The Quiet Ambush

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