MoE Policy Letter Comments
Home educators have met with MoE staff to talk about the MoE’s Draft Exemption Application in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland with mixed results. A common problem is that the MoE staff, understandably, has a difficult time seeing things from our perspective. They are mystified why we would get so worked up over the wording of an exemption application form. But when this form is the only point of contact between us as parents and the MoE, and when the MoE has the power to force our children out of our homes, thoroughly disrupting our family’s chosen lifestyle, by the mere stroke of a pen, by some subjective judgment by a total stranger to our families as to how well we relate educationally to our own children ??.when this happens, is it really any mystery why we get so excited about proposed changes to this exemption application form? No, it is not. The real mystery is how we home educators have managed to remain so calm and collected.But then the MoE sent out a letter to many home educators. Our family received one from Kay Phillips at MoE head office and also one from the Minister of Education himself, Trevor Mallard. This letter clearly sets out the MoE’s new policy in regards to how it proposes to deal with home educators from here onwards.
This one letter raised a large number of fearful and contentious issues. The letter can be viewed by clicking below
Letter from Trevor Mallard I’ll only deal with two issues raised by this letter, as I’ve dealt with it at length in TEACH Bulletin 83 of July 2004. The material below also appeared in TEACH Bulletin 86 of October 2004.I. Safe SurroundingsThe letter says,??Homeschoolers and the Ministry share a common interest in ensuring all students given an exemption from regular schooling are successfully educated and that this occurs in safe surroundings. ??
My questions (asked of the MoE in August, September and October with no reply as yet) are:
What the MoE means by??safe surroundings ???
Do they plan to assess our homes to see if they comply?
Does the MoE has any legal authority to make such enquiries into private residencies?
II. Divide and ConquerThe letter further states:??The direction of education policy in NZ and elsewhere is seeing much greater transparency and focus on outcomes?? broadly defined?? and a greater focus on what constitutes effective learning and how it is supported in a range of different contexts ??None of this seeks to convey any sense of curriculum regulation but highlights the need for homeschoolers, the Education Review Office and the Ministry to progressively develop greater shared understandings about learning outcomes and other dimensions of quality. ??
It seems clear the MoE is now planning to focus on learning outcomes, an area which, according to Section 21 of the Education Act, is outside the MoE’s legitimate sphere of enquiry in regards to exempted students. I have written the following questions to the MoE (no response to date):
- a. The MoE’s own working definition of??well ?? in its Home Schooling Desk File cautiously steers clear of learning outcomes;
b. Section 21 of the Education Act only requires that the child be??taught at least as regularly and well as in a registered school ?? and makes no reference to learning outcomes; and
c. On page eight of the Report of the Education and Science Select Committee, which was presented to Parliament on 12 February 1998, we find the following statement:??This position raised for us [members of the Parliamentary Science and Education Select Committee] how well taught home schooled children might be in comparison with those in state schools. The [Education Review] office advised us that there was no statutory requirement for any child to be well taught. ??
1. Could you please confirm or correct my understanding that the MoE is now planning to focus on or inquire into learning outcomes among exempted students?
2. Could you please explain why home educators??need ?? to sit down with the MoE and the ERO to??develop greater shared understandings about learning outcomes ?? given the following:
3. Could you please confirm or correct my understanding that the MoE is hoping home educators will voluntarily join the MoE and ERO in formulating a shared understanding of learning outcomes?
4. Could you also please confirm or correct my understanding that there is no statutory requirement for home educators to join the MoE and ERO in this way or for this purpose?
5. Could you please confirm or correct my understanding that once these shared understandings of learning outcomes are formulated, the MoE is hoping that home educators will voluntarily submit to being assessed according to these learning outcomes?
My concern is that some home educators will think it is great that we apparently are being invited to sit down with the MoE and ERO and together hammer out some shared understandings. I fear that these could become a list of outcomes some home educators voluntarily agree to abide by on behalf of all other home educators present and future, even when there is no statutory requirement to do so. My fear is that this kind of thing could be used by the MoE to divide and conquer home educators. We must respect and vigorously defend each other’s uniqueness and not expect other families to adopt our standards nor try to use the state’s power to force fellow home educators to conform to ways with which we happen to agree.One argument in favour of establishing agreed upon??standards ?? or??outcomes ??, arguments even put forward by home educators, says that??illiterate ?? and??intellectually incapable ?? parents surely cannot be allowed to home educate.
My immediate question is: Who decides whether the parents are either of these things? There are plenty of people who would say I am not intellectually capable because I believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Looking at the track record of the NZ state school system which has contributed to the fact that today 46% of adult NZers are barely literate,1 I personally will not accept any ruling on literacy by the MoE.
Listen to an experienced NZ home educating mum answer this argument:
I think there are two issues raised. The first is which is more important: academics or character? While no one likes to think that a home educated child would end up illiterate because his parents cannot or can barely read or write, it’s happening all the time in the case of children who have spent 11 years in school. But what’s more tragic is that the character of these children is either stunted or in complete tatters. Had these children been left at home to be caring, hard-working members of a family and of a community, they could still be salt-of-the-earth, productive citizens, despite the considerable handicap of not being able to read nor write. I venture to suggest that, had their parents been allowed to home educate them, both the parents and the children would have ended up with a higher standard of literacy than in the situation where the exemption was declined and the child is sentenced to 10 years of social destruction.On principle, I’d be more focused on the parents’ willingness to be a family and to help their children than on the standard of their literacy. In no way do I want to denigrate the importance of literacy. However, I have two children who only just get by as far as reading is concerned, and really struggle with writing, but are able to hold down jobs admirably and are productive members of society. And one of them has more wisdom and focus than many academics. Wisdom and usefulness are not dependent on academics.
The second issue is the vexed question, Whose children are they? The state has no right to refuse caring parents the right to bring up and train their children at home. If the law implies that it does, then there is something far wrong either with the law or with the bureaucrats’ interpretation of the law. It’s past time the state knew its place and got its meddling nose out of our families. If it has handicapped parents by sending them into the world illiterate, should it then have the??responsibility ?? of ruining their families too? Our children are our responsibility, not the state’s.
Another argument, also from a NZ home educating mum:
I think of my teenaged daughter applying for an exemption for her future children. She’d be a lovely responsible mother who would certainly make up for the years she lost by learning diligently along with her children. And she’d teach them the value of hard work and right priorities, and wouldn’t put up with nonsense. But she’d find it well nigh impossible to fill in their stupid exemption form to the MoE’s satisfaction, and she might be faced with the agony of seeing her children forced to go to an institution, knowing that it was an institution of this kind which compromised her learning and her social and spiritual development. And I think of certain HErs liaising with the MoE, nodding their heads wisely when the MoE insisted that unless you had the academic ability to fill out this application (which has people with university degrees scratching their heads), you shouldn’t be considered fit to home educate. And I think of other HErs who want the fence to be made higher for the sake of the home education public image. When I think of these things, I feel really alarmed.
It seems there are many dangers with wanting to collaborate with the MoE and ERO. The main danger is compromising a principle which seems far too important and precious for us parents to compromise: the education and training of our children is the responsibility of us parents, not that of the state. Collaborating with state agencies immediately lets them in the door; it lets them put a hand on the steering wheel, it allows huge state agencies on-going advisory input into running private family affairs. Why is that bad? Because state agencies by definition push political agendas: political agendas care nothing for private families but only for conformity to their ideology. If their agenda for your children is different from yours, you will be the one forced to concede. Resist now while we have the opportunity.Note:
- 1. See Ministry of Social Development’s Social Report of August 2004