Documenting The Brooke Valley Hippies – 1981

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Documenting The Brooke Valley Hippies – 1981

1981

The locals call it Hippie Valley. But on the map it’s known as Brooke Valley, a sprawling spread west of Perth that looks more like the Ponderosa than a hippie haven. It’s a place where the folk are so self-sufficient, some have decided to take the education of their children into their own hands. Jim and Ruth Dcacovc, both former public school teachers, did it for 12 years. Recess for the Deacove girls used to be a game of basketball or a cross-country ski in the back field with Dad. Science class was helping out in the garden. “We’re self-admitted renegades,” says Jim, who with his wife Ruth now make cooperative games. “We did our 12-year duty and fulfilled our social work contract with society.”

This year Tanya, 13, and Christa, 12, went back to the public school in preparation for high school. The girls are products of young professional parents who have joined a number of Canadians who believe public schooling is not all it’s chalked up to be. The Canadian Alliance of HomeschoolerS now numbers about 300 families across Canada. It was founded two-and-a-half years ago as a support system for parents who wished to take their children out of public school, by Wendy and Rolf Priesnitz who live in a rural area near Hamilton. “There are a lot of people very unhappy with the school system,” said Priesnitz.

In the Perth area there are just two children now in home instruction and just a handful of “homeschooled” children in urban areas. Right now, there are none in Ottawa-Carleton. The concept of home instruction seems to attract the young professionals who have moved to rural areas to seek a different lifestyle. The Kerrs, who live abcut 80 kilometres east of Ottawa, just outside the little village of Dalkeith, Ont., still practise “homes-chooling.” The Kerr kids learn about fractions by baking whole-wheat bread or bran muffins. “I guess we were considered mavericks at first.” says Pat Kerr. The Deacoves and the Kerrs say they enjoyed their years in the school system. All four are university graduates, but they, began to realize with their own children that public schooling was not the answer. As well, the two couples wanted to be closer to their children, watch them grow up and have more of a hand their development than is possible in most families. While home instruction is not encouraged by boards of education, parents do have the legal right to educate their children.

“I wouldn’t contemplate it (home instruction) knowing the benefits of the school system to children,” says Bob Cressman, director of education for the Lanark County Board, whose board takes in the Brooke Valley area. Parents are not required to have a teaching certificate in order to teach their children at home. As long as the program and studies set out by the parents is satisfactory to education officials, parents are allowed to excuse their children from school for one year.The inspection process is usually repeated on an annual basis. Cressman considers the idea a “fad” that started in the early 1970s with the increase of communal living.

“I’m not even sure from my point of view if it’s a good idea having everything come from the wife and husband … I don’t see it as a broad enough education. “Home instruction depends a lot on parents,” he says. “If they are former teachers, the instruction given them could be excellent, but how they would develop on a social and emotional level in a restricted environment is perhaps questionable.” Ken Johnson, provincial school attendance counsellor, is in charge of investigating all complaints by school boards if children are not attending school. He and his staff are asked to investigate about two cases of home instruction every year.

“A child is excused from attending school if he or she is receiving a satisfactory education at home or elsewhere.” Parents who teach their children at home can be charged by their boards of education if the program is not found suitable by board officials with neglecting a child’s education and if found guilty, can be fined a maximum $100. Few charges in year Johnson figures there are about two or three cases a year in the six Ontario educational regions. “We have to protect the child’s right to education,” said Johnson. “Most parents 99.9 per cent of them are well-meaning, but some are over-indulgent or over-protective of their child. “Of course it causes concern with boards because of declining enrolment, but there is no panic,” said Johnson. “It’s not popular.” Parents who teach their children at home agree it’s not for everyone. The Deacoves say parents must be dedicated and be willing to devote a lot of time to their children. Their days must be structured and disciplined, but the benefits to learning at home are immense a one-to-one teacher-student relationship and incorporating education into everyday tasks.

The family began their routine at 9 a.m. and finished at 3:30 p.m. The day consisted of reading, writing and math. Subjects such as home economics were picked up by the girls when they mended clothes, science class became working in the garden and learning about crop rotations and pollination of flowers. “After teaching in public school systems we experienced a lot of discontent about the role we had to play,” said Jim. “An immense amount of time is spent on things other than learning and developing as a person.” They wanted an alternative for their children a system in which the kids wouldn’t be under constant competitive pressure. “There are an awful lot of tests and exams going on perpetually … in our view they tend to shift the emphasis on learning to extraneous factors such as rewards, status and privileges,” said Jim. “But with our homeschooling approach they took our progress checks and if they didn’t understand a concept we tried a different perspective. “Academically I don’t think they suffered,” said Ruth, who did question the lack of social contact the girls might have missed. But they always had friends and at one time were part of a small school started in the valley by her parents.

Time to join others last September, the Deacoves felt it was time for their girls to go to regular school. Tanya would soon be entering high school and taking subjects the Deacoves felt they couldn’t handle. “She (Tanya) needed a thorough year of immunization before the big pressure situation.” They say they’re enjoying it and finding it easy. “Teachers don’t expect very much,” said 12-year-old Christa. “They ask you to do an assignment and expect it in two weeks . . I figured we had to hand it in the next day.” Both girls said they had trouble adapting to some things. Tanya is worried about exams and Christa said grammar was foreign to her when she first started back at school. “I didn’t even know what a noun or a verb was, but I passed my exam with 90 per cent.”

The Kerr’s have five children. Their eldest, Carolyn, is back at school after two years at home. Sunny, 7, will stay out of school until he feels ready to attend. The Kerrs said they set up a schedule for their children a rigid school-like system that lasted only two weeks. It didn’t seem to work. “I felt she, (Carolyn) was demanding too much … she expected me to be her teacher.” Their oldest child, Carolyn, had a difficult time at school. She just hated going. “We also wanted to keep in touch with them and see them learning and growing,” said Pat. “We wanted to be with them while they were doing it.” A lot of what she did was practical working in the kitchen and outside. The Kerr’s pick up books for their children at book sales and taught them to read from them. While Carolyn has a well-rounded vocabulary, she was behind in math. Remedial classes fixed that. The Kerr kids will attend school when, they decide they are ready.

The Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
28 May 1981, Thu  •  Page 45

The beginnings of a wonderful school-

Brooke Valley School
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About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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