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Legislative Review: Should We Become Involved?

by Beverley Paine

Every few years somewhere in Australia the issue of legislative review arises, raising concern among home educating families. Each state or territory is obliged to systematically review and update Acts every decade, so frequently a review of home education regulation isn't motivated by a desire by anyone for change, simply the fulfilling of a bureaucratic need.

I'm writing this article with the hindsight of 25 years involvement in the Australian home education community, having become friends with a large number of local and interstate home educating families, most of whom were also very active volunteers promoting and supporting home education. I draw on my interpretation of their collective experiences regarding home education legislative review as well as my own.

Whenever these reviews crop up, there is a general murmuring, particularly on online groups, that not only is it a waste of time to get involved with these reviews but that the outcomes could potentially work to our disadvantage.

While my children were actively being home educated (they are all adults now) I felt compelled to have a say and produce a thoughtful submission. Occasionally I've felt motivated to write a letter or three in between legislative reviews. Once I was invited, as an experienced home educating parent and a support person, to sit on a panel considering the home education provisions within the Education Act.

If I feel passionately about a topic I like to have input. That's the democratic way. Apathy is a dreadful thing. It saddens me to think that as home educating parents we're too busy with everyday life to take an interest. I have a great deal of sympathy for these families as I can definitely understand not wanting to find or create time to fully understand the issues, attempt to translate legalise, mull through possible consequences and get it straight in my own head what I think would meet the needs of not only my own family, but also of the society in which we live.

Some families get crafty and turn the whole episode into a 'unit study' and explore it as a series of lessons or activities. After all, whatever the government decides to enact will affect the children directly!

I don't have any sympathy for anyone that is disinclined to take the opportunity to participate during the consultation period, voice their views only to their friends, and then whine about the outcome afterwards if it doesn't meet their needs. We live in a democracy and too many of us take what that means for granted. Our democracy is only strong if we participate, let our parliamentarians know what we want and hold them to account for their decisions.

There is a fine line sometimes between participating and becoming so involved it takes over our lives. Over the years I've seen too many really great homeschoolers, both here and overseas, become so passionate about getting involved in reviews and legislative change that they end up literally losing their families: divorces, separations, not 'being there' for family members because they are campaigning on behalf of strangers! This is truly a sad outcome, particularly because the person is working so hard to make life better for families and children.

We're very lucky that there are a few die-hards in the home educating community who are willing to go that extra distance to bring the discrimination home educating families face every day to light. Due to chronic health issues my activities have been restricted: it has been hard to find the sustained energy or ability to engage sufficiently at that level, nor do I want to cop the cost, which seems to be the norm rather than the exception.

I am passionate about home education. I would like to see it established in legislation as the third option: private school, public school, and home education. To this end I've participated in letter writing campaigns, submitted personal proposals (emphasising the fact the home educating community is made up of many individuals as well as representative groups), attended information evenings, become involved in legislative review panels, and spoken at a conference for Australian & New Zealand lawyers. I've participated to the degree that satisfies my need to be involved in the democratic process. I firmly believe it is my duty as a citizen of Australia to do this, and my duty as a parent to model this behaviour to my children.

I am aware that for the most part consultation is, in any arena, a cosmetic process, and that minority stakeholders are often ignored or given scant or serious attention. Minority stakeholders often present the more radical views and governments and businesses are usually seeking to satisfy the majority. That's a feature of the kind of democracy we hold dear in Australia. It ostracises and alienates minorities, although it does let them have a token say.

As a person from a minority group (home educators) I feel compelled to do whatever I reasonably can to push my perspective, which to me means educating as many people as possible that home education is a successful and viable alternative to school education. But I can't insist that Australia adopts my view, or even listens! All I can do is state my position whenever and often as I can. If someone says, "Hey, we're ready to listen!" I jump on the opportunity to have an audience. I don't care if that audience isn't sympathetic or is perhaps 'using me': I firmly believe that the more people I tell my happy story to the better! Ultimately this policy of educating others will pay dividends.

I wish other home educating parents keen on participating in whatever way they can to help make home education more accessible the best of luck. And remind them to remember to stay objective and detached as much as possible, to not let their passion for changing the world take over their everyday family life. I urge them to find a sympathetic buddy that can support them in their endeavours, and to steer clear of people whose intention is to only harass and undermine their efforts.

If you are going to get involved in a hands-on direct way with legislative review, work out in your heart and mind what it is you wish to say. What will most benefit your family right now? State your case with confidence as a citizen of a democracy. And if you can, allow yourself to enjoy the process. It definitely involves more than a few sharp learning curves!

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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Home education is a legal alternative
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