Homeschool Persecution Is Unworthy of a Free Society
It used to be that if you told someone you were homeschooling, you were considered strange. In 1985, a Gallup poll found that only 15% of Americans thought that homeschooling was good for the country. A few years later that number had risen to 41%. But, even after 40 years, homeschoolers in America still attract attention. Today, this attention usually manifests itself when homeschoolers win the national spelling or geography bee, are awarded a scholarship to an Ivy League university, circumnavigate the world on a 23-foot sailboat, win the Miss America pageant, or lead their college football team to a national championship and then get drafted as quarterback for the Denver Broncos. Rarely is the attention negative; most often, negative reports arise when there is confusion over whether an abused child was homeschooled. In virtually all of these cases, the facts show that the families in question were not really homeschooling.
Homeschooling in the U.S. has become an increasingly mainstream educational alternative that draws little negative attention. Today, the questions people ask about homeschooling—such as “Does it work?” and “What about socialization?”—are easier to answer. In the United States, the homeschool movement is a young but maturing educational movement. However, in many other countries, the idea of homeschooling is just beginning to take hold. These countries face similar battles that we in America have had to fight over the past three decades, yet in these countries the hurdles are higher because of more Statist sentiments.
One might argue that the U.S. is a nation of nonconformists, founded by nonconformists—people who chose to leave Europe, South America, Asia and other countries in search of opportunity. Americans value nonconformity more than many other cultures. Values such as innovation, independence, individuality, personal responsibility, and religious freedom are also important in American culture. These factors may explain why homeschooling in America has been able to grow so large so quickly.
Then there are countries like Germany and Sweden. These societies are far less tolerant of nonconformists. A majority of public policy-makers in these countries appear to believe that it is the role of the State to educate children. In these countries, homeschoolers are few, and the few who remain are persecuted by their government.
For example, in 2003, the German Constitutional Court stated in its Konrad decision that the State has an “equal interest” to parents in the education of children. In some lower-level trial court decisions in Sweden, judges have actually stated that homeschooling is psychological abuse. This is also true in Germany. Fortunately, these countries are outside the mainstream of Western democracies, where for the large part, homeschooling is explicitly allowed by law, Constitution or—where the law is less clear—at least not actively persecuted. In contrast, the notion that parents and not the State are responsible for the education of children is an enduring tradition of American jurisprudence.
In 1923, the Supreme Court of the United States, under its famous words in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the state.” In 1979, in Parham v. J.R. the court affirmed this position and amplified it by stating that “[t]he statist notion that governmental power should supersede parental authority in all cases because some parents abuse and neglect children is repugnant to American tradition.” Unfortunately, this is not the case in many other countries where government power is used to compel the indoctrination of children in government-run schools.
Countries that repress homeschoolers are at odds with norms of international human rights. Since 1948, international human rights documents, including the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the Convention against Discrimination in Education of 1960, have recognized the right of parents to direct the education of their children, outside of government-run educational institutions. These human rights documents also affirm that it is the right of parents to ensure that the education of their children is in conformity with the parents’ religious and philosophical convictions.
Countries like Germany and Sweden seek to impose educational uniformity through force. For some reason, government policy-makers in these countries fear true pluralism and deny their citizens the freedom to make educational decisions for their children. At best, their thinking appears anchored in a fundamental ignorance of what homeschooling is, how it works, and the scientific research that proves homeschooling is a positive and exceptional method of education that yields outstanding academic results and produces productive and civically engaged citizens. Unfortunately, these countries also appear to believe that it is an appropriate use of the power of the State to impose rigid educational conformity through force on their citizens.
Those of us who live in free societies must do what we can to encourage our brothers and sisters who seek to homeschool their children in these countries through prayer, support, and action. Thank you for reading the updates on international homeschooling included in this newsletter. I encourage you to continue to follow the stories of these pioneers overseas and to support them however and wherever possible —whether though prayer, answering a “call to action” on our website, or a financial donation to the Home School Foundation.
It is one thing to say that the State may legitimately exercise some sort of oversight capacity for home education—it is something entirely different to eliminate all possibility for parents to educate their children at home. The latter policy approach demonstrates a callous and totalitarian attitude that is at odds with modern international human rights ideals. Mao Tse-Tung accurately described governments with totalitarian tendencies when he said that “power comes from the end of a gun.” While the State may have the power to compel its citizens to conform to its laws, to prevent or heavily restrict parents from choosing to homeschool at all must be regarded as unjust and unworthy of a free society.
Mike Donnelly, Director of International Affairs