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Archive for the ‘Faith-Based Education’ Category

Canada’s tiny province of Prince Edward Island, ancestral home of Anne of Green Gables, is all abuzz with the latest news. Two groups of Amish families from Woodstock and Waterloo County, Ontario, are heading east to P.E.I. and plan to establish not only a new colony of farm settlers but a traditional one-room schoolhouse to educate their children. Friendly Islanders in Eastern P.E.I. are preparing a hearty spring 2016 welcome and the P.E.I. Government has amended its School Act to smooth the way.

AmishPEIThe courtship of the Amish began two years ago.  An Ontario farm-equipment salesman specializing in horse-drawn vehicles, Tony Wallbank, was the key player in the planned Eastern Migration.  A few years ago, he began seeking new, affordable land for the growing colonies of Ontario Amish and explored prospective properties in Northern Ontario and various places in the northern United States. That ended when he toured eastern P.E.I. in 2014 and discovered rolling fields and landowners anxious to sell their properties for a fraction of the $20,000 an acre cost in Ontario.

Wallbank and the Amish elders found, in eastern P.E.I., perhaps the last vestige of unspoiled rural life in the settled region of southern Canada. The reception committee of Islanders, including Paul MacNeill, publisher of The Eastern Graphic and local realtor Brad Oliver of Montague, P.E.I., laid out quite a welcome mat.  In this region of the Island, it was not hard to find landowners anxious to retire and citizens enthused about seeing their properties farmed rather than sitting idle or being sold-off as acreage for expanding agribusinesses.

The prospect of attracting Amish settlers did what no amount of lobbying by P.E. I. home schoolers could ever have achieved.  Canada’s least receptive province to school choice and home schooling, P.E.I., almost overnight underwent a tremendous conversion. A formal request from Wallbank and the Amish in the fall of 2015 to amend the School Act regulations was hurried into law.

A critically-important P.E.I. School Act provision limiting Home Schooling to groups with a “certified teacher-advisor” was lifted.  That restrictive provision, enacted in 2009, to limit and control any expansion of home education,  was suddenly deemed unnecessary by provincial school officials.

The official Education Department line was rather interesting. “It wasn’t really a barrier,” Education Minister Hal Perry told CBC News PEI in October 2015. “It was a bit of a hurdle,” he added, and an issue for the newcomers. “(The Amish) felt it was important that they home school their children in their own tradition. We as a government, respect that.” Deputy Minister Sandy MacDonald, when asked about the change insisted it was not a big issue because the Amish were proposing to home school their children without any expectation of provincial funding.

The impending arrival of two colonies of Amish, numbering perhaps 50 families, was enough to secure a small sliver of “school choice” in Canada’s least receptive province. Virtually all students in P.E.I. have only one school choice — and 98.8 % of the 21, 516 students in 2009-10 attended the public system. In a 2015 report on Home Schooling in Canada, P.E.I. was identifed as restrictive in its regulations with only 81 students (or 0.4% of the total school enrolment) home schooled in 2011-12.  By 2005-16, the numbers had dropped to 77 students from some 45 families — all with an approved teacher-advisor.

The Amish are firm in their belief in traditional education delivered by lay teachers who are members of the Christian religious sect.  For Old Order Amish families, schooling ends in Grade 8 and children are then generally expected to join the family farming enterprise. Children are expected to master the fundamentals of reading, writing and mathematics and to observe Amish ways, including leading simple lives without modern conveniences such as electricity or indoor plumbing.

Amish education represents a complete rejection of the modern, pluralistic and religion-free secular school system.  The rights of the Old Order Amish to freedom from public schooling was guaranteed in a landmark U.S. legal decision, Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972). It granted the Amish the right to limit their children’s education to eight grades in parochial, one-room schools operating in traditional fashion and further held that such an education was “as effective ” as that provided by modern public elementary schools. That right, once secured, has been vigorously defended by Amish elders and educators in Canada as well as the United States.

Why did it take an Amish migration to open the doors a little more to school choice in Prince Edward Island? Now that Old Order Amish have the right to home schooling their children in groups, does that right extend to other families and groups with alternative school plans?  To what extent would P.E.I. and other parts of rural Canada benefit from opening the doors to groups seeking to establish alternative schools? 

 

 

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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.

HomeschoolingChildOne 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?

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Kids are praying in Toronto’s public schools. It’s not a school board concern, however, because the students are not Christians. And on July 8,2011, the Toronto District School Board issued an official statement that the Muslim students attending Valley Park Middle School in North York have a “constitutional right” to pray during school hours.

Toronto’s Valley Park school has become the latest lightening rod in the long simmering public debate over the place of religion in publicly-funded state schools. The school is 80% to 90% Muslim and some 400 Islamic students have been praying on Friday afternoons for 40 minutes for the past year. It started three years ago when large numbers of Valley Park students began missing Friday afternoon classes to attend a nearby mosque. The school principal Nick Stefanoff, with the best of intentions, devised a solution: an in-school service, offered for free by a local imam and supervised by parents.

All was quiet until Hindu parents raised an objection, complaining that such services carried the potential for “inflammatory preaching.” Even though there is no evidence of such activity, the issue hit The Toronto Sun and News Talk Radio — and sparked a firestorm of controversy. http://www.torontosun.com/2011/07/04/prayers-in-school-whats-the-problem

The Canadian Hindu Advocacy group, led by Ron Bannerjee, feared the worst and charged that it opened the door to other groups demanding the same “privilege” as the Muslims. “Pretty soon,” Bannerjee stated, “we’re going to have 50 different ethnicities and religions asking for different accommodations.” National Post columnist Kelly McParland countered with an op ed defending the “entirely reasonable and workable solution” to “satisfy a few people who can’t stand the idea of Muslim kids praying in the cafeteria.” http://www.ottawacitizen.com/story_print.html?id=5062024&sponsor=

The raging public issue goes far beyond a dispute between religious faiths. A Christian god has now been essentially banned from all public schools, except for Catholic separate schools in a few provinces. Most public schools have become increasingly godless places since the late 1960s and high school officials show more tolerance for “sex, drugs, and rap music” than any form of religious faith.

A recent National Post editorial (July 7, 2011) connected the dots for us. “Enforced secularization -and the uproar caused when religion rears its controversial head -are a direct result of another problem with the public education system: absence of choice.” http://www.nationalpost.com/news/Have+faith+choice/5062048/story.html

How did public education become the modern temple of secular humanism? The Canadian courts played a critical role, supporting a “non-sectarian” interpretation of provincial public school law and regulations. With the tacit support of most politicians, the courts decided that the only “fair” option was to remove all religion from the taxpayer-funded, ‘one-size-fits-all school’ system.

Twenty years ago, Canadian courts ruled that the Lord’s Prayer could not be said in public schools because it constituted religious indoctrination, and children who refused to say it would be stigmatized. Since then, there have been continuous efforts, in the National Post’s words, ” to scrub every vestige of religion -Christmas trees, Nativity scenes, Easter celebrations -from public schools.” In once Catholic Quebec, the government has even outlawed the use of religious symbolism or stories in state-funded day cares.

For schools such as Valley Park Middle School, the banning of prayers seriously compromises the school’s ability to adapt to the circumstances and needs of the vast majority of their students. Parents there who would want their children to pray in school would have no choice but to send them to private school to regain their religious freedom. This excludes a large number of families who simply cannot afford the fees for such institutions.

The real solution to the current Prayer in School conflict is to introduce school choice, allowing parents and families to choose schools that “fit the children” rather than the other way around. Broadening the range of school choices, especially in Toronto’s multicultural communities, would ensure that schools were putting the needs of children and families first. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/school-prayer-debate-creates-unlikely-allies/article2092121/

Fears of religion in the schools are grossly exaggerated by those who have a stake in resisting school reform. Defenders of the educational status quo will eventually come to accept that the will of the public for more choice can no longer be thwarted by furious public appeals for “one system for all.” Public education based upon parental choice principles, whether through funded alternatives or tuition fee-subsidies, would allow parents to send their children to any school that meets basic educational credentials.

Letting Muslims pray in school makes good sense in Toronto’s Thorncliffe Park. Today’s school systems claim to be open, liberal, and tolerant of individual rights and cultural differences. We currently offer social justice courses in Native/Mi’Kmaq Studies and Afri-Canadian Studies, so the system can flex when the option is considered politically acceptable. So what’s the problem? Above and beyond basic curricula, schools should also be free to include other elements of their community’s choosing, including faith-based lessons and discussions that were once the hallmark of a true liberal education.

What’s the real problem with prayers in public school? How did Canada’s public schools become temples of secular humanism and purveyors of ” good enough for all”? Why did it take Canada’s newcomers to awaken us to the “godless” nature of many state-funded school institutions? Is broadening school choice in public education the ultimate answer?

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