- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 26, 2009

South Africa has long fascinated me. In the 1990s, this country courageously and voluntarily discarded the racially based political structure of apartheid and created a new, universal democracy that included all the nation’s peoples. To heal the many injustices and injuries, they then created a truth and reconciliation process that stands as a model to the world.

The story of how the freedom to home-school was established in that country is not well known. Leendert Van Oostrom said he and his wife decided to home-school in the waning years of the old system, “when it was strictly verboten, and home-schoolers were prosecuted and stuck in jail.”

The former compulsory education law (for white, mixed-race and Asian children — but not black children) became unconstitutional in 1994, but it wasn’t until a universal compulsory education law was proposed in 1996 that Mr. Van Oostrom and other home-schoolers could lobby parliament to recognize home-schooling as an issue of human rights, establishing home education as a legal option in the nation.

Despite this, provincial governments have placed numerous unconstitutional requirements on families who wish to register as home educators, so “some 90 percent of home-schoolers do not register because of these unlawful preconditions,” explained Mr. Van Oostrom in a recent interview.

In 1998, inspired by the Home School Legal Defense Association in the U.S., Mr. Van Oostrom created the Pestalozzi Trust, (named after Johann Pestalozzi, an 18th-century Swiss educational pioneer) to promote parents’ rights to educate at home and to defend against incursions on those rights.

“I hope that one day we shall be able to show that home-schooling is indeed, as Pestalozzi claimed, a powerful method of developing entire communities among disadvantaged people. I think South Africa has the kind of population mix where that can be done,” Mr. Van Oostrom explained. “Pestalozzi’s idea is that home-schooling uplifts the mother, which uplifts the family, which uplifts the community.”

The goal of “each one, teach one,” he contends, is necessary, in which every person in a society is sharing knowledge, regardless of whether they are trained as professional educators.

While societal change may be a viable long-term goal, most South African home-schoolers just want a good education for their children.

“Esther De Waal found in her doctoral research in 2000 that the single most important reason [South Africans chose to home-school] was to obtain better education than is available in schools. Second was to educate children in an environment compatible with the family religion or philosophy. Third was to protect children from violence and a culture of drugs, sex and obscenity,” Mr. Van Oostrom reported.

Like their American counterparts, South African home-schoolers are “the best argument for home-schooling,” Mr. Van Oostrom notes. “My 21-year-old has played violin since she was 3 years old, trains a junior orchestra in one of the top schools in the area, as well as two other orchestras, and creates arrangements that allow instrumentalists of varying levels to play together and sound wonderful,” Mr. Van Oostrom said. “She is in her third year of university in music at the University of South Africa. … The first exam she wrote was the national exam to graduate … and she earned an aggregate A, better than most students taught for 12 years how to pass that exam.”

His 15-year-old daughter combines her love of horseback riding with an interest in detective work, and currently wants to become a mountain ranger or a pilot. She plays viola in the National Youth Orchestra, and studies ballet, now on pointe. His 11-year-old daughter is concertmaster in the youth orchestra her eldest sister started, and in addition to violin, studies ballet, rides horses and recently completed a personal goal of reading 33,000 pages of literature in two months.

Mr. Van Oostrom has lectured at the University of South Africa in educational law, but his main work now is the Pestalozzi Trust, supporting the rights of family educators.

For more information about the group’s work, visit www.pestalozzi.org.

Kate Tsubata is a freelance writer and home-schooling mother who lives in Maryland.

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