Public education systems tend to provide a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model that does not fit everyone. Children who are highly gifted, severely challenged, or being raised in devout Christian homes often do not fit easily into the standard model, particularly in rural and small town Canada where few school alternatives exist for families. An estimated 100,000 Canadian children from 6 to 16 years of age are being educated outside the system in a variety of home education settings. Most are being educated in traditional homeschool fashion, and about 10% by parents committed to the philosophy of “unschooling” or deprogramming their children.
One of the best known parents who chose another option – homeschooling – is Quinn Cummings, author of The Year of Living Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling (2012). Her motivation, in homeschooling her 8-year old, grade 4 daughter, four years ago, was more mainstream. Like a growing number of home education families, she wanted her child “to work hard and be challenged without it meaning two to three hours of homework every night.” “I wanted our daughter,” she says, “to learn how to learn. I suspect this is a skill school should give you, but i didn’t want her to look back on her childhood as an extended meditation on worksheets.”
Parents in the 21st century are becoming more adventuresome in finding new ways to educate their children. Traditional homeschooling is evolving from one-on-one home tutoring to online learning tapping into resources like Khan Academy and the latest electronic educational games. It’s now possible to offer blended learning combining home instruction, online learning, and community-based programs. It’s a combination that allows parents to “custom build a curriculum” for each student using “a mix-and-match approach” best suited to the individual child. Cummings calls it “made to order education” for the 21st century.
Not every Canadian province “gets it” when it comes to home education. Wide variations exist across Canada in how school authorities respond to, and support, parents and families seeking to homeschool their children. Canada’s leading education province, Alberta, is officially committed to “school choice” and the most receptive to homeschooling. Provincial funding is available, through a transfer of fees, and varies according to the program of studies you are offering. If you choose basic/traditional you usually get about $700. Blended is anywhere from $900-1200 and fully aligned you can receive as much $1500.00 per child. Some variations do exist between the various school boards. Provincial authorities in British Columbia and Ontario are open to homeschooling, albeit without such generous financial supports.
The most restrictive province may well be Nova Scotia, especially after a November 2012 Auditor General’s report proposing tighter regulation and more rigorous supervision. While only 850 out of 124,000 school age children are registered for homeschooling, AG Jacques Lapointe reported a “lack of adequate systems” to ensure a minimum of supervision, including proper registration records. Out of 120 files reviewed, he found 102 did not specify what a child was expected to learn and five had no information on the study program. It was a major embarrassment for the Education Department and may precipitate a backlash against homeschoolers.
Supporters of homeschooling in Canada were quick to react to the Nova Scotia Auditor General’s report. Paul Faris, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, charged that the AG’s proposed changes would make Nova Scotia “the worst place in Canada” to home-school children. Nova Scotia, he pointed out, already has plenty of regulations, albeit some that are not currently being enforced. The Auditor General, according to Faris, was “completely ignorant” of the research on homeschooling and was “trying to fit it into a public school model.” Caught off-guard by the AG’s report, Education Minister Ramona Jennex responded by saying she was “open” to looking at changes.
A former New York State Teacher of the Year, John Taylor Gatto created a sensation when he quit his decades-long teaching career and announced it in a 1991 Wall Street Journal column entitled, “I Quit, I Think.” Until encountering recent health problems, Gatto has been a major education critic and a proponent of homeschooling and unschooling children. His two best known books, Dumbing Us Down (1992) and Weapons of Mass Instruction (2008), provide the most searing radical critique of the impact of “compulsory schooling” on the creativity and imagination of children.
In a Homeschooling Magazine interview a few years ago, Gatto praised homeschoolers for showing “courage and determination” on “the front lines” and for “making the right choice.” “You’ve made a choice to free your children to be the best people they can be, the best citizens they can be, and to be their personal best, ” he said. ” But had you allowed those kids to remain in the grip of institutional schooling, the kids would have become instruments of a different purpose.”
Why do increasing numbers of Canadian parents choose to homeschool their own children? Are home-schooled children more likely to be independent trailblazers or are they at risk of becoming ‘free floaters’ in life? What’s the secret of successfully homeschooling children? And what is the real purpose of imposing tighter regulations on Canada’s home education families?