Response to ATA letter: "Home Educators Miss the Point"
To Jonathan Teghtmeyer, Alberta Teacher’s Association
Re: “Home educators miss the point” March 27, 2012 Editorial
In your editorial, you state that home educators are a group whose ‘complaints are unfounded and ridiculous’, that we ‘thrive on misinformation’ and that ‘if the home-schoolers had done their homework’ we wouldn’t be worried. You further state that our expressions of concern were ‘an opportunistic move’ and that we are bent on ‘ignoring the greater
societal good that is served by public education’.
These are serious accusations which I cannot leave unanswered.
First, I realize you were writing to and for public school teachers. I do not wish to disrespect them or you in any way and would in return ask you to refrain from using demeaning language in referring to home educators. I would ask that you first become familiar with our concerns – so you know what ‘the point’ is before you think we’ve missed it – before you
accuse us of ‘not doing our homework’. Your editorial repeats lines quoted in the newspaper without adding more information and that will simply reinforce prejudices and stereotypes. Also, anyone writing an editorial should become informed about all facets of a story before jumping to, in this case, a misinformed conclusion.
The efforts of AHEA – like those of the ATA, no doubt – have been ongoing for over three years in working with the Ministry of Education on the issue of a new Education Act. In fact, AHEA would welcome an opportunity to work with the ATA to improve the education of all Alberta students. AHEA has been trying to get changes in this legislation for a
long time. Making our concerns public through rallies was far from ‘opportunistic’ but more a ‘last resort’ when it ultimately became clear that there was no other way to get the government to listen to parental concerns.
For that is point, the point which your editorial has missed: this isn’t about home education but about parental rights and freedoms in order to improve education for all. If it was only home educators who were concerned, then groups such as the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association and Citizens for Diversity in Education would not have joined their
voices with ours. The rights and freedoms of all Alberta parents are being threatened here, and therefore many groups – including parents whose children attend public schools – came to our second rally on March 19th.
Let me address several errors in your editorial.
You state: “home-schooling parents … do not have to follow the Alberta program of studies” and so would not be restricted in what they teach. Not so. By including the Alberta Human Rights Act, parents would indeed be restricted, even home educating parents. The Ministry of Education could easily institute standardized testing according to AHRA guidelines, for example, and even a conversation between children on a playground could result in a complaint filed by the parent of one child against the parent of another (since anyone, even third parties, can bring a complaint against anyone else). Whether we follow the Alberta curriculum or not is irrelevant.
You state: “The bill’s demise has been attributed in part to the uproar from home-schooling parents”. True, but that would be a mistaken attribution. Bill 2 died because the government chose to do a politically expedient thing – avoid public displeasure and also avoid using closure to push the bill through – instead of what they should have done: the principled thing. As AHEA has made clear many times, Bill 2 was a good piece of legislation which we would support with a few tiny changes in wording. A new Education Act is an update which is needed in Alberta. Far from “ignoring the greater societal good that is served by public education”, our organization wants to improve public education by improving parental involvement in the education of children.
You state: “These complaints are unfounded and ridiculous”. Not at all. The history of the actions taken by Alberta Human Rights tribunals have been consistent: the AHRA has been used to restrict and diminish the freedom of thought, the freedom of opinion, the freedom of expression, and the freedom of religion. There are many cases that show this but one case makes this obvious: the 2005 complaint against Catholic Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary.
In that instance, Bishop Henry wrote a pastoral letter in the Sunday bulletin about Catholic teaching on marriage. This was directed only to Catholics, of course. But a complaint was brought against him. You note that Section 3 of the AHRA should protect against this kind of complaint. It should, but it doesn’t. Section 3 states (as you note) that any discrimination through publications or notices doesn’t apply to an organization that “is composed exclusively or primarily of persons having the same political or religious beliefs, ancestry or place of origin” and further “is not operated for private profit”. The Catholic church should therefore have been protected from any complaint for two reasons, but a complaint was still filed. That complaint was ‘illogical’ and ‘ridiculous’, two terms you use to describe our concerns.
You also repeat a quotation from a recent newspaper story: “According to Paul van den Bosch, spokesman for the Alberta Home Education Association, his organization is also concerned that the proposed legislation states: ‘Parents have the right to make informed decisions.’ He’d prefer it to read: ‘Parents have the right to make decisions.’” The concerns of AHEA here are not the result of ‘misinformation’ (as you state) nor is AHEA uninformed about the intentions of the government in adding this word. The word ‘informed’ was inserted into the Preamble of Bill 2 but two things were left unexplained: the definition of ‘informed’ and the question of who would decide if a decision is ‘informed’ or not. The implication – as confirmed by our legal counsel – is that the decision on definition would be made by bureaucrats within the Ministry of Education or by those who sit on Human Rights tribunals. In either case, any parental decisions that don’t fall in line with the AHRA would simply be declared ‘uninformed’. It is obviously implied that parents are not foremost in
autonomy or authority, but are instead needing advice from a “superior authority” and AHEA strongly objects to that line of reasoning.
You state: “It is worth noting that the Alberta human rights process is complaint-based, and the person most likely to lodge a complaint is the very person who is being discriminated against—in the case of home-schooling, the complainant would be the child.” Most likely not. The history of the AHRA has been one of third-party complaints, as noted above. But even if no complaint is ever made against a home educating family, the threat of that possibility would change the conversations within that family, just as it could seriously change
the conversation of a teacher in any Alberta school. That is what the ACSTA and CDE and many public school parents have realized and that is what I would also point out to all ATA members too.
Finally, there is the clear implication you make in these two lines: “but the home-schoolers’ concepts of school choice and parental rights focus on benefiting individual students while ignoring the greater societal good that is served by public education” and “this model of public education balances the individual’s and society’s needs, making rhetoric about school choice and parental rights moot.” In both of these lines, you set ‘parental rights’ in opposition to ‘public education’. I know teachers see themselves as educational experts because they have earned education degrees whereas most parents have not. But I think every teacher would agree with me that the education of a child improves when the parents of that child are involved in the child’s education. It should not be an adversarial relationship, as you imply, but a collaborative one.
This is what AHEA has been saying all along. We want to improve public education through just that kind of parental involvement, and if a parent is so inclined to become even more involved, AHEA supports them in home education. As I stated at the beginning, AHEA respects public school teachers and the ATA and we would welcome the chance to work together to collaboratively improve the education of all Alberta students. I look forward to hearing from you.
Spokesperson, member of board of directors, Alberta Home
Included below are links we have given to parents, journalists, and anyone else interested…
Please become informed on this important issue:
To read the current School Act (read especially the Preamble
and Section 3):
For explanation of the history and concerns about Bill 2: