In March 2003, Home School Legal Defense Association alerted its members to the plight of six small-town families arrested for homeschooling. At first glance, this may have seemed unusual. Are families actually arrested for homeschooling anymore? While it is almost unheard of for parents to be arrested for educating their children at home in the United States, it is occurring with increasing frequency in other countries around the world as more parents choose to teach their own children.
The six families in question live in Ukraine. Word reached Home School Legal Defense Association through a Russian missionary that legal proceedings were underway to deprive these families of their parental rights and remove their children from their homes. Ironically, the law in Ukraine, a country controlled until recently by the communist Soviet Union, allows for homeschooling. Yet local officials in the Kaliya region of Ukraine were prosecuting homeschoolers anyway.
These Ukrainian families were eventually allowed to continue homeschooling in peace, due in large part to the outcry from HSLDA members in the United States. This situation is a prime example of how homeschooling is growing around the world, and how homeschoolers in the United States can help spread educational freedom and parents' rights.
Homeschooling goes global
It is clear that home education is no longer just an American phenomenon. For years now, HSLDA has watched homeschooling spread well beyond the borders of the United States. In Canada, homeschooling took off in the 1980s almost as soon as it did in America. Then other Western nations, such as Australia, New Zealand, England, and South Africa, caught on to the idea.
"Our involvement internationally started with inquiries from homeschoolers moving out of the United States," says Michael Smith, president of HSLDA. "As time went on, however, we began to get requests for help from citizens of other countries where homeschooling was illegal."
American missionaries and military families who homeschool introduced many in other countries to home education. Parents around the world were beginning to react to the problems of institutionalized government-run schools. Soon more of Europe and parts of Asia began to see parents looking into home education. They contacted HSLDA to find out what had happened in the United States and to get ideas for their own legal and grassroots strategies to legalize homeschooling.
"It was exciting for us [HSLDA] to be the ones they were contacting for help," says Chris Klicka, HSLDA's attorney who now handles international contacts.
In addition, the advent of the World Wide Web facilitated the flow of information about homeschooling. Over the internet, parents in other countries could easily discover an array of information on the success of homeschooling.
The fights for freedom
In the early 1990s, HSLDA began studying international home education. In addition to becoming a clearinghouse for information, helping draft laws, and advising government officials and homeschool leaders in other countries, HSLDA began to encourage American homeschoolers to help by sending out national alerts asking them to contact foreign embassies and parliaments. This involvement by the United States has had significant impact.
>> In South Africa, two homeschooling parents were freed from prison. Eventually, home education was legalized after U.S. homeschoolers flooded the South African embassy with phone calls.
>> In Germany, a 1998 case against a homeschooling family was dropped within three weeks after thousands of calls were made to the German embassy. Another case decided in a homeschooling family's favor this year became the first formal recognition of the validity of homeschooling in Germany.
>> Legislation in Ireland that would have enforced a draconian home visit policy was defeated after U.S. homeschoolers contacted the Irish embassy to protest. HSLDA also worked with the parliament in Ireland to craft a bill that was less restrictive on homeschoolers.
>> When the parliament of the Czech Republic introduced a bill that would have made it nearly impossible to homeschool, over 170,000 emails were delivered by U.S. homeschoolers, shutting down the parliament email servers and starting a campaign that defeated the legislation.
Understanding the legal climates
Despite these successes, not every political battle has been won for homeschoolers in other countries. Americans have tried without success to help homeschoolers in Brazil gain legal status for homeschooling.
"The Higher Court of Justice in Brazil has declared that there are no laws giving parents the right to replace approved teachers," according to Julio Severo, a Brazilian journalist who assists the homeschoolers there. "The Court has opined that the only role of parents is to help their children in the education they receive in the institutional schools."
Homeschooling has made great strides around the world, yet many homeschoolers in other countries face difficulties unknown to American homeschoolers.
"In the United States," says Mike Smith, "the 9th Amendment to the Constitution says that if the government has not made an activity legal-or illegal-it is presumed the activity is legal. In many other countries, if there is not a law allowing something, it's often forbidden. This can apply to homeschooling."
In addition, very few countries around the world have the long-standing legal tradition that parents have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing of their children. "Precedents in favor of parents' rights support the legal right to homeschool in the United States. Many other countries do not enjoy such precedents," says Smith.
One such area of the world is Eastern Europe, where most of the nations still suffer from the ravages of communism. Despite the odds against them, several fledgling homeschool movements have emerged in this region. In recent months HSLDA has assisted homeschool groups not only in Ukraine and the Czech Republic, but also in Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and Poland. These groups are working hard to get homeschooling laws passed in their own countries.
Learning from other cultures
While homeschoolers around the world are discovering how our nation has won the freedom to home educate, families in the United States can learn much from how other cultures approach homeschooling.
In Japan, the success of homeschoolers has caught the attention of the business community. Many businessmen in that country are looking for ways to assist Japan's homeschooling movement, which now numbers approximately 2500 families. Japanese corporations no longer want "factory workers"; they want graduates with ingenuity, creativity, and independent thinking. Homeschoolers in America should be looking for ways they can encourage businesses in the United States to do the same.
Craig Smith, a homeschool leader from New Zealand, suggests other areas in which U.S. homeschoolers can learn from their foreign counterparts. "I often think we New Zealanders could show you folks in the United States how not to be so tied to rigid and expensive curriculum programs . . . and commercialized traditions such as graduation ceremonies."
That is the gift of homeschooling expanding across the globe-from innovative business partnerships modeled by the Japanese to frank observations from our Kiwi friends: American homeschoolers can be challenged to continue grow and explore, making homeschooling better than ever.
But for homeschoolers in places like Brazil, Bulgaria, Romania, and Spain, who are fighting for basic parental rights and educational choice, there has not yet been time to see how their cultures' homeschooling movements will develop. "HSLDA remains committed to advancing homeschooling in other countries, through supporting individual families and encouraging foreign governments to look favorably on homeschooling," says Mike Smith. "Freedom requires sacrifice and effort, but we are confident that the reward will be great. And we believe that these families-and nations-will reap the benefits for many generations to come."
Stephen McGarvey is the Editor of Interactive Media for Prison Fellowship's Wilberforce Forum. He is a homeschooled graduate who formerly served as an assistant editor in HSLDA's Communications Department.
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