EDUCATION ON THE HOME FRONT: The European Union and Home Education

Record: Colin Koons, “Education on the Home Front: Home Education in the European Union and the Need for Unified European Policy.” Indiana International and Comparative Law Review, 20, no. 1 (2010): 145-174.

Summary: Koons, a recent graduate from Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis, here explains the diversity of home education law in various European countries and tries to figure out what the European Union’s legal parameters would be for the practice.

He begins by laying out Amanda Petrie’s three categories of home education law in Europe.  First are the countries that have always accommodated home education, though with some regulation.  England, Ireland, and France are examples.  Second are countries that historically have not allowed it but have in recent times become more accepting, though they have very heavy regulation.  Hungary is an example.  Finally are countries where home education is generally not permitted.  Germany is the example given here.

Koons explains how German law doesn’t absolutely require that home education is illegal, but it is effectively banned.  Koons gives several examples of home educating families being fined or having their children removed for doing it.

England, on the other hand, has a vibrant and growing home education population, though there are forces in British government seeking to restrict the practice.  He describes how large percentages of British home educators do so out of frustration with industrial schooling, and how, according to Paula Rothermel, only about 4% do so for religious reasons.

So how could a Europe-wide policy harmonize these disparate views of state vs. parent rights?  Koons explains how it all hangs on the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights, the treaty describing the fundamental freedoms and rights respected by the 47 member states of of the Council of Europe.

Article 2 of the Convention’s First Protocol reads,

No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.

Several German parents have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that Germany’s policy violates this statute.  In 2006 the Court ruled in Konrad and Others v. Germany against some of these families, citing a worry that home education would lead to the creation of separatist, parallel societies.  Koons notes that in this decision the Court equated “education” with “schooling.”  He worries that this line of reasoning could threaten the freedoms home educators currently enjoy in home education-friendly countries.

On the other hand, there is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948.  It mandates compulsory education, but also specifies that “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their child.”  This language has recently been interpreted to allow for home education.

Since 1993 when the European Union was formed, all the countries that are part of it are supposed to have been abiding by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Thus we have a fundamental inconsistency.  Furthermore, the European Union’s treaties guarantee that all European citizens have economic rights, rights which Koons claims have been violated in Germany when their home education policies forced several German citizens to flee at great financial cost.

Koons concludes by recommending that the European Union would do well to be friendly to home education.  He makes a case for the positive political and social benefits home education would bring.  Here his text sounds many of the same notes Americans have been playing for decades, arguing that home education does not equal bad socialization, and that there’s plenty of negative socialization going on in government schools.  His discussion here draws on much of the best normative literature to come out of Europe of late and as such would be a great primer for those interested in such issues.

Appraisal: What I just said of this last section applies to the entire article.  It’s a clear, expert summary of most of the key issues and the important literature pertaining to home education law in Europe.  There are a couple of themes I wish Koons had discussed that didn’t show up, however:

First, does the growing Islamic presence in Europe play a role in any of this?  Could this be at least one reason why so many Europeans worry that home education threatens social cohesion?  Second, as I understand it the European Union is currently under severe strain as countries with successful economies grow increasingly restless about propping up those whose economies are on the verge of collapse.  Koons writes as if the European Union’s future is certain and that Europe is moving inexorably toward social unity.  What if it’s not?  What if the EU doesn’t make it?

Might Germany or England, either of whose current positions on homeschooling would potentially be threatened were some EU law to supersede national laws, see EU efforts to bring their national laws into conformity with the pan-European standard as just another excuse to secede from the EU rather than have their national sovereignty challenged in this domain?  Koons is essentially arguing for a one-size-fits all approach.  He just wants that approach to make space for home education.

Milton Gaither, Messiah College, author of Homeschool: An American History.

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