Once considered one of the best in the world, the Canadian educational system has, over the past 20 years, lost some of its luster. Increasingly, parents are pulling their children from the traditional institutions and educating them at home or in alternative schools. The Interim has asked some of these parents to defend the choices they have made concerning their child’s education.
Public education is still the best bet
The school yard is alive with joyous sound. Children, faces alight with smiles, move amid the bustle renewing friendships. Inside, new students gather near the office, little ones clinging to their parents’ hands, older ones nervously examining the unfamiliar surroundings. In the yard, in the halls, in the staff room, there is an exhilarating air of excitement. A brand new school year is about to begin.
Each September, this scene is repeated with local variations from one end of the nation to the other. For most young Canadians, the first day of a new school year is a joyous and exhilarating experience. For them, their parents and teachers, school is a wonderful place. Whether it is a native school in Inuvik, a prestigious private school in Victoria, a Christian school in Calgary, a public school in inner-city Toronto, or any one of the thousands of schools large and small that dot the Canadian landscape, if it is a Canadian school, it is among the best in the world.
Unlike the academic mills of Japan or Korea, with their spectacular successes and their equally spectacular failures, Canadian schools put the same level of educational standards within the reach of everyone, their goal to educate the “whole person,” to inspire life-long learners.
The school community is a microcosm of Canadian society. These are places where our children encounter the reality of our multicultural world. In many cases a single classroom will hold representatives of a variety of diverse cultures and social strata. Here, students learn cooperation and respect for each other’s way of thinking and living. It is an environment geared to sharing.
Students participate together in the community of the school. Through a variety of group situations, they come to respect that each member, regardless of ability or social status, has something to contribute.
Teachers are, in general, a dedicated lot. As a rule they are well educated for their role. Many spend free time pursuing courses or reading and sharing materials with colleagues to stay aware of what is current in the field of education. Each one brings an array of talents and skills to teaching. Of course teachers are not masters of all aspects of education, but each adds to the general pool of skill and talents within the school community.
Consider the extreme case. A teacher gifted in the presentation of academic programs is uncomfortable with music, daunted by art and overwhelmed by the physical education program, while another has difficulty with the academic program, but is exceptional at art, music, or physical education. Many would feel the term spent with the gifted presenter of academic programs better spent than one with the poorer presentation skills.
Yet, for some students, the experience with the exceptional artist might form a life long love for art and a potential future as an artist, artisan or commentator. Similarly, the musically gifted teacher might instill some students with a love of music that could carry over into any number of future expressions of that love. The gifted physical education teacher might promote fitness and athletic skills giving some students a positive direction they might otherwise never have known. The pooling of teacher skills and talents extends the student’s learning opportunities.
Canadian schools are resource centres. They are places dedicated to study and research. Most schools can boast a variety of materials to encourage and assist the learning process. Text books, reference materials, teaching aids such as computers, VCRs, record players and ape recorders are found to some degree in all our schools. Tape recorded story books, material for science study, geometrical shapes and countless other learning materials, from the commonplace to the creative can all be found in classroom learning centres.
Resources are more than books and libraries, teaching aids and computers. As a community within a community, the school is a focus for human resources made up of teachers, parents, staff, students and all members of our society.
In many schools, remedial resources are available for Special Needs children. Besides the regular staff, there are also teachers and staff who work directly with these needy members of the school community. They serve as mentors, spokespersons and advocates for their charges.
A school may not be an appropriate place of learning for everyone. And yes, it is true that today’s schools sometimes reflect the worse aspects of society, but it is equally true that they also reflect the best. For those who would forsake the schools and press out on their own, good luck! Bur remember, the school systems are only as strong as those who are willing to fight to improve them. Although a country of contrasts, Canada has always been a community oriented nation.
Rugged individualism, as noble as it may be, belongs to our neighbours to the south. That is how they opened their frontiers and grew to be the nation they are today. Still, it is worth remembering that when the Americans began a new community on the western front, the first buildings to go up were often a saloon and a jail, while in Canada it was a church and a school.
What to do now that the children are back at school
For The Interim
Summer is over and the children are back at school. As a sense of order returns to the home front, you, as concerned parents experience a certain disquiet. Aware that you, not the school, have primary responsibility for your children’s education, you can find yourselves in something of a dilemma. How do you exercise your educational responsibilities so that home and school operate harmoniously?
By recognizing your role as primary educator of your children, you have cleared the first hurdle. Don’t hesitate to get involved. Those are your children and you are an essential part of your children’s school experience. You needn’t feel intimidated, all school boards understand this and expect parents to become actively involved in school decisions concerning their children.
The healthiest approach is to keep in mind that you ought to work as partners with the school to ensure the best possible education for your children. Boards and schools expect parents to take a partnership role in the education of their children. They encourage parents to express their opinions, to share vital information about their children and to discuss their concerns. As parents it is critical that you make use of opportunities to communicate with the school. It is critical that you try to develop a healthy amount of trust in your children’s teachers without turning a blind eye to the difficulties that may occur.
Don’t wait until problems arise. Take advantage of curriculum nights and parent-teacher interviews. Participate on Parent Teacher Committees when you can. Get to know your children’s teachers formally and informally if you can. Try to get a sense of the underlying philosophy of the school, and how it is expressed.
As parents, it is important that you present to the school any concerns you may have regarding personnel, programs or methods for they affect your children’s education. Hoe you communicate these is equally as important. Approaching the school in a positive, constructive manner with a willingness to work out solutions to problems goes a long way. As a true partner in the education of your children, be sure you display respect for yourselves and others, even when in disagreement concerning a method or incident. A positive attitude goes a long way towards building a positive academic environment for your children.
Since parenting begins at home, a review of some of the typical items one might find on the list of parents’ responsibilities might be a good place to start. They are pretty obvious. Keep children rested and clean; give good meals every day; provide necessary school supplies; keep house and clothes clean; teach safety rules.
Most parents are well aware of their basic responsibilities. They might be less clear on specific things that they can do to help with their children’s schooling. What follows are some specific suggestions for your consideration.
- Respect each child. Consider each child’s particular needs and encourage individual development.
- Encourage each child. Be supportive of each child’s interests. INVEST in each child. Take time to talk, to commiserate, to laugh with your children about their school experiences. Listen to their concerns and feelings and discuss these with them.
Share your time and talents with your children. And, most importantly, MODEL the kinds of behaviours and attitudes that you believe will bring them the greatest success in school and in life.
- Develop and maintain a positive, cooperative working relationship with your child’s teachers. It is vital that your children see their parents and teachers communicating in a positive manner. This will help them to develop and maintain a respect for those in authority.
- Show an active interest in your child’s education. READ to your child frequently. Read quality books that you will both enjoy. Children will develop a love for reading by being read to and by seeing that you enjoy it too.
- Provide a calm, supportive atmosphere at home.
- Provide proper tools for studies – dictionaries, tools for writing, a proper study environment.
- Help with the organization of school work. Provide a suitable place (e.g. the kitchen table) for your children to do homework where you are seen to be present. It is important that while you don’t want to hang over your child, they see that you are interested and available to help when the need arises.
- Encourage your child to develop hobbies and to participate in leisure activities.
- Try to keep yourself abreast of new techniques being used in your child’s education. Ask at the school library for books explaining new approaches. Become an active, able participant by educating yourself.
It cannot be emphasized enough that you are the primary educator. You establish the values, the morality, the questioning mind, the mind that will learn to discriminate between right and wrong!
Try to approach your child’s education with joy!
Teachers and parents work together at alternative schools
For The Interim
Thank goodness for Hawthorn School for Girls and Northmount School for Boys.
As a parent who takes her vocation very seriously, I have been so thankful to have found these two schools. Even though we live 40 km from school, it is worth the drive to Toronto every day.
Hawthorn and Northmount truly put into practice the philosophy that parents are the primary educators of their children. They work very hard at helping parents achieve this goal. I have tried the Separate School system, I have tried home schooling but found that only Hawthorn and Northmount have been ale to provide my family with the type of education we need to prepare our children to become mature and responsible adults that can survive in this society.
Both schools combine a challenging academic curriculum with a program of sound character formation. Teachers and parents work closely together on the overall development of the child. My children have attended these schools for the past three years. After only one year I saw a major change for the better in our family life. My children get along with each other better and we enjoy parenting them more.
The school not only covers the academics but has greatly assisted us with the character building of our children.
If you want it done right
For The Interim
There are many good philosophical reasons to homeschool, but I didn’t come to appreciate them until after I started doing it. When my husband and I decided to remove our children from school it was for the personal reason that school simply wasn’t meeting our child’s need.
I began homeschooling when my oldest child, Veronica, was in grade 4 and my second, Richard, was in grade 3. If they had both been like Richard, I would probably not have considered homeschooling. Richard was a serious and cooperative student who did not seem to have any problems with school. Veronica, however, was bright, creative and strong-willed. Her teacher rarely seemed to know how to deal with her. She scored high on the intelligence tests but was consistently mediocre in her school performance. School seemed to be fostering an attitude that she should do the minimum necessary to get by rather than do her best. She was losing her innate love of learning.
We had already tried the public and separate system as well as a private school in our attempts to find the kind of teaching Veronica needed. I began to seriously consider “doing it myself.” I talked to people I knew who homeschooled and read everything I could find on the topic. I learned that children rarely suffered either academically or socially from learning at home. In fact they end to score higher on standardized tests ant o be especially well-adjusted socially. I learned that meals, housekeeping and other activities need to be carefully scheduled to allow time for all that needs to be done, but that it is possible.
As my husband and I discussed the issue, it became clear that this was an option worth trying, not only for Veronica but for all the children. This seemed to be rather a drastic step at the time. As we went through the intimidating process of talking with teachers, the principal and school officials about withdrawing our children, I was encouraged by the words of Familiaris Consortio.
“The right and duty of parents to give education is essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the relationship between parents and children; and it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others.”
This helped me to understand that I had the right and ability to teach my children, even though I didn’t have a teaching degree or some other piece of paper to say that I was an expert on children. When it comes to my own children I am the expert.
I’ve been pleased with the results of home-schooling over the last three years. We strengthened our family bonds. Veronica rediscovered the excitement of learning and has started to develop good work habits. Richard thrived on the independence and the time to go in depth into projects that interested him. Our third child, Stephen, reached school age after we had started homeschooling. I found it very satisfying to know that his education was based on his needs and interests rather than on an impersonal curriculum.
Unfortunately I have developed health problems that make it inadvisable for me to continue teaching my children at home. We have been blessed by finding a small alternative Catholic school fairly close to our home. Several families have combined together. We rent facilities and one of the mothers (who has a teaching degree, making us eligible for private school status) teaches full time, while the other parents take turns helping out. This arrangement gives our children most of the advantages of homeschooling, plus the opportunity to make friends with children raised with similar values. We were very fortunate to learn of Ascension of Our Lord School when homeschooling could no longer be an option for us.
Home schooling avoids peer pressure, strengthens family
Rev. Dick Vandervecht, for the Interim
When my mother Betty and I chose our wedding text we had never heard of home schooling, but the verse from Deuteronomy 4:9 would prove to be prophetic—“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and their children after them.”
I guess we felt like we were about to enter the promised land together and, like the Israelites, had a high and holy calling from God. We prayed about our children before we started our family and were given a powerful sense of the responsibility that would be ours when God would place into our care some of His precious children. The awareness of our responsibility before God became stronger when our first child, Jennifer, was born in 1978.
When she was three we were finding the work of teaching her, which began at birth, exhilarating, challenging , and the most rewarding thing we had ever experienced. We read everything we could find on childhood education. At the same time, what felt like a bombardment of books, people and experiences raised many questions about the practice of sending children to school.
We were starting to realize the blessings of Christian family life and the powerful influence loving parents have on children. Jennifer had grown into a literate, articulate, violin-playing four-year-old with a budding love for God and we felt what we had been doing was merely being Christian parents. The thought of handing her over to “professionals,” even in a Christian school, where she would begin a life of isolation from her family and other adults for the best part of every day finally broke through the fears and reservations we had and we decided to keep her home. It was like a conversion experience.
When God commands parents to teach their children he also equips them to do it. The love bond between parents and their children is the fertile soil in which children grow best.
Jennifer is now sixteen and is still studying at home along with heather (14), Brendan (12) and Matthew (8). All of them relate to other people of all ages with confidence. They have friends in our neighbourhood and church.
There has developed a friendship between brothers and sisters that is special and very strong. Our kids are free from all of the stress that peer pressure brings to schooled kids. We relate to them as young Christians preparing to function as adults as soon as possible. Christ-centred family life is very attractive to young people and when combined with a vibrant church life provides all the enrichment, challenge, purpose and direction that young people are seeking elsewhere with no success. I really cannot think of a downside to home schooling.
Our experience over the last sixteen years has strengthened our conviction that family life is a high and holy calling, like Israel entering the promised land. We are part of a revival of Biblical Christianity in our time which is evidenced by the growth of Christian schools and home schooling. Much of the function and authority which the Bible assigns to the family have been handed over to the State, causing the weakening of the family and eroding our freedoms as citizens.
We have experienced tremendous blessings as we have attempted to follow God’s commands to parents and establish his order in our family. We are convinced that the result will be blessings to our church, our nation and beyond as the Christian family is once again established as the foundation of freedom, education, work, social welfare and citizenship.
Build base at home before sending to school
Nancy de Souza, for the Interim
There are five children in our family ranging in age from two-and-a-half to twenty. Our eldest, Michelle, came to us through adoption at age six. She was already enrolled in school. We were unaware of homeschooling at the time. As time passed, however, it became clear that Michelle had many learning problems. The school showed great concern and caring but it was extremely hard for them to meet her individual needs with so many to deal with.
As our next child grew, we began to hear stories of families who were homeschooling. We learned that Kindergarten is not mandatory, that children must be enrolled in school by age 6, unless they are receiving satisfactory instruction at home or elsewhere. We felt children developed at their own rates. Just as they all learn to crawl, walk, talk, in their own time, they would also show a desire to read, write and calculate. Reading books by educational experts like Montessori supported this idea.
We felt we could meet the children’s educational needs much better at home as we had one adult for every two or three children and we knew each child very well.
Homeschooling, for us, allows for a flexible learning style. We allow the children’s interests to direct us. There are often concentrated efforts in one area with everything else being ignored for a time. When Katie started reading, that was all she wanted to do. At other times, they become involved in science or writing. We have found there is a balance in what they have learned over a longer period.
When Jonathan was about nine, my husband felt it was time for Jonathan to enter school. He had begun to enjoy school at this age himself. We discussed the pros and cons. School would give Jonathan a chance to move into a larger community, a chance to work with others from various backgrounds and educational levels. He seemed to be ready for a more structured learning style.
Again our thoughts matched those of the educational theorists my husband had been studying. With three younger sisters at home, Jonathan was ready for some time apart, in his own environment. On the other side, school would take up a great deal of time. Jonathan had music lessons, practicing, Cubs and karate. This did not leave him much free time.
Jonathan entered school at grade four. The transition was very smooth. We met with the principal and his teacher. They were both welcoming and very interested in our ideas about what we wanted educationally for Jonathan. His teacher followed an individual reading program which was important to us as he was reading above grade level. We did not want him to become bored and lose interest. Jonathan was at or above grade level in all subjects. He became very involved in school activities including the school musical and peer conflict management. He enjoyed his sisters more when he spent less time with them.
This spring, Katie turned nine and we began to consider entering her in school. She seems to be ready for more structured learning but does not want to accept structure from me. She is very social and would like to meet and work with other children. Like Jonathan, she desires a little less interaction with her younger sisters. (Her younger sister desires some time without her as well.)
We decided to give school a try for Katie but she will still have the option of returning to homeschooling. Once in school, Jonathan has not wished to return to homeschooling although we all find his free time is limited. I miss having him at home and look forward to school holidays.
Homeschooling has built their self confidence and has developed strong family values which we hope will make our children less vulnerable to peer pressure. They enter school with strong skills, both academically and socially.
For our family, the combination of home schooling and traditional schooling has worked out well.
Let’s convert not destroy
Almost two million Canadian women have had abortions since the procedure was first legalized in Canada in 1969. Each of these women has a group of people who have been involved—father, mother, boyfriend or husband, brothers, sisters and friends—either helping them decide in favour of abortion or supporting them in the abortion’s aftermath.
It is not far-fetched to conjecture that perhaps a majority of adult Canadians have been actively involved in abortion. It is a sobering reality for the pro-life movement. We cannot possibly be successful in ending abortion unless we can win over those who have had this kind of involvement in abortion.
Clearly, nothing will turn off such people faster than will any kind of holier-than-thou attitude. If pro-life people are seen as moralists shaking their fingers at those they regard as sinners, we will surely fail.
There is a certain temptation in the abortion struggle, as in any other struggle against evil, to see it as a battle between the good guys and bad guys. If such is our attitude, our opponents will be characterized as villains and sinners, both corrupt and depraved. We can call them all kinds of derogatory names. One problem with such an approach is that if our opponents are “bad guys” then we become of course the “good guys,” the virtuous ones.
Any such thinking is so fundamentally wrong that all action that springs from it is certain to fail. We need first to reflect that when God became man there was only one group of persons that he condemned (lawyers aside, that being another whole column.) Those were the self-righteous. These were people whose daily lives were marked by virtuous actions but whose sin consisted in believing that they were the righteous.
Self-righteousness is dangerous because it leads us to believe that the evil that we fight is “out there”—something which we find in others and of which we are free. In fact, abortion is rooted in the consumerist mentality that shapes our entire society. Every consumerist nation on earth has embraced abortion as something that its citizens desire. Those of us who recognize the evil of abortion still lead lives rooted in the consumerism that is responsible for the abortion epidemic.
If we seek to end abortion but are content to enjoy all the benefits that flow from our consumerist society we open ourselves to charges of hypocrisy. It appears that we want to stop others from committing sins that arise naturally from such an environment, but hold on for ourselves all the material benefits that our consumerist society produces. We want others to change without being compelled to change our own lives.
One danger of thinking that the evil we fight is simply “out there,” is that we will begin to think that the solution is to destroy the evil. Throughout history the world’s answer to evil has been to destroy it. Virtuous causes have employed guns and tanks and bombs. And in the end we have a world that is no less evil than before all the bombs were dropped and all the bullets fired.
The way of the world is built on an error—the error of believing that evil is irreversible. As Christians we recognize just the opposite—that evil is to be overcome through conversion.
When Christians start to believe that evil is simply “out there” they manage to create as big a mess as their non-believing brothers. Those who recently killed two American abortionists adopted just such a philosophy. Their murderous actions will unleash more evil—including hate, reprisal and rejection of pro-life views—than any good which could possibly result.
A recognition that we ourselves are immersed in the very evil we fight will not reduce the vigour with which we fight. Killing a little child remains a dreadful evil. Nothing less than a full-hearted and courageous opposition is called for.
Canadians will not reject abortion if the message they hear from us is that they need to change and that they have been doing something evil. The use of force will likewise fail to move them
Our message had credibility when it is rooted in the recognition that we are all immersed in the struggle between good and evil and that we wish to convert, not destroy , those who are involved in the evil of abortion.
Relieving an adopted child’s anxieties
Literature helps ease children into new families
Sue Careless, The Interim
Why didn’t my birth mother keep me? Didn’t she want me? Didn’t she love me? Was there something wrong with me? Did I cry too much? Was I ugly? Was I bad? What are my birth parents like? Do I look like them? Does my birth mother ever think about me on my birthday? Is she happy or sad? Do I have any brothers or sisters? Did you steal me? Can I be sent back?
These tough questions reflect the typical anxieties of a foster or an adopted child. Some of the following books may help reassure such a child but with any sensitive issue, never say, “Just read this and you’ll feel better and understand everything.”
Adoptive parents mustn’t expect a book to do all the work for them. If, after previewing a book, you feel comfortable with it, then suggest to your child, “Let’s look at this together.” Ask, “Is this how you feel sometimes?”
“Use the book as a springboard for more discussion,” advises Joan Kosmachuk, Executive Director of Jewels for Jesus Adoption Agency Inc. in Mississauga, and author of Rebecca’s Summer. “Every child loves their own story so the story you write together is the best one.”
Which book is most suitable will depend on the type of adoption your child experienced. Was he placed at birth or as an older child after foster care? Was it a cross-cultural or an international adoption? How much is known of the birth parents? Was it an open, semi-open or closed adoption?
The classic story of adoption, The Chosen Baby by Valentina P. Wason, Lippincott, 1939, describes parents choosing an infant. Fifty years ago this usually was the case but today the birth parents more often chose the adoptive parents. Only in international adoptions are babies themselves being chosen.
Adoptive children have different fears and needs at different ages. A preschooler will not understand the concept of adoption but she should feel that ‘adopted’ is a familiar and positive word around her home. Sadly it may later be a dirty word in the school yard.
The Day We Met You, by Phoebe Koelher, Bradbury Press 1990, joyously tells toddlers of the adopted baby’s homecoming. “You felt like the sun shining inside us.” I Am Adopted by Susan Lapsley, Bodley Head, 1974, is a simple first reader. “It (adoption) means we were given to Mummy and Daddy when we were little. And they brought us home to make a family.” Both books cheerfully share only the positive.
Anxieties arise in Horace by Holly Keller, Grenwillow, 1991. Horace is all leopard-like spots, his family all tiger-like stripes. The word adoption is never used but difference is dealt with. Horace learns that family and belonging is more than skin deep. “We chose you when you were a tiny baby because you had lost your first family and needed a new one.” Horace would be gently appropriate for a cross-cultural or international adoption. (Suitable for three to six-year-olds.)
Parentbooks of Toronto, which specializes in books on adoption, also recommends for the same age group A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza, Putman, 1992, and Zacharay’s New Home by Geraldine and Paul Blomquist, Magination, 1990. Kosmachuk suggests The Mulberry Bird by Anne Braff Brodzinsky, Perspectus Press, 1986, for children who have been in foster care. These are all animal stories which young children love.
Five to seven-year-old adoptees recognize that they arrived in their families differently from their friends, and may say to their adoptive mother, “I wish I’d been born in your tummy.” At this age they begin to recognize and grieve their loss. There is often a birth mother in the story you tell but the birth father usually gets left out. “Sometimes,” says Kosmachuk, “the child confusedly thinks the adoptive father slept with the birth mother so it is vital that adoptive children know how a baby is made and that the birth father is included.”
In A Forever Family by Roslyn Banish, Harper Collins, 1992, Jennifer tells of her adoption at seven. She has lived in foster care and knows “Social workers help people. They make sure that somebody is taking good care of you.” The photos show a child rich in family and friends and illustrates how vital the extended family is. It documents an actual cross-cultural adoption, recording even the court scene. Only two pages address any anxieties. (Suitable for five to eight-year-olds.)
The Adopted One by Sara Bonnett Stein, Walker and Co., 1979, deals with the anxieties of who are the ‘real’ parents of an adopted child. It speaks to both parent and child using parallel texts. The child’s text may seem too harsh but it does address the worst of the tensions and is softened by the photos. (Suitable for adults and five to eight-year-olds.)
Tell Me a real Adoption Story by Betty Jean Lifton, Knopf, 1993, would be suitable for a semi-open adoption. The scene in which the adoptive parents met the birth mother with her newborn is particularly touching. (Suitable for six to ten-year-olds.)
“Eight to eleven-year-olds understand birth relationships better so the experience of loss is now more pronounced. They may have a mild or severe grief response and need to be reassured that the sad feelings will go away,” says Kosmachuk. “They still lack a good grasp of the legal system and may fear their adoptive parents stole them or that their birth parents may reclaim them.”
Steven’s Baseball Mitt by Kathy Stinson, Annick Press, 1992, speaks of “giving up for adoption” instead of the more positive, “placing for adoption.” Otherwise it is an excellent book, not afraid to address the fears and fantasies of an adopted child and is, delightfully illustrated. (Suitable for six to ten-year-olds.)
We Adopted You, Benjamin Koo by Linda Walvoord Girard, Albert Whitman and Co. 1989, narrates two international adoptions and deals with the teasing of fourth graders, “If you’re adopted ask all the questions you want. Your parents will tell what they know even if part of your story is sad.” (Suitable for seven to ten-year-olds.)