Today a provocative article was published by Ian Townsend on the ABC News website. The title is:
Thousands of parents illegally home schooling
As is customary in cheap journalism, the title deals the first underhanded and disingenuous blow: home schooling is an illegal activity! This is effectively the message that will be taken by anyone who is just reading the headlines.
Since I didn’t just read the headline, I’ll go on with the rest of the article, and explain why I think it’s a piece of propaganda and poor journalism.
The sub-heading, perhaps the next most likely piece of writing that most people will read, states:
“As a new school year begins, more than 50,000 Australian children will be home-schooled and in most cases, their parents are doing it illegally.”
Where is the source for these figures? They are not discussed anywhere in the article. This might just pass as poor journalism, but it’s also part of the propaganda, because the message once again is that, if you know a family who is home-schooling, they’re probably breaking the law. Since the article only talks about home schooling in Queensland, such assertions are even more unwarranted.
The first paragraph demonstrates poor writing:
It is compulsory to send children between the ages of six and 16 to school, or register them for home schooling, but more parents are opting out of the traditional school system and keeping their children at home.
If parents decide to register their children for home schooling, aren’t they also opting out of the traditional school system and keeping their children at home? Let’s simplify the sentence to show why it’s flawed:
It is compulsory to register children for traditional or home schooling, but more parents are keeping their children at home.
Do you see how little sense it makes? As originally written, this paragraph again makes it sound like parents who home school are doing it illegally.
The next section starts with the heading “Underground education“. The propaganda continues. By labelling such movement as “underground”, the author not only points out the illegality of their actions, he also associates with them a number of sinister behaviours such as drug dealing. It conjures images of parents secretly locking their children up at home, looking out of their windows to make sure the police isn’t coming, and living isolated from the rest of the country.
In this section, the author decided to use Cindy as an example of an “underground home schooler”. The reason he chose her is pretty simple: she purportedly said some words that discredit home schoolers in general: “I’m not very organised and disciplined”. Again, the reader who is already suspicious of home schooling will probably shake her head in disbelief, muttering “How can you possibly home school your kids if you’re disorganised?”.
The next paragraph is proof that the author has not done his homework on the topic, and that he doesn’t understand the real issues involved. He states that, due to secrecy and suspicion (again, this is in the domain of the home schooler, giving an impression of paranoia), it is difficult to get data on “whether home schooling produces a better or worse education“.
First of all, there is plenty of evidence that home schooling, when done properly, leads to better-adjusted children who are better prepared for the work force and for the demands of adulthood, than children who are traditionally schooled, even when that traditional schooling is excellent. The author suggests that there is not enough information, therefore the “underground home schoolers” don’t even know if what they’re doing is any better than traditional schooling. Another blow against home schoolers.
Secondly, what does it mean to “produce” an education? How do you measure the goodness or badness of an education? What home schoolers argue is that each child has unique developmental and educational needs and abilities, and that mass schooling, due to its one-size-fits-all approach, cannot possibly enable that child to thrive as it would given the ideal environment and opportunities. The criteria by which you will judge the quality of a child’s education are likely to be rooted in an ideology that is external, and probably not beneficial, to the child.
Finally, the last section “Why home school?” is by far the worst of all. It starts with the results of two unreferenced surveys, asking registered home schoolers why they chose to home school. The author then chose to list the major reasons in an interesting order. Even though religious reasons were not the highest reason in either study, he decided to list it first in both of them. It’s hard not to believe that he did this with the increasingly anti-religious Australian in mind, further fuelling the reader’s mistrust of home schoolers.
Interestingly, the most oft-given answer related to philosophical reasons, but none of these reasons were explained by the author, and he even failed to report an exact figure (“nearly half”). Instead, he chose to quote from a Stanford University sociologist and prominent critic of home schooling, Rob Reich, who essentially proclaimed that all home schoolers are paranoid.
To top it all off, the author chose to conclude with the wise words of Hanne Worsoe, acting manager of the Queensland Home Education Unit:
Standards exist for a reason and they’re about the kids not about the parents and their ideas about what they should do, that’s why we live in a civil society that provides that capacity to represent children and to monitor their educational needs. If people aren’t registered I’d say you’re breaking the law, and if you’re doing the right thing by your kids you’ve got nothing to hide.
I could write another entire post on this quote, but let’s just write a dot points:
- “Standards exist for a reason”: does it matter if that is reason is valid?
- “Standards are about the kids, not about the parents and their ideas about what they should do”: in essence, Hanne, you’re saying “we know better”, even though you don’t even know the kids’ names? How condescending, how arrogant!
- “That’s why we live in a civil society”: please explain the connection between civility and compulsory schooling, because I don’t see it.
- “a civil society that provides that capacity to represent children and to monitor their educational needs“: Society needs to represent children? How does it do that through compulsory schooling? Why can’t parents represent their children through their choice of how to educate them? Why do they have to be monitored externally?
- “if you’re doing the right thing by your kids you’ve got nothing to hide”: Again, how do you know what is “the right thing”? What you really mean is “if you’re doing what we want you to do, you’ve got nothing to hide”.
So, the mistrust and stigmatisation continues: home schoolers are no more than paranoid criminals who secretly take their children away from the schools where they belong, to foment rebellion and anarchy.
What a load of codswallop! You can do better than that, Ian Townsend!