Homeschoolers Worldwide Join Forces
Written by Alex Newman
In October of 2005, the Neubronner family (pictured) decided to homeschool. In America, that would have been the end of the story. The Neubronners, however, lived in Germany, where government has taken an extreme hardline stance with the aim of eradicating home education altogether. The loving German parents applied for permission to educate their two young sons, Morris and Thomas, at home. Unsurprisingly, their application was rejected.
Over the next few months, the battle seemed interminable. They sued for permission to homeschool and lost. Then they appealed. Again, they lost. Finally, in the summer of 2006, the Neubronners struck a deal with school authorities: The boys could be homeschooled provided they were tested regularly. Like the vast majority of homeschoolers, the kids did great on the government’s tests.
Despite the high marks, or perhaps because of them, eventually, authorities decided to put an end to the successful home education scheme. The Neubronner parents were threatened with massive fines, and like many other homeschoolers in Germany, even a potential jail sentence was put on the table if they refused to comply. During that time, the family appealed all the way up to the German constitutional court.
As the fight was unfolding, the family’s story became national news, with mother Dagmar, a biologist and publisher, becoming the face of the secular homeschooling movement in Germany. The media coverage ranged from friendly to neutral because the family seemed — aside from the homeschooling, at least — like a rather “normal,” well-integrated, intellectual family without any particular ax to grind against government schools; they simply wanted to exercise their right not to use that particular government “service.”
When the family refused to pay the exorbitant fines, officials burst into their home and ransacked it, searching for something, anything, to take with them. They found nothing worthwhile, but the horror was just getting started. Finally, officials froze the family’s bank accounts. They even threatened to arrest both parents and auction their home to pay the fines.
In September of 2007, the German courts ruled on a parallel homeschooling case, saying in the verdict that failing to surrender one’s children to compulsory schooling was justification enough to remove parental custody over them. So, in early 2008, the Neubronner family decided it was time to go; they moved across the border to an apartment in France, where home education, as in the vast majority of European countries, is legal.
“I never imagined I would have to face a persecution like this, with threat of prison, a bailiff in our house, and having to leave our country because of risk of losing custody,” Neubronner told The New American. “Often we felt like we were in a bad movie from another century. It is a shame that a highly developed country like Germany sticks to a law that is founded on Hitler’s ‘Reichsschulpflichtgesetz’ [the National Socialist regime’s compulsory schooling act] from 1938.”
While maintaining their primary residence in France keeps the family safe from further persecution, it takes a lot of time, effort, and money. From time to time, the police still show up at the Neubronners’ house in Germany to ensure that the children really are living in France, so the family will probably have to continue living the “nomadic” lifestyle until Thomas, the youngest, currently 13, reaches adulthood. Until then, authorities will continue trying to force the kids into the government school system.
In early November of this year, however, Dagmar Neubronner was back in Germany — to raise awareness about the persecution for the hundreds of homeschooling families that still live in Germany, always trying to stay one step ahead of the social services and other authorities, and the hundreds of other families that have already fled the country.
Many parents, she said, need help fleeing immediately to avoid losing their children. Sometimes, authorities even try to prevent families from leaving the country by claiming that the parents are “abusing” their custody rights in attempting to escape Germany to avoid compulsory schooling.
Speaking at a workshop on homeschooling in exile, Dagmar took the microphone and introduced herself. It took her a few moments to stop sobbing, but eventually she recounted her family’s story — standing up for her children and their education despite having to flee her homeland. The attendees, more than a few of whom failed to contain their own tears, were clearly inspired by hearing about the ordeal firsthand.
It is very difficult to be forced to flee one’s homeland, she explained with tears welling up in her eyes. “Once you’re in a new country, with a new language and a new culture, you realize how big the sacrifice is,” Neubronner said. “We risked everything we could risk — fines, jail. But we left at the moment where we couldn’t be sure about keeping custody of the children…. My very first responsibility as a mother is for the well-being of my children — not any political goal. I can fight for political goals until it comes to the point where I can’t assure the well-being of my children.”
Fortunately for persecuted homeschooling families, it is possible to legally homeschool in all of the countries bordering Germany — some families have even registered in neighboring nations while still spending much of the time in their homeland. Among the primary refuges for German homeschooling refugees, Neubronner said, are Austria, Switzerland, France, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Poland, Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden — at least before the Swedish Parliament passed its own draconian prohibition, implemented last year.
Some exiles even fled to Canada and the United States, where a U.S. immigration judge criticized the German government’s persecution when granting a family asylum. “We can’t expect every country to follow our Constitution. The world might be a better place if it did. However, the rights being violated here are basic human rights that no country has a right to violate,” explained federal U.S. Judge Lawrence Burman in his decision.
Neubronner was speaking not only as a persecuted homeschooling parent, but also as the vice-chairwoman of the first ever Global Home Education Conference (GHEC). Converging on Berlin from October 31 to November 4, some 200 homeschooling leaders, attorneys, policymakers, human rights activists, and experts held a historic conference uniting proponents of home education from all over the world. More than two dozen countries from every continent except Antarctica were represented.
The diversity among attendees was astounding: Christians, secularists, conservatives, liberals, libertarians, and more, all working together to promote homeschooling and human rights worldwide. By the end of the summit, activists began returning to their homelands armed with a historic declaration and a new sense of unity across borders and beliefs in the effort to expand that natural right to freedom in education.
Of course, much of GHEC dealt with subjects that can only be described as depressing — vicious persecution of home educating families in countries like Germany and Sweden, for example. Tears were shed during more than a few other workshops held at the gathering, as parents told of their courageous struggles to educate their children in the face of hostile authorities. Homeschooling in forced exile was a regular topic, too.
However, a sense of optimism radiated from the newly emboldened participants: confidence that educational liberty, despite the current difficulties, will eventually triumph over the forces seeking to quash it. And today, parental rights over the education of children are almost universally recognized, leaders said, at least in parts of the world not ruled by open dictatorships.
In terms of homeschooling, the United States was frequently referenced as a special success story and, in many respects, a beacon of educational liberty and hope for the planet. But even worldwide, according to experts who spoke to The New American at the summit, the trends are mostly encouraging as well.
Even the controversial United Nations’ so-called Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for example — while largely a list of government-issued privileges purportedly revocable on a whim — concedes that “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children,” as more than a few activists at the conference pointed out. Multiple European human rights treaties enshrine parental rights and home education as well.
However, under certain totalitarian regimes, as well as in Sweden and Germany, those rights, which in reality are unalienable regardless of what international documents say, are often trampled upon by government. Still, activists, liberty-minded policymakers, and homeschooling parents — even those not directly affected by the lawless persecution — vowed not to give up in the battle to protect and expand the right of families everywhere, not politicians, to direct the education and upbringing of children.
In an interview at the summit, Michael Farris, founder and chairman of the U.S.-based Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and chancellor of Patrick Henry College told The New American that governments persecuting homeschoolers should be identified for what they are: “rogue states” that do not deserve to be considered “civilized.” According to the world-renowned expert, who cited a wide array of human rights treaties and agreements, such regimes are violating some of the most fundamental internationally accepted human rights norms.
“We need to stand up for freedom everywhere,” Farris concluded, noting that the conference was held in Berlin partly for the symbolism — the wall coming down and the triumph of freedom — but also to draw attention to the German government’s outlandish violations of human rights. At its core, Farris added, the battle over home education is really a conflict between liberty and socialism, which are inherently incompatible. Liberty must win out.
Read more about Persecution Sparks Exodus, Homeschooling Around the World, The Future of Educational Freedom and The Berlin Declaration here: http://www.thenewamerican.com/culture/education/item/13805-homeschoolers-worldwide-join-forces
From the Smiths:
Updated 5 October 2012: One year on (Craig Smith’s Health) page 7 click here
Needing help for your home schooling journey:
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