Last night, when I should have been in bed, I saw a Facebook update from a friend of mine. The update was about my friend’s friend and a woman I have known about for nearly 20 years, a woman who – on the occasions I spoke with her – inspired me.
Monica O’Connor was very active in the HBA for many years and is a homeschooling mother of her own children and the children she fosters. So I was really taken aback to learn that she’s due to be ‘welcomed’ through the gates of Mountjoy this morning.
There is a petition here that people can sign to register their support for Monica and her husband Eddie. I can only begin to imagine how she must feel – there isn’t a bad bone in her body, yet she’s about to be criminalised by this state. There’s something wrong with that.
And here, I hesitate, because – and, sure, it’s semantics and maybe I should just get over myself – the introduction to the petition states:
However, the Child and family Agency under the Education (Welfare Act) 2000 deems that parents have to ‘apply’ for their children to be placed on the national register of home educators. We argue that this is unconstitutional and families should not have to ‘apply’ for a ‘right’.
From my reading of the Act, that doesn’t appear to be the case at all. There is no mention of ‘homeschooling’ per se in the Act. Any place ‘other than a recognised school’ is treated the same – whether that place is the child’s home or a school set up but not (yet) recognised by the State – in terms of children who attend it needing to be registered. It’s not about ‘applying’ for a ‘right’. It’s about applying to be registered.
I have homeschooled (and would do so again). I have a child who attends a place ‘other than a recognised school’ (one of my girls attends the Rye Institute one day a week during term-time). And I think it’s only right and proper that we need to register the fact that our children are being educated. There is an onus on the State to ensure that children are being educated, and children either need to be registered in a ‘recognised’ school, or registered as receiving their education somewhere else. What registration does is ensure that someone – whether that’s the principal of a state-recognised school or the principal of a non-state-registered school – takes responsibility for the education of the child. This does not undermine the right of the parent to choose where and how their children should be educated. There is no special mention of home-schooling in the law. There is only mention of places other than recognised schools. Homeschooling is lumped in with every other type of schooling that is not ‘recognised’ as a school. So, homeschooling is treated the same as a school set up by – for example – a particular religious sect, a school set up for children of exceptional intellectual ability, a school for children who have dyscalculia, a school for children who are emotionally disturbed, a school for exceptionally talented ballet-dancers or any other type of school or learning institute someone might like to set up.
Could you imagine the outrage if people set up (say) a special yoga school, but didn’t teach anything other than yoga? Imagine the amount of outrage if people got hold of the story that children were going to school and learning nothing but yoga? Imagine the finger-pointing that would take place if you had graduates of a yoga school who couldn’t read, write, research, add etc. ? People would ask why no one from Tusla investigated the place, people would ask why the children didn’t have to register as being schooled in that particular place. If people didn’t have to register, and didn’t have their teaching tools and methods open to scrutiny, there is a possibility that children would receive no education at all. You could have a situation where people simply ignored their children’s needs and didn’t teach them anything at all. At least we have the right to home-educate. Some people – like the Dutch – don’t have that right at all.
From my understanding, Monica and her husband Eddie registered their foster children as home-schooled, but didn’t register their own children as home-schooled. For not registering their own children, they were fined €2,000 thirteen months ago. They have refused to pay the fine. For that, Monica is being imprisoned this morning. She’s not being jailed because she homeschooled her children, she’s being jailed because she refused to pay the fine. For the record, I think it’s a terrible thing that anyone be jailed for non-payment of a fine. I find it very upsetting to think of Monica going in to Mountjoy. At the same time, I don’t think it’s a bad that we have to register our children as home-schooled. I don’t think it undermines our right to educate our children in line with our own beliefs and values. I think I’d rather register than not be allowed to homeschool.
Photo: My children, busy being educated at home