Paul van den Bosch
RED DEER – Many Alberta Catholic parents have heard about the passing last month of Bill 3, the new Education Act. But I haven't seen much detail to answer the question: "What does it mean?"
This is an important question because, as we've seen, a few words can make a huge difference, especially when those words contain an important concept.
The important concept contained in the new version of the Act (a concept ignored in Bill 2, as the Act was numbered in the spring of 2012) is the primacy of parents in the education of their children. In section 32 of Bill 3, parental rights are stated: "A parent has the prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be provided to the parent's child."
Now that the Alberta government has chosen to do the right thing – recognize parental rights and freedoms – Catholic parents should celebrate and then get to work. We can do this by being fully engaged in the education of our children, whether those children attend schools or are home-educated.
Parental involvement will improve education in Alberta individually (the education of each student will improve if that student's parents are part of their education) and collectively (the more all educational partners are engaged, the more voices there are moving society toward a better future).
Recognition of parents by the government should also mean that parents should recognize themselves as exactly that: We can and should define ourselves as parents and take our role very seriously. Recognition of the parental role underlines what we should already do: state "I'm a parent!" with pride and conviction. Parents can change our culture, and we can do that individually and collectively too.
Parents should be aware that, with every right comes a responsibility. Section 32 of Bill 3 spells out a right, but follows that with responsibilities, including "the responsibility to act as the primary guide and decision-maker with respect to the child's education [and to] take an active role in the child's educational success."
These are not responsibilities to be taken lightly or to be easily delegated to anyone else. Parents need to stay engaged in important issues in the future, since there are regulations that fall under the Education Act and they will now be reviewed over the next 12 to 18 months.
Our engagement should begin with prayer – prayer for our politicians and for God's will in all legislation – and should also include regular communication with our MLAs. That would include members of the PC and Wildrose parties who spoke up for families, but also speak to MLAs who disagree too.
We also need to regularly communicate with other Catholic families: to support each other in our faith, to encourage and be encouraged, to share our experiences in parenting and educating our children, and remind each other that a parent is a child's first and primary educator. Families today are under attack from the culture of death; Catholic families can lead the fight for the culture of life.
Parents should be examples. Many parents already know what it is like to be the target of public comments: parents of large families, parents who home educate, parents who take their Catholic faith seriously.
We are now more public than ever, especially home-educating parents. We need to be examples and models because people will be watching; we should strive to be the best parents we can be.
Finally, we need to pray – for our politicians, for God's will, for our own family, for all parents and all families.
(Paul van den Bosch is the spokesperson and a member of the board of directors for the Alberta Home Education Association. He is the Catholic father of seven. He and his wife Mary live in Red Deer and are members of St. Mary's Parish.)