The case against home-schooling

Two cases in the last month have brought Germany’s education policy under scrutiny. In the first, a family fled to America, sought asylum and were granted it by a Tennessee judge, because the parents wanted to home-school their children. The second is much the same, but it strikes closer to home: after fleeing Germany for Denmark, a family ended up in Canada because Germany doesn’t allow home-schooling. This past Tuesday, the family went before the Alberta Immigration and Refugee Board to plead their case.

Seldom does a developed country have to decide to give asylum to people from another developed country. Germany isn’t a cultural backwater where people are denied basic human rights, but the lawyer for the Alberta family is arguing that in this case rights are being denied. Parents, the argument goes, have a right to raise their children how they see fit. If the parents decide that the educational system is inappropriate for their children, then they should have the right to educate them themselves.

The majority of websites promoting home-schooling do so for religious reasons. In both of the German families they felt that the education the children were receiving was lacking Christian values. Statistics on the reasons most parents choose home-schooling are hard to come by, but a large majority of the people I have met who were home-schooled were, at least in part, so taught because the traditional education system is absent of religious instruction. The family in Alberta has a more complex case; two of the children have medical conditions that a regular school would not be able to accommodate and the third was removed from school because the other students were setting a bad example.

Human rights do not allow parents to indoctrinate their children. The concern with home-schooling is that, even with a state-sponsored curriculum, it’s much harder to determine what the children are being taught. One goal of the public education system is for children to frame their own opinions about issues; another is that they should be presented with a number of different opinions. All people should be able to determine their own conception of the good later in life. If one is brought up so that possibility is minimized, then it is the child’s right, not the parents’, that has been violated.

Citing a lack of religious values at school is tantamount to stating that children should only be presented with religious values: nothing about the German system prevents parents from teaching their children about God outside of the classroom. The same can be said for the unruly behaviour the one parent claims occurred. The behaviour isn’t clearly defined, but if it involved drugs, sex, or evolution, then that isn’t a good reason.

What about cases where a child has special needs, like in the case of the two children mentioned? It’s more complex, but why should both necessities — healthcare and education — be deferred to a parent who has training in neither? The grounds that the parents have to claim that a special needs program couldn’t do a better job is lacking; it makes it more questionable that their healthy child was unsuited for the public school system as well.

In many cases the value that children gain from a public education are not the things explicitly taught in the classroom (although learning the truth about our origins is). Learning how to interact with children who have a different ethnicity, religion, gender affiliation or sexual preference can be classed within this other curriculum. The values are picked up in a diverse classroom, not necessarily from what the teacher is saying. Learning about these different views is no less important for a democratic society to function than learning about math or social studies.

For children who have special needs, medical professionals should determine how those needs are best met. Otherwise, there should be one school system for all. No faith schools, no Catholic school board and no home-schooling. A world religions class could teach children enough of what they need to know about religions (which would foster acceptance) without the indoctrination.

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