Ronda Kaysen: Homeschooling is illegal in Germany; families who homeschool can be fined and even lose custody of their kids. So when Uwe and Hannelore Romeike faced more than $11,000 in fines and the possibility of losing custody of their five kids for homeschooling, they left Germany and moved to Tennessee -- where they fought for political asylum.
To nearly everyone's surprise -- including their own lawyer's -- the judge granted them asylum via a scathing ruling against Germany (hardly a country that one associates with persecution these days).
Immigration judge Lawrence Buman called the German policy "utterly repellent to everything we believe as Americans" and described homeschoolers as a distinct group who have "principled opposition to government policy."
German officials were stunned by the ruling. "We're all surprised, because we consider the German educational system as very excellent," Lutz Hermann GÃ¶rgens, the German consul general in Atlanta, told The New York Times. Germany's policy fosters the ability "to peacefully interact with different values and different religions," he added.
The Romeikes took their children out of German schools after their two oldest kids began having problems with rowdy, disorderly classmates. As devout Christians, they wanted their children to learn in a different environment. They checked out the nearby religious schools and found them to be not much better than the public school. But after they began homeschooling their kids, they started getting pressure from government officials to send their kids back to public school. Fearing they might lose custody, they decided to leave Germany and apply for asylum in the U.S.
Thousands of people apply for asylum in the U.S. every year. Many have experienced real, visceral persecution. People are fleeing totalitarian governments that will hunt them down and kill them for their beliefs. They're escaping war, torture, imprisonment. I don't think the desire to homeschool fits into the category of social persecution. I'd hardly equate Germany with the countries that most people flee.
Granted, this family might have lost custody had they continued to homeschool. But that doesn't make them persecuted -- it makes them people who don't like the educational policy of their country.
Countries have laws about education. Citizens are expected to follow the laws. If they don't like the laws, they can fight to change them. Germany might be behind the times when it comes to homeschooling rules (most European countries allow it), but I don't see how their outmoded educational philosophy amounts to persecution.
|Ronda Kaysen is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, BusinessWeek.com, Architectural Record, Huffington Post, The New York Observer, Babble.com and AM New York. She lives in New Jersey with her family. Follow her on Twitter.|