Defending the right to home educate children

Opinion: When they refused to pay the fine imposed on them, they were each sentenced to 10 days’ in prison

‘Eddie and Monica’s six children, aged from six to 27, have all been educated at home, although their older children decided to enter formal education in their teens.’ Above, Eddie O’ Neill with some of the children (Eamonn, Elva, Oran  and Emmet). Photograph: Eric Luke / THE IRISH TIMES

‘Eddie and Monica’s six children, aged from six to 27, have all been educated at home, although their older children decided to enter formal education in their teens.’ Above, Eddie O’ Neill with some of the children (Eamonn, Elva, Oran and Emmet). Photograph: Eric Luke / THE IRISH TIMES

Sat, Aug 9, 2014, 00:01

My friends of nearly 30 years, Eddie O’Neill and Monica O’Connor, are due to be jailed (at the time of writing) because they are principled people; it is an outrageously disproportionate punishment. Anglo directors convicted of giving unlawful loans, in an ironic contrast, were given community service.

My friends have been serving the community for altruistic reasons for most of their lives. Fostering 22 children, ranging in age from babies to teenagers, is only one example. Monica has also supported umpteen mothers as a volunteer breastfeeding counsellor.

They home educate their children. Both were convicted last year of failing to cause their children to attend school.

This is despite the fact that it is clearly set out in Article 42 of the Constitution that “The State shall not oblige parents in violation of their conscience and lawful preference to send their children to schools established by the State . . .”

What they had actually done was to refuse to be assessed for a constitutional right to educate their children as they see fit.

When they refused to pay the fine imposed on them, because they believe they have operated according to the Constitution, they were each sentenced to 10 days in prison.

Eddie and Monica’s six children, aged from six to 27, have all been educated at home, although their older children decided to enter formal education in their teens. One of them, Emmet, was accepted for a degree in classical music at the age of 16.

Committed educators To see how they do it

– Home Grown Knowledge on YouTube: goo.gl/646Zar

Home education works. A 2003 study of more than 7,300 US adults who were home educated found that they were far more likely to go to college, to graduate, and to be actively involved in their communities than their peers in the general population.

Monica and Eddie also requested to educate one foster child at home, because they felt that the education system was not meeting her needs. (Other foster children went to school.) The social workers (and the child’s mother) looked at the request very carefully, and after assessment, the National Educational Welfare Board agreed that the child’s needs were being met by home education.

So why did they not register in order to be assessed as to how they educate their own children? It was not fear of the board. Eddie had even been part of a committee that liaised with the board on behalf of the Home Education Network.

Their problem is that the registration process as constituted is tantamount to giving permission to, or withdrawing permission from, parents despite a constitutional right to educate their children.

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