Monday, March 1, 2010

We, their children

If you've been following the story of the German homeschooling family seeking asylum in the United States so they can continue to teach their children at home without fear of harassment by their government, you probably were as encouraged as I was by this development:

The reasoning behind the German law, cited by officials and in court cases, is to foster social integration, ensure exposure to people from different backgrounds and prevent what some call “parallel societies.”

“We have had this legal basis ever since the state was founded,” said Thomas Hilsenbeck, a spokesman for the Ministry for Culture, Youth and Sport in the Romeikes’ state, Baden-W├╝rttemberg. “This is broadly accepted among the general public.”

The family has been here for some time, having left Germany in 2008. But it was not until Jan. 26 that a federal immigration judge in Memphis granted them political asylum, ruling that they had a reasonable fear of persecution for their beliefs if they returned.

In a harshly worded decision, the judge, Lawrence O. Burman, denounced the German policy, calling it “utterly repellent to everything we believe as Americans,” and expressed shock at the heavy fines and other penalties the government has levied on home-schooling parents, including taking custody of their children.

Describing home-schoolers as a distinct group of people who have a “principled opposition to government policy,” he ruled that the Romeikes would face persecution both because of their religious beliefs and because they were “members of a particular social group,” two standards for granting asylum.

As a homeschooling mom, I think this decision is a good thing. People whose religious beliefs are being actively undermined by the so-called "neutral" secular state via government schools and by the encroaching of that secular state into religious schools as well have legitimate reasons to seek alternative methods of education. When not only the state schools, but all schools that are legally allowed to operate (e.g., all schools), attack parental rights, childhood innocence, religious beliefs, moral teachings, and other key aspects of a child's upbringing then the compact between the state and the parent for the state to take over some part of the parent's teaching role is irreparably broken. And when the state uses its corporate power to punish parents who wish to withdraw from this broken compact, you have the beginnings of a totalitarian reality in the realm of education.

Which is why I couldn't disagree more with Mark Krikorian's take on this:

The NY Times writes about a family from Germany which has received asylum in the U.S. because homeschooling is prohibited in their country. This is yet another example of misuse of asylum, as we see our domestic culture wars bleed over into asylum policy; first it was feminists and homosexual-rights campaigners, then disabilities-rights activists, and now homeschoolers.

What we're not doing well is drawing the distinction between governmental or social practices that we disapprove of, on the one hand, and conduct so abhorrent that it creates special immigration rights for people who have no other options. Germany's ban on homeschooling is indeed stupid, but there are two factors weighing on the other side: First, Germany's a democracy and if the stupid laws of every democracy are a cause for asylum, then we're in trouble. In France, after all, you can't (or couldn't) work more than 35 hours a week — are we going to grant asylum to Frenchmen seeking overtime? Or how about the English butcher who couldn't sell his meat in pounds rather than kilos?

Krikorian's comparison between homeschooling parents and a French worker or English butcher doesn't hold up at all. The Frenchman can, at worst, lose his job, or the Englishman his business--but the German homeschooling parents face the real prospect of losing their children to the state if they refuse to permit the state to, in their view, damage the souls of their children.

The right of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their own children is a fundamental human right, one which precedes the existence of the state. Children are not the property of any state to do with as they like--we would find such an idea abhorrent. Yet that is the reality that many parents around the world are now facing, that the modern secular state sees children as individuals primarily belonging to wider society, and only secondarily and incidentally connected to their blood-relatives at all.

The parent who believes that he stands before God charged with the moral education of his children can't simply hand them over to the corrupting influence of the modern secular school with an unconcerned shrug; he believes that he will be asked to give an account of himself before the Almighty someday, and that the decisions he made in regard to his children's upbringing will be among the many topics of that conversation. It is one thing (though, in my view, a lamentable thing) that the secular state has decided that such deeply-held and ancient religious beliefs are so much airy nonsense not worth a moment's consideration; it is quite another for the state to, in effect, forbid parents to act on beliefs like these.

I hope the Romeikes' ability to stay in America will not be overturned on an appeal from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office. Their quest to be able to teach their children according to their own beliefs, after all, has parallels to the situations of many of our ancestors, who came to America fleeing religious persecution, and wanted only to be able to raise and educate their children according to their own deeply-held religious principles. They, too, were facing hostility and oppression in their home countries. They, too, were breaking the law if they sought to teach their children their faith. But they had the courage to come here and start anew, and we, their children, would be remiss to turn up our noses at families facing a surprisingly similar crisis in our modern age.


Siarlys Jenkins said...

My father taught chenistry all his life, and one of the best things my parents did for me was to settle in a neighborhood in a far corner of town, where my playmates and acquaintances were NOT limited to kids whose parents worked at the college or other nearby institutes. I have a lot of sympathy for the notion that public schools, like the U.S. Army during World War II, mix everyone up so we all learn that there are lots of people in our very own community who do NOT think like us.

The problem is when school administrators then try to take all these diverse children from diverse backgrounds (my elementary school was plenty diverse without race even being a factor), and make them conform to a single vision of how everyone should think. That defeats the entire purpose. It is a delicate balancing act to define some basic standards of behavior and mutual respect, without trampling on matters of individual conscience and family tradition, but its not impossible.

Home schooling is a conundrum. I've had some good friends who practiced it. It can be a perfectly good thing. Frankly, I think children raised in churches who somehow find in Genesis a literal six-day creation some 5000 years or so ago need to hear science taught by science teachers in biology classes, without having to make a confession of faith in order to get an A -- and having heard that, if they choose to reject the truth of it, that's their choice. But they should hear it for what it is.

Now when advocacy groups start advocating that schools should treat ten year olds as "sexual beings" to compensate for the lamentable failure of Roman Catholic, WELS, Muslim, and Orthodox Jewish parents to hand out condoms to their little girls... that is powerful motivation to withdraw the children. On the other hand, if enough voting parents objected, it should be possible to induce the "experts" to back off.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, my father taught science and physical education in the public school system and encouraged use of the maximal tax-payer benefits for enrollment for all his more than half a dozen kids; every club (debate, art, literature, movie making, etc.), music--all either in orchestra or voice, sports from running, track, skiing, skating, wrestling, etc., foreign language study, volunteering opportunities, paper delivery routes, babysitting, helping teach catechism, Girl and Boy Scouts, Honor Society, you name it, as well as home gardening, fishing, hunting, etc.. This promoted mental/spiritual/physical development and growth, and involvement in the community. Not all families have the wherewithal to live a frugal life with a large family in which father brings home the limited paycheck of a public schoolteacher once a month and mother is in charge of organizing home life to a major extent.

The issue that seems to stand out inherently wrong is that children might be removed from the home if not involved in the educational system. My response? What about kids enrolled in other educational venues? Surely, there were private schools, tutors, or alternatives, that the parents really did not have a choice only between public school enrollment and children removal from the home?

With experience of childhood pitted against the experience of enrolling children in school for the past 20 years, due to the public school choices based on where we lived, and we based our residence on proximity to a chosen public school systems, I have never felt a compelling reason to home-school (one time I wanted to move out of the school district due the poor quality of teaching and classroom resources), mainly because my kids were so curious and interested in diverse topics, that I could not access adequate informational resources outside a public school without enrollment in the university. But, as parents in this school system, we were always welcomed to participate in classroom activities and we did, and if there had been ANY impropriety we parents would have set up a ruckus to reach the State Supreme Court!


Anonymous said...

The problem is not creationism vs. evolution, the problem is not sex education either, nor is it which system of education children participate in.

The problem is that of freedom!

I as a parent have the right and the freedom to raise my child the way I see fit.
And if I believe that my child is best served in a public school, private school, distant school or home school I have the freedom of choice! The state has no right to infringe upon my right as a parent towards my child.

The argument of parallel societies is nonsense. They already have parallel societies over there; consider the huge Muslim population, or the former Eastern German population, or those who have successfully be granted asylum from war-torn European neighbors, .... just to name a few. The issue really is that of "the lowest common denominator". It just cannot be that there are some students who excel in their environment, who are being taught principles, morals, virtues, faith - no, every body has to be the same.

I am from Germany, living in the US, and for one who has tasted the USA-type of freedom for 13 years, the concept of freedom they have in Germany is incompatible. "Vater Staat" is indeed considered to be all-knowing, all-wise, the protector and the provider of all.


Red Cardigan said...

Siarlys, I haven't had time to get out here sooner, but I really liked what you had to say. Your second paragraph is exactly right--you've nailed the essence of the problem, that the only diversity not really respected is the diversity of ideas and beliefs. Excellent comment!

Mum 26, it's so interesting to hear from someone who is from Germany on this issue. What you have to say about freedom and our countries' different ideas about it may be at the heart of the U.S. judge's opinion, in the end.

Anonymous said...

" .... the only diversity not really respected is the diversity of ideas and beliefs......"


True freedom breeds diversity. For Christians freedom is one of the most precious concepts as our freedom comes from God. This freedom practiced properly will have as one of its beautiful side effects smaller government and less government intervention in private affairs.

In societies that become increasingly socialist / communist that freedom slowly but surely goes out the window. Now you have government messing around in our private lives destroying above mentioned diversity of ideas and beliefs.


Siarlys Jenkins said...

In America, two of the really critical Supreme Court cases concerning the rights of parents to control their children's education involved,

(a) a Nebraska law forbidding the teaching of the German language, and,

(b) an Oregon law requiring all children to attend public schools (a law written with the specific attempt of NOT allowing religious parochial schools).

In both cases, the Supreme Court struck down the state laws. In the latter case, the court said the state may set educational standards, which would apply to all schools, but could not forbid parents the choice of a religious school which met those standards. (This is the case which gave us the statement that children are not "mere creatures of the state.") I recently read that Marquette University first opened its doors to women, when the nuns teaching in Milwaukee's Catholic schools needed classroom credits to meet enhanced state educational certification requirements.

I believe the German family objected to some of the standards imposed on ALL schools, including private ones. German schools do retain some sense that children ARE, in part, creatures of the state, not merely of their parents. It is a different tradition and jurisprudence. There are whole churches in America founded by people who fled from the way the German state directed their churches back home.

Whether the USA should establish that as a basis to flee here for political asylum is another question. I'm not sure where we should draw the line on what sort of difference amounts to a basis for asylum.

Rebecca said...

I'm not sure whether I'm more frightened by Germany, or by Americans who are saying "what's the big deal" about this case. The thought that a state might insist that I *must* send my children away from me for the greater part of their waking hours, whether to public or private school, is horrifying to me. The right of parents to be in charge of their children's education--including where and how, and with whom, they pursue it--is a basic human right. The fact that so many American's don't have a strong sense of this any longer just isn't good.

Anonymous said...

It is good then, that I am not in Nebraska, eh, as all my children are bi-lingual. ;-))

The terminology " children are / are not creatures of the state" totally rubs me the wrong way.
Aren't we creatures of God?

How can any government claim that children are creatures of the state?
I think, they can and they do when government takes the place of God........

Yes, I can confirm that not only German schools, but the entire German nation submits to almighty "Vater Staat", i.e. the people are there for the state not the state for the people. This is directly contradictory to "We the People,....."