Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Should Homeschooling Be a Civil Right?

It might strike the casual observer as odd that the same people who generally oppose Obamacare are hoping a German family can claim political asylum here so they can homeschool.

Because in both arguments, the issues boil down to civil rights.  And specifically, what are our civil rights?

As much as we'd like to hope healthcare access and costs are fair, most conservatives and evangelicals have come to admit that healthcare is not a civil right.  With this German homeschooling family's asylum petition, however, some conservative evangelicals say a parent's ability to keep their children out of public school is. 

Uwe and Hannelore Romeike are evangelical Christians from the German state of Baden-W├╝rttemberg, where a Nazi-era law prohibits them from educating their six children at home.

The Romeike family
Currently, the Romeikes are living in Tennessee, while they seek refugee status from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  The family is being represented by the conservative Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), and supported in part by Tennessee's robust homeschooling community.  Meanwhile, both the Obama administration's Department of Homeland Security and Board of Immigration Appeals say that homeschooling is not a civil right eligible for classification as asylum criteria.

So far, the Romeikes appear to be losing their fight.  Although they've been granted temporary asylum pending the outcome of their case, the 6th Circuit will likely issue their ruling before this coming May, and it sounds like the HSLDA is trying to drum up support in anticipation of a disappointing result.  World Magazine quotes an HSLDA lawyer as warning that, in the Romeike case, "something important is being said about our own liberties as American homeschoolers."

But is it?

And if so, what is it that's being said?

Teach Your Children Well

First of all, the Romeikes are German citizens, not Americans.  No American is being threatened with deportation or denial of residency in the United States because of their desire to homeschool their children.  Granted, a legal precedent could be set in this case even if the courts determine that homeschooling is not a civil right, if that homeschooling is done with a view towards concentrating on a religion-based curriculum.  Which, in and of itself, would be a worthy case to try, if those rights were being threatened here in the United States, which they're not.

Nobody can dispute that evangelical Christianity is unpopular in Germany, and even Germany's press has been ambivalent about the abuse and bullying the Romeike children likely experienced in German public schools.  It's also hardly debatable that Germany's curriculum standards weigh disproportionately towards a humanistic ideology, rather than a Christ-centered one.  For a family like the Romeikes to have theological problems with both the content and attitude of Germany's public education system shouldn't be surprising.

But are German officials saying parents can't abrogate at home the parts of public school doctrine with which they disagree?  Granted, it sounds a bit totalitarian to us Americans when a government tells parents their kids must attend school, or must get inoculations, or whatever.  But the German government isn't telling parents that they can't override what is taught in school with their own faith.

For example, teaching children that "2+2 = 4" is not a moral conundrum.  However, teaching children than "male+male = marriage" is.  Yet, don't plenty of American parents have to de-program their kids at home after similar lessons are taught here?  Mine did, but it wasn't some dramatic process.  Plus, it helps train you for later in life, when you're faced with all sorts of compromising situations and your parents aren't there to hand-hold you through them.

And speaking of drama, how many American kids are bullied for all sorts of reasons?  Wouldn't physical and emotional abuse of schoolchildren be something all parents have to deal with on issues ranging from national origin, ethnicity, hair color, stature, weight, and other religious affiliations other than Christianity?

Remember, it's not just we Christians who experience persecution around the world.

And speaking of persecution, how is pulling one's kids out of school over ideological differences the same as being held in a government prison for sharing one's faith?  Might this battle risk marginalizing the genuine persecution more conventional martyrs have suffered for their faith?  Faith in homeschooling isn't the same as faith in Christ, is it?  And if one holds more faith in homeschooling than in Christ's ability to override what one's kids are being taught in public school, then who's got the real problem here?

And doesn't our government have the obligation to balance the desires of a German homeschooling family against the imminent peril of people across the globe suffering directly for their faith?

Is the United States prepared for the flood of asylum seekers from across the globe who could point to hardships they encounter by homeschooling? After all, homeschooling isn't even a religious-rights issue.  Not everyone who homeschools is an evangelical, or even religious; some are anarchists, while others have legitimate beefs about the quality of public education that have nothing to do with religion.  With its atrocious World War II record, during which Adolph Hitler imposed mandatory public school attendance to force-feed youngsters with his systematic bigotry, perhaps Germany is today afraid that if they don't force kids to attend public schools, where the war is now taught correctly, that neo-Nazi parents could subversively indoctrinate them in Hitler-esque propaganda.

And what about single parents in the United States, who, since they have no other spouse to act as breadwinner if they'd want to homeschool, have no choice but to send their kids to public school?  If the HSLDA wants our government to enshrine homeschooling as a civil right, what kind of provisions are they prepared to make for single-parent families?

After all, making homeschooling a civil right is what the HSLDA wants to do, if not in practice, at least in theory.  Extending the freedom of religion to include homeschooling is their tactic, and why they think the Obama administration's denial of asylum for the Romeike family would be tantamount to persecution.

Salt and Light and Reading and Writing and 'Rithmatic

But let's face it:  while we Americans enjoy many rights that people in other countries don't, not all of the rights we enjoy are intrinsic to our humanity.  If the Romeikes can prove they would be persecuted directly because of their faith in Christ if they returned to Germany, then we'd have a genuine civil rights case, and cause for a legitimate asylum application.  However, just because they'll have a harder time de-programming from their children the humanistic rot they believe German public schools teach, does that mean Christ hasn't placed them at this time and place in Germany to be His salt and light?

No, I'm not a parent, so I don't personally know what it's like to send kids to public schools, where much of the curriculum teaches things that run contrary to my faith.  But that's a struggle many evangelical parents already fight today, so are they stupid or lazy for not pressing our government to codify homeschooling as a civil right?  Because that's the impression this misguided advocacy by the HSLDA is giving.

Worse than any of this, however, are the ominous implications for all of us evangelicals represented by an HSLDA win.  If the Romeike's get to stay in America, it will be due in part to the court's affirmation that arbitrary educational standards for children can be intrinsically destructive, which is the corollary to what the HSLDA wants in the Romeike's amnesty case.  In other words, if the HSLDA can prove that one group can determine that the things another group teaches violates their civil rights, what's to say that left-wing liberals couldn't rise up here in America against, say, church-sponsored schools?  After all, we evangelicals have already been branded as purveyors of hate speech against many elements of our country's modern curriculum.  If we ourselves sponsor a certain type of education as a civil right, what type of legal Pandora's Box might that open for abuse against ourselves?

Indeed, as the HSLDA claims, "something important is being said about our own liberties."  Only homeschoolers don't seem to see the bigger picture.

If morality is what we're really talking about here, we need to remember that we can't always legislate it.  Morality and ethics come from what God places in our hearts.  To that extent, the Romeikes are already honoring God by wanting to instill His standards in the hearts of their kids.  And they'd like to enjoy the ability their American counterparts have in making that process easier by pulling their kids out of secular learning environments.

But should that be their absolute right?

Many things are right and good, including the option of homeschooling.  But that doesn't make them civil rights.


Update:  Oral arguments in this case have been scheduled for this coming April.


  1. I don’t think that homeschooling is a good idea or it should be a civil law. The best practice is to learn from schools.

  2. I think homeschooling is a great thing and been proven to be more effective than public schools. However, I agree that it doesn't rise to the level of civil right.

    I think Germany is wrong for not allowing them to homeschool, and I'd try the same thing if I was in their shoes, but I don't think it's going to work.


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