A right to school

As I am sure we all know, the Swedish parliament recently approved a law which would ban home education in all but 'extraordinary' circumstances. It will be absolutely forbidden for purely philosophical or religious reasons. There are few home educators in Sweden, but an attempt if being made to fight for the supposed right of parents to home educate there. This is the Dominic Johansson case and an application has been made to the European Court of Human Rights. Those making this application know very well that it will fail, but they are carrying on in the hope of attracting attention to their own cause; the wider one of 'parental rights', not just in Sweden but across the world. The claims made will fail because the European Court is bound by precedent: that is to say they must follow decisions already made by the court in the past which clarified the law.

In Germany some years ago a case was fought all the way to the Federal Constitutional Court, which upheld Germany's ban on home education. In 2003 this case was taken to the European Court of Human Rights. The parent who brought the case argued that Germany's ban on home education contravened the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. This provides that a state shall respect parents' rights to ensure that their child's education will be in conformity with their own religious and philosophical beliefs. In September 2006, the court gave
its ruling.

The European Court gave as its opinion that the plaintiff in the case was not the parent but the children. The court went on to say that children were unable to foresee the consequences of their parents' decision to home educate, due to their young age. They further stated that schools were part of society and that the rights of parents did not extend so far as for them to be able to deprive children of their place in society (Brussels Journal 2006). It was clear that there was nothing to stop Britain or any other country in Europe from banning home education entirely.
The crucial point here is the final decision was that children not only have a right to an education, they also have a right to go to school. There seem to be pretty strong legal grounds for this argument. Daniel Monk, senior lecturer in law at Birkbeck, has written a number of papers about this. The thesis is that school is such an integral part of society that it would be wrong to deprive a child of the experience. This is completely separate from any right to an education; it is the same point ruled by the European Court. Since this is an experience of life common to everybody in countries like Britain, Germany and Sweden, it would be wrong to prevent a child from taking part in school. In later life, the child would find herself at a loss when all those around her had a common framework for their memories of childhood. It would be turning a person into some sort of oddity, something of which the child herself could not hope to be aware
until she reached adulthood.

I am sure that everybody reading this has been shaped by their childhood and that school formed a very strong part of that childhood. It could hardly be otherwise; everybody on this site spent every day at school for over a decade! If I lacked that common framework which we all share, a childhood moulded and defined by school, then I might well feel myself to be something on an outsider in later life. This is what people like Daniel Monk argue and the European Court of
Human Rights agree with him. School is a fundamental right for children.

One can quite see why this point of view drives home educators mad! It hints that their decision to keep their children at home is an essentially selfish one, disregarding the future psychological welfare of their children. This is not at all how home educating parents want to think of themselves. Nevertheless, there does seem to be something in this idea. For most of us the first place where we encounter unfairness and cruelty is school. It also provides our earliest experiences of the abuse of power, boredom and various other things which we shall come across again and again in our lives. Perhaps it can be seen as a training ground for handling these things in later life. Interesting that Ofsted expressed this view recently when they suggested that it was good for every school to have at least one useless teacher; it will give children a valuable lesson in incompetent people in authority. this will stand them in good stead in later life. John Holt mentions in Why Children fail that a mother spoke to him once and told him that he was wrong to make his lessons so interesting. Her argument was that in adult life children would be
bored much of the time and the sooner they get used to it the better.

I have already discussed the possible motives of those helping the Johanssons to take their case to the European Court. I am sure that the three representatives named on the application know about the court's decision in 2006 and that this will not be overturned. I can only assume that they are going to the court purely for propaganda purposes. Personally, I am not sure how wise this is, because an unfavourable decision will simply draw the attention of other European countries to the fact that they can ban home education tomorrow if the wish and nobody will be able to do anything about it. I am not sure if this is a good idea.