Homeschooling in Australia

When I tell people that I am working on a business that promotes and supports homeschooling one of the first questions people ask me is how many children are homeschooled in Australia.  Typically I can immediately bring up statistics for the USA where estimates vary from 2 to 3.5 million children are currently being homeschooled.  This represents roughly 5-10% of school aged children and is a fantastic achievement for American parents.  But getting figures for Australian homeschooling is an entirely different matter.  In this article I will be discussing briefly about some aspects of homeschooling in Australia: number, media perception, reasons for and common prejudices towards homeschooling families.

A Word About Numbers

This is an extremely difficult question to answer.  One article I read cited the 2001 Census, recording 30,000 children were homeschooled at that time, but I have not been able to find this information on the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) website.  Another study estimated 15,000 and this figure is on Wikipedia, however, this study is almost 15 years old now and it was a projection based on a limited sample size.  ABC news provided the figure of 50,000 in an article dated January, 2012 while a homeschooling website estimated the figure to be as high as 80,000.  So that is the extent of what I know and it is very sketchy at best. If the next census had a question specifically asking if parents homeschooled I do not think this would help as many families either homeschool illegally or they object to the government knowing every detail of their family life.  The short answer is that no one knows for certain, probably somewhere between 30 and 100 thousand but growing rapidly.  The number of children in government regulated schools was 3,589,986 for 2012, so that puts the estimated percentage homeschooled between 0.8% and 2.7%, so not such a far cry from the current US numbers after all.

Media Perception, Motivation for and Prejudice

Two media articles that I read recently from the mainstream media present homeschooling in a negative light.  The first one is from the The Knox Leader, a local newspaper associated with the Herald Sun which is typically considered a right-wing newspaper in Australia and is titled, “New figures show rates of children being homeschooled doubles but no checks to monitor standards.” The title of this piece immediate gives away a strong suspicion of homeschooling parents as people who ought to be monitored.  I am sure everyone knows at least one busy-body in their street who sticks their noses in other people’s business and most people would probably agree with me that this person is generally not qualified to judge other people and tell them how to live, so why on Earth the government would be better at sticking the noses of their bureaucrats in people’s living rooms and telling them how to raise their children is any better is something the authors of this piece neglected to explain.

The Victorian Department of Education’s senior media officer, Stuart Teather, is refusing to comment on whether safeguards would be implemented in the future, saying only that all complaints were followed up to ensure children received “appropriate education”.

This is a loaded statement, it assumes that the government should be putting “safeguards”, whatever they are, in place and that if the government is not doing this already then shame on them.  This tactic is what most of us in our day to day lives would recognise as a ‘guilt trip’ and is a form of manipulation.  It is interesting because the word “safeguards” could easily be replaced with “threats to remove their children by force if the parents are non-compliant with state authority.”  Again, what business the state has in how children are raised remains to be explained.  The quotation marks were hilarious because they would make an excellent scare quote too, what does the government deem to be “appropriate education?”

“In NSW, before a parent’s registration to homeschool is accepted, an education official visits the home and assesses documentation showing how the child will be schooled. Applications can be rejected if they are deemed unsatisfactory.

In Victoria, these checks do not exist.”

At this point I feel as though the authors are demanding we have a police state because having a total stranger from the government walk into a person’s house and fill out a form somehow magically sanctifies it for home schooling.  Who inspects the government’s schools and sanctifies them?  If parents walk into a state school and deem it unsuitable for educating their children are they allowed to “reject” the government’s desire to educate their children using this method?  Whenever I hear someone talk about compulsory regulations, all I see is a boot coming down hard on someone’s throat.  What is completely missing here is a discussion about what kids need and what schooling is and is not providing them.

“ParentsOnline child psychologist Sally-Anne McCormack, of Blackburn South, is warning parents against the growing trend.

Ms McCormack, who briefly homeschooled her children before putting them in school, said although homeschooling could be beneficial for gifted children, it could have detrimental social effects.

“There is potential for a lack of routine and discipline,” Ms McCormack said.

I do not wish to sound cruel or judgmental towards Ms McCormack, because homeschooling can be a very difficult challenge depending on your personal situation and I do not know Ms. McCormack.  However, she effectively tried and failed to homeschool her children.  Just because she is a psychologist sadly does not mean she has superior wisdom and intelligence to most other people.  This is wishful thinking all of us are guilty of.  Another point is that she effectively admits that gifted children are damaged by state funded schooling.  I have heard this often, but I have heard no explanation for why it would be more harmful to gifted children and less harmful to non-gifted children.  If it is harmful to gifted children, then logically it is harmful to non-gifted children, unless public schools go out of their way to target and destroy gifted children.

“Homeschooled children don’t have the social interaction and immediacy of peers during the day.”

According to the ABS the single biggest social and environment concern of Australian children is bullying in schools.  This is the biggest issue for students in all states and territories and significantly exceeds their concerns about everything from climate change to internet access.  This begs the question: what social interaction are children getting from publicly funded schools?  Forced socialisation with bullies, thugs, drug-dealers, thieves and pushers?  Public schooling is an awful lot like prison and we all appreciate how damaging prison is on a person’s mental health, so why are we so sure that government regulated education is providing a rich and stimulating social environment for children when their own statistics department is reporting the children do not agree?  For me, the question is: are we ever going to listen to our children or will we just keep treating them like cattle?

From here on in, the article becomes positive with interviews of two successful homeschooling families.  It is a typical approach of reporters and journalists to only report one side of the story in the first half because they know most readers will only read the first half before moving onto another article to read.  This is how when challenged the authors will claim to be objective and fair.

The second article is from ABC news, typically considered a left-wing news source, and is entitled “Thousands of parents illegally home schooling.”  Along with this suggestive title we find the following commentary in the opening paragraphs:

It is compulsory to send children between the ages of six and 16 to school, or register them for home schooling…

However, thousands of parents across the country are not registered and that means they potentially face prosecution.

What is missing here is consideration of whether or not children are the responsibility of their parents, or are they the property of the state?  If children are the responsibility of the parents, then what right does the government have to declare it compulsory for children to go to one of their educational institutions against the will of the parents?  Is that not the government asserting property rights over other people’s children?  If the government exists to serve the people, then it should be limited to offering voluntary assistance to those who desire it.  When it is compulsory it smacks of tyranny and I feel obligated to remind people that emotional trauma occurs when someone is forced to do something against their will.  Here the government is forcing thousands of people to do something against their will.  The focus of this article should not be on the legality of homeschooling but on the legality of the government in forcing parents to pay for an education system that they chose not to use for their children.  When can homeschooling parents fine the government for taxing them to pay for other people’s education?  Why it is anyone else’s business how other people choose with educate their children is not discussed and the reader is invited to judge and condemn people they know nothing about.  This is how the mainstream media spread suspicion, distrust and bigotry in the population.

Underground education

There are 942 children registered with the Home Schooling Unit this year, but Mr Osmak believes there may be another 10,000 home schooling underground in Queensland.

The term underground education is a reference to the underground railroad used to smuggle saves to freedom.  I like this connotation to the term, that homeschooling parents are running an underground railroad to smuggle children to safety from the harmful effects of government regulated schooling.  However, I am not convinced the author intended this, I suspect what he was actually trying to suggest is that homeschooling parents are part of some shadowy secret group operating outside mainstream society.  Which is probably technically correct, but the way it is implied is that this is a bad thing because conformity is implicitly a good thing.

Cindy is one of a large number of underground home schoolers but the secrecy and distrust has made it difficult for researchers to get hard data on whether home schooling produces a better or worse education.

This would be an excellent time for the author to bring up the fact that mainstream media perceptions of homeschoolers are typically negative and that government’s are asserting ownership rights to people’s children through compulsory measures.  However, the secretive and distrustful nature of the homeschooling community is not adequately explained.  My belief is that the media just can not criticise themselves in writing.  It is like the school shootings, every expert, who said that the media attention paid to school shootings is what motivates and inspires the murderers, failed to get a quote on any mainstream media source.  Another factor is that most people working in the media were schooled by the state and have been told all their lives to trust the government and so they find it difficult to empathise with people whose experience of the government has not been so positive for them relatively.

“They’re simply opposed in principle to state authority over their children, which they extend not only to a school environment, but even to state hospitals or regulations of another sort.”

Again, in the last paragraphs of the article it moves onto facts.  Discussing the main reasons why people choose to homeschool.  They report accurately that only about 1-in-5 parents choose to homeschool for religious reasons.  The quote above is the single biggest reason why most people choose to homeschool and I wonder why this quote was not used to lead into the article?  Why was it at the end?  Surely a headline about growing numbers of people distrusting the government so much that they are withdrawing their children from public schools would be more exciting and sensational?

Final Thoughts

The topic of homeschooling is still virtually unreported in the Australian press and when it is reported it is generally critical and condescending.  Most people in the general public do not understand the primary motivations for why many parents choose to homeschool and they are generally treated as non-conformist outsiders to be regarded with suspicion.  However, the numbers of homeschooled children are increasing all of the time and with it media attention.  There are growing opportunities for us to get our message out to a larger audience of people and, most importantly, there are enough of us now to start petitioning the government to ease off on many of their authoritarian policies directed towards children as state property.  Finally, you might find this article an interesting one to help with teaching critical thinking skills to your children about how the media manipulate people’s perceptions by using emotional arguments in the language so I am adding it to the air bird feed.

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