Discussions about home-schooling children during a time of state-enforced compulsory school attendance first circulated during the late 1960s. At the time, the practice was comparatively rare and usually involved reclusive religious communities that isolated themselves from the main population and lived in remote locations. A few mainstream families that engaged in farming and lived in remote regions in very small communities also home-schooled their children, usually guided by a teacher located in a large town. Today, a small but no longer minuscule percentage of families worldwide have chosen to home-school their children.
Concerns about the quality of education in state-run schools began to emerge in the 1960s following the publication of such books as Why Johnny Can’t Read that condemned the whole-word reading instruction fashion that had taken hold in American schools. So-called experts in education had rejected the earlier phonic method of letter recognition and sounding out each letter to discover each word, but parents and family members who taught children to read at home could use the phonic method of reading instruction, with great success.
Worldwide, parents living in certain jurisdictions are free to home-school their children with minimal state interference, while other jurisdictions are openly hostile to the practice. In Germany, home-schooling parents risk losing custody of their children, the result of a law enacted by the Third Reich that banned the practice. At the time, children were being brainwashed in the state-run schools regarding the wisdom of the national leader, to whom the children owed respect, obedience and allegiance. Across North America, jurisdictions like California uphold the German standard, while Quebec is at least somewhat hostile to home-schooling.
In early 2015, home-schooling families in Alberta became the focus of certain government officials after members of a teachers’ union reported that groups of children were being home-schooled in the province. In an era of social media and electronic telecommunications, home-schooling families have formed support networks and even organize outings such as visits to museums and art galleries for their children. The supreme law of Canada accords citizens the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of association—except in Alberta, if those citizens happen to be home-schooling their children.
The Alberta teachers’ union and government officials want to stop home-schooling families from associating with each other, seeking to prevent them from exercising their constitutional right to freedom of assembly. A clause in the Constitution claims that it is the supreme law of Canada and that “any law that is inconsistent with the statutes spelled out in the constitution, are to the extent of the inconsistency, to be of no force or effect.”
So a question begs to be asked of officials of the Government of Alberta and the Alberta teachers’ union in regard to the constitution of Canada: Does the Constitution of Canada and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms contained within that Constitution have any relevance for the Alberta teachers’ union and for provincial government officials? Does the concept of freedom of peaceful assembly as spelled out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, mean anything to either the teachers’ union or to provincial government officials? Any attempt by the government of Alberta to invoke a notwithstanding clause in regard to freedom of peaceful assembly sets a dangerous precedent. It may begin with the children of home-schooling families today, but then expand to include other citizens’ groups tomorrow.
Across the United States, teachers’ unions vehemently oppose the home-schooling movement, and the trend may be spreading to Canada. In the US, many employers and even institutions of higher learning regard the high school graduation diploma as little more than a certificate of school attendance. Several institutions of higher learning actually employ grade school teachers to teach remedial English to first year university students who are deficient in reading, grammar, sentence structure and spelling. Members of teachers’ unions who oppose home-schooling taught these same students during their high school years.
Several years ago, this writer became aware of an extraordinary practice involving a small number of teachers employed in the state school system. They actually enrolled their own children in private schools, while other teachers actually home-schooled their own children to ensure that they would receive a higher quality of education, acquired in a learner-paced environment. Some families owned collections of compact discs of documentaries that covered a wide range of subjects that included history, physics, geography, chemistry and other subjects that could be adapted to the learner’s pace.
Some home-schooling families actually owned electronic hobby sets, chemistry sets and other scientific equipment that allowed learners, at their own pace, to use the hands-on approach to learn about physics, chemistry, technology and science. Long before the uproar in Alberta, home-schooling families actually shared learning equipment such as educational compact discs and scientific sets. Some of these students even worked together in groups on educational projects.
Alberta education officials appear ready to challenge home-schoolers’ freedom of assembly, evidently unaware that the supreme law of the land upholds citizens’ rights to do so. If they seek to question the quality of home-schooling education, they will find a wide range of subjects readily available on compact discs covering the entire school curriculum, from kindergarten to the final year of high school. And if they do their homework, they will find that many thousands of home-schooled students have successfully made the transition to college and university—and that very few of them needed remedial language training when they got there.
* Harry Valentine is a free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario.