A few years ago, Partner-Guy was assigned to teach a Grade 2/3 class. One of his Grade 2 students had only just begun attending school near the end of the Grade 1 year. The child was a mess. He couldn’t sit still. He cried. He picked on other kids. He wanted friends so desperately that he was practically stalking some of the boys in the class. And worst of all, according to his other teachers, he couldn’t read.
The principal and the other teachers were horrified. The boy hadn’t been socialized. Academically, he was way behind his peers. Imagine that! A six-year-old boy who couldn’t read! (It might be hard for you to know how heavily this paragraph is dripping with sarcasm…)
The school never got the whole story on why the boy hadn’t attended the first three years of school. Nor did Partner-Guy ever learn why he had been sent to school, except that the parents did divulge to him that CAS (the Children’s Aid Society) had told them that he had to go to school. Apparently the boy had an older brother who had ended up in a Special Education program and the parents had hoped to avoid the stigma of having another child in Special Education so they had kept him out of school all together.
I don’t know exactly what happened in that family, but I can imagine that the older brother mentioned one day to a friend or teacher that his little brother didn’t go to school. And then he was likely asked “What does he do all day?” and the brother responded “He rides around in my dad’s tow truck.” An adult likely contacted CAS and when the family was unable to produce any evidence that the child was doing school at home, they were told that the child would have to go to school. And maybe there were underlying issues that Partner-Guy never heard about. Maybe CAS had been involved with the family for other reasons. Or maybe the boy was left at home alone rather than spending the day with his father learning the family tow truck business. I don’t know.
What I do know is that these are the types of scenarios that give all homeschoolers a bad name. Mainstream culture, and teachers especially, think that children can only learn to read and write if an adult teaches them how to do it. They picture that children who don’t attend school spend their days sitting at the kitchen table doing school work assigned by the parent. It is inconceivable to them that a child could spend the day working along side a parent in an adult environment and be able to learn all the things that he would need to know to become a productive citizen of the 21st century.
I wrote in a previous post that homeschooling–keeping a child out of school–is completely legal in Ontario. In fact, the school is obligated to accept the parent’s declaration that they will provide for the child’s education. Only under certain circumstances is an investigation launched into whether or not the parent is actually providing a learning environment for the child.
I feel sorry for this family who likely believed that they were doing what was best for their son by keeping him out of school. Forcing the homeschooled child to school is a no-win situation for everyone. Yes, the boy was a trouble maker at school, but that makes so much sense when you consider how desperate the boy was to fit into his new daily environment. The school (i.e. the teachers and principal) became forced to cope with the needs of a child who felt displaced, scared and abandoned. The teachers could only focus on making the child conform to their beliefs about how a child his age should act and learn. He may not have learned to read in the tow truck, but he was learning.
Our family doesn’t live in constant fear of being investigated for not sending our children to school, but it is something we’re aware of and we take some precautions. Here are some suggestions for how to protect your family from unwanted attention:
- Don’t talk to people about the private learning of your children. If neighbours or other random people ask about the homeschooling of your children make a general comment like “I’m just amazed at how much they’re learning!” You don’t have be specific. It’s none of their business.
- Photograph and date artwork and printing by your child about once per month. This is an easy way to record progress without trying to create something that resembles a report card.
- Record family activities and events. Include trips, lessons and outings to places like the Science Centre or even an indoor playground. Keep it simple: you can just record it on your calendar and then keep your calendars each year.
- Know your rights! If someone shows up at your door from CAS or the Ministry of Education you do not have to show or tell them anything until you contact a lawyer, your spouse, a homeschooling friend or whoever is going to support and protect you and your children.
- Don’t advertise other aspects of your children’s lives. People make all kinds of assumptions without knowing the whole story. So don’t talk publicly about your 5-year-old who is still nursing or your family bed. You know what I mean.
- Join the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents. If you need help or advice you’ll be glad you paid your membership.
Every homeschooling situation is unique, just like every family is unique. I believe that within my lifetime, homeschooling will be as common as getting as a tattoo: it’s not for everyone and those who chose it do so for a huge variety of reasons.