Homeschooling as we know it has been around in the United States for over three
decades now. But in some countries, the homeschool movement is just getting started. On
today’s Homeschool Heartbeat, learn which countries are most friendly to
home education—and which ones aren’t.
Mike Smith: I’m joined today by my
friend, Mike Donnelly. Mike is a staff attorney here at HSLDA and is also our
Director of Global Outreach. Mike, welcome to the program!
Mike Donnelly: It’s a tremendous pleasure to be with you
here today, Mike.
Less different than you might think [0:31]
Smith: Well Mike, you’ve spent a lot of time traveling
around the globe and getting to know homeschoolers in many different countries. Now what
are the most important lessons that you’ve learned from your experiences?
Donnelly: Mike, I’ve been blessed to travel to well over
20 countries, meeting with thousands of homeschool families from countries like Britain,
Brazil, Philippines, Russia, Japan, Canada, Ireland, Bulgaria—all over the
And what I’ve found is that no matter where I go, homeschooling parents
aren’t really that different. Although some will face more significant challenges
from their governments in terms of pressure or regulation, they all care very deeply
about their children and want what’s best for them. They want to give their
children a unique and tailored educational experience outside of an institutional
setting, whether that’s public or private. They want to be personally involved in
the education of their children.
These are the same things that we’ve seen here in the United States, and
it’s why homeschooling continues to be the fastest-growing form of education in
Smith: Well Mike, thanks for sharing that enlightening
discovery. There are lots of things that make homeschoolers different from each other,
but something we all have in common is the desire to do what’s truly best for our
Defending families internationally [1:38]
Smith: Mike, can you talk about some of the biggest
international homeschooling stories and cases from the past few years?
Donnelly: Well Mike, most people will remember the Romeike
family, who initially were granted asylum from Germany just because they were
homeschooling. Even though that case went to the Supreme Court who refused to overturn
previous courts, that family still continues to homeschool here in the United States
peacefully and they are very grateful for that.
In Brazil, the supreme court of that country has taken a case that’s going to
decide whether homeschooling is protected by the Brazilian constitution, and at the
request of Brazilian homeschool leaders I filed a legal opinion in the Brazilian Supreme
Court, encouraging them to protect home education as a constitutional right. The
Brazilians have told me they expect this legal opinion will be very persuasive.
HSLDA is working with Swedish lawyers to defend the Sandberg family who we believe
could be the very last homeschooling family in Sweden, where homeschooling is not
Although we’ve been able to effect change in news reporting and encourage
favorable interest from a few politicians and influential legal scholars in Germany,
that country continues to ban homeschooling and criminally prosecute parents or seize
children from families who try to do it.
Mike, we’re representing a family called the Wunderlichs, along with our
friends at Alliance Defending Freedom International, at the European Court of Human
Rights, which is kind of like a Supreme Court of Europe. Our case was accepted by that
court. A few years ago, the Wunderlich family were traumatized as their four children
were violently seized just because they were homeschooling. Now the children were
returned after three weeks—the authorities tested them and found the children were
doing very well academically and socially well adjusted. They were forced to attend
public school for a year. But now the family, in defiance of the authorities’
demands, are homeschooling their children and we hope that the European Court of Human
Rights will uphold their rights to be free of this kind of over-the-top intrusion by the
government that took their children.
Mike, even a small victory in this case would be miraculous and make a huge
difference in Germany, Europe and the rest of the world.
In Cuba, we’re working to support the brave Rigal family as they strive to be
able to educate their children at home, away from the indoctrination of Cuban
Mike, it’s a privilege, as I’m sure you will agree, and really inspiring
to be able to defend homeschooling freedom alongside these and other courageous families
whose commitment to their children, convictions, and beliefs sustain them through these
Without the support of our members, this work would not be possible, Mike. So our
members deserve a big thank you.
Smith: Oh yes, they do. So thank you members, we really
appreciate your help.
Best and worst countries for homeschooling [3:55]
Smith: Mike, which countries allow the most freedom to
homeschool and what do their homeschool laws look like?
Donnelly: Mike, it’s exciting to see how homeschooling is
growing so fast internationally and to see many countries respect the God-given and
fundamental human right for parents to choose to homeschool. We see a lot of freedom in
countries like you would expect: the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
To me, it’s amazing to see how homeschooling is growing, even in former
communist countries. For example, Russia is a place where homeschooling is becoming a
vibrant movement. It’s amazing to think that just 25 years ago this country was in
the grip of communism, but now homeschooling is not only possible but poised to
flourish—it’s really miraculous. We see it growing in Bulgaria, Romania, the
Czech Republic, and Hungary, where it’s tolerated.
Now, there are some challenges from some governments, but generally, as we see
homeschooling growing we see its being tolerated by most governments.
Smith: Mike, that leads us to our next question: What countries
are most hostile to homeschool freedom?
Donnelly: Mike, you’d expect countries with totalitarian
regimes like Cuba or China to oppress homeschooling as a challenge to their state
schools which they use to indoctrinate their children. But it’s very disappointing
to find western democracies like German or Sweden to be so hostile.
In Sweden, families are not allowed to homeschool; they are driven out of the
country. There are many homeschoolers who live in exile from Sweden in Finland, where
it’s allowed. And Germany is another country where it’s very disappointing
to see how they have continued to persist in prosecuting families criminally, imposing
excessive fines and seeking to even take their children away, such as the Wunderlich
When governments harass families that want to homeschool it’s just very
disappointing and that’s why it’s important for us to continue to support
Championing freedom and parental rights [5:34]
Smith: Mike, you’ve been part of the international
dialogue on home education for quite some time now. In your experience, what are the
main legal issues and concepts that are being discussed out there?
Donnelly: Mike, for almost 150 years or more compulsory public
school attendance has become almost a universal standard. But this idea does not find
support in the modern human rights framework. The realization that pluralism in
education—and by that I mean that private education and home education are
legitimate alternatives to public education—is becoming stronger in the
discussion. We find voices here in the U.S. that condemn private education as
anti-democratic, arguing as Horace Mann and John Dewey have, that only public education
should be permitted to teach what they call “democratic values”—but
what they really mean by that is progressivism and secular humanism.
As we see this movement growing, parents all over the world are reacting to this, and
we see that more and more non-governmental organization are championing parental rights.
We even see some human rights scholars and UN institutions acknowledging the important
contribution that private education makes to the overall fabric of education in
I want to see homeschooling included in this discussion, Mike. That’s why what
we do is important. I’d encourage listeners to Google such documents as the Berlin
Declaration and the Rio Principles for more important information about these important
rights and concepts.
Smith: Okay, so this is encouraging because you’re seeing
progress. But where does this dialogue go in the future?
Donnelly: Well Mike, as homeschooling grows, I expect to see
more positive reactions to it. As countries explore how to respond to this new demand,
based on what we would consider and old and obvious natural and God-given right,
I’m excited to see the interest in openness to home education in many countries.
Even though they’re unfamiliar with home education and often have some of the same
stereotypes and objections that pioneers like you and your wife Elizabeth had to
overcome here in the United States—issues like legality, competency, and
socialization—but even in places like Germany, I’m encouraged to see
interest in media and society that is generally positive.
That’s why it’s important for us here at HSLDA to continue to support
that positive interest and to provoke more discussion about home education. Our
experience here in the United States is powerful, if we can get out the truth about home
education, homeschooling will win.
They’re not alone [7:43]
Smith: Mike, what are the biggest challenges facing
homeschooling families around the world today?
Donnelly: Mike, like in the early days [of homeschooling] in
the United States, a lot of homeschoolers thoughts they were the only ones. So being
disconnected from other homeschoolers is one big challenge, because they’re just
small movements right now. That’s why it’s so important for what we do,
providing a global contact point for people.
In countries where homeschooling is a new idea, access to curriculum is a challenge.
Being free to be able to choose homeschooling is a challenge as we talked about in
countries like Sweden and Germany.
But really, I think receiving encouragement from other places is probably the biggest
contributor to homeschooling success and one of the biggest challenges that people face
is knowing they’re not alone.
Smith: What can our listeners do to help homeschoolers in other
Donnelly: Of course Mike, we would encourage people to pray.
For those who are homeschooling in countries where they can afford it, they should
consider joining HSLDA, because it’s our member support that allows us to do this
important outreach to encourage these nascent homeschooling movements. Those who
aren’t homeschooling and just want to support freedom can, of course, go to
hslda.org and donate to the Homeschool Freedom Fund.
Smith: Mike, it’s been a blessing having you on the show
this week and thanks for all you’re doing all across the world and until next
time. I’m Mike Smith.