Blended or Mixed…up? by Léo Gaumont

(This article was originally submitted for inclusion in the AHEA Matters Newsmagazine for publication in the summer of 2008 but rejected by the board of directors for being too blunt. Truth, unfortunately, has a way of being blunt as it has a tendency of exposing folly, error or lies. When wanting to please everyone or to avoid offence, the clear winners are usually the very ones that should be defeated, and that, usually at the cost of what is right. This article was meant to start controversy, as controversy is needed before most people are moved into action. It was with the sincerest intent of stimulating action regarding blended programming that this project, including all the research, the presentation at the 2008 AHEA convention, the creation of this web link and the original submission of this article, was undertaken. In order to keep things current, funding numbers have been updated to reflect today’s situation. A postscript has also been added to keep readers abreast of current issues within the home-based learning world.)

Ever consider how much people take for granted? Most things actually. We often simply accept things unquestioningly without even considering where the idea came from or how we came to believe it, but believe it we do! In fact, it is not uncommon to see people passionately defend things they know little about. Occasionally, what is advanced is so obvious or at least appears such that to dare question it invokes derision. One must, however, bear in mind that the things most revered as sacrosanct are often the most susceptible to perversion. Who, for example, could ever question the importance of choice as a fundamental right; the very essence of democracy; an element of freedom? Choice is a good thing if indeed it includes the provision of meaningful alternatives to help us determine between right and wrong or good and evil, but if it is used as a tool to direct us into accepting something we would have rejected, had we been presented with all the facts, it ceases its association with freedom. For example, if we have a choice in education of different approaches, deliveries and venues that all follow a single public curriculum, are we actually being presented with choice, or with variations on a single theme? And, if variations on a theme, then why this particular theme? Real choice should be between two contrasting themes, such as to send our children to school or to educate them at home, and then between following public programming (home schooling) or not following public programming (home education). Two opposing themes cannot be blended, they can only be mixed…up.

Home based learning in the Province of Alberta has slowly but steadily taken on this mixed…up characteristic over the last few years. When home education first started, the key reason for bringing our children home was to escape the secular public programming. Parents initially chose to provide their children with alternative Christian curriculum, and were not only ready but willing to pay out of pocket to be free from school influence and control. As money became available, some parents started making decisions based more on economic expedience than on what was in the best educational interest of the child. Not that parents did so knowingly, although there were undoubtedly some who knew better, but as the public program was presented as the only sure option for student success and parents had little more than their own educational experiences to draw on, along with the constant pressure to conform, more and more of them chose to allow the professionals to deliver more of the program while accepting more money for doing so. This disintegration of original motives has led to the present situation where children often appear to be valued on the basis of the amount of money received by the parent, where the highest bid usually involves the most government programming. So we find ourselves back to having a choice on how the public curriculum will be delivered, which is to have no real choice at all.

Now since all of us make decisions on the basis of our faith, experiences and presuppositions, it is important that we have all the facts before us so that we may make informed decisions that will best meet the needs of our children. If we subscribe to the Christian faith, it is important that we be aware of the fact that the public curriculum is most definitely not Christian. In fact, there appears to be only one faith which is ignored, excluded, ‘clarified’ or even vilified in public programming, and that would be Christianity in all of its applications.

Blended program providers often take advantage of the ignorance and insecurities of parents wanting to home educate but are unsure of curriculum, methodology and future options, leading them to believe the ‘professionals’ are much more capable of directing a child’s education. Confusion and doubt have led many parents to question their abilities as home educators and to embrace the mistaken belief that only when we do as others do can we successfully prepare our children for the future. The outcome is that most parents end up displaying more faith in man’s institutions than God’s creative abilities. Much could be stated here, but suffice it to say that God gives children to parents (not man-made institutions) and that He does indeed have a way of seeing His children fulfill the purpose for which He created them … if we trust Him.

Presuppositions have a way of blinding us to alternatives. We all start from the premise that we are right and usually don’t take correction very well. As mentioned earlier, we would most often rather defend what we don’t understand than to admit we don’t know or could be wrong. One such example would be the notion that government has our individual best interest in mind when stating that they have a ‘compelling interest in the education of its citizens’. Another example would be that providers of blended programming are following the rules, especially when most people do not know what the rules are. So, for the sake of clarity of information, here are some of the rules that need to be followed so that we can be confident that all the practices that we are associated with are indeed ethical.

Before we begin, it must be stated that blended programming has not always been a part of the home education landscape. Initially, boards receiving full funding could provide any combination of programming without loss of income. When funding for home education was cut back (circa 1994), new and innovative ways had to be created to maintain this income. Blended programming was actually started by government in answer to particular needs of resident students studying part time at school and part time at home. Enterprising boards saw that modern technology could be used to have distant non-resident students attending their school if not in body then virtually, online. This process has evolved to the present situation where changing times and advancing technology has forced the government to recently change the wording for blended programming from being an ‘in school’ to a ‘school-provided’ program but the present situation is not at all what the government had in mind in the beginning.

Blended programming, with a minimum 50% of a grade 1-9 program or minimum 20% of grade 10-12 program, is clearly defined as ‘a school-provided program where a teacher employed by a school board or an accredited-funded private school is responsible for providing the planning, resource selection, instructional delivery, assessment and evaluation of student progress in selected courses that follow the Alberta Programs of Study’ (School Act, Section 29, A.R. 145/2006 Policy 1.1.2). The blended provider then receives the appropriate percentage funding for each portion of the program. If, for instance, 50% of a grade 6 program is Alberta Programs of Study then the board would receive 50% of the regular per student funding ($6561.68 in 2015-16) and 50% of the home education funding ($1670.80 in 2015-16) for a total of $4116.24 in the 2015-16 school year. As can be noted, $4116.24 is significantly higher than the $1670.80 for a regular traditional home education program offered by a public school. What is even more intriguing is that school boards are only obligated to provide 50% of the home education portion of the program to the parents or $417.70 in our example. Why then would school boards offer even more money than what would be required for a full time traditional home education program if they are not obligated to do so? Could it be that few parents would find less money and more school control very attractive, so in order to be able to provide incentives for the parents to accept more school programming in place of traditional home education, more money is offered and justified as the cost of doing business? In any case, good money can be made even with the additional parental allotment and if all the rules are followed, but if one could have all the paperwork in order and yet not fulfill the stated obligations of the blended program, unsuspecting or shamefully cooperative parents would not be required to do anything different from traditional home educators and everyone would be that much better off, so to speak. Now, should this be happening, it would be very difficult for the authorities to observe since both the board and participating parents could only lose if they should report on one another. One could say that such a relationship would be a mutual convenience that would tend to overlook unprincipled or unethical behavior, but you be the judge of that!

This knowledge leaves us with some very important questions. Are you a traditional home educator or are you involved in blended programming (receiving more than $835.40 in 2015-16)? If you are not registered with a board that offers only traditional home education, can you be sure that your board is not registering your child as blended or fully aligned (100% Alberta Programs of Study), especially for grades other than grade 10 to 12, where the documentation is more arbitrary? If you are in a blended program, should you be employing a secular curriculum in a Christian home education program, if indeed it is being delivered? If it is being delivered, is it being delivered entirely by a certificated teacher as per regulations or is it ‘sort of Alberta Programs of Study’ being delivered by a parent on behalf of a certificated teacher? Is your blended facilitator fully aware of the blended rules or of what is actually going on in head office? Are you aware of the rules and whether or not the rules are being followed in your case?

Yes, we do have choice. The choice to pick among the variations in delivery of public programming, which is not choice at all, or to provide the entire Christian programming of your choice to your children. We also have the choice between right and wrong. If your blended program is not following the rules, you also have the choice to continue doing what you now know to be wrong or to make the right decision and put an end to this dishonesty – not that all of it is dishonest, yet even the government is concerned about some of the practices of blended providers. You search your own heart. Is what you are doing something that you can be proud of? Are you modelling integrity in your decisions regarding home education or is it something that you would be embarrassed by when it comes time to render an account? Is your choice the right choice or are you ‘mixed…up’?

Postscript (2013)

Nearly five years after this article was written, the situation regarding the advancement of public programming in home education has not improved. Providers, once uniquely offering traditional programs only, now offer public programming or blended programming. Nearly every “Christian” school in the province utilizes the secular public curriculum and nearly every provider of home education either encourages public programming and accreditation, or enables, rather than informing parents regarding this option.

As a consequence of unenforced, questionable practices regarding the delivery of public programming in a home education setting, providers now offer, with impunity, the Alberta Programs of Study by suggesting that their facilitators can ascertain whether or not the student has met the Student Learning Outcomes for accreditation. This, of course, would require every facilitator to be thoroughly familiar with the Student Learning Outcomes of every high school program at every level and to be intimately aware of what has actually been learned in a home they spend a very few hours in, using nothing other than “judgment” as the evaluation tool. This should certainly cause one to question the possibility of actually accomplishing such a feat, much less the ethics involved. If it doesn’t, the admonition to abstain from even the appearance of questionable practices, should.

All these efforts to be like the world, the compromising, the cheating, the enabling, the perpetuation of misinformation, and the competition for market share indicates two problems. First, providers generally have lost or never had a vision for, or convictions, regarding home education. Second, there must be an absence of biblical understanding and corresponding lack of faith in God. It is a sad day when nearly every school and provider claiming a Christian faith has become indistinguishable from public schools using public programs which have little in common with the declared faith.

Home educating parents desiring to honour God in their choices are advised to question their schools and to avoid any relationship with those who have chosen to offer or enable public programming and/or the advancement of accreditation that has its foundation in secular, rather than biblical ideology. The first casualty of compromise is truth. With all the compromising taking place in the “Christian” home education community, one has to question just how long it will be before home education becomes indistinguishable from the rest of the world.