Thursday, 28 January 2010

The "persecution" of German home educators

Like most people involved in the world of home education, I was pleased to see that the Romeikes, a German family of Christian home educators, had been granted asylum in the United States. I could not however help noticing that Judge Berman, who allowed their application, made some very strange points in his judgement.

Judge Berman's main concern seemed to be that the human rights of the parents had not been respected. In this , he showed the same oddly skewed thinking that Graham Badman showed when he talked of balancing the rights of parents against the rights of the child. As if the rights of the parents mattered a damn in the case! Judge Berman went on to describe home educators in Germany as being "persecuted" and claiming that the German courts were not concerned with the welfare of the child. This is quite ridiculous and puts the USA in opposition not only to Germany but also to Europe itself! Because this whole question of the "right" to home educate has been thrashed out in the European Court and the judgement there was actually quite sensible.

One home educating family in Germany managed to take their case all the way to the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany, which upheld the ban on home education. In 2003, the case was taken as far as the European Court of Human Rights. The judgement made there has troubled home educators not only in Germany, but also in this country, by its implications. The parent who brought the case argued that Germany's ban on home education contravened the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. This provides that a state shall respect parents' rights to ensure that their child's education will be in conformity with their own religious and philosophical beliefs. In September 2006, the court gave its ruling.

The European Court gave as its opinion that the plaintiff in the case was not the parent at all, but the children! The court went on to say that children were unable to foresee the consequences of their parents' decision to home educate, due to their young age. They further stated that schools were part of society and that the rights of parents did not extend so far as for them to be able to deprive children of their place in society. This was a blow for families in Germany, but the implications for other home educating parents in Europe were felt to be alarming. It was clear that there was nothing to stop either Britain or any other country in Europe from banning home education entirely if they felt like it.

In short, the European Court decided that the rights of the child were paramount and that the parents rights were not particularly important compared with those of their children. This is very right and proper. Because the truth is, children cannot really be expected to see the long term consequences of this, in effect, alienation from wider society. Before various home educating types start foaming at the mouth and typing comments here like retired Colonels from Tunbridge Wells, beginning, "Dear Sir, I would like to protest in the strongest possible terms about your view....." , perhaps I should explain exactly what I mean.

There are two main types of home educator; those, like me who chose to do it and others who were, as they saw it, forced into adopting home education. Those who are forced into it because the school does not address problems such as bullying or the child's special educational needs are usually fairly normal people who have taken an outlandish course of action for the perceived good of their child. They did not have any problem with the idea of schools, but the school failed them and now they must try something else. Those, on the other hand, who have from the beginning been committed to the idea tend to be a little.....eccentric.

I freely admit that I am myself a notable crackpot, whose views and opinions tend to differ from everybody else. That's my affair, I answer to nobody for it. But of course I have also raised my child to be a crackpot as well. Because of her unconventional upbringing, she is very different from almost every other teenage girl of her age. She dresses differently, speaks differently, thinks differently and behaves differently. This is almost entirely due to the fact that she never attended school. As it happens, she gets on fine at college, although some regard her as being stuck up and self righteous. The fact remains though, that I have single handedly turned her into a bit of crackpot herself by not allowing her to go to school.

As the European Court put it, my daughter could not have foreseen the consequences of home education when she was little. She enjoyed it, true, but she could not really have foreseen or understood the long term effects of not spending most of her time with other children. In a very real sense, she was divorced from mainstream society by my decision. The fact that she is happy to be who she is now is neither here nor there. There are almost certainly other home educated teenagers who have difficulties relating to other young people their age and are not happy about it. The fact is, home educating parents can, as a by product of their decision to home educate, end up raising a child who is very different from other children. This is surely a matter of concern, if for no other reason than that we all have to live in society and get along with others.

I am of course wholly and enthusiastically in favour of home education. However, as I said above, I am a bit of a crank. I could be wrong about this, as I am almost certainly wrong about so many other things. It is at least worth remembering that our children will have to live, work and survive in society when they are older. The European Court was quite right to point this out and remind people that a parent's rights do not extend quite as far as withdrawing a child from normal society. It is the child who will have to live with the consequences of our actions as home educating parents. I shall go on being a troublesome crackpot until the day I die, but I sometimes wonder to what extent I had the right to turn my own child into another irritating crank.


  1. Society needs a healthy dollop of irritating cranks in its midst.

    Having said that, I don't think that home education is all that good at churning them out. Perhaps the problem is all the time they spend socialising with eachother in their home ed groups! LOL!

    Mrs Anon

  2. Yep. More eccentric cranks please, less of the sheep. That might be inconvenient for the government, but it's better for the rest of us.

    More seriously, parents do have the right to shape their children's future, and even if you were to try and claim they didn't there's nothing you can do to stop them short of snatching the child away permanently. A child going to school isn't free of the influence of their parents - far from it.

    Parents make all kinds of choices (and more often non-choices) about how their children will grow up, from the way they themselves behave and see the world, right through to indoctrinating them with strange religious beliefs. So what? When they're adults, they'll either be glad of this, or not. Either way, they'll be free to make decisions for themselves from that point on. Until then, decisions they can't make themselves are made for them by either:

    a) their parents, or
    b) someone else, e.g. the state

    The argument, as always, is which of those has the right to make the decisions and which has the child's best interests at heart.

    The answer must surely be, without any doubt whatsoever, a). If this was on paper, I'd write that in red and underline it several times.

    You sound almost like you're having doubts as to whether you did the right thing. That's perfectly natural of course, but to a casual observer it sounds like your daughter, with your help, is growing up to be an asset to society, and more importantly to herself.

  3. And of course there are plenty of children who have been to school all their lives who turn out to be irritating crackpots as well! You went to school, didn't you? As did I and most of my friends. My children have a motley collection of irritating crackpot schooled friends. The difference between them and the others is that they tend not to be obsessed with the X Factor, the Xbox, the right clothes, the coolest slang etc; no great loss really. They are individuals who are comfortable in their own skin, and who tend to have a great deal to offer to society.

    I have a couple of friends who were HE themselves; they are both very successful people who lead full lives and make a real contribution, and interestingly they are at the more conventional end of the scale of crackpotitude among my friends, despite being unconventional in their own ways. One is a homeopath, for goodness' sake!
    We are all individuals; we all influence our children. If we can keep them free of the desparate need to conform, to the extent of denying their own nature, that I see in many schooled children (I was like that) I think that can only be a good thing. Who wants a world full of sheep? No Einstein, no Darwin, no Gandhi, no Mandela. No Spitting Image!

  4. Remember this: a world full of conformists is easier to control. Wouldn't it be much easier for the government if we didn't insist on arguing with them? The Iraq War, home education, the poll tax, CND, the non-conformist ministers escaping through the door in the back of the pulpit, Catholic priests hiding in their holes, Shaftesbury, the Suffragettes, the Diggers....we have a long and glorious history of challenging mainstream assumptions in this country.

  5. Erica - indeed, conformists are easier to control - this is precisely why the Nazis banned home education, which brings us nicely back to the title of the post.

  6. I'm pleased to find somebody willing to explore both sides of the argument, Simon, having just read a most incredible rant on this topic elsewhere implying that not only did the Nazis ban home education because they were wicked evil people who wanted to grind everybody else into the dust, they're still lording it over every aspect of German life to this very day.

    Personally, I think Germany's anti-home education laws will become redundant in the fullness of time as arguments over the "right" to educate our children outside the school system will be superseded by a common realisation that we're all educating ourselves outside the school system in one way or another through the digital technology we already use in our daily lives - without it ever crossing our minds, "Oh, do I need to go and sit in a classroom so that a hired professional can teach me this?" It will be fun indeed when "school" finds itself surrounded by an entire culture of DIY learning that didn't exist ten years ago - that wasn't even a twinkle in anyone's eye ten years ago. Politicians and professional educationalists will find themselves defending a parent's right to all day childcare. Not required, of course, if a parent is willing to be at home with the child. Nothing better than sticking to a traditional value amidst chaos!

    But that's another story. :-)

    My son asked to be removed from school and he was and he's happy generally with how his life has progressed, but it was his happiness that was the fundamental issue, not school. If he'd been happy to go back to school, he would have gone. As it is, he'd rather be home, which has been an amazing adventure but also a constant challenge - and his growing up in relatively private circumstances, so to speak, has indeed been a major part of that.

    I saw your daughter on that video with that dumb blonde. I'd be a very proud dad.