So I saw this story come across my feeds last week, about a German family who’ve won the right to stay in the United States because of their decision to home educate their children.
A US judge has granted political asylum to a German family who said they had fled the country to avoid persecution for home schooling their children.
In the first reported case of its kind, Tennessee immigration judge Lawrence Burman ruled that the family of seven have a legitimate fear of prosecution for their beliefs. Germany requires parents to enroll their children in school in most cases and has levied fines against those who educate their children at home.
So on the one hand, let me make it clear that I’m absolutely behind the idea that parents have the human right to determine the education of their children (see Article 26.3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). As long as the kids aren’t being abused — and I don’t believe the act of home educating alone constitutes abuse — than the reasons the parents choose to home educate are none of my beeswax. And I believe it’s wrong that school-based education is mandatory anywhere in the world.
However, I admit that my first reaction to this story was: aren’t there other people with more pressing need to escape human rights violations than a family from Europe who want to keep their children out of school? According to the Guardian story, there were over 40,000 applications for political asylum to the U.S. in 2008 and only one in four were granted. Surely some of those who were denied asylum were escaping horrors far worse than compulsory school-based education (and this is coming from someone with a confirmed allergy to institutional schooling).
The other thing that bugs me is the fact that the German family is identified in the story as Christians being “persecuted for their beliefs,” and were defended in court by a lawyer from the Home School Legal Defense Association, a conservative Christian organization. The founder of the HSLDA is also the founder of Patrick Henry College, a politically-conservative institution explicitly catering to Christian home-schooled teenagers who are interested in a career in politics. Patrick Henry College sent an unprecedented number of interns to the White House during the Bush administration, and involvement with a particular administration does not mean blanket approval of all of said administrations policies, I do not believe that the folks who support the HSLDA and Patrick Henry College are, say, big supporters of easing immigration restrictions generally. Would the HSLDA have been so quick to offer legal support to a Japanese family who practiced Shinto, or a Mexican family who Catholic, or a Scottish family who wanted to free range parent without reference to religion? I guess I’m just wondering how much this case of asylum is about education and how much it’s about the resonance of this particular family’s story with the story of many Euro-Americans (as well as the founding mythos of our nation as one established by Europeans fleeing religious persecution in their native land).