Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Homeschoolers vs. the European Union

Homeschooling vs. The European Union

Europeans who want to homeschool look to America as a place where it is legal to homeschool, and a place where homeschooling thrives. Certainly, horror stories are coming out of Europe (Germany, Belgium, Holland) about bans, crackdowns and prohibitions on homeschooling. A German federal court recently upheld the view that homeschooling constitutes child endangerment, leaving it possible for the state to deny custody to the parents of German homeschooling children, whether they are in Germany or not.

I suggested in my last blog that some homeschooling families have decided to make an issue of homeschooling, accounting for some of the publicity. However, another aspect of the problem is the fact that homeschooling and private education in general is not in accordance with European Union policy. An army of EU thinktanks is steadily marching forward with a 5-year plan (2007-2013) to “internationalize” education. These policy-making organizations claim to be concerned with freedom of education. However, the more important agenda is to “internationalize” by strengthening international networking in education throughout Europe, and carrying out such monumental tasks as “funding (of) trans-national projects” and supporting “large manifestations, studies, communication and information events which are able to reach a large audience (to) make Europe more concrete for its citizen,” as well as creating a new European Union citizen. (This appears in a document entitled “Mapping European Union Policy” published by the Socires organization, which describes itself as a private Christian initiative (see This policy document also goes on to state that the European Union contains no programs which are designed to strengthen civil society. Does this imply that internationalization does not strengthen civil society, or did I misread the text?

Here is a short list of some of the EU organizations promoting internationalization in education: The European Platform for Dutch Education ( in the Netherlands which claims it has a mandate to internationalize. Not surprisingly, it is in the Netherlands that census lists are compared to school lists to ensure compliance with compulsory schooling requirements. The European Platform in turn belongs to a “national agency” called Lifelong Learning Program (LLP) (formerly known as Socrates and Leonardo). According to the website this is also the “national support centre for the eTwinning programme” which is related to a program entitled “Europe as a learning environment in schools” (Elos). Other related organizations are the “Free program for catholic education…at a European level,” ( and The European Foundation for Freedom in Education, as well as BBO in the Netherlands. The website of BBO states that it is a private organization financed entirely through “commissions,” which “aims at impacting the whole process of policy making." An essential part of this strategy is the strengthening of the relations between civil society and the policy makers.” In addition, the European Council of National Associations of Independent Schools (ECNAIS) seeks to bring together independent schools of all faiths and confessions under its wing. Other organizations which would have on impact on education are, of course, the European Parliament and programs for creating “active European citizenship” such as “Europe for Citizens 2007-2013,” as well as the development of the European constitution.

What does the European Union’s constitution have to say about freedom of education? The European Union’s constitution promotes “freedom of education,” but it is a freedom of education that is given as a privilege by the EU government, and includes the privilege of receiving a “free compulsory education” and the privilege of founding private schools in accordance with national laws and policies. This would have to contrast with freedom as defined in the U.S. Constitution as an inalienable right, essentially a gift of God. Dr. Ron Paul mentions the importance of a constitution which specifically through the 10th amendment leaves all issues that aren’t the province of the federal government to be determined by individuals and states: "Amendment 10 - Powers of the States and People. Ratified 12/15/1791.The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

The European Constitution has not yet been ratified by European nations, but policy-makers are marching forward undeterred to submit a “Reformed” Constitution which would, according to the Wikipedia article I referenced, “superate” national laws, although technically not replacing them.
The word superate was new to me, so I looked it up in an online dictionary, but did not find it there. Further research showed me that the word derives from the Italian verb “superare” meaning to “overcome” and that it is sometimes in use in philosophy texts, for example, to mean “overcome” or “defeat.” The above-cited Socires article confirmed that even though the EU constitution has not yet been ratified by member states, it would still go into action as a kind of “soft law.” I also found the concept of a “soft law” unfamiliar.

In any case, the EU policy makers are to some extent succeeding in changing policy in Europe, and it is not clear to what extent national leaders are going along. In any case, some of the policies involve resistance to the rise of home and private education, and both lowering the age of compulsory school entrance, and sometimes raising the ages for leaving compulsory schooling. The Plan can be seen at work, for example, in Norway, where only 9 years of schooling had been required prior to 1997 (now it’s 10), and children started school at 7 (now at 6). In addition, the first year of Norwegian school is now to involve an integration of traditional play school with academic instruction, whereas previously it had been more of a traditional play-oriented kindergarden. Many rural and local schools in Norway have been closed, supposedly for economic reasons, forcing parents to send their children to centralized or urban schools farther from home (hence some of the interest in homeschooling, which has seen a 400% rise in Norway just in the last two years.)

We have seen developments like this in America as well, under Mike Huckabee’s 10-year governorship in Arkansas, for example, in which the compulsory school entrance age was lowered to age 6 and truancy laws were strengthened in such a way that more work was required to take one’s own child out of school. A number of states have considered legislation lowering school entrance age, and the prevailing long-term trends in elementary school and even pre-school education -- as promoted by various private initiatives calling themselves national organizations -- call for reduced play (in many cases minimal or no recess) and increasingly early work with letters and numbers, as well as, of course, general training in following orders.

The national laws themselves don’t seem to support these EU policies. Home education is still legal in nations throughout Europe. My research led me to a German homeschool information website updated in September of 2007 which documented laws pertaining to education in 16 countries. ( According to this information, homeschooling is not against the law in any of the 16 European countries under consideration, even in Germany. In a couple of cases, local authorities have jurisdiction, and in other cases the central government retains jurisdiction. Nevertheless, in no case, does the law actually forbid home education. In other words, the national laws go back to a recent time period in which home education was a private issue.

The fact that homeschooling is legal throughout Europe, while being stringently prohibited in places such as Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, suggests that European Union policy makers are working so fast it may not even be clear to anyone how much authority the local and national authorities have. In addition, local and national authorities haven’t even had a chance to develop a good game plan. A German spokesman’s much-publicized excuse for cracking down on a few harmless Baptist families is that the families by homeschooling threaten to constitute a “parallel society.” In view of the fact that 20% of Germany’s citizens are of non-German descent, a group including predominantly Turks and Poles, with 65% of the German population Christian and 4% practicing Islam, it’s hard to understand the concern with Christian parallel cultures unless a new “unity” is in the program.

Obviously, education is a crucial area within which a community, nation or union, develops attachment to its policies, programs and goals, and the EU policy makers have made their program clear. This program calls for internationalization under the wing of the EU, an emphasis on compulsory schooling, and a severe limitation of homeschooling. This appear to entail, as regards the child and the community, a reduced field for “play,” and increased emphasis on “early learning,” together with a weakening of family bonds, a weakening of national bonds, and a general weakening of civil society.

To what extent do European nations plan to go along with this program? Some commentators, such as former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, warn that the new co-operation of the European Union and European nations is a “shotgun marriage” (interview in The Brussels Journal, Mon. 2006-02-27 22:13). Is this the case? I don’t know the answer to this question, but I do think it’s useful to consider the European resistance to homeschooling, historically a harmless, private issue, in the context of European Union policy-making. This is a good explanation for why there is such interest in Ron Paul all over Europe – thanks to a new response to my last blog, you can see below some useful sources of information on the enthusiasm for Ron Paul in Europe, including the Strasbourg Tea Party!

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