confrontation stage the OFTP started its work here in Canada. The confrontation stage is characterized by the court cases of home educators versus school boards/states regarding issues of the rights of parents, the roles of the school board/state and educational choice. Among its purposes, OFTP acts as a link between home educators and institutions such as the provincial government and school boards. With the amount of confrontation that was going on at the time, an organization like OFTP needed to be formed.
As part of my internship I was in contact with Albert Lubberts, one of the original founders of OFTP. He provided me with some further insight into some of the reasons OFTP was formed. In an email, Albert said:
"OFTP was formed in 1987 by a small group of individuals who were not actually home schooling individuals. The original founders, Dora Force of Woodstock, Barney McCafferry of Killaloe, myself and a couple others were at the time all involved in private schools with dispersed classrooms. Back in the late '70s and early '80s, the Ministry of Education thought it a good idea to have homeschooling families join together to form private schools. This way, the Ministry believed, these families could be readily monitored and tracked. In many instances, regional school inspectors helped set up these schools. In the middle '80s, the Ministry changed their way of thinking and attempted to close down a number of these schools. At one time there were at least 25 private schools with dispersed classrooms. Today about 15 remain. Because of this, OFTP was formed. The original purpose was to combat the adversarial activities of the Ministry and school boards who attempted to disrupt the activities of individual families that were members of these private schools. At that time, there were no support groups who had any experience in dealing with school boards and the Ministry. OFTP membership consisted of families who were members or owners of these private schools. Over time, OFTP took on true homeschooling families as well and today, the membership is virtually all home schooling families. For about 5 years, until OCHEC was formed in 1991 or 1992, OFTP was the only provincial support group and still is the only non-sectarian support group in the province."
Unfortunately, there still remains confrontations and that is why OFTP is still needed. Confrontations about what, you may ask? Many reasons, but many confrontations have been over two little words, "satisfactory instruction". Ontario's Education Act Section 21. (2) (a) states "a child is excused from attendance at school if, the child is receiving satisfactory instruction at home or elsewhere". From what I understand some school boards/Ministry of Education have taken upon themselves the job of determining what is satisfactory instruction. Some have sent letters to homeschooling parents informing them that they have to provide detailed plans of instruction and that school boards must assess and evaluate their children. Some boards even portray that home visits and standardized tests are mandatory according to the law. (For more information on this issue see https://ontariohomeschool.org/jmemo/ ). OFTP and home educators would argue that nowhere in the Education Act does it say that parents have to provide this information and that these are intrusive practices. The question was even asked, "Are our school systems providing satisfactory instruction with so many students still not able to do the basics and not motivated to learn?"
As I read these articles on homeschooling I felt uncomfortable reading about the harassment parents got from school boards/Ministry of Education. I felt a conflict within myself. Here I am a new teacher and also thinking about homeschooling. They seem so incompatible. But I know that both parties have the same goals - the best education for the children. However, sometimes it felt as if the situation was such a dichotomy. Either you're on the side of public schooling or you're a home educator that has rejected the school system. Rejecting the school system seems like such hard words to me. Some of the articles talked about the collaboration efforts of home educators with the school board. If I become a home educator I think that I would probably have some dealings with the schools. Mainly because I know that there are some very good resources that I would like to access.
Although I think that I would have some dealing with the school boards if I was a home educator, I'm not sure about the testing part. My husband and I asked ourselves, if we were home educators would we want the school boards to administer standardized tests to our child. On the one hand we were against it because we felt that those tests might not reflect what our children really knew. Most likely it would be a paper and pencil test or some other test that didn't take into consideration the learning styles or abilities of our child. On the other hand, the words of one of my university professors comes to mind. He would say that we should look at evaluation as just a time to show how good you are and as a way to get feedback in order to do even better. We shouldn't test as a way of competition between children, but as a way for each child to see their strengths and weaknesses.
I don't think that evaluation is bad, but it's the kind of testing that is important. Even in our classes at teacher's college we were learning about different forms of assessment rather than paper and pencil tests. We learned about Multiple Intelligences and to keep them in mind when developing our assessment and evaluation tools. We were taught ways of assessing that catered to the children's learning styles and abilities and that provoked higher forms of thinking, not just the regurgitation of facts. If tests could be administered that addressed these issues then I, and maybe other homeschooling parents, would be more willing to have their children tested.
All in all, I felt that this internship was a very valuable experience, not just to me personally, but to my teaching profession as well. The thing that attracts me to homeschooling is the idea of providing an education that is uniquely suited for our child. I want my child to be a self-directed learner and to enjoy the learning process. However, I would want that not only for my own children, but for the children that come into my classroom.
By learning why parents are dissatisfied with the public school system I am able to use that information and modify my own teaching. I might not be able to change the whole system, but I can try to make my classroom an environment where the learning styles of the children are taken into consideration and self-directed learning is encouraged. One of the standards of practice of the teaching profession is ongoing learning. My teaching practice will always be changing as I learn new things and what I've learned about homeschooling definitely will have an impact on my teaching.
One article on the OFTP website talked about the possibility of more collaboration with the school boards through enrichment programs or part-time enrollment with the schools. Ideally, homeschooled children would be able to participate in athletic, musical, foreign language, and other extracurricular activities in school facilities. This is something that I hope will become more commonplace in the future. I would love to be a teacher that worked with home educators and their children.
Knowles, JG., Marlow, SE., and Muchmore, JA. (1992). From Pedagogy to Ideology: Origins and Phases of Home Education in the United States, 1970-1990. University of Chicago.
Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents Website www.ontariohomeschool.org
Van Galen, J. & Pitman, M.Anne. (1991). Home schooling : political, historical, and pedagogical perspectives. Norwood, NJ : Ablex Pub.
Verbruggen-Adams, P. (1991). A handbook of home schooling : an analysis of the home schooling movement. Thesis (M.Ed.)-Brock University