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.