Saving Our Kids, Saving Ourselves

In February 2017 there was an attempt in Québec to make all homeschoolers follow the public school curriculum. After almost a year of meetings among educators and homeschoolers, there is now resolution to this issue that will be reported later in this post by Marilyn Rowe, who was part of the effort to craft a better homeschooling law for Québec. But first, I want to mention Rowe’s book, Saving Our Kids, Saving Ourselves.

A growing number of people are losing faith in institutions as they are asked to do more for the institution while receiving less in return. This is not because people no longer want banks, schools, markets, public services, and so on, but because people feel used as compulsory fodder for the perpetuation of these places rather than as valued partners, participants, or customers. This coarsening of the social fabric has accelerated in recent years and it is quite noticeable to those who live and work with children. Rowe writes:

The extent of the excitement and adventure of living that we allow children to have nowadays is found in video games and the occasional trip to an expensive amusement park; and we keep threatening to take their game time away. Like what they are living isn't already drudgery, they are consistently being told to "grow up, face reality," that their lives will become increasingly mind numbing, responsible, and ever-striving without hope for more meaning, connection, or value. In this competitive pursuit, we have made the lives of our children no longer about play and growing, about being part of a family and contributing to it, but about performing and conforming. All the ‘get real’ comments we throw at them only add to their distress. This can no longer be called childhood.

Rowe’s book is a call for parents to deschool themselves, in the mold of Alison McKee’s excellent book Homeschooling Our Children, Unschooling Ourselves. Unlike McKee’s book, Rowe doesn’t present many stories about children and learning, but instead focuses on our psychological and cultural assumptions about schooling and learning.

Is there a different way of educating that could meet our children's needs along with our parental and societal goals? Is the solution outside of school, as many have chosen, or with the experts within who seek to reform it? Perhaps it is a merging of the minds that is needed. . . . As it is, we allow those with a strong enough vision and drive to create theirs, and we follow. All we ask of our teachers and institutions is to prepare our children to fit into these other people’s visions, while dismissing our children’s own. I believe that we can dream bigger than this.

Rowe explores how people learned before schooling became the only place for children to be during business hours, and how parents can use this knowledge to support self-taught or personally tutored learners today. Rowe identifies the conditions and concepts that diminish self-directed education:

Do you ever wonder why you must send your children to school to learn things you already know such as reading, writing, and basic arithmetic? Does this not demonstrate a deep lack of trust in your own intelligence, and in your child's ability to learn from you? If you say that you send them to learn all the things you don't remember, then why? They likely won't remember them either. I believe that I know the answer to these questions. It is because schooling has led us to believe that it's because we didn't work hard enough or pay enough attention. In other words, we were the problem, not our education. Thus, we push our children to do better. Adding more pressure rather than realize that school perhaps was not supportive of our individual abilities and potential, and may not be for our child either. Alternatively, we did well in school and not so much in the outside world; so our children must do better in those areas we feel hold us back. Never realizing that school requires very different skills than those required in the post-schooling world. We never get to practice those skills in the made-up world, where we had to focus on ourselves and our grades. Using a small subset of learning methods, no less. If we did well in both, then we credit our schooling; never realizing that we may have done just as well in any case. This mechanism of creating dependence and confusion is so subtle that it's almost, but not entirely, invisible.

When Rowe wrote Saving Our Kids, Saving Ourselves in 2016 she didn’t know she would become a political activist fighting for unschoolers and homeschoolers throughout 2017, but you can see how mentally prepared she was for the occasion from her book: “I firmly believe that we are witnessing a turning point in our evolution, where schooling, like politics and economics, are being reconsidered and reworked, in the light of what has failed us, and where we would rather go now."

Here is her update about the battle and current outcome for homeschooling in Québec, and my suggestions for further reading on these topics.

Further Reading:

Challenging Assumptions by Wendy Priesnitz

Deschooling Our Lives by Matt Hern

Dismantling the Inner School: Homeschooling and the Curriculum of Abundance by David Albert

A Matter of Conscience: Education as a Fundamental Freedom by Kelly Green

Unschooling in Québec

By Marilyn Rowe

Here we are, at the end of a fascinating year in education in Quebec. In February 2017 our Minister of Education tabled a proposed law that was draconian—it would find all homeschoolers through cross-referencing our Medicare system (all births are registered) with school board records, and voila, unregistered children. This would enable school boards to force all homeschoolers to follow the singular Quebec curriculum, and be ready at any time to reintegrate homeschoolers into the school system—because “that's what's best for them.” Needless to say, the homeschooling community in Quebec, be they unschoolers or school-at-homers, Christian, or secular, or other, were incensed. What to do? Quebec is already a province where the law is vague and widely interpreted, school boards have all the power, there is no negotiation possible, and youth protection is almost always threatened and quite often called upon when parents choose to see learning differently than the board does.

Fast forward through a coming together of the community as never before, also a coming out of sorts. Due to the school system’s poor treatment of homeschoolers, most families remained incognito, afraid to be found out, afraid of gathering too often or for too many hours (the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) encouraged these fears), or of having their photos taken at homeschooling activities and events. However, if we're going to be found out anyway, why not go loud and proud? Hashtags were created, and families showed up to their local representatives who were going to get to vote on this law, while understanding nothing of homeschooling realities. Homeschooling events were publicized with reporters invited; the minister's political advisor showed up to the annual homeschool association conference to meet and hear from the families.

A protest was organized outside our Provincial Parliament, on the day that the various affected groups were invited to speak. These included the Christian, Jewish, and secular associations, as well as some local researchers, and the school boards. By now the Minister had heard enough stories of school board abuse of family rights to at least ask the right questions of the board, and they managed to shoot themselves in the foot. We won our main argument—that school boards are in a conflict of interest and lack the capacities to properly evaluate the learning experiences of homeschooled children. Let alone deal with the rising popularity of unschooling, and freedom-based learning centers.

Our work is not finished. While the law was greatly modified and loosened to allow for greater flexibility in evaluating home-based learning, the details of that process are still to be determined and face an uphill battle for freedom.

During this year's action, I (Marilyn Rowe) became vice-president of the secular homeschooling association, and played a role in bridging the gap between the Anglophone and Francophone homeschoolers who make up Quebec's community, as well as on other aspects. Now that the law is passed I have decided to return my attention to my own work, presenting workshops entitled “Healing Our School Wounds,” with my book, Saving Our Kids, Saving Ourselves [] as preparatory reading.