BERLIN — Two leaders in the European home education movement, a father from Sweden and a German mother, drew tears from the audience as they told a packed conference room about life in exile and the heart-rending decision to flee abroad. While each of their stories was unique, both parents were forced to escape from their homelands due to relentless government persecution when they refused to stop homeschooling.
The presentations were made during a Friday workshop at the first-ever Global Home Education Conference (GHEC), held in Berlin, Germany, bringing together around 200 homeschooling leaders, policy makers, parents, human rights activists, and pro-family forces from every corner of the world. Meeting here this weekend, they say the plan is to join forces in the battle to protect the right of parents to direct the education and upbringing of children.
Today, parental rights over the education of children are almost universally recognized. Even the controversial United Nations’ so-called “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” concedes that “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children,” as more than a few activists at the conference have pointed out. But under certain totalitarian regimes, as well as in Sweden and Germany, that is not always the case.
Jonas Himmelstrand, the chairman of the GHEC, is the president of the Swedish Home Education Association (ROHUS). He also lives in exile, having fled to Finland as a “homeschooling refugee” after the Uppsala municipality adopted a restrictive view on homeschooling — a process that began even before the national government passed a law purporting to ban home education in 2010.
As The New American reported earlier this year, Himmelstrand was forced to flee from Sweden when officials threatened his family with massive fines and potentially even retaliation by social services. There finally came a point where the pressure became too much to bear.
“We cannot live with the fear of the threat that our children will be taken away,” Himmelstrand told GHEC attendees, explaining his decision to escape from Sweden after the family received a letter from social authorities calling the parents and child to a meeting. “The moment we got that letter, we knew the move was close.”
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