German Homeschoolers Get Political Asylum in US

Homeschooling is illegal in Germany and families that can’t afford or don’t want private schooling there have no other options. The Romeike family, citing what they perceive to be an anti-Christian curriculum in the schools, nonetheless decided to homeschool their children. The family was heavily fined for homeschooling by German authorities and forced, under police escort, to send their children to school. Previous homeschooling cases from Germany that I’m aware of resulted in the families relocating or finding refuge in an alternative school there. Now an immigration judge in Tennessee has granted political asylum to the Romeikes. As noted in The Washington Post, the Romeikes moved to Tennessee in 2008 but by seeking political asylum now the Romeike’s are making a public statement they hope will be used to sway German public opinion. The Home School Legal Defense Association claims this is part of the reason they offered to represent the Romeikes in immigration court, so it seems the motion for political asylum is more a public relations move than a serious legal maneuver. According to the article in The Guardian, “The case does not create a legal precedent unless the US government appeals and a higher immigration court hears the case.”

It is unlikely there will be a rush of homeschoolers from countries where homeschooling is illegal seeking asylum in the US. For instance, The Post writes, “Romeike said in an interview that when his oldest children were in public schools they had problems with violence, bullying and peer pressure.” It is not clear at all that other German parents whose children also suffer violence, bullying and peer pressure in school, but who homeschool for secular or different religious reasons, such as Islam, would be granted political asylum in the US. It appears this case is more about the freedom to practice Christianity as one wishes rather than about the freedom to homeschool, however, until the judge’s opinion in this case is made available we won’t know his full reasoning for granting the Romeike’s asylum.

The reasons Germany used to ban homeschooling were upheld by the European Court of Human Rights in 2006, namely that parents can choose from existing private schools if public ones aren’t to their liking and that only education delivered by schools guarantees a high standard of learning for all children. Most importantly, the Court upheld Germany’s argument that “Schools represented society, and it was in the children’s interest to become part of that society. The parents’ right to education did not go as far as to deprive their children of that experience.” Critics of homeschooling are airing all these reasons in the United States too, so we need to be thinking well beyond narrow religious exceptions for homeschooling and continue to make the case that all children can learn well in places other than school.

The academic argument seems to me to be losing ground, as more and more homeschoolers enter the work force or University and do as well or better than their conventionally schooled peers. The choice argument is disingenuous at best, since a mandatory selection from a list of schools provided by the state is hardly a genuine choice. The social integration argument, though there is ample evidence that schools create and solidify class distinctions among students rather than provide social integration and mobility for them, still resonates with people for a variety of reasons. First, our suspicion of “others” in our current climate of national fear and xenophobia makes us less likely to support freethinkers and other non-conformists. Second, the “melting pot” democratic theory of public schools, despite more than a century of alienated students, dropouts and school violence, as well as the creation of a citizenry that is less civically engaged than earlier generations, nonetheless continues to hold sway in public discussions about social integration.  I propose that true, lasting social integration among diverse groups of people occurs when they share common goals and experiences throughout their lives, not just when they are children in school. Cutting the arts, sports, and free play at recess for schoolchildren eliminate activities that actually encourage groups of children to socially integrate and reveals our true priorities for schooling. Pitting children against each other for grades and social rank in school is hardly social integration, but it does teach children a deep social lesson about what is really important to adults.

Corrections and additions to my previous blog:

1) Graham Badman is not a Member of Parliament; he is a former director of Children’s Services in Kent who was asked to head a review of homeschooling regulations for Parliament.

2) Erwin Fabian Garcia Lopez also made a presentation at the conference in Bogota. He compared and contrasted homeschooling with conventional schooling and in doing so he reminded me how no matter what country we live in, the school bell tolls the same for all. Schools everywhere use behavior modification techniques to create a standard good student, but with homeschooling we have the chance to work with, not on, children to help them grow.