There is still a little bit of freedom left in America. Or at least, that is the opinion of Uwe Romeike, who has sold all that he has to move his family from Germany to the United States, where he is currently seeking political asylum. “Political asylum?” you ask. “Isn't that for people being persecuted for religious or political beliefs?” Yes, it is, and the Romeike family believe that they are being persecuted for the crime of homeschooling their children. According to the Associated Press,
He had to pay fines equivalent to hundreds of dollars for his decision, and he's afraid that if he returns to Germany, police will arrest him and government authorities will take away his children, who range in age from 11 to 3.
When the Romeikes wouldn't comply with repeated orders to send the children to school, police came to their home one October morning in 2006 and took the children, crying and upset, to school. "We tried not to open the door, but they (police) kept ringing the doorbell for 15 or 20 minutes," Romeike said. "They called us by phone and spoke on the answering machine and said they would knock open the door if we didn't open it. So I opened it."
The complaints or the Romeike's about German education will be familiar to many Americans:
His oldest child, Daniel, had a health textbook that used slang terms to describe sexual relations - including the German equivalent of the "F-word." Other schoolbooks taught disrespect of authority figures and had images and tales about the occult, that included vampires and witches, Romeike said. "It's really different in public schools today than when I was in public school," Romeike said. "They (the state) believe children must be socialized and all kids must grow up the same and act the same, otherwise they wouldn't fit in society."
The case brings up an interesting question: do children belong to the parents or the state? Germany wishes to socialize the Romeike's children. This is not a bad goal. But in a culture like ours (and Germany's) that constantly preaches “multi-culturalism,” it is somewhat disappointing to see that some cultures don't qualify, and particularly the evangelical culture of the Romeikes. It is true that children are, in a sense, a “public” resource. After all, the future of any nation depends on children and the quality of their upbringing. But they are a public resource only by way of being a family resource. Most assuredly, the state and and should intervene when the family structure breaks down and the children are in danger, but homeschooling does not qualify. Indeed, the best evidence is that home-schooled children are not only better educated, they are better socialized.
We have placed a lot of emphasis on compulsory education, and given the state a virtual monopoly on that education. Certainly the public schools have a monopoly on public funding for education. Yet the results are doubtful. Worse, we are developing—have developed—a two-tier system, where the children of the middle-class and rich get an education—more or less—while the poor send their children to schools that are little more than poorly-run warehouses that keep the children off the streets for eight hours a day so the parents can go to work. No blog can adequately list the problems associated with these schools, and I won't attempt it. But let me suggest that we could solve most of these problems by simply re-examining our assumptions about compulsory education and public funding.
Compulsion is always a suspicious category to lovers of freedom, yet no sane society can do without a certain minimum. Should this minimum include education? Without a doubt, education should be available to all. But not everybody wants to avail themselves of an education. For the grade schools, this is likely less of a problem. But at the high school level, serious problems arise when trying to force an education on those determined not to get one. Further, by the time one gets past grade school, not everybody needs the same kind of education. High school likely ruins a lot of young men who would otherwise be happier apprenticing as mechanics or plumbers. And their often sullen presence makes education more difficult for those who really want one. Indeed, a sufficient number of sullen students makes a school downright dangerous. But the school should be a haven from the danger of the streets, not an extension of it.
But whatever the education provided, the family should be at the center, and variety should be the mechanism. The state monopoly ought to be broken by vouchers to parents, based on a sliding scale. Those capable of educating their children from their own resources should get little or nothing; those too poor to pay but little should pay but little, if at all. To the degree that everyone pays, everyone is aware of the costs, and this tends to make people more involved in the decisions. The state, to the degree that it pays, should have the right to set some standards, but this is a relative right, not an absolute one. It certainly has the right to test students on some mandated minimums, but after meeting state minimums, the schools should be free to do as they wish. Or rather, as the parents wish. Some of the schools will, no doubt, turn out to be awful. But having a few awful schools is much better than having one awful school system. There is no reason in principle why the state should run a single school, although in practice there may be many reasons for it to do so. But local control can sort these issues out.
There can be endless arguments on what does and does not constitute an adequate curriculum. I will not enter that debate except to say that there can be any number of curricula that are adequate. Vouchers would break the state monopoly and bring about a true multi-culturalism, one that is really cultured (educated). In this system of support, homeschooling ought to be supported. This will not only strengthen education, it will strengthen family life. A mother (or father) who demonstrates an ability to teach (perhaps inferred from the fact that her students pass the state tests, should receive some support for at least books and materials, and perhaps even a modest stipend.
Uwe has come to this country seeking freedom. Those of us who are already here ought to seek it as well.