8/16/2007

Speaking of Education

A very disturbing article in the Brussels Journal last year. True, it's probably old news for a lot of people, but it's important nonetheless.
Paul Belien... was summoned to the police station and interrogated. He was told that the Belgian authorities are of the opinion that, as a homeschooler, he has not adequately educated his children and, hence, is neglecting his duty as a parent, which is a criminal offence. The Ministry of Education has asked the judiciary to press charges and the judiciary told the police to investigate and take down his statement.
It appears that the Belgian authorities are again considering prosecution – the second time in barely two months. This time the claim is not that my husband posted allegedly "racist" texts on this website but that he is failing his children.
My husband, a lawyer by training, and I, a former university lecturer, have homeschooled four of our five children through high school. These four have meanwhile moved on to university. Our youngest child is also being homeschooled, but she has yet to obtain her high school certificate, for which she is currently taking exams. Like her four siblings she takes these exams before the Central Examination Board (CEB), an institution run by the Ministry of Education. The Belgian Constitution, written in 1831, allows parents to homeschool. The CEB exists to enable people who have not attended or who have failed school to obtain an official high school certificate.

I just have a question for the Ministry of Education in Belgium. If a lawyer and university lecturer are not capable of educating their own kids, who is? Furthermore, if someone lectures at a university (ie: educating other people's kids), what makes them incapable of educating their own children?
Three years ago a new school bill was introduced. The new bill refers to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and it obliges homeschooling parents to fill out a questionaire and sign an official "declaration of homeschooling" in which they agree to school their children "respecting the respect [sic] for the fundamental human rights and the cultural values of the child itself and of others."
The declaration does not specify what "respecting the respect for the fundamental human rights and the cultural values of the child itself and of others" means. It states, however, that government inspectors decide about this and adds... that if the parents receive two negative reports from the inspectors they will have to send their child to an official government recognized school...
Parents who sign away their right to educate their own children are subsequently harassed and intimidated. Three families that we know have had to allow inspectors into their homes who interrogate and intimidate their children, then write a report that they are not in compliance with the minimum requirements (viz. the cultural values clause) set out in the signed document, announce that they will return for further inspection and that the children who fail to qualify will be forcibly sent to schools that are officially recognised by the government.
Nowhere, however, do these inspectors outline what they are inspecting and what criteria they apply. After a lifetime of inspecting schools with clearly defined curricula to determine whether the latter qualify for subsidies and recognition of their certificates, they are now set loose on families with no other purpose than to find fault and remove their children from their care. The families do not want subsidies or recognition of certificates, so there are no objective criteria for them to meet. Their children are questioned randomly on a variety of topics, irrespective of their own educational goals, age or curriculum. And they cannot protest the inspectors’ arbitrary verdict as they have signed away their right as citizens to appeal to a higher educational authority or to the courts.
Parents who do not sign away their right to educate their own children are regarded as not educating their children at all, and hence are guilty of a criminal offence.

Yay for freedom.
Sigh.

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