I never planned to be an educator. In fact, being a dyslexic had me completely at odds with the education system in every way. However, I was smart enough to know that even though the system was broken, it was nonetheless a means to an end. In wanting to leave the world I was stuck in, I knew the only avenue of escape would be through obtaining a good education.
I did get an education and was on my way to becoming a veterinarian when I was “redirected” into a career in education, within the very system I regarded with contempt. I originally imagined it would be for a short time, as I planned to return to my vet studies, but that never happened. The rest is history. God does have a sense of humour!
So here I am, nearly forty-five years later, still active in this education career. My path has been such that I have experienced nearly everything possible, and I no longer plan to “return” to what would likely have proven to be the wrong career choice for me. I now believe I was made to be a teacher and a leader. I was given a vision and a heartfelt passion to help parents fulfill their responsibility of training and teaching their children, and indeed, that was what I did from day one of my career, often against the direction of my superiors. I deeply believed I was working for the parents, not some highly trained and often disconnected professional. To this day, I maintain the position that parents are in authority and are therefore “the boss”. So goes my “educational mantra”.
I am sure you have already been told that things are not always as they seem. This is true.
We have all experienced situations where we have had to seriously change things in order to accommodate a new order. Life is full of these kinds of surprises. For instance, we likely have all been disappointed when we hear politicians say, “We are all in this together”, then proceed to live as though the “we” does not include them! And who can deny being stunned by the actions of someone we valued and trusted as a friend when (s)he did something that clearly showed they had bigger priorities than ourselves?
Those of you who have been closely following the recent activities of the Alberta Home Education Association (AHEA) may have been perplexed by the recent announcement regarding the creation of a paid leadership position. With much fanfare, the announcement read, “AHEA’s First Executive Director – An Investment in Our Future”. It contained a bit of information and a lot of hand-picked, congratulatory accolades solicited from some “big shots”.
Home Education Without the Alberta Home Education Association (AHEA): On the Alberta Home Education Association (AHEA) (Part 13)
After a mother attended one of AHEA’s marketing meetings this fall, she asked me what AHEA actually is, what they are doing and whether they truly represent and defend home education. Tough questions! Let me try to answer them as best as I can, but before I do, let me make it clear that from a biblical perspective, things tend to fall into two categories such as: right or wrong, true or false, heaven or hell, or for Him or against Him.
In order to understand the issues at hand, it is important to know that the home education movement is mostly divided into two main camps. While we tend to use the terms home schooling and home education interchangeably, the two terms differ because they conflict over whether parents or government have authority and control in the training and teaching of children.
Before I begin, I must make you aware that within most families there is usually a progression to greater educational freedom and parental authority that goes from school at school, to school at home, to home schooling, followed by home education and eventually ending up with unschooling. This process can take time, even though we have witnessed some fairly quick transitions from school to unschooling. Please note that unschooling is not a verb used to describe “leaving school”, but rather an adjective describing an educational program free from school ideologies.
Now, as if the Notification Only non-solution and the advancement of terrible accounting practices aren’t enough, AHEA has come up with yet another very bad idea. Why not make students with physical ailments and learning issues worth more money, just like schools do?
Twenty-five years, mostly as a high school teacher, have led me to be very cynical about “special needs” funding. I could write a book about how to make nearly every student have some kind of “special need” in order to increase his/her “value”.
How many children are judged and penalized for having an abundance of energy? Why not have students diagnosed by a psychologist employed by the school to see if the school can claim them as “suffering” from some disorder? Why not prescribe some drugs while we are at it, so we can increase their “value” even more?
Understanding “Special Needs” Funding Abuses: On the Alberta Home Education Association (AHEA) (Part 11)
My last few years as a public school teacher were blessed ones for me. I moved from teaching French to teaching upper academic Biology courses, which was more in keeping with my interest and training. I had more than a few experiences with “special needs” students in my day, but these last years were especially enlightening.
One would think that students taking advanced academic courses would not have learning issues, but that would be a mistake. Take for instance, this example:
I was given a long list of students noted as special needs and after the list the document read, “If you know of any other student who could qualify for extra funding, please inform the office”. This caused me great consternation.
Moving on to another concern respecting the new funding arrangements being advanced as improvements by AHEA, we will now address the carrying forward of funds.
At first brush, this looks like a good thing, but we must ask a few more questions. If we are aiding home educating parents, is it a good thing to help them be bad money managers? Secondly, if the money is not needed this year, will it be needed next year? On the other hand, does advancing a use-it-or-lose-it approach to home education funding make parents creative in their efforts to “get all their money”? Most importantly, if there was no funding would you still be home educating? I hope so.
I have mentioned it before and it is very much worth repeating: if anybody, and I include parents, providers and schools, is putting money first, it is a mistake. Money is what created the home education industry in the first place. Money is what keeps it alive. To be sure, not everybody is moved by money, but unfortunately, there are some who are. Providing for bad accounting practices or inappropriate usage of funds will exacerbate this problem, not fix it.
Before addressing the next AHEA misstep, we need to look at some more history.
By the time the new millennium was in full swing, there were a fair number of home education providers vying for home educated students and the associated cash. The trickery, the manipulation, the falsifications, the buying of parent affiliation with the reimbursement of questionable items, not to mention the unethical advancement and cheating associated with blended programming, caused the education bureaucracy to unleash an inquisition to stop funding abuses that lasted for ten years.
Government clawback of funds deemed to have been inappropriately spent became so commonplace that home education providers were forced to seriously take note. Although most providers were included in these “raids”, Education Unlimited was little affected. This was most certainly not as a consequence of favour, but more a result of our having always been very strict about properly accounting for taxpayer money. Eventually a truce with the bureaucracy was reached, when it finally provided some guidelines that could be followed.
Every once in a while, someone gets inspired to fix a problem and, with much effort, accomplishes the task. The big questions are: what problem was being solved and was it really a problem in the first place? Furthermore, was consideration given to the fact that each new development comes with its winners and losers? How much did the losers lose and how are the winners really benefiting? Sometimes, victories are shallow. When truly evaluated, did the “solution” end up causing more harm than good, in the long run?
Take Alberta’s new home education option for Notification Only as an example. Had this been offered in 1988, it would have been a spectacular triumph. Thirty years later, however, with parents having full choice in where to register for home education, we must ask why we needed to solve a problem that essentially no longer existed. Today, anybody unhappy with their existing situation need only request a change of facilitator or find another willing non-resident board to work with.
Considering that since the early 1990s there has been a facilitator, a school and a board buffering parents from the government, one should question how the new Notification Only option is an improvement when it makes the government the direct family supervisor. The winner is clearly the government, while the home educator’s benefits are debatable.
If AHEA is informing us that it has taken decades to get the Notification Only option passed, is it possible that it is no longer needed? Or does it indicate a level of ineptitude on AHEA’s part or intransigence on the government’s part? Perhaps all of the above.
Until I did my facilitation visits this year, I was completely at a loss as to why anybody could see Notification Only, with no funding and no school supervision, as a positive option. Now that I have come to see just how abusive some of the home education providers can be, I can understand why some parents would want to escape the tyranny of schools and agencies who believe they know better than parents.
What a heart breaker! Once upon a time I saw my “competitors” as colleagues with the common goal of validating parental claims to authority and responsibility in education. Now I see them more as compromisers, far more interested in leading their “flock” back to the better paying public programming we were all wanting to escape at the dawn of this province’s home education movement.
As a school teacher, my all-time favourite principal was a great fellow with a big heart for education. Even though he was the leader of a large school in Edmonton, he insisted that everyone in possession of a teaching certificate teach at least one class. He himself taught two, one at a grade ten level and another at grade twelve. He simply did not want to have an educational environment where people were out of touch with the purpose of the school, namely the children and their education. To him, they were more than just a commodity that brought income. He saw them as real people in need of a service he intended to make sure everybody in the school delivered.
I also believe everyone with a teaching certificate who works with Education Unlimited should be involved in facilitation. Of course that is silly, since all our teachers are facilitators and they most certainly are well aware of who the “clients” are! This rule actually applies to me. I never want to lose touch with who we are, who we serve and what is needed to make our facilitators’ jobs as easy and stress free as possible.
The truth is the parents are our clients, even though, technically speaking, they are not the ones being funded. We stress the importance of family and the authority of the parents, especially fathers, while those with a greater focus on the students and the associated funding normalize the claim of government authority in education.