A Helpful Handbook
When I get a handbook alongside an item, a car for example, it is meant to help me understand and appreciate the thing I've invested in. You could say that its intent is to continue to encourage support for the choice the consumer has made. What I don't find in my handbook is encouragement to make a different choice, undermining my decision. If only the drafted update to the home education handbook seemed to work the same way.
10 years is a long time to wait between updates. The home education community and stakeholders have felt impatient as the old 'current' handbook is missing so many vital changes that have taken place after the last few years of advocacy. AHEA contributed to this resource for parents who go to the government website because it has importance. It is a bridge for those who don't know yet of other places to go for information or previously helped them know who the stakeholders representing their interests are. Parents should be able to find a goodly amount of help here.
This draft that the Department of Education finally shared in July can not exactly be described as 'helpful.' The last discussion on it and draft, a year ago and with different staff, left us a bit more hopeful. Now one could say this draft of the handbook is factual but dissuading and even discouraging for those who have already chosen or do want to consider home education, leaving the purpose of it a question. That purpose needs clarification if this version is going to exceed the old.
Critically, the underlying philosophical difference between the bureaucracy and home education families is captured in the second sentence, stating that, "Parents or guardians choosing a home education program for their children assume the primary responsibility for their child's education." (italics mine) Actually, parents that choose to home educate retain their responsibility to educate their child, they do not assume it from the government. We believe and have defended this as a God given, not government given, right and an essential pairing with the responsibilities they have.
It is the elected government's job to balance and manage the bureaucracy and true respect for the people, all people, including minorities. In the education world home education is the minority. Advocating for that respect at both the bureaucratic and elected level has been important and helpful. This handbook provides another opportunity for the government to show it values and defends the choices in education that Albertans have, specifically those that choose and support home education. There is a lot of work yet to do, but we've made progress.
As the Minister of Education, Adriana LaGrange has not only said she respects choice in education, she has demonstrated that respect in multiple ways during the years that she has held this post. She has earned and kept my respect in her dealings with AHEA on home education matters. Yet I must add that I would, and should, expect the same from any person holding that office, as should you. Any official elected by the people of such a diverse province must not be allowed to narrow the field of choices for families. Instead, they should consider it their sacred trust to guard the freedom Albertans treasure and the boon to creativity and individuality that flows from it. This is a strength, not a weakness.
Home education families have to be pretty tough and committed to their choice. They have done this for decades, resisting suggestions that presumptuously wish to imply that they have made an error. They face unique challenges but feel that the benefits tip the scales in favour of this specialized and individual education for their children. It would be nice to see the commitment to choice in education be enthusiastically supported by all parties involved in delivering it.
The Department of Education is to be above these choices, an equal supporter and arbiter that is much like a referee and not on any particular team. There are some really great people in the Department that I've had the privilege to meet and work with. I hope and pray that enough fair-mindedness and respect for choice have been encouraged and fostered that we can all consider ourselves on the same page. There will be challenges ahead that will test our mutual commitment to freedom and the beauty of diverse learning contexts, styles and outcomes. I believe that these are strengths and encourage freedom loving families to help protect them all, from the least to the greatest, with respect for the children and families that thrive in each one, just as we have sought freedom and respect.
My detailed analysis of the draft document will go directly to the Minister and the Department of Education, but here is something for the home education parent to consider. We must each learn to pay attention to the details and to the language. Think about the implications and underlying ideas that have gained traction - it matters. I appreciated when families have shared their thoughts or findings with me so that my efforts to represent you were focused, coordinated and timely - it mattered.
I thank you for letting me represent you. Let's pray that the efforts and groundwork of these last years will continue to bear fruit in ways that have been sought but have not yet come to fruition. It really would be wonderful to see things continue to happen for the home education families and community here in Alberta.
"How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you,Psalm 31:19
which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you."