A Submission to:
THE ROYAL COMMISSION ON EDUCATION
CANADIAN HOME EDUCATORS’ ASSOCIATION OF B.C.
Vicki Livingstone, President
True education throughout time has always been the harmonious development of the mental, physical, and spiritual aspects of a person’s being. The methodologies of education have traditionally diversified to meet the needs of society and this trend is still occurring today. As the variety of educational alternatives are viewed today, one is struck with the “full-circle” phenomenon which has been burgeoning in the past few decades – education coming back to the roots where it historically started: the home.
This brief looks at home education from four interrelated perspectives: 1. the Child; 2. the parent; 3. the school district; and 4. the Ministry of Education. After focussing upon home education from these four perspectives, recommendations will be presented in the summary.
1. The Child’s Perspective
Each child is unique and matures according to his/her own individual internal clock. This is true whether dealing with the physical, intellectual, emotional, social or spiritual aspects of that child. Because it is customized to meet each child’s individual needs, home education most consistently is able to allow the child to achieve his/her highest potential in each of the following five aspects.
1. Physically, research has proven that a child’s eye development is detrimentally affected by too much close work, ie: looking at pictures, drawing, cutting and pasting, reading, etc., often resulting in increased cases of Myopia. (Better Late Than Early, pp. 68-73)1
“The tissues of young children’s eyes up to about age 8 or 9 are softer or more plastic than older eyes. For example, the sclera, or the outer covering of the eyeball can be drawn out of normal shape by undue strain (Hilgarten, Henry L. The Frequency of Myopia in Individuals under 21 Years of Age. Paper presented to the Texas Medical Society, Austin, Texas, 1962.) Until the young child’s eyes have moved beyond this stage of plasticity, he should not read much, but should wait until his vision system is stabilized. And considering the possibility of damage to his eyes and his nervous system, not to mention his motivation, the brighter the child is the greater may be the risk of a regular reading program before the age of 8.”2
Likewise, the development of hearing (also important in learning to read) and intersensory perception (necessary for true learning to occur) is not optimal until age 8 or beyond.3
2. Intellectually, it is expedient to retain a high level of motivation in the child. It is important that the child does not experience failure simply because of starting when he/she is not ready. Problems inevitably occur because of the numbers in the regular public school classroom. There a teacher in the primary grades, teaching to the “average student” is not able to tailor the ‘learning-to-read’ timetable to accommodate a child who is a late-bloomer or simply not physically or intellectually ready to learn to read. Often an “I’m a failure” or “I’m dumb” attitude in the child is produced because he/she is slower than the others in the class. Such problems are avoided in the home school where the child’s own pace of progression is the norm. For instance, when we remember that reading is mainly a thinking process, Malcolm Douglas has stated that:
“We could probably reduce our reading problems to about 2% if we would delay formal reading instruction to the age of 9 or 10. (Douglas, Malcolm P. Innovation and the Credibility Gap. Address to California Elementary School Administratros Association and the California Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Palo Alto, January 19, 1968) This view is consistent with the experience of Scandinavian schools, where children have historically entered no earlier than age 7 and where reading problems are relatively rare.”4
3. Emotionally, the term ‘burn-out’ has only had application to school children in the past few decades as the trend to lowering the starting age for school as blossomed. It is reasonable to anticipate that children who start attending a play-school at age 3, a pre-school at age 4, kindergarten at age 5 and grade one at age 6 will suffer from burn-out by the middle or higher school greades. Home education has a positivie effect on the child’s ‘learning threshold’. Smaller doses of formalized schoolwork ranging from 1 to 3 hours are daily integrated with all of the other activities undertaken by the family within the home setting and community. A clearer perception of what education really is can be beautifully achieved in a home school. We never stop learning; each activity undertaken is teaching us something, in the cognitive, psycho-motor and affective domains.
The pure joy of learning has a chance to survive longer in the home setting. Concerned parents, with a far more personal interest in the child than can be found from any other adult, even a caring teacher, are able to 1.) positively reinforce the child continually throughout the day, and 2.) also take advantage of the opportunities that arise to reinforce the learning. For example, what was studied in the morning science lesson is applied as the family sets out on a nature hike later in the day. The home-educated child effectually gains optimum education. In the home school, more efficient learning can occur than would otherwise when home and school are separate. In the school the teacher does not fully know what the child is learning/doing at home and the parent does not fully know what the child is learning/doing at school.
Learning truly becomes a lifelong attitude in the home school, not something that is artificially imposed on a child. Learning is not separated into an isolated process that is labelled school: in other words, it is not compartmentalized. Boundaries between school and home overlap in many areas.
If the child has a negative attitude towards school, he likely will develop a negative attitude towards learning. Many school drop-outs are not in the lower half of the intelligence quotient but are simply turned off to learning and the conventional system. learning should be part of daily living and when school is in the home, learning tends to stay meaningful and practically applied.
A child who is home schooled generally has no doubt as to the love and affection his parents have for him. Home schooling parents will most likely be committed to their child’s best interests and education. It is obvious that home schooling parents enjoy their children – they like having their children around, otherwise they would not commit the time, energy and everything else required for home educating. The nurturing environment of the home school does much to promote learning and to produce “a better balanced, more stable, more sociable and higher achieving child, and very likely, a better adjusted person than the child who must leave the home for other care.”5
4. Socially, the home school is able to avoid most of the negative influence that exist when age-peer socialization occurs. The negative influences exerted by peer group pressure (e.g. experimentation with drugs, sex, crime, rebellion against authority, etc.) is negligible in a home school where the child has grown up having a strong identity, knows who he is, and has the stability afforded in a closely knit family.
Are we optimally socializing our children by segregating them with age-peers for possibly more than a dozen years of their lives, for the better portion of waking hours, 5 days out of every 7? Which is the more artificial socialization? Cornell’s Urie Bronfenbrenner point out that:
“Children who are more with their peers than their parents at least until the fifth or sixth grade will become peer dependent. These youngsters lose self-worth, optimism, respect for parents and even trust in their peers; in short, lost are key ingredients for a positive sociability. Instead kids become negatively socialized and so segregated from adults and other age groups that they can get along only with their age mates.”6
5. Spiritually, the child’s needs are not to be met in a public school setting. The mandate of public education dictates leaving the spiritual education to the home and churches for fear of being accused of “religious indoctrination.” Yet the existence of a spiritual dimension to a human being is less likely to be denied today than ever before. Schools have been pushed more and more into the arena of moral issues and methods such as values clarification and courses like Family Life have been designed in answer to the abdication of many parents in teaching their children moral principles in the home.
When home educated, a child has a better opportunity to acquire strong values and a clearer conception of what right and wrong are. Whether the home school is built upon Christian principles or not, the child kept in the home environment for schooling will not encounter any conflict of interest between what is being lived at home and taught at school. The home school is conducive to the child learning to make proper choices and sound decisions, internalizing the values as lived by his parents.
2. The Parent’s Perspective
In a democratic society, there exists the fundamental right for parents to determine the kind of education they wish for their children. Parents’ reasons for home educating will be as diverse as the lifestyles of the various families doing it, yet in this diversity is a reality based upon the fact that the greatest responsibility for the child rests with the parents. Where the parents’ values and belief system are passed on to the children (the principles with the rules!), society is more stable and healthy. It is when the opposite situation occurs that societies eventually crumble and perish, as history only too vividly bears witness.
It is important for parents to maintain control over what their child is taught. Because this right of control becomes more distanced from parents in the school system, the frustrations and impotency many parents feel result either in apathy or friction between parents and educational professionals who display the attitude that because of their training, they know what is best for the child. Home educating parents perceive their role as teaching their child ‘how-to’ learn. Therefore, they are teaching skills rather than content. The skills include literacy skills, study and research skills, application and practical skills and discipline skills. The home educating parent becomes a preceptor, teaching by precept and example, facilitating and initiating the learning process, but ever realizing that their child, as he masters the skills and application of learning, will likely far surpass the parent-teacher. It is not necessary for the parents who choose to home educate to be experts in everything they teach; rather than teaching things, they teach how to learn and in turn, the child applies what he learns, not to earn marks or to regurgitate what a teacher expects to hear, but as a natural fruit of true education.
Following are some of the concerns of home educating parents within British Columbia.
One reason for home schooling is the desire to avoid regimentation in a system (regardless of whether it could be labelled good or bad) and the moulding of the child to conform according to uniform dictates of what is perceived to be the societal norm. When the topic of testing or monitoring of home educated children is addressed, these parents have a genuine concern that the testing procedure accommodate the flexibility of customized home teaching. The rationale behind the testing needs to be set out. There will be no fear amongst home educating parents in having their children tested using a standardized test if it is being done for the positive purpose of (i) establishing at what lefvel(s) the child is working; (ii) pinpointing areas of weakness that need more attention; and (iii) acting as a diagnostic tool in recognizing various learning dysfuntions. The negative rationale would demand testing for the purpose of proving home education as inferior. Enclosed please find research proving the value of home education. Home schooling is a tutorial situation, one to one or one to few, and thusly requires little, if any, testing.
Parents who want a strictly Christian curriculum for their child are concerned that this right be upheld. Christian parents opting to home school will assuredly be teaching their child ‘reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic’ but the aducation will as well go into the spiritual realm. These parents would like the assurance that basic knowledge and skills alone will be evaluated when testing is employed, not content or values. No discrimination between Christian or non-Christian curriculum, state-school or homeschool should be allowed to creep in.
Many parents who choose to home educate are convinced that ‘later is better than earlier’ in regards to starting their children in a formal learning program. These parents are concerned that their child wil be forced into an earlier starting schedule than is in the child’s best interest. In the home school the child operates on a readiness program. He is neither pushed nor started before signs of readiness are apparent.
The parents of learning disabled and/or physically handicapped children have special concerns. Diagnosis of mental or physical disabilities is important and often may need to be made outside the home by trained medical or educational staff. Parents of these special needs children may still choose to home school with the support of the community and its services. In fact, generally, the paramount concern of these parents is how to have their child integrated into the public or separate school classroom so the child has the opportunity to learn to interact normally with other children. Many of these parents may choose home educating only as a part-time or short term option for their child.
Parents who have already been home educating their child for the pre-high school years and who choose to continue through the high school years generally have no concerns about not receiving a diploma. Taking one year at a time, at each step along their child’s educational ladder they’ve done what has been in the child’s best interests, and the high school years are no different.
3. The School District
The school districts formally bear the responsibility of administering the BC Public Schools Act. Parents and school districts agree that the legality of home education needs to be clearly defined. There appears to be an underlying fear by certain authorities that by legalizing home education there will be a dramatic decrease in enrollment in the public system and already strained budgets will collapse from decreased funding. This fear is unfounded as the majority of parents will continue to support the public and separate school systems. The minority that choose to home school then, however, will do so without the stigma of being in a gray area of the law. Public and private systems will be better able to offer assistance to the home educator within defined areas.
At present, some school districts are very open to home educating parents. The superintendent encourages informal use of the school facilities. Even in these areas however, the districts are clearly looking to the Ministry of Education for leadership.
Dispelling the gray area will:
Many school officials worry about integrating children from home schools into the public school system. This really is no different than trying to integrate a child from another province into the curriculum. Again standardized testing as well as district testing can be used to place a child with little fuss. Research tends to prove that home educated children generally are high achievers and have superior work habits. Most are self-motivated and this will stand them in good stead as they fit into the system.
4. The Ministry of Education
Home educators recognize that society demands that children receive a certain level of education. It is the mandate of the Ministry of Education to ensure that this level of adequate education is met both in the public and private school systems as well as the home school. This assessment of education in the home could range from a highly regulated, state-imposed reporting and testing process to a de-regulated, flexible evaluation system where the parent works as a team with the officials. The real concern must be what will benefit the child the most.
Home educators feel that the current Ministry of Education has taken a positive step in establishing a Royal Commission to address all the concerns in respect to education. The Canadian Home Educators Association of B.C. would like to present the following recommendations:
1. What is meant by home education needs to be defined. Home education is an alternative form of education where the child is taught the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic by a parent in the child’s home using a curriculum either designed by the parent or purchased from a supplier. A home school is not the same as an independent school. As soon as a parent is agreeing to educate other than his/her own children at home, he/she has gone outside the definition of home education into the area of running an independent school.
2. The parents alone should determine the starting age for their child to begin a formal academic program. The parents know best the readiness of their child by appraising all aspects of his being (physical, mental, spiritual). The Ministry should not impose an uniform starting age and relatedly, testing should not be carried out in a formal way in the primary years.
3. No policy should be set out in respect of home educating that will dictate: a) time commitment – a minimum amount of hours each day, remembering that this is a tutorial system and time commitments are vastly different than the classroom system; b) curriculum – aside from teaching the basic three R’s parents should be responsible for setting the curriculum content for their child, maintaining the flexibility in a home school conducive to differing interests, lifestyles, and belief systems.
4. There is a need to legalize home education so that parents and school personnel can work together as colleagues.
5. Testing should be conducted for the reasons already discussed and that it be of a skills rather than content orientation. Testing of primary age children should be done using informal methods already recognized in many districts.
In short, the BC Association urges the Commission to take home education out of the grey area, into the partnership that it should be with the school districts. Our goals are common – the education of children to become stable, productive, valuable members of society. Children are our future. Let’s work together to give them the quality and alternatives that they need.
1 Raymond S. Moore and Dorthy N. Moore, Better Late Than Early (Berrien Spring, MI: Reader’s Digest Press, 1975), pp. 68-73.
2 Moore, p. 70.
3 Moore, pp. 73-76.
4 Moore, p. 86.
5 Moore, p. 87.
6 Urie Bronfenbrenner, Two Worlds of Childhood, p. 169. (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1970)