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Freedom Does Not Come Cheap Or Easy

21.02.Freedom-Does-Not-Come-Cheap-Or-Easy Home education freedoms on solid ground

Home education history may not be well known today, but we should realize the rights that we have today did not come cheaply or easily. Understanding how some of our philosophy driven freedoms came about due to the fact that another pastor went to jail in the late 1980's is a timely consideration. Pastors are sometimes defenders of liberties for society when it comes to government overreach because of their bedrock beliefs being enacted in their leadership positions. Like events of today, the issue was whether or not the government's permission was needed in order to take the actions motivated by the dictates of faith.

Words are important to home educators. So important that sometimes we've said we are "word sensitive" when it comes to interacting with the government in addressing policy. This is because so much can ride on the interpretation of a single word or small clause being properly placed or understood. Home educators have a unique and rather specific bunch of terms that we utilize to bring awareness to a deeper meaning, many hard won. An example of this is the word notify...

Do you know why you "notify" the government, instead of "register," your intentions to educate your children? It is because of Pastor Larry Jones, who was a pastor of the Western Baptist Church in Calgary. He believed that it was wrong for the government to insist he have a license to educate his children at the church academy he started. Getting a license was the same as getting permission in his view. He felt permission couldn't be granted in good conscience by the government unless it was in a position to give it. Pastor Jones was steadfastly convinced that the permission was God's to give, not needing further endorsement to validate its legitimacy.

This created an impasse that worked its way through the courts. Jones was charged with aiding truancy but his case was won twice in the lower courts and lost on appeal. The case then went up to the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) and their 1986 ruling said that "the province, and indeed the nation, has a compelling interest in the 'efficient instruction' of the young" and that the requirement to get a license "constitutes a minimal, or as the trial judge put it, peripheral intrusion on religion." [1]Ted Byfield commented on the issue of parental rights being on trial in his Alberta Report, saying that "when Mr. Jones lost, all parents lost."[2]

It seemed to be the end of the matter, except to look for the silver lining. Dallas Miller, now an Alberta judge, believed that there was benefit as the SCC ended up addressing parental rights, creating some new parameters, resulting in a benefit for us all in a broad sense. He said that the "case does, however, set some guidelines for individual liberty and freedom in terms of educating one's own children and the extent of the 'compelling interest' of the state." [3] He referenced how the judgement clarified how those limits would be in play, as the SCC itself said that "if it can be established that the school authorities' action is exercised in an unfair or arbitrary manner, then the courts can intervene. It may also be that at some stage certain requirements, whether imposed directly by the School Act or by regulations or by official of the Department of Education or of local school boards, may have to give way to the liberty of the individual to educate his children as he pleases to the extent that such liberty is protected by the Charter."[4]

The government took another run at Pastor Jones' resolve and charged him with truancy again in 1987, as well as bringing a civil case to close the academy. He was convicted of truancy and the decision resulted in him being sentenced to a 30-day jail term, which he took instead of getting a license or paying the alternative $250 fine. He ended up serving 10 days. However, in the end, he didn't lose the war as the government's approach had resulted in a mounting public pressure that was becoming a political embarrassment. The Christian citizenry was making their voice heard over the issue. Somehow, the government found a way to come to an understanding and his position on educating his children, and other students at the academy, was respected without a license that violated his sincerely held beliefs.

We need to note that the issue largely centred on the battle for control by government efforts to supplant parental rights. The questions of who is ultimately responsible for the children and to whom they belong needed to be clear to both parents and the government for there to be a resolution about their education. Jones' lawyer, Philip Carr, had made the following statement. "God owns the children. He loans them to their parents. As such, children are a gift from God to parents. They are not a gift from God to the government, nor from government to the parents. The government has no role in the raising of children except in the case of imminent peril where children's lives are in danger."[5]

Jones himself made this astute observation. "The state is not primarily concerned about the quality of the education as much as they [sic] are about being in control… Quality education is not the issue. The state wants control of our children, the [sic] want us to submit to Caesar in every area of our lives. We will not give to the [sic] Caesar the things that belong to God."[6] A more detailed account can be found here[7], but it seems apparent that even the state knows when it has met its match in resolve and in the past has shown respect, even grudgingly, to the unmoving nature of a spiritually held position.

There are numerous examples of this throughout history that are not limited to the Christian faith, for people like Gandhi come to mind, or the famous American, "Give me liberty or give me death" quotation attributed to Patrick Henry. Another example, oft forgotten in its significance because we only know the resulting work so well, is John Bunyan. The author of the famous book, Pilgrim's Progress, wrote it from jail, as he had declined to comply with government regulations surrounding religious gatherings. He stayed, out of principle, for 12 years, and is known to have said, "If you release me today, I will preach tomorrow." Sometimes your principles will cost you something, and the more they cost the dearer you hold them. These costs are what have produced the freedoms that we enjoy, often unthinkingly, today.

Home educators should know that our very ability to home educate is based on hard won freedoms. Men have given their lives so that Canada could be a free country. We live in a constitutional democracy, which means that the Charter protects the freedom to hold a minority position, instead of a pure democracy in which the majority position dictates outcomes, like mob rule. What an important thing for us to understand, since we are a minority group!

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms describes fundamental freedoms in Section 2, guaranteeing:

a.  freedom of conscience and religion;
b.  freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression;
c.  freedom of peaceful assembly; and
d.  freedom of association.

If home education were to be considered a bicycle, our wheels are (a) and (b) of Section 2. This is where we would go to defend ourselves in court. And ultimately, win or lose there, we must know why and how it is necessary to take a principled stand on issues. Being able to teach our children, acting on the trust God has put in us when we were given these gifts, has been a life altering decision for every home educator. If you want to continue to enjoy this freedom, take heart and take a stand when you see our tricycle getting a flat tire. Your voice and actions in defending these legal protections is not something to take for granted. I implore you to connect the dots before any direct impact is felt on your home education freedoms or your larger freedoms as Canadians. Infringement on one person's enjoyment of them is actually an infringement on all of us. We must stand, together, or we will fall, apart. Check out 1 John 3:18 and Philippians 1:27 for some biblical encouragement.

Nothing can make us so aware of a loss as watching a society become desensitized to what is happening around them. Closing quotes are from a speech that was given by Jason Kenney December 1, 2014 that he titled Conscience Versus the Spirit of the Age.[8] I'd recommend that you read it in full.

"Representative democracy, our heritage of liberty and the rule of law—all this depends upon a correct understanding of the proper spheres of authority and the limited competencies of state authority."

"One does not need to be a Christian or a person of faith to recognize that trampling on the rights of conscience can open a path to the abuse of power. We Canadians have been blessed to have been spared those consequences because our tradition of the limited State recognizes that the rights of conscience must be respected. Indeed, the first liberty listed in our Charter is found in section 2(a), freedom of conscience and religion, which is an echo of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…"

"In the totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, the principle that force predominates over reason was carried to the extreme. Man was compelled to submit to a conception of reality imposed on him by coercion, and not reached by virtue of his own reason and the exercise of his own freedom. This principle must be overturned and total recognition must be given to the rights of the human conscience, which is bound only to the truth, both natural and revealed."

"A Canadian premier said she found the very idea of conscience rights—rights enshrined in the Charter, rights written into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, rights broadly regarded as foundational to liberal democracy—to be "frightening."

"Here allow me to make another point. Robustly defending the rights of conscience is not something that is good for legislators alone; much less is it special pleading for people of faith in the public square. It is something that is essential for the health of the entire political system."

[1] pg. 19 para 28

[2] Byfield, T. "Jones lost, parents lost, but dear old P-BOG wins again." Alberta Report Oct. 1986 pg. 52

[3] Miller, D. "1999 Legal Memorandum on Home Education in the Province of Alberta" Court Report and Communiqué. Jan/Feb 2000 pg. 10-13

[4] pg. 28 para 47

[5] Carr, P.E. "Christian Education in Canada" Biblical Baptist Fundamentalist December, 1987, pg. 7

[6] Jones, L. "Larry Jones' Position on Education." Biblical Baptist Fundamentalist January, 1987, pg. 11

[7] Wagner, M. "Refusing to be Licensed" Embrace the Spirit Winter, 1999


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A Liberty Goal Achieved - Notification Only, No Funding Is A Reality This Fall


The parents of AHEA have always valued being able to home educate with as little government intervention as possible. This view represented the most freedom possible to home education families while we fall under the purview of the Ministry of Education. This fall, that dream is becoming a reality and is an exciting addition to the choices that we already have had. AHEA is proud to have successfully advocated for the Notification Only, No Funding (NONF) option for the home educators in Alberta.

"We have been championing this sort of option for a number of years and are thankful to see it included in the updated Home Education Regulation that is to take effect on September 1, 2020. I hope that many parents choose this option and I pray that all parents and children who go this route are blessed in the years to come in this freedom-leaning choice."

Ted Tederoff - President, AHEA

The Choice We Have Had – Supervised

NONF will differ from the supervised format you will have experienced under an associate board, which was the only choice until now if you wanted to home educate. Associate boards required you to do four things on behalf of the government:

  1. Notify through them, at which time your children are entered into the PASI system. (This allows them to receive the grant of $1700, which you split 50/50.)
  2. Submit a copy of your education plan, which informs the validity of your spending and evaluations.
  3. Provide proof of purchase by way of submitting receipts that tie into your education plan and the funding guidelines.
  4. Give documentation about your child's work/assessments to associate board teachers, also known as your facilitators.

We have all grown used to the oversight and the relationship. For families who feel confident in their ability to educate without the government representative support in funding and manpower, you will now be able to choose to proceed to educate without supervision.

The New Option – Unsupervised

NONF is going to be as simple as it sounds – one step. You will fill out a form to notify the government of your intention to home educate in the new unsupervised format. You will provide typical information that is always required – name, date of birth, address and proof of identity. Since you will be taking responsibility for the education of your child that is not supervised by anyone else you will declare many of the same things that you have followed under an associate board. You will be agreeing that you're providing an education that falls under the Home Education Regulations (the Alberta Program of Studies OR the Schedule of Learning Outcomes), evaluating progress, understand you will not be receiving funding and are still under the oversight of Alberta Education if there are concerns.

Don't forget that although this option is only coming online on September 1st, you have until September 30th to have your notification submitted. Be aware that the associate boards are very busy and may reach capacity, so it will be a courtesy to them if you let them know you have decided to move to the Notification Only, No Funding option as early as possible. The Department of Education is currently working to streamline the notification process. An online option that moves your notification to either to the department or to an associate board is hoping to be up by September first, where you can upload your necessary documents along with the form. In the meantime, a .pdf will be available shortly that allows you to print, sign, sending everything to the necessary party.

UPDATE: This is the UNSUPERVISED form.  This is the updated SUPERVISED form.

Checks and Balances Are to be Expected

All educational models have checks and balances built into them. Things like truancy are easily understood and widely known in the public system, but are not relevant to home educators. In setting up this new option, the department needed to build in checks and balances. So far there has not been anything that causes us to be concerned. Any reports that there is a home educator having a problem will first be considered for validity, as there is not going to be an automatic triggering of any kind of inquiry. The Director who already oversees all the education models will include our new option in his portfolio. The criteria for an investigation would be if your home education program did not fall in line with the Home Education Regulations or if you were not providing your children with the opportunity to learn.

The department is working on a process to handle concerns that come in, and AHEA has been gratified to be consulted by the Minister on such a sensitive issue. We reached out to the HSLDA in the USA and Canada about our proposal and have been pleased that in other places the notification only programs have worked well and instances of this type of a concern process being needed are rare as parents meet the criteria. We are pleased that in Alberta we fall under the Education Department instead of Social Services, unlike Ontario, which means we don't have a social worker to deal with, and can instead remaining focused on educational issues. We have suggested in our proposal that in the cases where an assessment may be required that someone who has experience with home education be brought in so that a family will be best understood. As things are decided and become policy, and further information becomes available, we will let you know. AHEA is trusting that home educators will have the best interests of their child at heart, and that everyone is well educated in the requirements laid out. We should also all remember that the exception does not make the rule, and no education model has perfect results, so home education will not be held to an impossible standard that has not been achieved elsewhere.

How It Happened

AHEA has advocated strongly for NONF over the last year and a half. We have been blessed to have a Minister that believes in parents and in their ability to make choices in the best interests of their children. Minister LaGrange presented this position in the Choice in Education Act that received royal assent on June 26, 2020, and this option was made possible by the changes that it produced in the current Education Act This has been followed by the changes to the Home Education Regulations. Although the amendments have been made available, and have been poured over by many, a final copy of the amended Regulations will not be available until September 1st from the Queen's Printer.

"It is to the credit of Minister Adriana LaGrange that this is now an option for those dedicated and responsible parents who desire the least intrusion into their children's education process.

"The current AHEA executive is to be congratulated for their continued efforts to see this to completion. It is a notable accomplishment, with practical aspects of education returning to the purview of parents, where it rightfully belongs."

Raymond Strom – HSLDA Canada

AHEA supporters will appreciate that we don't seek additional funding for home educators because we believe that money creates undue influence. We are grateful for the choice that Alberta home educators now have in this area. Parents who don't need to consider if what they are spending on curriculum will be approved experience financial freedom in their decision making. Parents who have funding, but are not looking to receive what the public school student costs taxpayers, exhibit wisdom and reasonability, with an eye to the connected cost of what would be asked of them. Not needing to worry about making changes to their education plan and submitting it for review and approval will be a freeing experience for some, while all home educators are able to pivot and utilize every opportunity and to flex with their child and their learning. We are proud to represent parents who define true diversity in customized education for their child.

AHEA, together with you, continues to work for and safeguard liberty in our country, homes and minds.

"Where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is liberty."

2 Corinthians 3:17b 

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