Sunday 26 October 2014

Homeschool mum Monica O’Connor is no criminal but she must learn to respect the law

Published 03/09/2014 | 17:31

Never has a jailing caused so much comment.

Monica O’Connor spent an extra hour in stir, during which an extensive Garda operation involving her arrest, transport from Carlow to Dublin (and presumably back again), not to mention the paperwork, administrative and court costs, was funded by the compliant taxpayer. 

Her crime? It wasn’t, as some believe, not sending her kids to school – this she is perfectly entitled to eschew so long as they get an education equal to that offered to other children; nor was it her refusal to be registered as a ‘home-schooler’.  It was the fact that having made those decisions for the good of their family, they didn’t want a state official assessing the quality, level or extent of schooling that their children then received. 

It’s a principle, you see; something all children learn from their parents.  What they also learn, hopefully, are values of greater good, democracy and upholding the law.  Ms O’Connor has decided that these are best taught by her ignoring the tenets of a peaceful and functioning society.  I trust her grasp of geography and quadratic equations is better.

There is a distinction, made cogently by Ms O’Connor, between ‘truancy’ and ‘not in school’.  The National Education Welfare Board gets mandatory reports from schools where kids don’t turn up for more than 20 days a year.  Cue a friendly home visit enquiring why.  Whether you decided to jet off to your Spanish villa during term time or you’re an alcoholic drug addict who doesn’t know what day it is, the point is that the children’s welfare is, and should be, front and centre. 

Mrs O’Connor is a great home-teacher, I’m sure.  She can certainly point to the success of her older children, who appear to be doing well.  She could be, in fact, the poster-girl for the practice.  So surely, in advocating the Constitutional right to home-school, she would be better off jumping through whatever hoops are required by the State to so do, rather than take the curious view of “You should trust me because I say so”.

Eddie O'Neill and Monica O'Connor with their kids Oran (13) and Elva (10) at their home near Tullow Co. Carlow. Picture Dylan Vaughan
Eddie O'Neill and Monica O'Connor with their kids Oran (13) and Elva (10) at their home near Tullow Co. Carlow. Picture Dylan Vaughan

Take a fictitious Mrs Murphy: she too, tells the authorities she is home-schooling her three kids under 12.  She won’t sign the form or talk to them about the education she’s providing.  The powers-that-be consider her word to be good enough and leave her alone, as Ms O’Connor would wish them to do.  It turns out, however, that the children spend their days lolling in front of Spongebob Square pants and Mrs Murphy’s idea of ‘education’ stretches to a few nursery rhymes and a bit of lego.

It’s not ‘neglect’.  They’re not being abused.  It’s not time for a social worker.  So yes, Ms O’Connor’s assertion that welfare and education be separated is fine.  But those children deserve, when they hit adulthood, to have received an EQUIVALENT education to their schooled peers.  And to whom does society turn to test and defend that equivalence?

We would all wish bureaucracy wasn’t unwieldy and cumbersome or for its own sake.  But when it comes to education of our children it isn’t, in my view, nearly strong enough. 

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