Is Homeschooling a Human Right?

ABCs

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on April 10, 2013.

If you are a parent, do you believe you have the right to decide how and where your child will be educated? This is an issue that has been brought up recently by a German family who was granted asylum in the U.S. in 2008 after being persecuted in their country for homeschooling, but now they are fighting deportation after that decision was overturned.

The Romeikes’ are an Evangelical Christian family who wants to homeschool their six children, but German law prohibits homeschooling. They have been charged with $9,000 in fines, and at one point authorities came to their home to forcibly take their children to public school.

On February 11, 2013, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) posted a news release by Michael Farris, J.D., LL.M., HSLDA Founder and Chairman, titled “German Homeschool Case May Impact U.S. Homeschool Freedom,” and since that time, many offshoots of that article have made it into (mostly) conservative news media outlets.

The HSLDA is a nonprofit organization that defends homeschoolers’ rights and family freedoms. It’s a very conservative organization, and not all homeschoolers agree with every stance they take, but they have done a lot of work to defend the rights of many homeschoolers.

Their news release states, “The U.S. law of asylum allows a refugee to stay in the United States permanently if he can show that he is being persecuted for one of several specific reasons. Among these are persecution for religious reasons and persecution of a ‘particular social group.’”

Later, Farris writes, “But my goal today is to not belabor the nature of German repression of homeschooling; rather I seek to reveal the view of the United States government to all of this.” He says that while the U.S. argued many things in their brief, there were three specific arguments we should know about.

  1. No one’s rights were violated because the German law bans homeschooling for everybody and not for select people.
  2. The Romeikes’ case failed to show that there was discrimination based on religion because they couldn’t prove that all homeschoolers were Christian or that all Christian homeschoolers believe they have to homeschool.
  3. The U.S. government says that Germany’s ban on homeschooling does not meet the standard of belonging to a particular social group because the family can stop homeschooling and put their kids into public school at any time.

Farris concludes his press release by stating, “When the United States government says that homeschooling is a mutable choice—they are saying that it is a characteristic that a government can legitimately coerce you to change. In other words, you have no protected right to choose the education for your children.”

In an article on ABCnews.go.com titled, “Home Schooling German Family Fights Deportation” writer Ben Waldron got a quote from Karla McKanders, an asylum and refugee law specialist at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Among other things she says “that immigration officials may be wary of setting a precedent that establishes homeschooling as a means for asylum. ‘They don’t want to open up the floodgates for similar asylum claims based on these grounds,’ she said.”

An article in the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail quotes Christopher Bentley, a spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is an arm of the Department of Homeland Security.  He said he could not talk about any specific asylum case, but that the basis for any asylum grant is that “They have to claim that their government can’t protect them from persecution because they’re part of a specific group.” Are homeschoolers a specific group? That’s a hard one.

Of course, I hate to see this family forced to return home to exorbitant fines, prosecution and to possibly have their children removed from their custody. Every parent has the right to educate their children as they see fit whether or not I agree with how or what they teach.

But the greater question here is what Farris and many other media outlets claim to be a threat to our American rights to choose the education of our children. Is this case telling us that we should be concerned that our rights could be taken away? I would be curious to hear from a variety of homeschoolers. What do you think?

Note: If you’re interested in helping the Romeike family, the HSLDA has started a White House petition to stop their deportation. They need 100,000 signatures by April 18th in order to get a response from the White House. You can find out how to do that here: http://www.hslda.org/legal/cases/romeike/petition.asp

[They received the 100,000 signatures that they needed yesterday! Read more here.]

And I do hope you’ll comment here and share this with other homeschoolers. I really want to hear from a variety of homeschoolers.

17 thoughts on “Is Homeschooling a Human Right?

  1. My thinking is this: if my daughter was being bullied, had special educational needs, had a terrible teacher/atmosphere/classroom, or was going to a failing school, I’d want the option to homeschool. I wouldn’t believe it right for the government to say they know better than a child’s mother or father. So, I guess, yes, I do believe it is a right as a parent. However, I certainly believe it is reasonable for the government to hold homeschooling families to some sort of standard, or to have requirements to ensure that kids are actually learning at home.

    Like

  2. Me too, Kim. But my question is: do you think this case should make us worried that the U.S. government does not think it is our right to homeschool? What do you think? Thanks!

    Like

  3. This case frightens me, as a mom who worked in the public schools, as my children attended them for many years, and has now chosen to bring them home/out into the world for the remainder of their school age years. I don’t know enough about it to speculate, but I want to think that we will not be forced to put our children into public schools here.

    Like

  4. I don’t think this case should make us worried that U.S. government is going to try to make homeschooling in the U.S illegal, and I think it is alarmist to try to make it into that. Just because the government doesn’t grant political asylum to homeschooling Germans, does not mean that they are going to make it illegal for U.S. citizens to homeschool their own children. I may go so far to call it an invidious comparison.

    Like

  5. JenRay hit the nail on the head.

    First, it has no implication for our rights. It is a case within the soverign political entity of Germany, where the Romeikes originally purposefully moved, knowing that homeschooling is (mostly) illegal there. It became a US case only in the context of whether or not they qualify for political asylum here because they were persecuted, not prosecuted, in Germany. The European courts have previously upheld the laws of several European countries which outlaw homeschooling. Within German law, the Romeikes were not singled out, abusively treated, or treated differently than everyone else. Therefore, IMO, they have no legal case for seeking political asylum.

    They’re free to seek admission to this country, or any other country which allows homeschooling, under the standard procedures of that country. What’s going on here is that the HSLDA sought out this family and purposefully brought them here to spread fear among U.S. homeschoolers and ask for money for their organization, which does NOT support homeschooling in general but only radical fundamentalist Christian school-at-home homeschooling. IMO, the HSLDA has done more to damage homeschooling in the U.S.than any German law could ever possibly do.

    P.S. We are radical unschoolers and have been for many years, although our girls are now both attending college. I generally support any family that wants to homeschool and we’re pretty generally free to do that in the U.S. although specifics vary by state. This case has NOTHING to do with U.S. homeschooling, it’s merely an(other) HSLDA fundraiser.

    Like

  6. Yes, I agree with the other comments that this has nothing to do with a legal US citizen’s right to homeschool. When I first heard this case, I did think, “oh, there has to be more to the story than this.” Seems there is. I do not know much about the HSLDA, but most of what I do know is not good, IMO. My second thought was, “why did this family continue to live in and break the law in their country?” I know many people who have legally moved from one country to another for many reasons and this family was also free to do it legally I presume, but did not until they were in real trouble. I have little patience for people who break laws when there are viable alternatives. That said I do think homeschooling should be a right, but it is in our country, and elsewhere, and I do not feel that public school is so violating that we need to be giving asylum to escape it.

    Like

    1. Thanks for your comment, Peggy! My first impression was the same as yours: there has to be more to this story. Like you, I don’t know enough about the HSLDA to comment on it, though I’ve heard criticisms of that organization. All I knew was that this story kept being reported in very conservative media outlets. The quotes I gave from ABC and Daily Mail seemed to at least offer some insight to the other side. I’m always inclined to think that “the truth lies somewhere in the middle,” although I was only hearing from the far right. This is why I wrote the column and posed the question because I want to hear from more points of view. I, too, don’t see our rights here in the U.S. being revoked, although it never hurts to stay informed either.

      Like

  7. I would certainly dislike being forced to send my kids to school, however I don’t see how anyone could stop me from teaching them things as I see fit when they are home. Do I think homeschooling is a human right? Well I think education is a human right, not necessarily homeschooling, though I would fight hard to protect it. I don’t know much about this particular case, but I don’t think that political asylum fits here.

    Like

    1. Thanks for your comment, Sarah! Yes, I think saying “homeschooling is a human right” doesn’t sound quite right, but I do think that parents have the right to choose the education path that is best for their child. Completely agree with you that education is a human right.

      Like

  8. Thank you, everyone, for your comments. I think you all have good points. It’s been interesting to see how an organization with a specific agenda can stir up the media with their slant on a message and cause fear in people.

    Like

I would love to hear your thoughts. I can't always respond to every comment, but I read and appreciate every one. You do not need to leave a name or e-mail, but unless you have left a message before, I will have to approve it before you see it here.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s