The Quiet Ambush

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In Victoria,
Australia, the State Parliament is considering an Education and
Training Reform Bill for a new Education Act which will completely
rework the existing Act.

Among other
changes, homeschoolers will now be more strictly regulated. Up till
now, homeschoolers in Victoria have only been required to provide
regular and efficient instruction for their children and to be able
to prove it if challenged, under Division 8A of the Community
Services Act of 1970 School Attendance. No other state in Australia
shows such lenience to homeschoolers, and in this environment homeschooling
has flourished.

Unfortunately,
this is about to change. Under the new Education Reform Bill, a
current draft of which can be found here,
Victorian homeschoolers will be required to apply for a homeschooling
licence and comply with any (as-yet undisclosed) regulations the
government thinks fit. Anyone disobeying these unspecified regulations
will have their licence revoked. Anyone refusing to apply for a
licence to homeschool will be charged with starting an unregistered
school and will be fined $1048.10 in Australian dollars. Alternately,
they can be fined $104.81 per day per child for truancy. Possibly
both fines will apply.

School attendance
officers will be authorised to go up to any child on the street
whom they suspect of being school-age and not attending a registered
school or homeschool, and take down their name and address. Any
attempt to interfere or to obstruct these officers will result in
a fine of $6288.60.

Parents caught
homeschooling without a licence, therefore, will be prosecuted for
operating an unregistered school, for not following school requirements,
and for assisting their children to play truant.

The message
is clear: Allow the government to intervene in your children's education,
or have the shirt sued off your back.

The most sinister
aspect of the whole business is the fact that the proposed regulations
say nothing of the extent of intrusion. The Minister for Education
in Victoria, Ms. Lynne Kosky, insists that once all the homeschoolers
have licences they will be left alone. But we have no formal, written
assurance that this will be the case. Once the licences are in place,
homeschoolers could quite easily be required to teach the same government-approved,
functionally dead curriculum used in state schools — a curriculum
not only statist and strictly secular, but also practically useless.
Even the Australian Education Minister, Brendan Nelson, has admitted
as much:

The Education
Minister, who yesterday unveiled a strategy to reintroduce phonics
around the nation, said national literacy levels were u2018unacceptable'
and teaching methods were failing children. u2018Unfortunately, a lot
of teachers have not been taught how to teach our children reading
in the most scientific way,' he said. u2018The end result of it is we've
got about 30 per cent of Australian children leaving the school
system functionally illiterate.' –u2018The Australian', 9 December
2005

Thirty percent
is a huge amount. I was staggered when I read this, first
because of the size of the problem, and second because Mr. Nelson
even admitted it. These are the people who want to keep tabs on
homeschooling, people who can't even teach the children they have.
Homeschooling is known for its efficiency. I have met many, many
state-school students and quite a few homeschool students, and when
it comes to literacy, sheer love for knowledge, and ability to use
the brains God gave them, the homeschoolers win every time.

But the government
knows this. They also know that homeschooled children grow up outside
the modern state-built greenhouse of lies and half-truths. The government
knows that homeschooled children grow up wide-awake, and they love
asking questions. They are a threat of the worst kind, for they
are a quiet, law-abiding threat and cannot be locked away for causing
disturbances. The government's only choice is to step in, now, before
the homeschoolers cannot be stopped, and turn the homeschool into
yet another zombie learning institution — into a parody of itself,
a form of government-free education for which you must ask the government's
permission.

If this legislation
goes through without amendment or opposition, homeschoolers will
be vulnerable to practically unlimited government interference.
The bill's consultation period took place during the summer holidays,
over Christmas, when the local Members of Parliament's offices were
closed and the MPs (and half the population) were elsewhere on holidays.
Although homeschoolers in Victoria have rallied to fight the bill,
I'm afraid that many still haven't heard of it. The general population
has certainly not heard of it. Although we have been collecting
signatures and contacting MPs, the outlook is not good. Ms. Kosky
meets inquiries and protests with airy assurances that government
interference will be minimal or nonexistent. If this is true, why
is there nothing about it in the bill? Ms. Jacinta Allan, a local
representative, told
homeschooling parents that "Education is clearly the Minister's
responsibility. It always has been." They are determined to
intrude.

To sum up,
it is painfully clear that the existing homeschooling policy has
not been revised so as to make sure all children are well-educated,
nor simply to deal with the truancy problem (which will arguably
only become worse under new, tougher legislation), but solely to
give the government unlimited control over homeschools and make
life much harder for homeschooling parents. They have done this
with the least possible publicity, to safely open the door for more
state control and more onerous legislation. They are making criminals
out of people who only want to raise their children the way they
believe God wants them to be raised.

If you have
read this, and believe that homeschoolers should be left in peace
to educate their children independently of government meddling,
your help would be sincerely appreciated. A list of Members of the
Victorian Parliament can be found here,
along with email addresses. Take some time to write a short email
protesting against this new bill. Perhaps wider publicity and international
protest will succeed where petitions and interviews have not.

March
1, 2006

Suzannah
Rowntree [send her mail],
a former homeschooled student, is studying law.

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