Hundreds of homeschool leaders gathered in Berlin, Germany, most of whom signed the Berlin Declaration, which calls on all countries to respect and protect the right of home education.
The document was presented at the historic, first-ever Global Home Education Conference, which drew participants from every continent to Germany’s capital. Conference organizers chose to convene in Germany in part to highlight that nation’s policy of persecuting homeschoolers.
In his keynote address HSLDA Founder and Chairman Michael Farris underscored the injustice of such government oppression by making the case that home education is a human right of the first order.
“Denying parents the right to choose education in conformity with their religious and philosophical convictions, including home education, is an act of a rogue state and bears the same level of shame in international law as the practice of indiscriminate killing, torture, and slavery. States that deny parents the right to control the education of their children are condemned by international human rights law for an invasion of the highest level of protection—the denial of a non-derogable right.”
By drawing the attention of lawmakers and national media to the struggles of homeschoolers, the event succeeded before it even began, said Jonas Himmelstrand, conference chairman and president-in-exile of the Swedish national homeschool association, ROHUS.
“This week, two high-level German politicians issued important statements. These statements have been covered in the German national media,” said Himmelstrand. “One of our goals was to support persecuted German homeschoolers and draw attention to their plight. We did this in a firm way, calling on Germany and other countries to live up to their international treaty obligations to respect the rights of parents in education.”
Michael Donnelly, secretary of the conference organizing board and director of international relations for the Home School Legal Defense Association, said that the conference exceeded all expectations.
“Organizing this conference involved 10 people from nine countries over one year with significant financial investments from leading homeschool-supporting organizations like Classical Conversations, the German Friederich Naumann Foundation, the Home School Foundation, HSLDA, and many others,” he said. “We were simply delighted that nearly 200 leaders representing 26 countries gathered to affirm the fundamental right of parents to choose how their children are educated!”
Dagmar Neubronner, second chair of the conference organizing committee, who styles herself a “secular unschoooler,” was very happy to see the diverse group uniting over a common interest.
“I was a little unsure what might happen with so many people who have so many differences meeting here in Berlin,” she said. “But everyone was totally focused on this idea that parents and not the state must have the right to decide how to educate their children. We were able to focus all of our energy and attention on this subject, and there was great mutual respect among everyone who was present. It was wonderful!”
Neubronner was forced to flee Germany after her bank account was seized by the German government and she was fined thousands of dollars. Citing her concern over threats from social authorities, she left Germany in 2009.
At the conference Neubronner was a workshop speaker and shared about the difficulty of having to leave her home and family under such pressure.
Donnelly explained why Berlin was an important place to hold the conference.
“Berlin is a city that invokes freedom,” he said. “The fall of the Iron Curtain and the unification of East and West Germany symbolize the victory of liberty over tyranny. It was a fitting backdrop to our conference. We found that homeschoolers just as diverse in their reasons and approaches to home education could also find unity in the idea of liberty. We support the idea that a parent’s right to decide how their children should be educated is a fundamental human right that must be respected by all nations.”
Conference attendees were wowed by the scope of the content and the speakers.
Dozens of speakers provided insight and encouragement. Policymakers from Russia, Germany, South Africa, Ireland, and other countries met to compare notes. Emer Farrel, an administrator for the Irish National Education Welfare Board, was surprised that home education is not permitted in all countries.
“In Ireland home education is protected in the constitution. I was surprised to learn that some countries do not tolerate home education,” she said.
Why a global conference on home education?
Just as in previous historical social shifts, misconceptions are easily born. Today, home education is legal in most democratic countries, but not yet all. Home education needs to state to the world that its time has come as a valid form of basic education, among others. That is what the Global Home Education Conference 2012 intends to do.
Home education is a fundamental human right
The right of parents to exercise control over and to have choices regarding the form of education their children receive is a fundamental and basic human right. This right is recognized by various international human rights documents, including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The reason for this is critically important: when the government exercises a monopoly over education, this forecloses freedom and liberty and contributes to a totalitarian society. Internationally renowned education professors Dr. Charles Glenn and Dr. Jan De Groof have written that to deny parents this fundamental right is “unjust and unworthy of a free society.” No one knows a child better than his or her parents, and every child is an individual. We know today that children learn in many different ways. Home education has greatly enhanced this understanding.
As the fastest-growing form of basic education today, home education is supported by a heterogeneous, global movement of parents who want the best for their children and who have found their own unique ways to educate them.
Worthy of respect and protection
Although many countries protect this fundamental freedom, some still do not. And there are many governments that are simply uncertain how to proceed with this new form of education that is highly unfamiliar to those who have been trained under compulsory school attendance.
The GHEC 2012 will attempt to present to policy makers the scientific and legal evidence that home education is effective and contributes positively to a democratic society. It is our aim to support home education in becoming globally recognized as the valid form of education that it truly is.
Home educators are a most diverse group
We recognize that there are many different philosophies, methods, and motivations for parents who choose home education. The conference focus is on none of these, but rather that, regardless of reason or method, the right of parents to be free to choose this form of education for their children is fundamental and must be protected by all free societies.
GHEC 2012 makes no distinction about method of home education—whether structured or unstructured, whether for philosophical, pedagogical, or religious reasons. Home educators are indeed a diverse and passionate group with many differences, but we share a defining and common belief: that parents must be protected in their fundamental human right to choose how their children are educated.
This is what we want to accomplish
By bringing together everyone with an interest in home education—whether parents, policy makers, home education leaders, researchers, or anyone else interested—we aim to influence public policy by promoting an understanding of the great value of home education and the necessity for it to be acknowledged as a human right. We also want to provide an opportunity for global leaders to connect and mutually support and encourage one another as we all seek to protect and advance this fundamental and basic human right.
When passionate and committed people come together with a common goal, great things can happen. And that is exactly what we expect at the Global Home Education Conference in 2012.
Michael P. Donnelly
Dr. Gerd Habermann
André de Holanda
Christer and Annie Johansson
Dr. Mareile Kirsch
Roger Kiska, JD
Dr. Tatiana Kovaleva, EdD
Chandra Montgomery Nicol
H. D. Nicolay
Brian Ray, PhD
Andreas Vogt, JD
Canadian Centre for Home Education
Friedrich Naumann Stiftung
Home School Foundation
Home Life Academy
Bildung zu Hause Schweiz
Institute for Excellence in Writing
Alberta Home Educators Association
Greek 'n' Stuff
Аналитический центр «Семейная политика.РФ» (Analytical Center for Family Policy, Russian Federation)
Asociace pro domácí vzdělávání (ADV), Czech Republic
Associação Nacional de Ensino Domiciliar, Brazil
Bulgarian Homeschooling Association
BzH—Bildung zu Hause Schweiz, Switzerland
Elimu Nyumbani, Kenya
Familiennetzwerk der Freilerner, Austria
«За права семьи» (For Family Rights, Russian Federation)
Foundation for Family and Demography, Russian Federation
Homeschool Association of the Philippine Islands
Home Education Foundation, New Zealand
«Домашнее образование в Санкт-Петербурге» (Home Education in Saint-Petersburg Club)
Home School Legal Defence Association of Canada
Home School Legal Defense Association, United States
Hungarian Home Schooling Association
Korea Christian Homeschool Association
Klub Sinau, Indonesia
Социальная сеть «Учимся дома» (Learning at Home Social Network, Russian Federation)
Libres d'Apprendre et d'Instruire Autrement (LAIA), France
MTÜ Eesti Koduõppe Keskus (Estonian Centre for Home Education)
Mujen Chinese Christian Home Educators Association (in Taiwan)
Nordic Committee for Human Rights—NKMR
Otthonoktatás—Homeschooling in Hungary
Pestalozzi Trust, South Africa
Philadelphia Schule, Germany
Rohus, The Swedish Association for Home Education
Romanian Home Schooling Association
«Россия. Семья. Дети» (Russia. Family. Children. Association)
Schulunterricht zu Hause e.V., Germany
Stowarzyszenie Edukacji Domowej, Poland
Suomen kotiopettajat, Finland
Taiwan Homeschool Advocates
TEACH Asia, Singapore
TMA Homeschool, Philippines
"The aspect of networking and getting to meet other home educators and people in positions of leadership was very important to us. The home educators in Kenya were in the process of setting up an entity and it was important that we met people in positions of leadership from other countries."
"The statement being made [Berlin Declaration] was the main reason I attended, but the people I met will be the reason to go again."
"Personal talks in between the sessions and building up new relationships to others especially those who are in troubled situations [...] in Germany."
"Conference managed to accommodate all of us with our diverse background, philosophies and homeschooling methodologies! On top of that it was remarkable to see the unity in the room."
"The very fact that Berlin was chosen to host GHEC had a significant political impact and signing the Berlin Declaration—I hope—may be helpful for the countries where home education is not tolerated."
"The conference re-energized to keep the theme of home education also on the agenda of our organization to support the promotion of home education as an alternative to schooling. It is not only a promotion at the political level but also within churches and communities."
"The speakers were wonderful and it was enjoyable to be able to speak to them personally and to interact with other people from many different countries."