July 27, 2009

European Forum for Freedom in Education—View on Homeschooling

The following is a translation of HSLDA Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly’s question put to the commissioner and chairman of the European Forum for Freedom in Education in May 2008—and the reply. The original text, in German, can be found on Page 52 of the conference report from the commission’s meeting in Brussels.

Michael Donnelly, Home School Legal Defense Association, USA

I visit homeschoolers in Germany where there are problems. I would like to ask what the chairman and the commissioner think of homeschooling? There are many proofs that children who are educated at home score better on standardized tests. I would like to ask what you think of homeschooling and if parents have the right to choose this form of education?

Commissioner Figel

This is part of the process. We are not prescribing here, but making suggestions. I think we can give various ways to find the best possibilities to deal with the responsibility [of choosing education]. Equal opportunity means that children should have varied ways to be taught. We need to take a student-directed approach. I think our countries are thinking more in this direction. Some are already doing this. At the moment I think in Denmark there are many changes. Appraisals, mentoring, evaluations and feedback are important aspects thereof.

In many situations we view the student to be at fault and we must see the teachers are also culpable. A mentoring system should be an aspect of this, but not to apply pressure. My son goes to a secondary school and he is much happier in that system. He is motivated. It has to do with the way they go about evaluating and motivating him, not just the system alone.

Personally I do not know any centralized system. We need individual ways to go about this, while not becoming individualistic. We need a personal approach for both the children and teachers. Parents are teachers. They decide how their children should be taught, and this is a foundational human right. We respect various systems. In our system we have public, private, church schools in the various states and on a national level we respect different systems. It is a mosaic. Every part is important, but the entire picture makes up something as well. When Europe is able to have variety and unity we will be unified and this is the best way to evaluate.

Chairman Batzeli

At first glance I am against homeschooling. I do not want an increase in the number of students that are named here, because I think, the school is a microcosm of society where the children from their neighboring area get to know each other and dialog with each other. Secondly, I think education promotes the general good and should not be provided just for the disposition of the individual, especially financially. Thirdly, homeschooling can hardly help with the problem of truancy, where in certain environments [of society] where the parents would in no way educate their children. I think the values of true education will seldom be achieved at home. I would prefer to see children go to schools, than to learn isolated at home. We need to create excitement in the schools. For this we have heard many good arguments of what we can see Europe-wide as models. My son would love to not have tests. He does well with oral exams, but not with written exams. However, we must look at this from an educational perspective, considering at the way tests are organized and through the educational process children should learn about themselves and others. There is quite a bit of competition. This is reality and we must deal with it. Competition is there. As teachers we must accept this, but not at the price of the various levels that we offer the students.

I would now like to move on with the presentation of the colloquiums.