Wednesday, February 27, 2013

When Compulsory Schooling Looks Like a Good Idea

School is an excellent choice for some children, though the form it takes could stand to be improved upon. When I make this statement, it is from the perspective of a modern, free from warfare, civilized country. I will be the first to defend my right as a parent to take responsibility for my child's well-being and education.
I know some people do not approve of this,  believing the government has a role to play in family life. Others believe the government should have zero say and zero influence.  Although I really prefer the hands-off approach, in most situations, I would prefer a little more interference in others. Here is my case for and against making education compulsory. 

For a long time, the issue of homeschooling being the equivalent of time in prison in Germany has been a preoccupation of mine. Not only is it a sister country to France and part of the same consortium of European Union countries, but there is a small possibility that my husband's work could lead us to live there for a time. I would love to live in Germany. The German people with whom I am acquainted, are smart, lovely, hard-working and fabulously organized for the greater good. However, it would be a challenge to live in a nation where the government has the authority to dictate how I raise my children. 

Many families who choose to learn at home in Germany or Sweden or Bulgaria or Croatia (or anywhere else that homeschooling is illegal), are of the opinion that parents know how to best meet the needs, both educational and otherwise, of their children. A parent who takes the time and resources to teach at home is doing it for the child's well-being, and plans on attempting to be more mindful than in a classroom with one teacher and 30 children. The general consensus in the west, is that education is a good thing, it is what children are "supposed" to be doing. Fears of homeschooling being a front for child labor are simply unfounded in today's world.

That is, unless you happen to live in a developing nation, especially if you are a girl. This has come to my attention over the past few months. I began to notice a discrepancy in education levels between women and men from various countries in Africa. It makes a difference in the interpreting work I do because French is a second language for anyone from an African Francophone country. All education is conducted in French, based on the French model. People who have been to school up to sixth grade are fluent in conversational French, those who never went to school or stopped after first grade are not. It is not infrequent for a woman to speak through her husband as he translates from French into her native tongue.  She literally loses her voice when he does not translate everything and often answers for her before she can do so. What I learned is that, in many countries, girls are not considered important enough to educate. It costs money and they could be put to better use at home minding the younger ones or in the fields earning their keep. Once they begin their cycles, it becomes even rarer to continue in school; feminine sanitary supplies are either rare or too expensive. 

This week I have had the chance to view the life-changing film; "Half the Sky." You can see the trailer here:, but it is not a child-friendly trailer. This film documents girls in several different countries; all in catastrophic situations due to cultural beliefs and a legal system who couldn't give a hoot about the female and downtrodden. This is a family-friendly blog, so I cannot go into detail about the selling of and abuse of girls of all ages, but I can recommend you see it; it is available to downstream on Netflix. My point is this; until the mores of  a nation change to include the education of women, government intervention could be deemed not only desirable, but necessary. Every parent interviewed in the above-mentioned movie was clearly convinced that they had the right to choose what they thought their child should be doing. From sending a daughter out into the streets to sell lottery tickets all day to giving her the boot after she was abused by a family friend, they are free to do what they wish with this girl child and there is no hope of a greater power intervening, except in the rare case when a kind person finds and takes in the child or takes on the task of attempting to help her access an education.

Do not forget the privilege of living in a country where laws protect even the small, vulnerable and female. Do not forget the privilege of voting in order to see that those laws apply to everyone and to continue to improve what we have. Then think about those who live without basic rights, the ones who could use your help...and teach your children well.

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