The Dark Side of Government Schooling in Sweden
In 2011 Sweden banned homeschooling "except under exceptional circumstances," forcing some families to immediately leave the country in order to continue homeschooling and others to stay and see what would happen. Those who stayed have faced very stiff fines for every day they homeschool their children, though to date no one has been taken to court for payment. But it appears this will soon change. Swedish educationists want to be sure that children have the right to go to school, but not the reciprocal right to decline and learn in other types of settings, such as at home and in their communities. A strange “right” this is—the right to be forced to attend school under threat of fines, the right to lose your children to social services, and the right to only follow instructions from government agencies about what you can and can’t do for your children’s education.
There is a Swedish news article about making this explicit in their law; my friends in Sweden have translated this blog entry by one of the proposal’s proponents, Lotta Edholm:
Today I have written an opinion piece together with Ann-Katrin Åslund (Liberal Party) in Aftonbladet asking that the social services act be changed so that the social authorities have the possibility act when children are held from away school by their parents - often for religious or ideological reasons. Every child has a right to an education. The school law states that education shall "be designed in accordance with democratic values and human rights". This is incompatible with a system where parents simply can refuse to send their children to school and the social services has no support in law to intervene. Deputy Minister of Social Affairs, Maria Larsson, who is also responsible for conditions for children, should take an initiative to change the social services act so that the social authorities can intervene when children are kept away from school by their parents.
There are significant differences in social attitudes and laws between Sweden and the United States, so it is not useful to simply say that US law is better than Swedish law and they should be more like us. But there is a very strong assumption by the Swede’s that education is a science that can only performed by those who are certified in it, and challenging that perception may be the hinge for successfully challenging the Swedish homeschooling ban. Here are some ideas on that topic:
If there is one correct way to educate all children, why are there so many different pedagogies? If education is only the result of instruction performed by professionals in schools, why do countries with lots of educational options, such as Finland and Denmark, flourish? There is a large research base that supports informal learning and other models besides government schooling: How does Sweden justify ignoring a human’s innate ability to learn on his or her own, as we’ve done for centuries before compulsory schooling became the norm (around 1850), as well as all the research that supports intrinsic motivation, autodidactic behavior, and learning by doing as deep sources for educational excellence? What about the Pippi Longstockings—those children who do not respond to control and prediction in classroom settings but nonetheless succeed in life? Getting parents involved in their children's education is vital according to every piece of research I have read, so why must parents stop at a certain point? Why must education be either/or (school/homeschool) and not both/and? I can go on, but I’ll stop here for now.
Underlying a lot of this discussion, from what I can tell by reading in translation, is also a fear of “the other”: people whose religious, educational, or political beliefs are different from the government’s beliefs. We have struggled with this issue in our own country and have created a pluralist society that tolerates many ways of living and growing, though it is hardly perfect. Nonetheless, we are at least making an effort at inclusion in the United States; it remains to be seen if such tolerance for “the other” will continue in Sweden.