The Education of the Romeiki Family
One of the great moments in this author's academic career came when I dropped out of public high school to return to homeschool. My mother marched into the principal's office and informed the administration that she would be taking me out.
The principal, a woman who ran the school with all the delicacy of a Hessian dragoon, was visibly indignant. "You can't do that," she said.
"Oh," my mother said, smiling, "yes I can."
And she could, thanks to Virginia's generally permissive homeschooling laws. So I left, free to pursue an actual education instead of a daily helping of public school eyewash.
Years later and across the Atlantic, the Romeike family would believe they had the same unremarkable prerogative: they too wanted to teach their children according to their own beliefs and preferences. Just as my ex-principal had done, the German government told them, "You can't do that." But the German government was serious about it -- the Romeikes really couldn't homeschool their children, at least not if the government had anything to do with it. The Romeikes were presented with quite a lot of challenges: "[They faced high fines and tension with local authorities. At one point, police forcibly corralled the oldest children into a van and delivered them to school."
"Police forcibly corralled..." Is the German government really that bereft of historical awareness?
It is. So the Romeikes fled to the United States; specifically Tennessee, whose homeschooling laws are similar to that of Virginia. They were hoping to seek political asylum due to the fact that their homeschooling was grounded in religious beliefs. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, however, has argued that the Romeikes are not facing religious persecution in Germany and thus do not qualify for asylum. Their rationale? All homeschoolers in Germany, religious or otherwise, are persecuted in the same way; since the Romeikes aren't being singled out for their religious beliefs, but are merely suffering the same indignities as everyone else, they don't have a case.
Got that? We've gone from a country of "All men are created equal" to "All men are created to suffer equally."
It's hardly surprising that Germany would behave this way. As the Charter Of Fundamental Rights of the European Union points out: the right to education "includes the possibility to receive free compulsory education." One is entitled, apparently, to be forced to do something, a novel concept that could only come out of a European subcommittee on "rights." And it's equally unsurprising that the Obama Administration would argue against a homeschooling family's seeking political asylum; this is, after all, a president who has spent a good deal of his two terms arguing that we need to "invest" more in education, a clever euphemism for "Give public school teachers more money than they already make," and who demanded that all states in the Union raise their dropout age to 18, as if the problem is not enough lackluster education. That the administration would be unenthused by a homeschooling family's plight is not exactly breaking news.
Still, it's a sobering set of affairs. The Romeiki family has received a crash course in how statists approach education: from the Vaterland to the New World, it's all the same. MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry put it best earlier this month: America has had a "private notion of children" up until this point; we haven't had a "collective notion." So we need to recognize that "kids belong to whole communities."
That is to say, kids belong to the state, and the state wants to educate them, and it's not going to take no for an answer. In fact, kids belong so much to the whole community, it can elect to "forcibly corral" them. Who cares about the antiquated "private notion of children?" Less and less people, it seems; and as the Romeikis have unfortunately learned, this is what happens. Even when you flee from a stifling European nanny-state to the Land of the Free, you're still going to face opposition from those who know better.
The whole fracas has laid out perfectly the fundamental brokenness found throughout so much of state-run education: they'll take your kids because they don't approve of the way you want to educate them, and when you move to a country that has a little reputation for liberty and freedom of conscience, the dimwitted bean counters at the top of the government will tell you that your circumstances don't qualify as "persecution." Then what does?
Daniel Payne is a freelance writer living and working in Richmond, Virginia. He blogs at oakmoor.blogspot.com.