August 18th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: The economy: John Howard's Achilles' heel

COVER STORY: ENERGY CRISIS: The real threat of global warming

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Will Howard's career end in an election slaughter?

QUEENSLAND: Protests against forced council amalgamations

VICTORIA: Open season on the unborn

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Human rights bill abandons the unborn child

HOUSING: Stable families improve house affordability

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Has Howard missed the bus? / Victoria's new government / Mick-baiting / Smear, smut and smirk

EDUCATION: Why I'm home-educating my children

NATIONAL SECURITY: Russian and Chinese espionage in Australia

HUMAN RIGHTS: Mansour Osanloo - Iran's Lech Walesa

OPINION: The great delusion and its remedy

BOOKS: OUR CULTURE, WHAT'S LEFT OF IT, by Theodore Dalrymple

BOOKS: YOUNG STALIN, by Simon Sebag Montefiore

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Why I'm home-educating my children

by Tanya O'Brien

News Weekly, August 18, 2007
Australian parents, many of them disillusioned with the poor performance of schools, are turning in increasing numbers to home-schooling, or home-educating, for their children.

Tanya O'Brien describes why she and her husband Ben regard home education as beneficial for their four young children.

I would like to acknowledge that my husband Ben and I are only at the beginning of this journey of home-educating our children. It is something we have chosen together, and I would strongly recommend that it should only ever be a decision made by a husband and wife together.

I know that some amazing people have been able to do it single-handedly; but they are sole-parents, so it had to be that way. However, if one is married, then home-education must have the support of both spouses. I have seen a marriage end, mainly due to the husband and wife disagreeing on how best to educate their children.

Ben and I do not know what the future holds for our family; so, for now, we intend, hope and pray that we might educate all our children at home until such time as they decide where they wish to devote their talents, e.g., at trade school or university, and in future employment.

Why would we wish to home-educate our children? Ben and I see children as the crowning glory of our marriage, not as an accessory or a burden to be handed over to be child-minded by paid strangers.

Parents' role

We take seriously our church's teaching that parents are the primary educators of their children - although the Victorian state education department stated the opposite view at a meeting held last year with home-education parents.

We believe that the family came before the state, and that families make up a state. While many parents choose to delegate the role of education to others, they must still spend time checking on the school curriculum. How does one ensure that one's children learn what they need to learn, and are adequately protected from what they do not need to know?

We have only one car, and sending our children to kindergarten and school would make owning a second car mandatory, not to mention expensive. Ben is a shift-worker, and we find this gives him more time with the children with a variation of mornings and afternoons. It means that I am freed up for shopping or appointments while the education continues.

We want our children to grow up knowing and loving one another, which is obviously happening because of their regular contact. We see them already helping each other with schoolwork at whatever level that may be.

Our five-year-old James manages to throw in a bit of competition for our eldest, Bernadette, six, when he is on the ball and she is being distracted by something else.

We want our children to learn to relate to other people - a skill that is being rapidly lost in our fast-paced, information-technology society. Age-segregation in school means that children are restricted in the range of other children with whom they mix. One of the impressive attributes of meeting home-educated children is their ability to converse with children of any age and adults alike.

We use the term "home-educating" as opposed to "home-schooling", because we are not trying to reproduce the classroom, as in a school setting, but rather educate in a home environment.

This is what we wish for our children. While helping in the home to the best of their ability, they learn responsibility and form a picture of reality.

I see this as an advantage over classroom education. A child attending school returns home late in the afternoon, having been apart from day-to-day chores and interactions with other age groups.

By far my easiest child has been my fourth, Sarah, 11 months, mainly because her siblings provide her with attention and entertainment, and welcome this new person with such joy. They are also good accident-preventers, as they let me know quite loudly when she is heading for trouble, as in, "Mu-u-um, Sarah's eating paper."

I am not a qualified teacher, and yet I am qualified to teach my children by virtue of the fact that I know them better than any other teacher. I have nurtured them since they were conceived, and have taught them to achieve some of their greatest feats so far - toilet-training, as any parent would readily agree, being our biggest.

A schoolteacher has a disadvantage in that he or she knows a child only through teaching them, whereas a parent has a specific vocation to teach his or her own child.

I know each of my children's personalities and whether they are really trying or just being lazy. I already know that our five-year-old boy James will get a lot more addition and subtraction done if he is counting trains or planes rather then some useless dots on a page. I can already see that my three-year-old Catherine will do better if we have lots of songs with which to teach the subjects and keep her interested.

Home education allows us the flexibility to go on excursions as a family, such as our holiday earlier this year to East Gippsland where we visited Power Works, the energy technology centre in Morwell. The brown-coal mine was probably more appreciated by Ben and me at this stage, but the children thoroughly enjoyed the interactive displays.

A frequent criticism of home education - and I think by far the easiest to answer - is: "How will you socialise your children?"

We have watched some friends of ours withdraw their children from school a few years ago, after they noticed that, when their children came home from school, they needed de-toxing. The children themselves admitted they came home with "attitude".

Nihilistic outlook

We certainly do not want our children socialised with "attitude" and a general nihilistic outlook on life. I think the effects of original sin give us all enough attitude without our needing to look for more.

Being involved in the pro-life group, Helpers of God's Precious Infants, provides natural socialising for our whole family as great friends become like family. A trusted environment is formed through meeting, on a monthly basis, these God-loving people among whom each of our children has been passed around while they were babies.

While learning to appreciate the sanctity of human life, the children are also exposed to the anti-life opposition who call themselves the Campaign for Women's Reproductive Rights (CWRR), familiar to those who attended Tony Abbott's speech in Melbourne not so long ago.

Far from being sheltered from reality, our children are learning about opposing forces even before they can read pro-life literature. My six-year-old Bernadette responded to the pro-abortion chant, "You don't care if women die", by saying, "Mummy, we do care if women die." My eldest daughter has learned that we must pray for these people who oppose us, as they do not know Jesus.

Teaching our religious values to our children is a major motivation to educating our children ourselves. In the school system, the quality of schoolteachers varies from year to year. You cannot be sure to what degree they are living in accordance with church teachings.

A teacher cannot impart sound values on marriage and morality if he or she is not living a chaste life. We know from statistics that the vast majority of teachers in Catholic schools, having completed their training, come to reject Catholic teachings on abortion and contraception - which is an abysmal starting point.

Some schools reflect the fashionable view that you work out your own moral principles for yourself. Recently, in Tasmania, teachers have been instructed not to use the word "no" to their students.

As most people would appreciate, as parents we use this word for our children from a very young age - even as young as Sarah, 11 months, as she is attracted to the electric power-points. Children need to know the boundaries, and "no" is a very effective way of teaching them.

We are very concerned about the content of sex education which is being introduced to children at a younger and younger age, and becoming more and more explicit.

This, as we know, robs the child of innocence which cannot be restored. Our children are too precious to allow this to occur.

We are raising adults with the help of God's grace. We enjoy mixing with other home-educating families at regular get-togethers where we exchange ideas, share frustrations and compare curricula.

I have been amazed to discover how much support is available for home educators, and the variety of workbooks and resources on offer.

I take my hat off to the pioneering families who did it hard trying to make up their own teaching syllabus in the face of much opposition.

I am really enjoying the challenge and the rewards. It was a great joy earlier this year to hear my daughter begin to read.

One of the workbooks we use has little sentences to help us remember the different sounds one letter can make. For example the letter "O" has four sounds, as in the little ditty which says, "On phone to Mother."

I look forward to a future when my daughter will still want to be talking to me on the phone.

- This article is based on a talk given by Mrs Tanya O'Brien to an Endeavour Forum meeting in Ashburton, Victoria, on May 25, 2007.

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