When Are Global Calls for Support from Homeschoolers Appropriate?

In December 2013, some French legislators proposed that homeschooling be allowed only for children with disabilities. These legislators viewed homeschooling as a form of religious, ideological, or psychological conditioning and they made this stance their rationale for their proposal. Fortunately, opposition emerged at the public hearing of the bill on March 11 and the bill was withdrawn from further consideration. Details are at the French Senate web site.

As I ponder this I’m struck by how any educational technique can be considered to be a form of conditioning. Many trainers and instructors refer to their work as conditioning. But when the state mandates one type of conditioning over another it is important that people raise deep questions about why such action is necessary; why is the state adding to its list of mandatory behavior for all citizens?

Germany and Sweden successfully outlawed homeschooling in recent years except in the case of disabled children; perhaps the French legislators were hoping to join that group. However, using blunt force to indoctrinate children to the ways of the state also has consequences, including driving homeschoolers underground or making them leave the country. The Romeike family fled Germany in order to continue homeschooling their children, and their well-documented journey has been difficult. They sought asylum from persecution for homeschooling in Germany and were first granted and then denied amnesty in the United States. The U.S. Supreme court refused their appeal on March 3. However, HSLDA reported on March 4:

HSLDA BREAKING NEWS!!! The Romeikes can stay!!! Today, a Supervisor with the Department of Homeland Security called a member of our legal team to inform us that the Romeike family has been granted "indefinite deferred status". This means that the Romeikes can stay in the United States permanently (unless they are convicted of a crime, etc.)

This is great news for the Romeikes and I hope they homeschool in peace and happiness knowing they won’t have to uproot their family again. However, all these issues raise a larger issue: How involved should we (American for me; add your nationality for you) be in the homeschooling politics of other countries?

I want to help homeschoolers who ask me for help, and I know how important it is to help spread the word and apply public pressure on public officials. But I also worry that these Internet efforts may ultimately be counterproductive by annoying diplomats and producing burnout and inertia among activists. For instance, the homeschooling issue in France was defeated during the normal legislative process—would that still have happened if no international petition was sent to the French embassy? Despite all the publicity the Romeikes received, their efforts did nothing to change homeschooling policy in Germany. And despite Internet appeals for international support from homeschoolers, Germany and Sweden were able to close the door on homeschooling. When is the appropriate time to globally call upon homeschoolers for support?

I don’t know the answer, but a recent petition circulated by a homeschooler to stop The Children and Young People Bill in Scotland makes me wonder about it again: Can my American e-signature really sway a Scottish politician as we are told and hope? After all, this is a nasty bill to civil liberty and to children, in particular.

[The Children and Young People Bill] seeks to establish a universal surveillance system in respect of every child and associated adult in Scotland. Details of the Bill as introduced may be viewed here: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/62233.aspx . . . . Known as GIRFEC (Getting It Right For Every Child), it is already being used, and in some cases abused, by professionals within universal services and other agencies who have been routinely gathering, storing, assessing and sharing sensitive personal data on every child and every associated adult without express informed consent and in the absence of any enabling statutory framework. Disguised as a child protection measure but nothing of the kind, GIRFEC has spawned a series of ‘wellbeing’ indicators known as SHANARRI which represent a universal prescription for a state approved childhood. It has essentially shifted the threshold for intervention in family life on child ‘protection’ grounds from “at risk of significant harm” to “at risk of not meeting state dictated ‘wellbeing’ outcomes”. Every parent in Scotland is now routinely assessed on his/her “parental capacity to provide wellbeing”, based on government defined criteria which, according to its own ‘National Risk Framework to Support the Assessment of Children and Young People’ (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2012/11/7143/9) places every child under five, and most older children and young people, in the ‘vulnerable’ category (thus liable to ‘early intervention’).

Now this bill is wrong to me on many levels, yet the rhetoric and interpretation used to present the case against it makes me want to investigate this a bit more before I do anything—and so it goes. Now I’m investing my time and thought on an issue from Scotland that wasn’t even on my radar when I woke up this morning, all because I think my signature means something to Scottish legislators and I want to stand against an overreaching surveillance state.

On a tactical level, it seems futile to think by signing an online petition about the laws of a country where I am not a citizen that I will somehow help shape that country’s laws. However, on a strategic level, I can see how all these actions are important and linked. Be it the Romeikes, the French, or the Scots, as homeschoolers and parents we see how the individual who doesn’t respond to conventional educational conditioning has few other learning options anywhere in the modern world. Conventional schooling is the same in India, Great Britain, Cuba, China, Russia, the United States—the universal, compulsory schooling techniques embraced by these countries are identical—only the content (that is, curricula) differs by country. This is why conservative, liberal, libertarian, and other freethinkers find common ground in homeschooling. We rarely agree on the details of what constitutes a good education, but we do agree that we need to preserve our right to decide for our children and ourselves what an education should be for each of us. We agree that we are not creatures of the state, compelled by law to be processed by state institutions—and that’s information worth sharing around the world. Yet the tactical question remains: When is it appropriate to activate global calls to action for the homeschooling community? What do you think?

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post said the Romeike's lost their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. This is incorrect. The Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal.