School: a blessing and a curse for children everywhere. Education is well established to hugely benefit the quality of life of those privileged enough to attain it. On the other hand, kids are routinely placed in the perfect environment to be bombarded with mind-closing dogma day after day, during the very time their brains and worldviews are still developing. What better setting in which to mentally engineer the next generations than state-run schools? Do today’s educational institutions offer the perfect place to build social skills and learn, or are they merely factories churning out millions of drones? Some parents think they have the answer, but governments may not always agree.
What better setting in which to mentally engineer the next generations than state-run schools?
The Daily Signal recently published an op-ed by Robert Clarke, a lawyer who represents the German Wunderlich family. In 2013, a squad of 20 police officers and social workers armed with a battering ram arrived at the Wunderlichs’ house and took their four children, without allowing them the chance to say goodbye to their parents. The crime? Homeschooling. The practice is illegal in Germany, and parents are strictly punished for it, because, according the government, non-state sanctioned education could result in the formation of “parallel societies” – an interesting criticism from a country that supposedly values diversity. There were no allegations of abuse, neglect, or, according to the Youth Welfare Office, any other harm inflicted on the children.
They were reunited three weeks later, but the kids’ passports were confiscated by the courts so that the family could not relocate. While the passports and legal custody were both restored a year later, the events were the beginning of a landmark legal fight that has just culminated in failure. The European Court of Human Rights has found against the Wunderlichs and ruled that the German ban on homeschooling doesn’t infringe on families’ rights.
“The question I most commonly get from people when I explain their case is, ‘But what’s so bad about school?’” Clarke writes, going on to explain that:
“I understand where they’re coming from. I went through a state school system and, generally speaking, didn’t mind it. But the fact that I did not ‘mind’ school, and the fact that the person asking the question doesn’t see any problems with state-run school, misses what this case is about. The Wunderlichs’ case was never about whether state-run schools are good or bad, but about who has the right and the responsibility to raise children.”
Indeed, when it comes to education or even medical care, the tension in Europe over parental versus state control over children has been simmering for some time.
Not a “Right”
German families have actually been awarded political asylum in the U.S. after seeking to homeschool their children. According to the BBC, in 2010 the U.S. granted the Urz family asylum, though they chose to remain in their home country. “This is my country. I decided to fight this battle to the end. We think it’s time now in Germany to fight for this freedom,” said father Jonathan Erz, the BBC reports.
The Romeike family left Germany for U.S. shores in 2008 and were awarded political asylum by Tennessee Immigration Judge Lawrence O. Burman, who said they had been denied religious freedom, given that their homeschooling justification was Christian in nature. The ruling was successfully appealed by Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder, who argued that homeschooling is not a fundamental “right.” Asylum was revoked in the Sixth Circuit Court, though the family has not been deported and remains in the U.S. pursuant to an indefinite order of supervision. The Supreme Court denied a petition to hear the case.
The U.S.-based Home School Legal Defense Association (HSDLA), which represented the Romeikes, was involved in drafting relevant parts of the 2015 Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act. The bill seemingly went nowhere, but was reintroduced in 2017, under which anyone denied the freedom to home school would “be deemed to have a well founded fear of persecution on account of membership in a particular social group,” making them eligible for political asylum.
German families are not the only ones to have felt the state’s wrath over the decision to homeschool – a choice that is outlawed in a range of countries around the world. A Swedish seven-year-old boy was removed from his family over a few months of homeschooling, even as they boarded a plane to emigrate to the mother’s native country of India. In Norway, where homeschooling is actually legal, one 12-year-old boy was chased down in the snow and taken from his family after his parents pulled him out of school. Social services justified the move because the boy would not be properly “socialized” at home, even though the parents had made the decision after becoming concerned over the bullying and “death threats” he had suffered at school.
In a system that appears to seek ever-more standardization, however, is there even a place for those who may not fit into the box? Rather than providing discipline or innovative ways to connect to misbehaving children, or offering resources for those who may have extra learning needs, it appears schools may simply prefer to just get rid of such problems. Schools, despite claiming to teach “diversity” and “tolerance,” themselves seem to be less willing to bother with those kids who don’t fit into standard patterns of behavior or educational needs.
A U.K. organization, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, found in a November report that homeschooling numbers in England had risen significantly, with 57,800 children homeschooled in 2018, compared to 45,500 in 2017 and 37,500 in 2016. However, the report revealed that local authorities “remain concerned around the practice of home schooling being presented to parents as an option to avoid exclusion [explusion] or fines [for non-attendence], especially where a child has complex and overlapping health and social care needs.”
Local authorities are quoted in the report:
“Some parents are pressured into having to ‘choose’ EHE [Elective Home Education] as a way of instantly removing their child from a stressful school environment. School attendance officers/welfare officers are offering a way out by suggesting immediate removal can be achieved if they choose to say they are home educating and they can then look to apply for another school. This results in children being out of education for a period of time, interrupting their schooling, while parents fail to implement any education having not actively chosen that option and await the process of school applications to complete.”
Who is in Charge of Kids?
Despite the federal government’s somewhat unsupportive history, power over a child’s education in the U.S. still belongs to parents, at least to some degree. Regulations varying from state to state, though some are more hostile than others; in New York and Massachusetts, there have been cases where the authorities have reacted harshly to seemingly minor administrative mix-ups. In 2018, efforts were made by both California and Hawaii to further restrict homeschooling rules, but both attempts were derailed after public outcry.
There are valid concerns involved when it comes to homeschooling – as seen in the recent case of the Turpin family, who used home education as a cover to abuse their 13 children – but the matter ultimately boils down the question of who is charged with making decisions for children: The parents or the state? And is the state even prepared to deal with “defective units” that don’t fit the mold?