Thursday, October 01, 2009

Sweden — the next Germany for homeschoolers?

Home School Legal Defense Association has sent a formal letter of inquiry to the head of a local Swedish social services unit as well as several other Swedish and American government officials inquiring about the case of Annie and Christer Johansson of Gottland, Sweden.

Christer and Annie Johansson are the parents of Dominic Johansson, who was forcibly removed from a plane by a fully armed police unit minutes before the family was due to take off to start a new life in India, Annie’s home country.

The couple had sold all of their belongings and were planning to minister to the poor in India. Annie was also looking forward to reconnecting with her family, whom she had not seen since moving to Sweden with Christer after they married in 2000.

HSLDA President J. Michael Smith expressed concern in a letter to the Swedish Authorities on this case. “If the facts as stated are true, it appears that the family has been subjected to a gross injustice and the best interests of Dominic are not being upheld. This case is particularly alarming in light of a recent proposal to the Swedish parliament to impose severe restrictions on home education.”

In the letter, copied to Swedish ministries of Education, Foreign Affairs, Social Affairs and the Justice Minister, as well as the U.S. ambassador to Sweden and the Swedish ambassador in the United States, Smith has requested that the agency return the child to the family. “If any of the information as stated above is inaccurate, we would welcome correction of the record. If, however, the situation is as I have recounted, we respectfully request that you reconsider your decisions and return Dominic to his family immediately. To do otherwise would be to perpetuate a grievous harm upon the Johanssons.”

Mats Tunehaga is President of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance. In a blog post today at the Swedish newspaper Varlen Idag he noted that the situation is beyond tragic. “Christer Johansson called me again this morning. He was crying softly, obviously in pain and despair. His wife Annie was taken into emergency room—again. She is suffering from a severe trauma, hard to comprehend. Their son has been taken away from them and put into foster care. Why? They wanted to home school their child, 7-year-old Dominic.”

Both parents are Christians and were treated like terrorists, notes Tunehaga. “Annie is from a Christian family in India, and they had planned for some time to move there to live, work and to homeschool Dominic. Due to the harassment from Swedish authorities the trip was delayed. But finally in June this year they were on their way, sitting on the plane bound for India. Then the police came rushing into the plane—as if they were to apprehend dangerous terrorists—and snatched Dominic, saying he is to be taken into care. Can anyone imagine?”

HSLDA Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly has also been in contact with the family. “Christer told me that the family originally planned to move to India in the spring of 2008. They decided they would homeschool Dominic in order to minimize the disruption of pulling him out of school when they moved and also because Dominic requested it noting that the local public school he had visited was too noisy and stressful,” said Donnelly.

Donnelly expressed grave concern over the situation. “This kind of gross disregard for family integrity and simple human decency is becoming the hallmark of countries like Germany, and now apparently Sweden, where the state is more interested in coerced uniformity than in protecting fundamental human rights and fostering pluralism. In Germany, courts have said that homeschooling creates dangerous ‘parallel societies’—an absurd notion that grotesquely turns the notion of pluralism on its head.”

Since homeschooling is legal in Sweden the parents contacted the Swedish Ministry of Education as their son approached compulsory school attendance age. They were informed it was the local principal’s responsibility to assist them with home education and that he would provide materials. Contacting the local school principal, Christer told him that the Ministry of Education had informed him to get in touch with the local school. The conversation was short because the principal informed Christer that the school law required that Dominic attend school.

Christer was surprised by the Principal’s more hostile response when he followed up later after not hearing from the school. “He was very short and not at all in favor of homeschooling. I told him that it was my right under Swedish law to homeschool and that I was making contact with him to make the necessary arrangements and to get the materials. We were planning to leave Sweden in just a month or two. Mr. Eneqvist told me that he ‘didn’t care about my right’ that I didn’t have a ‘right to educate my son like that’ and that he was going to take the matter farther,” Christer said.

This unexpected turn of events caused them to delay their move to India. “I was very upset about this as were my wife and son. We were planning to leave Sweden, and I had promised my wife and son that we would be moving to India, but I felt that I had to stay to make sure that this dispute was resolved properly. I didn’t want to leave Sweden on such a sour note,” said Christer.

The family were contacted by social workers and the school about the requirement to send Dominic to school but decided to wait for more senior officials to respond. They continued to provide formal instruction to Dominic. “Both Annie and I believe in education. We are both very studious. Annie is qualified to teach at the university level, and I had been a teacher in the community before. Dominic is a very bright boy, and so we made sure to provide him with lots of materials that were interesting to him. We started teaching him formally when he was six.” Christer said.

In August 2008 the case reached the local school board. Christer sent a letter to a school board member to ask if they could try to restart the discussion about homeschooling. Christer recognized that he and the principal hadn’t gotten off on the right foot and he was determined to try again. However the board member told Christer she was “too busy at the moment” to meet with him. “She told me that she couldn’t meet with me. I sent letters to the school board that I had a right to educate my son at home according to Swedish law. I called them and tried to get them to meet with me, so we could discuss this. Whenever I received any communication from them all they wanted to talk about was getting Dominic to school. They didn’t answer my other questions or respond to my letters.” ....

The family, currently represented by state-appointed attorneys, is pursuing an appeal to the Swedish Supreme Court in Stockholm. They continue to express their willingness to cooperate with the authorities.

“We have always expressed our willingness to cooperate with the authorities and even to send Dominic to school. We believe we have a right to homeschool our son, and we believe that these social workers have harmed our family greatly. My wife and son and I are under extreme pain from this separation. On his eighth birthday just a few weeks ago we were only able to see him for two hours at the office of the social workers. We are not permitted to call him or write to him. And his grandparents were not able to see him either. In the last three months since he was taken we have only been permitted to see him for a total of about eight hours. We cannot believe that such a thing as this could happen in a country like Sweden. We are doing our best to be kind and cooperative. All we want is to have our son home so we can get back to being a family again,” Christer said....

Donnelly noted that there seems to be an increase in these kinds of attacks against homeschoolers in Europe. “The case of the Johanssons may be the first shot in extending this type of repression to another European country—all in the name of uniformity and conformity. This spectre is raising its head not just in Sweden but in other places including Great Britain, France, Belgium, and Switzerland where there are attempts to impose additional restrictions on home education.”...

In remarks to the World Congress of Families, Michael Farris, founder and chairman of HSLDA and president of, an organization dedicated to protecting Americans from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by passing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, agreed. “Any nation that severely restricts the ability of parents to choose alternative forms of education, including home education, in the name of creating national unity, cannot call itself a free nation. Freedom necessarily requires the individual to have the liberty to think differently and believe differently than programs instituted by the current rulers of any nation. Educational freedom is the cornerstone for all freedom of thought and conscience.”

More here

House shines light on student bankruptcy

Will Congress at long last fix a mess that it created?

Earlier this week the House held a hearing on private student loans and bankruptcy, shedding light for the first time on a rather unknown yet devastating aspect of student debt.

Did you know that because of legislation dating back to 1976 under the Higher Education Act private student loans are unable to be discharged through bankruptcy? In other words, feel free to run up the credit card and splurge, but take out loans to pay for education? That’s just reckless.

The number of students taking out private (or nonfederal) student loans has increased significantly over the past decade. Private student loans now make up nearly a quarter of the overall market, compared to just ten years ago when they made up a small fraction. This spike is not only due to skyrocketing tuition –the average four-year tuition has increased 30 percent from a decade ago –but also because of the complexity of the financial aid process that leaves many students vulnerable to take out the worst of loans. In fact, many students turn to private loans before even exhausting available federal aid and loan options.

Meanwhile, private lenders capitalize on this confusion, even at times in cahoots with universities, preying on young adults, steering them towards more risky loans.

These loans pawned on students by private lenders are often downright predatory, offering little consumer protections. Private loan interest rates are normally variable, with average interest rates running between 9 and 13 percent, nearly double that of federal loans. On top of that, the flexibility of repayment for private loans are much less pliant, in almost all cases a missed monthly payment results in an automatic interest rate hike of 2 percent, with additional fines and fees to punish borrowers.

And you can imagine that with the toughest job market in decades, coupled with staggering student debt averaging $23,000, students are finding they can no longer keep up with repayment. But unlike federal loans, private lenders do not have to offer flexible payment plans or a forbearance option to struggling borrowers. Why should lenders? When they can maintain hefty profits.

While in truly tough times, students needing to discharge their private loans in bankruptcy are forbidden to. In other words, if you face chronic unemployment, a medical emergency or even die –tough luck, student loan debt will continue to be an albatross.

Congress though may finally be addressing this injustice. This week’s hearing was the first time the issue has been addressed since written into law in 1976! Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) announced he will soon file legislation to give private student loan borrowers more equitable treatment during the bankruptcy process. And in another good sign, House Chairman of Education and Labor Committee, Rep. George Miller is on board as well, stating, "There’s no justifiable reason that the lenders who provide them should be treated any differently than credit card companies, auto finance companies, utility providers, and other creditors.”


"Tough love" welfare policies work -- as quarantining parent payments cuts indigenous truancy in Australia

INDIGENOUS leader Noel Pearson's tough welfare reforms in Cape York, which financially punish the parents of children who repeatedly miss school, have dramatically boosted attendance rates.

A report to be tabled today in Queensland parliament shows that school attendance in one of the nation's most troubled Aboriginal communities, Aurukun, has almost doubled since the introduction last year of the Family Responsibilities Commission in four Cape York communities. The report on the FRC, which links welfare payments to social responsibility, allows a comparison of school attendance in the four Cape York communities that are taking part in the welfare reform trial, one year on from its introduction.

The communities of Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge are all part of the $48million four-year Cape York Welfare Reform Trial, which is being funded by the federal and Queensland governments in partnership with the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership, founded by Mr Pearson. It aims to tackle school attendance, drug and alcohol abuse, health, child safety, economic development and housing.

The FRC is a key plank of the Cape York reform agenda, with a magistrate and respected Aboriginal community members sitting on a commission that has the power to direct that a person's income be managed by Centrelink. The FRC is notified if a person's child is absent from school three times during a term or is not enrolled in school, if a person is the subject of a child safety report or is convicted of an offence in the Magistrates Court, or if someone breaches their tenancy agreement. The project is aimed at restoring social norms through collective responsibility.

Figures contained in today's quarterly report show that school attendance has increased in Aurukun, which had an average attendance rate of 37 per cent 12 months ago and now is achieving an average rate of 63 per cent, while Mossman Gorge rose from 60.9 per cent to 81.6 per cent.

Attendance at schools in Coen and Hope Vale have experienced a slight reduction, with Coen's attendance rate falling from 96.8per cent to 93.6 per cent, and Hope Vale's attendance falling marginally from 87.6 per cent to 86.9 per cent. Those two communities have remarkably high rates of indigenous attendance compared with poor attendance rates in remote schools across the nation.

The Queensland Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, Desley Boyle, said the commission had been working with local schools, parents and case managers during the first six months of this year to devise ways of getting children to come to school. "I want to applaud all those involved, including parents and community leaders," she said. "As a result of this concerted effort, there are important improvements in school attendance."

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said yesterday research indicated that education and employment made the largest contribution to closing the life expectancy gap. "The latest report from the commission shows a promising upward trend in school attendance, and demonstrates what can be achieved when parents take responsibility for their child's future," she said.

Figures contained in the quarterly report reveal that the commission has been following through vigorously on the punitive aspects of the welfare reform project. Between April and June this year, there were 31 conditional income management orders issued. More than 252 school attendance notices were issued, together with 46 child safety notices, 336 magistrates court notices, and two housing tenancy notices.

Those who are issued with such notices are referred to the FRC, which sits periodically in each of the four Cape York communities. When the FRC receives a referral it typically holds a conference in an informal setting with the notice recipient, who is encouraged to come an agreement with the commission about an appropriate response to the issues that have led to the notice being issued. If the person is unwilling to change their behaviour, the FRC can issue warnings, refer the person to community support services, or order income management.

The FRC is a crucial aspect of the Cape York Institute and governments' efforts to reinforce indigenous community values of respect and responsibility, as well as determining what actions will be taken at a community level to address dysfunctional behaviour.

The federal government has also moved to link school attendance to welfare in certain communities in the NT.

But Mr Pearson's tough model measures to instil social norms have not been popular with all Aboriginal leaders. Indigenous education expert Chris Sarra yesterday slammed government attempts to combat truancy through welfare quarantining as ill-conceived and a waste of taxpayers' money. Dr Sarra said the policies -also being trialled in the NT and scheduled for testing in suburban Brisbane - were ill-conceived because they are based on flawed assumptions. "The assumptions are that parents are actively trying to keep their kids away from school, that parents don't want quality education for their kids, and that schools are the kind of places that are really exciting for every child," Dr Sarra said. "That's simply not the case." Dr Sarra is the executive director of the Queensland University of Technology's Stronger Smarter Institute and is the former principal of Cherbourg primary school.

A fortnight ago, Federal Minister for Families Jenny Macklin and Queensland Premier Anna Bligh announced that a year-long trial would begin in Brisbane's urban southern fringe, which could see parents lose welfare payments if their child was routinely and inexplicably absent from school. The trial will also run in the remote indigenous communities of Doomadgee and Mornington Island and follows a trial in several Northern Territory communities.

The Queensland and Northern Territory trials are separate to the Cape York welfare reform trials.


No comments: