Last week, in a bizarre series of legislative manoeuvres, the Alberta government abandoned once again a bill to revise the legislative framework for schooling in the province. For the second time, the Education Act will die on the order paper.
The bill’s demise has been attributed in part to the uproar from home-schooling parents, many of whom believe that Bill 2 would have restricted their freedom to teach whatever they want. This is illogical, because even though home-schooling parents receive public funding, they do not have to follow the Alberta program of studies.
Both the proposed Education Act and the current School Act contain provisions related to diversity and respect in schools. The School Act bases its provisions on "understanding and respect for others" and the "common values and beliefs of Albertans," whereas the Education Act bases its on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Human Rights Act.
Many home-schooling parents suggest that the lines between class time and home time are blurred, and since their home is defined (according to the act) as a school, any conversation in their home would be subject to the Alberta Human Rights Act and, under Bill 2, discussions around the kitchen table could be governed by legislation. Some believe that Bill 2 would, for example, prevent parents from teaching their particular views on homosexuality or abortion.
These complaints are unfounded and ridiculous.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is part of our constitution and applies to legislation and programs of study regardless of whether a provincial education act refers to it or not. As for the Alberta Human Rights Act, it also expressly applies to all legislation in Alberta.
The only section of the Alberta Human Rights Act that might be problematic relates to discriminatory publications and notices. But that section does not apply to display or publication by a nonprofit organization that is "composed exclusively or primarily of persons having the same political or religious beliefs, ancestry or place of origin." If the home-schoolers had done their homework, they would have derived comfort from this particular clause; however, this group seems to thrive on misinformation. According to Paul van den Bosch, spokesman for the Alberta Home Education Association, his organization is also concerned that the proposed legislation states: "Parents have the right to make informed decisions." He’d prefer it to read: "Parents have the right to make decisions."
It is worth noting that the Alberta human rights process is complaint-based, and the person most likely to lodge a complaint is the very person who is being discriminated against—in the case of home-schooling, the complainant would be the child.
Was the pushback from a passionate lobby group sufficient to block fundamental legislation from passing in the days before a provincial election was called? Not likely, but the Progressive Conservatives don’t want to be seen as restricting parental rights. The safest thing to do was to let the bill die and bring it back under a fresh mandate.
Why would home-schooling parents and the religious right devote so much energy to an issue that doesn’t warrant it? I believe it is an opportunistic move to advance a narrative that benefits their cause and ideology: school choice and parental rights. But the home-schoolers’ concepts of school choice and parental rights focus on benefiting individual students while ignoring the greater societal good that is served by public education.
Public education develops well-rounded citizens who contribute to a diverse and inclusive society. Educating students from all backgrounds together in the same environment teaches respect and honours diversity. Students learn collectively to be cooperative, compassionate and collaborative contributors to society.
Increasingly, public education is focused on inclusive education and enhancing individualized instruction. Public education offers rich programming options in an environment where professionals communicate and work collaboratively with parents for the benefit of children and youth. This model of public education balances the individual’s and society’s needs, making rhetoric about school choice and parental rights moot.
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