Homeschooling has never been as threatened in France as it is right now.
While it has been an explicitly legal option in France for over a century, President Macron’s recent proposals would severely restrict, if not outright ban, homeschooling.
In their latest updates, French homeschool advocates say the actual text presented to the National Assembly—after review by the French Council of State—would impose a new approval process and possibly require parents to sign a statement supporting “French republican values” before allowing them to teach their children at home.
Currently, homeschoolers must file a declaration of intent with their local mayor and the Ministry of Education. The ministry may then subject French homeschooling families to an intrusive inspection regimen. The new proposal would effectively give local mayors the power to disapprove homeschooling.
A Question of Values
Guillaume de Thieulloy manages the Salon Beige, a leading website that supports freedom of education in France. He recently expressed concerns about both provisions.
“The law is not just about education, but I am concerned that the vague statement of agreement with ‘republican values’ could open the door to allowing the state to officially criticize what small schools and homeschools teach their children,” de Thieulloy said. “It is not defined in the law what these values are, and it could be up to the unfettered discretion of local officials to decide, which would be a huge problem.”
He added: “Currently many local mayors object to being involved in the homeschooling process, and an approval process could be a problem for many if the mayor did not want to agree.”
Protecting Free Speech
In the US, where it would violate the First Amendment to require parents to sign a statement of belief, only Massachusetts and Rhode Island allow for approval of homeschooling by local authorities. HSLDA has intervened in compelled speech situations that affected homeschoolers in the US, as we did in Colorado in 2016 when a law would have required parents to affirm statements they did not agree with.
France also has a strong tradition of supporting free speech, and it is unclear whether the proposal would survive scrutiny by the nation’s Constitutional Court. Earlier this year the court struck down legislation that was couched as an “anti-hate speech” bill, ruling that is was too broad in its reach.
President Macron’s attack on homeschooling is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of who homeschools, what homeschool families are like, how they behave, and the contribution they make to society.
Macron’s proposal is an effort to require more children to attend French public schools as way of safeguarding “the values of the republic.”
In an October speech Macron said that, “The Republic was built around the school, which trains more than individuals, which raises citizens, which shapes free spirits. This is why, I am convinced, the republic will resist through school those who want to fight or divide it, and it is through school that we will allow all our children to access knowledge, culture, to republican civility, and therefore to become fully citizens."
This direct attack on homeschooling has resulted in new coalitions among many who support freedom in education. Homeschooling will benefit from this new public awareness and debate.
As French legislators and policy makers come to better understand homeschooling, they will see that it is not a threat to society. Perhaps Germany, France’s next-door neighbor, may even hear and be affected positively by some of these discussions.
Regrettably, Germany continues to allow states to ban homeschooling, although a few of the German states have made some exceptions because of the coronavirus pandemic. At a time when many schools are closed and parents need options, banning homeschooling—never a reasonable policy approach—is particularly foolish.
An attack on homeschool freedom in France affects homeschoolers everywhere. Although well established in the United States, homeschooling is new in many countries. If France is able to pass such legislation it will have a negative effect on other countries looking at making homeschooling legal.
We’re so grateful for the members, donors, and organizations who work with us to protect and advance the right to homeschool around the world.You can join or support HSLDA on our website.