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Crackdown on Homeschoolers

Merci de nous contacter si vous pouvez nous aider a traduire ce post.

Nous vous encourageons à commenter vous-même sur le projet de loi 144: http://www.assnat.qc.ca/fr/travaux-parlementaires/projets-loi/projet-loi-144-41-1.html


The Rédaq and some of our allies were included in the recipients of this open letter from a parent to Minister of Education Sébastien Proulx. We invite you to discover herein some of the realities of educating otherwise in Quebec. Thank you to the author, who has chosen to remain anonymous, for permission granted to publish this letter here. 

We encourage you to share your comments with the government on their proposed bill 144: http://www.assnat.qc.ca/en/travaux-parlementaires/projets-loi/projet-loi-144-41-1.html

TM.


Open Letter:

Dear Minister Proulx,

I am an unschooling parent, who is trying to give my child the best education that I possibly can, as I believe most parents strive to do. From what I gather, the proposed Bill 144would seriously infringe on my civil liberties and my ability to choose what is best for my child with respect to his educationIncidentally, I am unable to find a copy of this Bill on the National Assembly website and have had to rely entirely on the media’s coverage, to determine its contents. Why is that?

I am extremely disappointed to see that you are choosing a “cookie cutter”, “one size fits all” approach to your proposed educational reforms. From what I have seen thus far, your rationale seems to position you on the WRONG side of history. There is an incredible opportunity here for mutual growth, shared learning and resources between “mainstream” schoolers, homeschoolers, un-schoolers, world-schoolers and others. There is more than one path to academic success.

Instead, what I am seeing is a top-down autocratic approach that seems to devalue parental authority, while looking to a severely broken system and trying to pass it off as the gold standard. While I appreciate the assumed intent of the Bill: to ensure that all children have access to a “proper education”; and to protect children from all forms of abuse, I have to challenge your authority to define those criteria.

I respect the diverse range of choices that other parents make in an effort to provide their children with the most appropriate and effective education possible. I can only hope that they also respect mine. Each child is unique and will flourish in an environment that best reflects their unique needs.

Under these new reforms, I could be subject to fines up to $60,000, and risk having my happy and healthy child removed from our family. Why should I have to live under such a draconian threat?

Is it because my wife and I have chosen to “unschool” (a learning approach that follows no rigid curriculum and, instead, is driven by the interests and imagination of the child) our child, to not follow any imposed curriculum, and allow him to retain his incredible enthusiasm for learning, rather than have his passion for learning extinguished by a coercive and competition-driven educational system? In the words of educational philosopher, John Holt, “Children are born passionately eager to make as much sense as they can of things around them. If we attempt to control, manipulate, or divert this process, the independent scientist in the child disappears.” Are the students in you schools awed by nature and the miracle of life and passionate about seeking out its mysteries? Can you honestly say with confidence that the vast majority of the students enrolled in schools do not spend time every day, staring at a clock and wishing they were somewhere else or doing something else? That is a situation I have yet to experience with my son.

Do you want to penalize us because you think that we need to subscribe to the prevailing philosophy of standardized evaluation and competition that is pervasive and practiced in most ministry run schools? Because, we have chosen, instead, to instill in our child the values of collaboration, caring relationships, consensus building and self-evaluation – which we deem to be increasingly necessary in today’s society, which is challenged by persistent inequality, violence and unhappiness?

Is it because we are a small, often persecuted and marginalized group (an ‘easy target’); just the latest victims of the type of colonialist thinking that resulted in Residential Schools – another situation in which the state granted itself the “authority” to remove children from their homes and communities, for a so-called ‘better education’? Have we not learnt enough from history to avoid the embarrassment and pitfalls associated with such misguided initiatives?

Is it because mainstream education is feeling a bit jealous of the fact that 83% of “unschoolers” go on to pursue higher education1, whereas, only about 60% of Francophone students and 70% of Anglophone students graduate from high school within 7 years2? Or, perhaps because many “unschoolers” attribute their academic success to the fact that they had to develop ingenuity and autonomy and resilience to pursue their interests in an unschooling environment? As a professional educator I am interested in understanding what experiences most enable students to fee self-actualized, fulfilled and become effective members of society, able to help our society to heal from its profoundly sick characteristics (more on that later).

Is it because you want to draw attention away from the fact that the last set of sweeping educational reforms that you initiated in 2000, lacked the commitment to back it up with resources; and so it failed miserably in meeting any of its worthy objectives3? I am prompted to ask “why don’t you clean up your own house before trying to tidy up mine?”

Is it because you actually believe that only the state has the exclusive moral and academic authority to identify and deliver a “proper education”? Have we all lost our minds? The current educational system has consistently failed to empower students to address society’s most pressing issues – particularly persistent inequity, human suffering and environmental degradation. In many instances Quebec’s schools have provided a fertile environment for the perpetuation of bullying, violence, discrimination and marginalization4. It should not be surprising that most of the students from such educational systems have limited abilities to contribute positively to society, and a significant number go on to undermine social wellbeing, thereby becoming an enormous cost to society. Although conventional education, may serve some students quite well, one has to wonder to what extent it is (perhaps unintentionally) brainwashing its students into accepting and perpetuating a dysfunctional and totally unsustainable status quo. It has consistently failed to create a generation of critical thinkers with the intellectual and emotional wherewithal to effectively address and reverse the destructive side-effects of the post-industrial revolution. On the whole, as a teacher, I don’t see my students striving to create a fair distribution of wealth, or to help save our planet from human caused misery and ecological unsustainability. Most are content to just find well-paying jobs that will allow them to live the “American Dream”.

Is it because you are pandering to the ludicrous cries of all those “guilt-ridden” (and possibly envious) parents who cry foul when addressing the unspeakable cruelty of “unschooling” your child and sentencing them to a blight future and inevitable stupidity? Some have even, without evidence, characterised ‘unschooling’ as “failing to educate”. Is it possible that leaving the most important job of imparting knowledge and values to the most loved and cherished persons in a parents’ world, to a group of relative strangers, might be construed as “failing to parent”?5 I can’t count the number of times that mainstream parents have told me that my child will never be socialized if they don’t go to school. Usually, this is happening as my child is peacefully sharing his toys and inventing magical imaginative “worlds”, while their kids are shrieking “mine!!!” as they cling to my son’s toys. Please let me assure all those concerned that there are a plethora of opportunities for non-mainstream parents to socialize their kids. The difference for me is that I choose to do it in an environment that is supportive of a culture of collaboration, not competition, self-motivation rather than coercion, imagination instead of “colouring within the lines”, critical thinking and rich dialog rather than blind acceptance, and courageousness as opposed to feeling disempowered. Whether it’s hand-picked classes (e.g. dance, music, art, math…) or play groups or Nature programs or community activities and clubs (e.g. ornithology, scouts, archery, quilting…), sports activities and group outing (e.g. theatre, concerts, museums, etc.) – my son is given the unique opportunity to engage with his peers collaboratively in both mediated and unmediated settings. Very rarely is he told that he needs to “shhhhh” because he is interrupting a teacher who is doing his or her best to control 30 students. When I taught elementary and high school, I probably spent at least 20% of my allotted teaching time addressing class management issues. As an unschooler I immediately gained back all that learning time for my son.

Is it because you really think that I should accept the moral authority of the government (one that is sadly having to deal with exposures of corruption and collusion scandals) to choose the most ethical path for my child to follow? How many times have you and your colleagues voted to bolster the interests of Big Business to the detriment of your constituents and the natural world? Did I mention, “Clean up your own house…”6?

Is it because I should recognize that just being able to recite the alphabet and carry out multiplication, is far more important than being able to identify bird species by their songs; being able to prepare healthy meals and maintain a home in ecologically sustainable ways; be familiar with the medicinal uses of local plants; be able to identify all the trees and other plants within ones local ecosystem; knowing how to participate effectively in a mock parliament (with my child’s other unschooling friends); be able to garden and produce one’s own, unadulterated food; be able to dance and sing, and even do cartwheels on the lawn…? Even Jean-Jacques Rousseau, recognized what every study I have seen corroborates, that learning with a mentor, who models passion for the topic, will result in the student being more likely to excel in that area. The mentors and teachers of ‘unschoolers’ have the luxury of being able to provide these conditions, one that is extremely rare in public schools, given the high student-to-teacher ratios, which, sadly, are now the norm.

Is it because the government has a vested interest in not properly investigating and effectively addressing the risks and dangers associated with the human and environmental impacts of conventional farming, food production and processing, the excessive use of pharmaceutical products, excessive screen time, the omnipresent exposure to micro-waves, excessive consumerism, and the shortcomings of an educational system that has demonstrated so little innovation in the past 200 years; such that a person who lived in the 1800’s would have little difficulty recognizing today’s modern schools, despite their subservience to the ‘electronic take-over’. The same cannot be said of telephones and cars, or even clothing, to name a few aspects of society that have evolved over that time. Educational institutions and governments have been complicit in perpetuating a ‘Military-Academic-Industrial complex’ that has allowed the ongoing exploitation and destruction of our natural resources and our health and wellbeing. God forbid some subversive thinkers choose to question the sanctity of those institutions!

Perhaps the greatest possible aspiration of this Bill could be, to be more closely connected to a segment of the population, the non-mainstream schoolers, that have the means and resources to engage with our children in developmentally appropriate activities that capture the imagination and spur on the desire to grow and to learn. They have already realized that sitting for inordinate amounts of time in a classroom listening to a teacher, or a machine, is hardly an awe-inspiring or developmentally appropriate experience. Again, as John Holt suggests, “We ask children to do for most of a day what few adults are able to do for even an hour. How many of us, attending, say, a lecture that doesn’t interest us, can keep our minds from wandering? Hardly any.”

Are you assuming that I am not concerned about when my child learns to walk, talk, read, write, do math and learn to play a musical instrument. Barring obvious psychological deficits, I am very confident that by adulthood, through my child’s pursuit of his interests and passions, he will have acquired all the necessary skills (and many more than would be nurtured in mainstream ‘schools’) that he needs to pursue his career goals and live a healthy productive life. The average Canadian watches 22 hours per week of television (and also spends considerable amounts of time playing video games, in front of computers and other electronic screen devices). Doctors prescribe an average of 14 drug prescriptions per Canadian per year (not to mention the use of non-prescription drugs) 8. 18% of Quebecers are considered obese, according to a 2014 survey by Stats Can. These are, in part, the results of following the norms of a flawed and malfunctioning educational system.  Please excuse me if I choose for my child to opt out.

I am concerned that while you may economize on healthcare, by scaring prospective “unschoolers” from giving birth in hospitals and seeking medical care when needed, there may be a far more nefarious purpose to this Bill.  It seems that all non-mainstream students will be required to register with their local school boards, pay fees and incur new additional costs. All the while these students will not be using the resources, facilities or materials from the school board. Sounds like a cash grab!!! Although it seems unconscionable (and possibly unconstitutional) to me, to use an essential service that relies so heavily on user confidentiality/privilege, to go on a “witch-hunt” for unschoolers, I am not a lawyer, so I might be sadly mistaken.

It would be encouraging if the government were anticipating a return on a potential substantial investment, which has yet to be announced, in which the government would grant homeschoolers and unschoolers, financial resources and tax breaks – at least equivalent to the amount of money that they save the government, by not requiring their educational services and draining resources from the public kitty (i.e. fewer teachers needed, fewer books needed, less facilities needed, etc.). Incidentally, both homeschoolers and unschoolers play important roles in supporting a diverse range of economic activities; for example, they attend museums and use other community facilities (parks, libraries, etc.) at a time when most children are in school. And, because they are often not affiliated with a group or school, they do not pay the subsidized costs that school children often do. They often pay full price.

Is it not fair to assume that if the government has billions of dollars to waste –  on ensuring that Bombardier CEO’s can give themselves multi-million dollar bonuses for their failing performance, and invest millions of dollars to promote a sporting event that contributes towards air pollution and glorifies the consumption of fossil fuels (i.e. Grand Prix) – at a time when the survival of the human race requires us to significantly reduce our CO2 emissions – surely there would be available the small amount of money needed to support the provinces’ homeschoolers and unschoolers, without  taking an Orwellian approach?7

Even though I hold a post graduate degree and am a professional educator, I don’t think that this should determine how my comments are received. Anyone who can provide their child with a safe and loving environment, full of rich opportunities to learn and grow, should be given the freedom to do so; and to have their voice heard. That said, if any child, who fully understands the implications, decides to opt for conventional schooling, they should certainly be granted that right. Sadly though, your government is in no position, to laud its moral or academic authority over others, whose educational priorities do not concur with the governments’ limited understanding of teaching and learning.

Sadly, I see my primary role as a licensed teacher within the Quebec Educational system, as helping my students lead healthier, happier and more productive lives, through facilitating the healing of wounds that were inflicted upon them, to a large extent, by their conscription into mainstream schools? Typically, my students fear ridicule and resist sharing their thoughts and ideas – unless there are marks attached! They have suffered much in a system that has so often extinguished their intrinsic and spontaneous desire to learn. They have come to expect that conforming talent will be rewarded, and difference will be marginalized, and even penalised. How many of the students in state schools can honestly say that throughout their educational journey they felt loved, valued and respected, despite any differences in their ethnicity, learning interests, sex, age, nationality, socio-economic situations, religion, skin colour, body type, physical appearance, sexual orientation, beliefs and gender affiliation, etc.?

Why not investigate any cases of neglect and inappropriate refusals to send children to school, rather than impose strict educational attendance and pedagogical norms across the board?

If the School board wants to visit me (as often as necessary) to engage in pedagogical dialogue, and discuss whether or not my child is on track to become a contributing member of society, I’m open to that. But, I strongly doubt that they would possess the skills to do that adequately or effectively. You see, my aspirations for my child do not fit your “cookie cutter” mold and I am not confident that they can be met in a typical classroom setting or its curriculum. I want my child to be healthy, to consume healthy foods, to recognize the importance of minimizing screen time and the use of electronic devices, to retain and continue to develop his incredible imagination, to be autonomous, think critically, be happy, not need drugs to live a healthy life, be confident, loving, compassionate and empowered to confront the diverse challenges confronting his generation.

Mr. Proulx, I hope that your formal education has given you the skills and ability to honestly and effectively address these questions and concerns.

Sincerely,

An anonymous unschooling parent, who will now shudder every time I have to engage with an institution (hospitals, etc.) that might expose me as an unschooling parent and its possible consequences.

P.S. I’ll be checking my mailbox for that check to support my unschooling efforts.

1https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201406/survey-grown-unschoolers-i-overview-findings

2http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/dismal-dropout-rates-among-french-speaking-students-worry-minister-1.2771757

3http://montrealgazette.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-fixing-flawed-education-reform-cant-wait

4 http://montrealgazette.com/news/quebec/violence-is-down-in-quebec-schools-universite-laval-study-finds

5http://www.canadianfamily.ca/kids/baby/unschooling-forget-homeschooling-theyll-figure-it/

6https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/quebec-liberal-caucus-faces-corruption-crisis-after-political-interference-allegations/article34840660/

7http://www.montrealgazette.com/sports/debate+continues+over+much+race+cars+pollute+environment/9919288/story.html

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/canadians-using-more-prescription-drugs-tracking-firm-reports-1.804817

One thought on “Crackdown on Homeschoolers

  1. Genevieve Lamarche

    Dear unschooling parent,

    I sincerely loved your words. I think you took most of my feelings and put them into your words, something I could never have put it together so darn beautifully.

    I agree with most of what you have mentioned about our broken down system. You are totally right by telling them to clean their own houses before yours. The system is flawed and doesn’t work for the most students. If it did, we would have a 100% students graduation as opposed to the meagre 60% francophones who graduate high school.

    I support what you do for your son. Don’t let them stop you. If I would be in a position to unschool my own kid, I WOULD but I am a single parent with only one source of income. I am already discouraged with the system and my son is only in first grade. I have already made complaints about numerous problems and none have been adressed. Too much screen time at school, too many sweetened snacks given, too much smart boards being used. I think its odd that I have to fight my own school to not put my kid in front of too much computer games or youtube or give him sugar and that was in pre-k and kindergarden !!!

    Your words trully touched some serious issues and we can only hope they will be adressed.

    a supportive parent
    gen

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