This was a historic gathering of about 200 leaders and policy makers in the Home Education movement from every continent on the globe.
One of the major highlights of the conference was the presentation of the Berlin Declaration which calls on all countries to protect and respect the right of Home Education. Read it here.
The location of the conference in Berlin was significant in itself, as Germany has a strong track record and policy of
persecuting Home Educators. Michael Donnelly, secretary of the conference organising board and director of
International Relations for the Home School Legal Defence Association (HSLDA), 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 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.”
Germany is one of the most oppressive countries in the West against Home Education.
Despite its image as a modern, free and democratic society, it does not extend to its own citizens the most basic of human rights. That is, the right of the parent to choose how to educate their own children.
Patrick Meinhardt, a member of Germany’s main opposition party in the Bundestag and their spokesman on education, delivered a keynote speech at the conference in which he called for greater freedom in educational choice in Germany.
One of the other highlights was another keynote speech delivered by HSLDA Chairman and Founder, Michael Farris.
He really pulled no punches in highlighting the fact that the right to choose to Home Educate is a human right of the first order.
He said, “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.”
Jonas Himmelstrand, forced to live in exile in Finland, is President of the Swedish Homeschool association, and was the Chairman of the GHEC organizing committee said:
"Home education is one of the most urgent human rights issues in the democratic world today. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights makes it all very clear in Article 26.3 [that] parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children, but not all countries respect this right equally,"
Other Keynote speakers were Dr. Gordon Neufeld of the Neufeld Institute who delivered a very impressive talk on child development and Andre Stern, a noted free schooler, who delivered an entertaining and interesting speech, which led to
much debate and Michael Donnelly who worked tirelessly during the whole weekend to ensure the smooth running of the conference gave an impassioned address to delegates.
It was great to meet up again with Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute who gave a great speech in his own unique and entertaining way, presenting the vital statistics from his years of research.
It was good to also meet and chat with Dagmar Neubronner and hear of her experiences at the hands of the German social authorities. She is a biologist, therapist, translator and publisher. She sued her city for legalisation of Home Education and consequently lost several court cases. After her bank account was seized and she was fined thousands of Euro, she had to flee the country and now lives in exile in France.
Dagmar describes herself as a secular un-schooler, and she was impressed by the diversity of people at the conference.
There were a number of other families I had the privilege to meet and get to know.
Amongst them were Dirk Wunderlich and family. Talking to Dirk you would not suspect that he had recently lost custody of his children after returning to Germany to look for work having been in exile in France. Just because he Home
Educates. He was full of the joy of the Lord and confident that God’s hand was upon them and was eager to tell me that he freely quotes in his writings, the freedom bestowed upon Irish Home Educators by our constitution.
You can read more on their story here.
Jurgen Dudek is another Godly Christian whose very demeanour and character betrays the struggles and trials he and his wife have endured at the hands of repressive German social officials. This brother & his wife have been hauled through the courts no less than 6 times over the past few years. In 2008 they were each sentenced to 90 days in prison for Homeschooling. That decision was appealed and subsequently overturned with a €900 fine imposed instead.
You can read more about the Dudecks story here.
Probably the most heart rending account that I have ever come across of Home Educators suffering persecution, involves the Johanssen family. They live in Sweden, which is much worse than Germany in its oppression against Home Educators.
In brief, in 2009 Christer & Annie Johanssen and their son Dominic were sitting on a plane ready for take off to India.
Suddenly the Swedish police boarded the plane and (what now appears to be illegal) abducted their only child Dominic from them, and he was placed in foster care. They effectively kidnapped him.
There has been numerous court cases over the years in an attempt to get Dominic reunited with his parents. The
social services have resisted and blocked at every opportunity. Initially, Dominic’s parents were able to see him for one hour every 5 weeks. They have not seen their son since November 2010. His mother Annie has suffered an emotional
breakdown and suffers from panic attacks when talking about him. Dominic’s appearance and demeanour have completely changed. Just looking at before and after pictures, it looks like two different children. The family has been
Having spent some time discussing the case with the Johanssen’s lawyer, the well known Human Rights attorney, Ruby Harrold-Claesson, President of the Nordic Committee for Human Rights, it quickly becomes clear that something sinister is at work within the Swedish state.
Here is a State that likes to project itself as a beacon of social utopia to the rest of the world. That was always my impression.
Yet, just below the surface lurks a twisted and barbaric state which is reminiscent of the Soviet Union era in its totalitarian approach in dealing with its own citizens.
Ruby says that the State treats Children as commodities and will not back down and admit that it can ever get it wrong. The State believes that it knows what’s best for children, not the parents.
I believe that the recent Children’s referendum here in Ireland amending Article 42 of the constitution will ultimately grant powers to our State to conduct itself in a similar manner if it so wishes. Unfortunately, little by little right across Europe, States are taking to themselves more and more power. They are stripping away the Biblical, God-given authority vested in the Family and supplanting themselves in its place.
People need to wake up. The social regression we are witnessing in the West is an insidious attempt to numb people’s minds and consciences. In doing so, people become sterile, compliant and accepting of what the State tells them. Right becomes wrong and wrong becomes right. What the Scriptures teach and what society only recently considered as sin, has now become an expression of ‘freedom’, a‘right’, a ‘choice’. However, the opposite is true. People are enslaving themselves to that which is not of God. There is a new morality based on what man thinks rather than what God says. God no longer figures. Freedom is lost. Liberty has been snuffed out.
It is virtually incomprehensible that in 21st Century Europe the type of regime that exists in Sweden can be allowed to exist. We need to pray for this family and their lawyer, Ruby, who is a gentle, sweet, compassionate person and demonstrates great courage and humanity in confronting the Swedish authorities in this case.
For more on this horrendous story please read here.
In addition to the Keynote speeches, there were at least 20 workshops throughout the conference covering a vast range of topics such as; Home Education and Children with special Needs, Home Educators in Exile, Public-Policy Makers
Forum, Should Home Education Be Considered a Human Right?, Giving Persecuted Home Educators a Helping Hand, Home Education: Success at University, Work and Life, and many more.
Finally, but by no means least, our own Emer Farrell and Bridget McGreal from the National Education Welfare Board were present to keep an eye on me! Emer participated in one or two of the policy-makers workshops and her views on the situation here in Ireland were widely sought after due to the Constitutional freedom we enjoy.
It was good to spend time with Emer and Bridget, exchanging views and catching up on news.
Many delegates commented to me about how they looked at Ireland with envy and many would view us as the utopia of the home education environment. However, we must remain on guard at all times to protect our freedom. Do not be mistaken, there are forces at work that would like to increase their control over how we direct our children’s education.
This was a land-mark conference which was extensively reported on by the media. Its aim was to focus on the core human rights that parents have – the prior right to choose the form of education appropriate for their children, including home education, the fastest-growing form of education today, and without doubt the Organisers deserve full credit for its