Homeschooling’s Worldwide Gains and Losses
Homeschooling is spreading all around the world, but it is also being outlawed—particularly in Sweden and Germany, which use harsh, punitive, authoritarian actions to breakup homeschooling families. It is fascinating to see a common motivation for homeschooling’s worldwide growth to be dissatisfaction with conventional school practices and a desire for more personalized learning, though, as Germany proves in particular, religious motivations for homeschooling continue to challenge European policymakers and make news. Here’s a roundup of homeschooling news from abroad I’m following; please send me your news or other information to help spread the word about what’s happening around the world for homeschoolers.
A government Board of Studies annual report for 2012 notes a 65% rise in homeschooling over the past four years in Australia. From an article about the report: “The number of children being taught at home in NSW has ballooned by 65 percent in four years, with many parents citing bullying, philosophical objections to schooling and a desire for personal learning as reasons for rejecting formal education.”
The Wall Street Journal reports an increase in homeschooling in China for 2013, largely due to unhappiness “with the rigid teaching style of traditional schools and recent student abuse scandals.” The reasons for the increase are detailed further:
According to the survey, among Chinese parents who choose to teach their kids at home, over half (54%) of them do so because they object to the teaching philosophy of traditional schools, which tends to be fairly rigid in nature. Others who choose to homeschool their kids think that in ordinary classrooms, the pace of lessons is too slow (10%) and that kids are not fully respected（7%). Another 7% said their kids were simply sick of traditional school life.
Still another 6% of parents, including a number of Christians, said they chose homeschooling for religious reasons, according to the survey.
According to The Netherlands Home Education Association, the State Secretary is planning to ban homeschooling in the Netherlands. You can read more about this and sign a petition to the Dutch Parliament to keep homeschooling legal in the Netherlands.
Not just homeschooling is under attack in the Netherlands—all non-standard schooling is suspect. Peter HartKamp is one of the founders of De Kampanje-Sudbury School in the Netherlands and he writes about how he and his school are being penalized for “not complying with the compulsory school law.” HartKamp writes,
Three parents of De Kampanje were convicted by a lower court Judge for not complying with the compulsory school law. They were fined € 250 or 5 days in prison for the period 2011/2012. This was to be expected as the lower court Judges are normally shying away from taking principled decisions. All parents appealed with the higher court. We requested a quick court session. There case will start on 7th November 2013 (which is quick)
The prosecution office is very active and did not wanted to wait on the appeal, and in July five parents of De Kampanje had to appear in court for not complying with the compulsory school law for the month of May 2013. Our arguments were even stronger, nevertheless, the parents were convicted again. For two parents, this was their second conviction and the fines were doubled to € 500 per student.
This is very serious, as nothing will stop the prosecution office to prosecute them for the months of September, October or November, or even to prosecute them per week, per day, or per hour. With the fines doubling each time, it becomes potentially very expensive, apart from the risk of child protection service trying to take over custody.
A possible strategy to avoid this repeat prosecution is to start a new school (on paper) which would require the school inspection, to write a new report about the school, which again can be challenged in court, which could take up to 2 years.
The Swedish authorities take a dim view of homeschooling, and have been aggressive in driving homeschoolers out of Sweden for some time (for instance, I have several blog posts about Sweden). Many of the Swedish families I’ve been in contact with have settled in Finland, but apparently even leaving Sweden isn’t enough to satisfy Swedish anti-homeschoolers. The Himmelstrand family moved to Finland in 2012 and have homeschooled “in accordance with the Finnish school law” since. Nonetheless, in August 2013 the Swedish Supreme Court pursued the family to Finland and fined them USD$15,000 “for home educating their then 12 year old daughter for one year, the school year 2010–2011.” Talk about adding insult to injury!
Here is some background written by the family in a press release and information for making donations to support Swedish homeschoolers who are being fined:
The father of the family works as an educational consultant for many years with both business trainers and schoolteachers. He is also President of the Swedish Association for Home Education—ROHUS—and was the chairman of the world’s first Global Home Education Conference 2012 in Berlin. The mother is a classically trained violinist and music teacher. They have three children, all home educated, and live in a form of political exile on the Aland Islands in Finland since February 2012 . . .
. . .ROHUS—The Swedish Association for Home Education—is a religiously and politically unaffiliated organisation supporting the right to home educate in Sweden regardless of motivation or beliefs. Several of the home-educating board members now live in exile in Finland and the United States. Home education is the world’s fastest growing form of schooling and has proven to give excellent results both socially and academically. The ROHUS Fine fund can be supported by donations to: IBAN: SE21 9500 0099 6026 0480 3102 BIC/SWIFT: NDEASESS Mark your donation with “Fine Fund”. The fund will only be used to support Swedish home educators being fined for home education.
Before this incident Swedish education and social service authorities were already cracking down on homeschooling—such as the case of eleven-year-old Dominic Johansson—but this recent incident shows how thoroughly vengeful state services can be.
Speaking of vengeful state services: Homeschooling is illegal in Germany and over the years many have fled in order to homeschool without persecution in other countries, such as France or the UK. Nonetheless, there are those who refuse to leave or stop homeschooling in Germany and one such family, the Wunderlich’s, is now being prosecuted. The situation is horrible for this family; according to one news report:
The court order allowed the police the use of force against both parents and children; it stated that the children had "adopted the parent's opinions" regarding homeschooling, and that "no cooperation could be expected" from either the parents or the children.
Last year, the authorities had already taken the children's passports to prevent the family from moving to neighboring countries where homeschooling is legal. The German authorities claim that by homeschooling their children, Dirk and Petra Wunderlich are violating their children's "right to grow up to be capable of living in society, which is only possible if they are exposed to different points of view.
The situation escalated to the point that public demonstrations were held to reunite the Wunderlich family. The demonstrations helped put pressure on the authorities and this was posted on September 19:
“The Wunderlich kids are reunited with their parents! They have not yet gotten back custody of their children and they had to promise to sign them up for a local school. But they are back home!”
The situation has taken on all sorts of political overtones as various groups seek to frame the situation, but I find it useful to read Dirk Wunderlich’s own words to get a feeling for what the issues are that caused both sides to dig in:
The issue of who does a child “belong” to—the parents or the state—is getting a thorough workout in Germany with this case. However, no one seems to acknowledge that the children, though dependents, still have their own individuality and rights and should have a say in a matter that directly affects them. But, of course, institutions that seek to direct and control people “for their own good” can’t consider this option because they have a vested interest in keeping children as property to be manipulated and developed, rather than people to nurture and grow. Further, by classifying homeschoolers into good or bad based on how they expose their children to different points of view gets us into very murky waters we ought not to wade into if we want to stay focused on who should control a person's learning.
A thoughtful piece by Irene Schrieder, who describes herself as “exiled in the UK due to lack of freedom to educate outside of school in Germany,” writes her view of the Wunderlich affair. Schrieder makes a good point about not using religion as a touchstone for dividing good and bad homeschoolers:
. . . There is no clear dividing line between home eds. There are deeply religious people who practice autonomous home education, as you can easily see if you ask Amazon for "Christian unschooling". "The freedom of Christ", let a child not be "corrupted" in the sense that it should be true to itself and what God intends them to be instead of making it fit into some mainstream box, this is conceptually nothing different to what Roland Meighan and Jan Fortune-Wood say, only in a religious wording.
"autonomous" or "unschooling" look extremely different from family to family, and from child to child. With some, this means that the parents are not engaged very much but that the children rather find out and learn most stuff by themselves, and if they want a tutor, they would have to organize this themselves. With other parents, this is rather like a close dance, with sometimes them and sometimes the child in lead, and they actually teach very much. Some might even use very worksheets or school books if the child likes to work on just these. Our family rarely used school material, and never did anything our child found unhelpful, and we always respected when he was working on something by himself. But I would not really consider our style as "autonomous", this sounds kind of isolated, cut off, Robinson Crusoe to me. There is not only the choice of being bullied by some externally set curriculum or being totally guided by your "own law", what autonomous literally means. We parents set the surroundings, make suggestions, inituate things, do things together as a family, talk, live according to our values and likings ... so I find "autonomous" not really the right word. I find these ideologies generally not very helpful, and especially not if they are to serve to draw a dividing line between "good" and "bad" home educators.
If you read Dirk Wunderlich’s letter consider reading Schrieder’s, too. She makes an interesting point about the translation problems caused by the English word “property” when used in a German context, and sheds some light on the heated exchange Wunderlich and the German official had over who the children “belong” to. Unfortunately, regardless of words, the Wunderlich’s lost physical and educational custody of their children when the officials showed up with a battering ram at their door; such is the power of the state to enforce compulsory school laws. The state eventually returned the Wunderlich children to their home but the parents had to register them for school and lose educational custody of their children (though they maintain physical custody). Germany and Sweden provide lots of fuel for pro-individual advocates, but I feel we’re going down the wrong path when the debate is framed as religious freedom to raise your children as you wish versus state protection of children from exploitation and mind control by their parents. The larger issue driving all this, I think, is the right of individuals to learn freely versus the right of institutions to control individual learning through the force of law.
I think this issue is ultimately not about religious freedom (indeed, I’m not aware of any major German religious organizations coming to the Wunderlich’s defense); it is about whether the state should be the judge of correct thought. Wunderlich cites Orwell and Huxley in his defense—making this all very ironic since it is happening in Germany, which was a totalitarian state. However, these arguments are lost in the conventional battle of who owns the children; as usual, the state affirms its ability to interfere with families if they are not educating according to the state’s dictates (this has happened in the United States, too). Remember, it isn’t just individual religious families being singled out for using unconventional schooling in Europe—entire schools, such as De Kampanje-Sudbury School in the Netherlands, are being fined for daring to learn and teach using a different scope and sequence than the state does.
Perhaps when we can recognize the unique individuals our children are, instead of viewing them as “mini-me” or super-pets, we will finally move beyond the state-versus-religion argument. Then we can discuss and create limits to the state’s ability to control how and why people learn, help parents to be more accepting of their children’s growth and development when it doesn’t follow their expectations, and grant children more autonomy in the exercise of their rights as humans. But the “for your own good” argument is powerful, and neither the state nor parents want to give it up; both use it to trump attempts to question authority.
Someday, I hope, we will break this pattern and learn how to share responsibility and decision making with children as a way to help them learn to make good choices and develop strong ethics and morals, as well as to introduce children's voices to the discussion. Until then, we are stuck fighting the same battles we’ve seen since the advent of compulsory schooling—the parent versus the institution—and the institution always wins over time, as we see in Germany and Sweden, and as predicted in Orwell and Huxley.
By the way, during my research for this article I came across this calendar of homeschooling conferences in Europe between now and the end of 2013.