Beyond Borders: International Homeschooling Grows
Each day, Ina Juoniai leads her 7-year-old daughter through their normal homeschool activities: devotions, reading, play time, lessons, naps, outdoor play time, chores, and meals. Meanwhile, Juoniai’s two sons, ages 3 and 1, play, nap, and sometimes join “school” activities.
While this might sound like a typical day for any homeschooling family you know, there’s something different about the Juoniai family. Their Bible is in Lithuanian, as are the children’s schoolbooks. Natives of Lithuania, the Juoniais currently live—and homeschool—in Norway.
Homeschoolers in Norway are under the authority of local school officials, but are not usually troubled by them. The real difficulties, according to Juoniai, are a lack of homeschooling material in their language, and isolation—they have little or no face-to-face contact with people who share their beliefs.
Juoniai receives most of her support through email contact with other homeschoolers. This past year, she attended a small homeschool “conference” held by an American couple in the Balkans, where she was thrilled to meet five other homeschooling families from Eastern Europe.
“When I read about the homeschooling movement in the United States of America, about how it started 30 years ago just from individual families here and there who wanted to serve the Lord within their families and teach their children to know, to love God with the whole of their hearts, souls, and minds, I think of present-day families in Europe who are seeking to do the same,” Juoniai says.
“My hope is that since there is an example of the homeschool movement in the U.S., it will take less time for the same movement to spread through Europe. We are blessed with the prayers, guidance, and encouragement of those who have done the job of homeschooling on another continent.”
Have you ever wondered what homeschooling in other countries looks like? You may be surprised by how much your family has in common with families in Chile, Germany, and Taiwan.
“Homeschooling is growing worldwide and more and more countries are making it legal,” says Mike Smith, president of Home School Legal Defense Association. “These international families face unique difficulties, while at the same time sharing a vision in common with their American counterparts.”
Religious conviction—usually Christian, but not exclusively—seems to rank as a top motivation for homeschoolers outside the U.S.
Courtesy of the Sandra LovelaceAn American homeschooling family in Lithuania displays donations to be distributed to Lithuanian homeschoolers.
BROTHERS AND SISTERS
In Taiwan, for example, the homeschool movement is nearly 100% Christian—in a country where the population is less than 2% Christian, according to Benjamin Fan, a homeschool graduate from that country.
Other religions, however, also motivate parents to educate their children themselves. Nejma Bizzemama lives in the United Arab Emirates, where she homeschools her three children. Stacey Umm Tasneem homeschools her four children in Saudi Arabia. The women first connected through a Calvert School blog where they shared how much their religious convictions influenced their desire to homeschool. These Muslims say that the responsibility to shape their children’s beliefs and convictions is one they do not take lightly.
Imre Szoke in Hungary told the Court Report he learned about homeschooling through different guest speakers who would come speak to the Christian congregation he pastors.
“We realized that we have to provide our children with a good Christian education and we have no other alternative than homeschooling,” he explains.
“The state schools are very secularized, liberal, and humanistic, and there are no good Christian schools,” Szoke says. “Christian schools generally use the same curriculum as the state schools and simply add one or two hours of liberal religion lessons a week.”
Yet, parents interviewed for this article mentioned academics nearly as often as religion among the reasons they chose to homeschool. Deteriorating educational standards, violence, sex education, and destructive peer pressure seem to be prevalent in public schools across the globe, especially in Europe.
While the government school paradigm is the norm in many countries, say families interviewed by the Court Report, some parents are becoming more and more aware that these schools are destroying their children and they are beginning to look for other options.
There are exceptions, of course. Taiwanese public schools are very academically demanding, says Benjamin Fan, a homeschool graduate from Taiwan. But he adds that these high standards also force any struggling learners or handicapped children to fall hopelessly behind, thus making homeschooling an important alternative.
“In fact, some authorities here applaud homeschooling because it represents a haven for special needs kids who otherwise couldn’t succeed in school. Many teachers and education advisers like what we’re doing,” says Fan.
But often those who are not familiar with the concept of homeschooling think it’s just an organization for handicapped kids, which is definitely not the case, adds Fan.
In 1999, mandatory school attendance in Taiwan ended and homeschooling became legal. The homeschool movement there has reached approximately 200 families, Fan estimates, most of whom still have their children take some classes or exams at the schools. Despite their small numbers, homeschoolers are very connected and flourish with little inhibiting them.
Homeschoolers worldwide share the phenomenon of a close relationship between parent and child. Several mothers interviewed for this article describe how their children used to see them as the enemy, but since homeschooling, they have become closer.
International homeschoolers also describe facing friends and relatives who raise a doubtful eyebrow, or who even adamantly disagree with the decision to homeschool.
Courtesy of the Sandra LovelaceEuropean homeschoolers are optimistic that acceptance of home education will grow quickly since there is a proven example of success in the United States.
In Chile, non-homeschoolers usually react very negatively to the idea. One of their first reactions is “that would never work here!” says one homeschool advocate in that country. The perception is that children must be taught in the schools and that it is impossible for families to live on one paycheck.
According to several families interviewed by the Court Report, many Chinese assume that homeschooling could only be for the very wealthy and very Americanized. And in France, the idea that a woman can be both a mother and a teacher—and be adequate, let alone good, at both—is astounding.
Mothers in many countries may also face the same pressures as American women to work instead of homeschooling their children.
When her family still lived in Lithuania, Ina Juoniai struggled daily with the question of when she would be able to go back to work after the birth of her daughter. She did not want a nanny or day care, but everywhere she turned she was asked when she would start working again and lost opportunities seemed to taunt her.
She would joke that “God wants me to be a stay-at-home mom” to those who asked. But “the truth was, it was not funny to me,” says Juoniai. It took several years for her to embrace what she said in jest; and then, when she realized the Lord was leading her family to homeschool, she was overjoyed to stay at home with
Ten-year-old Marc Herrmann breathes easier when his twin brother, Nathan, is with him. Both boys have lung problems, but Marc’s lungs only function at 10%-20% capacity and he is highly allergic to almost everything. His health problems, including susceptibility to infections, make it life-threatening for him to go to school. And if his brother went, he would only bring infections home. But in Germany, homeschooling is not only illegal in most cases—it is severely prosecuted.
The difference between international homeschoolers and their American counterparts seems to exist primarily in circumstance rather than conviction. And many international homeschoolers face significantly different legal and social circumstances than we do in America today.
Marc and Nathan’s parents, Gottfried and Patricia Herrmann, began quietly teaching their boys at home when they were 3 years old. When a lung specialist prescribed Marc two oxygen machines and ordered that both children, then school-age, be homeschooled for health reasons, it looked like the Herrmanns had been given the authorization to continue giving their children the education they believed in.
The Herrmanns then had Marc examined by the Ministry of Health for an authorized diagnosis. He was declared 40% disabled and they were told he needed 24-hour attention. So the Herrmanns continued homeschooling.
“He is physically disabled, but not mentally impaired at all,” Patricia says. Her other son, Nathan, was reading encyclopedias at age 4 and advanced extraordinarily under her teaching.
For a year all went well, until a local priest turned the Herrmanns in to the Ministry of Education and the government began to investigate the family. Suddenly, doctors’ orders made no difference.
The courts wanted to send Marc to a school for the handicapped, disregarding the danger it would be to his health. Ironically, they also wanted to send Nathan to a school for disabled children because his high IQ put him so far ahead academically, but he had not had the opportunity to learn how to defend himself from bullies in school.
The Herrmanns fought the court’s ruling that they stop homeschooling, but also tried to work within regulations—they even allowed an authorized teacher to come “help” at their house. Finally, a doctor told Mr. and Mrs. Herrmann that they should leave the country because they had no chance of helping their children in Germany.
“Why are we persecuted? Because we want good education, good religion, good family lives, and good medical service,” Patricia says. “And most of all freedom! This is our human right and our kids’ which we want to claim.”
When they received a letter from the courts in August 2006, informing them that the government was going to assume custody and place the children in a psychiatric unit, the Herrmanns fled Germany for Denmark, and eventually Canada.
They are currently trying to get refugee status in Canada—the first official refugee claim from a homeschooler.
While the degree of opposition the Herrmanns faced is not common in Germany, according to HSLDA Staff Attorney Mike Donnelly, many German homeschoolers face regulations and restrictions meant to drive them back into the schools. The government usually levies heavy fines against homeschoolers, but the consequences are sometimes more severe. According to German homeschooling father Joerg Grosseluemern, there are generally three types of German homeschoolers: those who are as of yet undetected and homeschool mainly alone and underground; those who are penalized financially (this fine can be manageable, or it might mean bankruptcy); and those who are threatened with losing custody of their children or have already lost it.
“As bad as things were in the early days of homeschooling in the U.S., we never saw families treated in the way homeschoolers are treated by the government in Germany,” says Mike Smith. “We need to find an approach to encourage the German government—and probably other parts of the world as well—to legalize homeschooling.”
“The approach we’ve taken in the U.S. to get favorable legislation passed could be more difficult in other parts of the world,” he continues. “Many international homeschoolers are unused to campaigning for governmental change.”
“It is easier to change regulations than laws,” says Mike Donnelly. “Maybe if we can find a bureaucrat who is willing to change the regulations and spell out how a homeschooler can legally homeschool, then it will be easier to eventually get a legislator to change the law. If we can get homeschooling allowed in one state, that would provide a safe haven so homeschoolers don’t have to flee Germany altogether.”
“Compared to Germany, the rest of Europe takes a more liberal-minded approach to homeschooling freedom,” says HSLDA Senior Counsel Christopher Klicka. But it is a freedom Americans would find intolerable, he explains. Strict regulations control home education in almost every country, and most homeschoolers have to submit to government testing, curriculum approval, or even home visits by school officials.
For the most part, European homeschoolers cooperate with the regulations or flee their country, says Sandra Lovelace, an international homeschool consultant who has been traveling and working with homeschoolers worldwide for 15 years.
“Running is the only choice many of them see,” says Lovelace. “The hoops they have to jump through are awful. But the idea of working to legalize homeschooling, well, most haven’t really thought in that direction.”
One reason the laws are so hard to change is simple mathematics, says Klicka. There are not enough homeschoolers in some countries and they are not connected enough to one another to be a force that has earned the right to be heard.
Courtesy of the Sandra LovelaceThese Albanian/Hungarian children and their parents moved to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in order to be free to homneschool.
SHAPE HOW PEOPLE REACT
TO HOMESCHOOLING IN
In many countries, homeschoolers connect through the internet but meet few, if any, other homeschoolers face-to-face. According to many of the families interviewed for this article, support groups are often nonexistent and a conference that gathers 12 families is a huge success.
Dan and Vicki Daniels moved from America to France in order to help a French family begin homeschooling their children. The Daniels family homeschools their own children as well as the other family’s, under all the normal French regulations, and they try to encourage other homeschoolers in France. But they have only found a handful.
“It is very isolated and lonely,” says Dan Daniels. “We know of only three other homeschooling families within an hour’s drive.”
Keeping a low profile is sometimes the safer strategy in countries such as Germany or China that are harsh toward homeschoolers. According to an American homeschooler living in China, the Chinese homeschool movement is mainly underground. Some parents homeschool in response to the government’s one-child policy—if a family has more than their sole government-sanctioned child, any unauthorized children must remain “nonexistent” as far as the government is concerned. Homeschooling provides a solution outside the system for those children.
“Although legalization of homeschooling in countries outside the U.S. is a slow process, inroads have been made in many countries,” says Klicka. “Many European and Latin American countries in particular are slowly opening up to this idea, although usually with regulations.”
Obstacles to Overcome
According to the families interviewed by the Court Report, international homeschooling parents get all the usual questions: “Are parents really capable of teaching their children? What about socialization? What about college? Don’t your children miss out on a lot of opportunities? How can your family make it on one income?”
Courtesy of the Sandra LovelaceSandra Lovelace (far right) leads an American story hour in Thailand as part of a homeschool conference.
“In many countries, the homeschool movement looks remarkably similar to that in America in the early 1980s,” says Klicka. The concept is practically unheard of; there are questions of legality; support groups are luxuries that exist in few places; and people may move to a different country to find better laws, much as they used to move to a different U.S. state.
But to say international homeschoolers are in the same place American homeschoolers were 30 years ago is too simplistic.
Although more and more materials and information are becoming available on the internet, books are still the foundation of homeschooling—and parents overseas say that books are not always easy to find.
Public libraries are not always as commonplace in other countries as in the U.S. In South America, libraries are rare and books are expensive. In the Philippines, there are no public libraries at all. But people are rising up to supply that need. Barbara West, an American in the Foreign Service, recently set up a homeschool library for Philippino homeschoolers with donations from homeschooling friends in the U.S.
Curriculum is also often hard to find. Many countries regulate what kind of curriculum homeschoolers can use. And there aren’t many curriculum options to explore—unlike America’s market, many countries have a single prescribed curriculum that is used in schools nationwide.
While today’s wide selection of American curriculum can help some internationals, ordering books from the U.S. or translating English curriculum is expensive.
In Japan, much of the curriculum is translated U.S. material. Yet, even for homeschoolers who can use books in English and afford the shipping costs, the material is most likely written from an American perspective for an American audience—which can make it difficult for internationals to study their own history, culture, and government, says international consultant Sandra Lovelace.
Another question facing international homeschoolers is what their children will do after graduation. “That’s probably the biggest challenge for Taiwanese homeschoolers,” says Benjamin Fan. “Where do we go after graduation? There’s a potential time bomb lying ahead in the future for Taiwanese homeschoolers, and that’s the problem of going to college or getting a career.”
Fan and his older sister are going to college in America, but he says that for most Taiwanese this is not an option because of finances and the language barrier.
In Mexico, homeschool graduates face a similar problem. Higher education can make all the difference in obtaining a well-paying job—and certification is necessary for college admittance.
“It’s like links in a chain,” says Mexican homeschooling mother Ana Iñigo. To get into college, students need a certified high school diploma; and to get that, they need diplomas for the earlier grades.
“The culture in Mexico is that if you don’t have a diploma, you are a nobody,” Iñigo says. With three teenagers, this is a pressing matter for her. “Nobody wants to see their children living in a poor way. We have to teach our children to make their own living and not depend on going to the university.”
When she began homeschooling, her children worked at the dinner table with cardboard separators between them. Now they plan their own day to accomplish their educational goals. Iñigo does not regret the choice to homeschool and is confident it is the best way to educate her children.
In contrast to Americans’ experience, international families have found that some key arguments used to support the choice to homeschool can actually be harmful to their cause.
Because of the United States’ Christian foundation and its constitutional guarantee of religious freedom for all, U.S. homeschoolers can legitimately claim religious conviction as a basis for homeschooling.
In many other countries, however, religious claims bear no weight in an argument, say international parents, and they can even turn officials or others against a family. If homeschoolers present the academic, personal, or social benefits of homeschooling, the public is more open. But arguing for homeschooling based on religious motivations often incites a negative reaction in many countries. And when a country has a small Christian population, there is little social acceptance for arguments based on Christianity.
Homeschoolers in France, for example, have to be very careful about using religious arguments because of the government’s campaign against cults, says Dan Daniels. And interviewed homeschoolers in Germany say that mentioning religious motivation will automatically cause homeschoolers to lose the argument.
Furthermore, the concept of parental rights to direct the education and upbringing of their children is not always clearly established in countries outside the U.S. “As an argument for the right to homeschool,” says HSLDA Staff Attorney Mike Donnelly, “parental rights may be no more helpful in these countries than the concept of religious liberty.”
The governments and societies of many (if not most) nations worldwide see the family and the education of children as something that must fit into and better society. Standardization is vital and the government and professionals decide what is best. Daniels in France says that many parents have lost the vision for significantly impacting their children’s lives and minds.
In current post-communist countries, homeschoolers are confronting decades of systematic destruction of an individual work ethic, the concept of family, and the value of family life.
“Communists took families and broke them up on purpose,” says Sandra Lovelace. “They sent mothers one way and fathers another. It was a specific plan to destroy the families. So people living in these countries have no idea about families.”
Cultural Roots Run Deep
In Latin American cultures, going against the grandparents’ advice is almost sacrilegious, says Kathleen Burotto, an American homeschool pioneer who grew up in Chile and recently returned to help South American homeschoolers.
“Latin Americans have a deep respect for the older generation and it is very hard to go against that tide,” she says. “They have to go against nature to oppose older doubting relatives, which makes homeschooling more difficult.”
Cultural traditions shape how people react to homeschooling in different countries, impact what kind of challenges homeschoolers face, and influence what kind of benefits they experience. For example, Americans esteem nonconformity and possess an ingrained distrust of the government. These concepts are built into our culture, written into our founding documents, and have greatly served the American homeschool community. When American homeschoolers challenged the government’s right to control their children’s education and upbringing, they were in line with cultural ideals.
Other cultures do not necessarily share these ideals.
In Asian cultures, innovation and creativity have historically been encouraged (in fact, Japanese homeschoolers have convinced the powerful business community to invest monetarily in their cause), but tradition and structure are also highly esteemed.
“Asians tend to be very structured and orderly,” says Taiwanese Benjamin Fan. “Most people see homeschoolers as being out of line. But some think of us as being ‘creative’ and ‘thinking outside the box,’ which is a good kind of ‘out of line.’ ”
Joerg Grosseluemern says that “people in our country are used to being obedient to those who are in power. In Germany’s history, beginning in Prussia and later under Hitler and in the former German Democratic Republic under Honecker, political regimes were authoritarian and demanded absolute obedience.”
“Most German parents have never heard about the possibility of learning another way—they think only skilled teachers are able to educate their children,” he continues. “They have a strong belief in experts. The idea that learning is also possible in a free and independent way is completely strange to them.”
Dan Daniels says that the French culture also “wants to follow a professional.” So when a professional evaluator annually comes to examine homeschooling children, many families find it reassuring rather than invasive.
Such an emphasis on excellence and professionalism is certainly to be applauded. But, much as America’s emphasis on liberty and individuality can lead to irresponsibility and rebellion, other countries’ cultural traits can also be detrimental if treated as absolutes that allow no room for improvement.
A healthy appreciation of cultural roots can stimulate and strengthen the homeschool movement in these various countries. What Americans may see as negative or invasive ideas and standards, many of these homeschoolers may find comforting, familiar, and helpful as they raise their children.
Truth, Justice, and the Only Way?
We Americans pride ourselves on the strengths of our culture. On the one hand, we treasure nonconformity and the uniqueness of the individual. Separatists and pilgrims founded this nation, and the cowboy and pioneer remain all-American heroes.
On the other hand, Americans do not hesitate to connect—to gather together to achieve common goals. In fact, in the mid-1800s, French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville observed in his book Democracy in America, that Americans have an obsession with forming associations around every little thing.
Americans don’t think twice about it. Want to strengthen the homeschoolers in your state? Organize a group and get people to join. Nearly every state now has multiple homeschool organizations that encourage, support, and lobby for the homeschool cause.
And the bigger the better. The more people you have behind you, the more choices, the more conferences, books, DVDs, step-by-step manuals, and lab kits, the more successful and monumental your movement.
The concepts of individualism and grassroots activism are second nature to Americans. They’re no-brainers.
“The call to Americanize homeschooling in other countries is strong,” says international homeschool consultant Sandra Lovelace. But, while she thinks U.S. homeschoolers have a lot to offer, Lovelace believes Americanization is going too far.
“International homeschooling is developing very, very slowly compared to growth in the same time frame in the U.S.,” says Mike Smith. “They do need our help, but when we offer assistance, we need to be careful that we aren’t just transferring ‘our pattern’ for homeschooling onto them. If they want our pattern, fine! We’re happy to share, but we need to help them with what they need or want—not our idea of what they need.”
The United States’ method of approaching local, state, and federal leaders and influencing legislation may not be a workable pattern for the rest of the world to follow. Our idea of what homeschool freedom looks like, or of what a good homeschool program is, may not apply in other countries. Our curriculum and programs may not be a good fit in other cultures.
If international homeschoolers merely try to import an American version of homeschooling, they risk losing what could be a unique homeschool movement within the context of their own country’s history and culture.
International homeschoolers must treasure and protect their unique approach to life and their traditions as part of their identity. And these cultural differences offer fresh lessons for Americans. For instance, the strong family ties that bind Latin Americans can be a strength when grandparents and other family members support and contribute to the homeschool program.
“Cultural differences will shape the face of homeschooling in each country,” says Lovelace. “International parents need to teach their own fables and folk tales. They need to study their own historical sites. They can have homeschooling reflect their own culture, and make it part of the legacy they pass on to their children.”
“This flexibility is one of homeschooling’s greatest strengths,” says Mike Smith. “No matter how unique an individual family or cultural situation, children can receive a custom-tailored education that enables them to thrive. That’s a picture that makes parents everywhere smile.”
“Let’s look at our similarities and differences. Let’s use our experiences to support these international homeschoolers, and let’s be encouraged by their deep commitment and passion,” he adds. “As we celebrate 25 years of homeschooling here in the U.S., we look forward to families all over the world celebrating their own homeschool anniversaries and their own hard-won homeschool freedoms.”
VICTORY FOR INTERNATIONAL HOMESCHOOLING
HSLDA and U.S. homeschoolers have had the opportunity to help advance homeschooling freedom in other countries in a variety of ways. Sometimes our role has simply been to encourage-letting homeschooling families or fledgling group leaders know that we’re praying for them and cheerfully sharing from our experience. Other times, HSLDA has shared the urgent needs in other countries with U.S. homeschoolers, who have sent donations or called and written foreign embassies or parliaments in support of homeschooling freedom. And we have also been privileged to give legal and legislative support where appropriate. Here are some of the highlights:
- Czech Republic: Twice this decade, legislation was defeated that would have severely limited homeschooling.
- France: Amendments were defeated in early 2007 that would have limited homeschooling to children with health problems and expanded government control over home education.
- Germany: In May 2007, a German appeals court returned custody of a homeschooled teen to her parents.
- Ireland: Home visit legislation was defeated in 1999.
- South Africa: Two homeschooling parents were freed from prison in the mid-1990s, and homeschooling was legalized in 1996.
- Taiwan: Model homeschool legislation was adopted in 1999.
Read more about these countries, and others.
|About the author
Cherise Ryan is a journalism major at Patrick Henry College and
an administrative assistant to the executive director of the Home School Foundation.