U.S. Home Schoolers Push Movement Around the World

By Mary Ann Zehr — January 03, 2006 6 min read
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From his cozy home office here, Christopher J. Klicka is dispensing advice to two evangelical Christian ministers who also happen to be home-schooling dads from Japan.

“Never be satisfied with the status quo,” Mr. Klicka tells his guests. “Keep pushing for more freedom so that parents can choose the curriculum and when to home-school. We don’t want that controlled by the government.”

Mr. Klicka, 44, has long been fighting that battle stateside as a lawyer for the Home School Legal Defense Association in Purcellville, Va. Since its founding in 1983, the nonprofit organization run by evangelical Christians has defended families who want to home-school and has lobbied for laws to making home schooling legal and less regulated.

For the past decade, though, Mr. Klicka has been a home-schooling missionary abroad as well. He has visited other countries to help parents set up organizations modeled after the U.S.-based one. According to the association’s Web site, www., he or some other of the group’s staff or 80,000 members have helped home schoolers in 24 countries.

Mr. Klicka says that while in the past decade some countries—including South Africa and Taiwan—have legalized home schooling, many countries still don’t have explicit laws for home schooling, and some countries that have legalized the practice have burdensome regulations. The HSLDA advises home schoolers on how to be better advocates. For example, if the country permits private schooling, Mr. Klicka counsels them to argue that home schooling is a form of private schooling.

Haruto Yoshii, the director of a home-school support group in Tokyo, left, shows Christopher J. Klicka, a U.S.-based advocate for home schooling, a photo of home-schooled Japanese students at Mr. Klicka's Virginia home last month.

Sometimes, the legal-defense association taps into its fund for international support —about $15,000 a year—to subsidize start-ups of legal organizations. Other times, Mr. Klicka raises money from American home-schooling parents to support their counterparts overseas. He has also coordinated campaigns in which American home schoolers have barraged foreign governments with e-mails asking for the passage or rejection of legislation.

Now the senior counsel for the HSLDA, Mr. Klicka serves on the board of home-schooling legal-defense organizations that it helped start in Canada, Germany, Japan, and South Africa.

‘Good Mentor’

“Chris was a good mentor, trainer, educator, and encourager,” said Dallas K. Miller, a lawyer and the former executive director of the Home School Legal Defence Association of Canada, in Medicine Hat, Alberta.

While home schooling has always been legal in Canada, Mr. Miller said, the HSLDA of Canada has fought regulation of the practice, such as requirements that local school officials approve the curriculum. The organization has also battled intervention by social-service workers in home-schooling families’ lives, he said.

Mr. Miller said he learned legal strategies from Mr. Klicka. They include, Mr. Miller said, “forcing social workers to verify their allegations and accusations, and protecting the autonomy of the family by not letting the social workers interrogate children against their parents’ will.” The two lawyers also joined together to give presentations in several Canadian cities.

Now feeling more of the effects of the multiple sclerosis he was diagnosed with 12 years ago, Mr. Klicka has curtailed foreign travel, but he hasn’t stopped his campaign. He consults by phone and e-mail.

On this Saturday in December, while four of the seven home-schooled Klicka children go sled-riding outdoors, Mr. Klicka puts his head together with Haruto Yoshii, the director of a support group for home-schooling families in Tokyo, and Seiji Oyama, a businessman and pastor in the Japanese capital.

Seeking Acceptance

The visitors also present Mr. Klicka with a gift: a Japanese translation of his 2002 book, The Heart of Home Schooling. Mr. Oyama has translated it from English to Japanese and plans to market the book to Christians in Japan.

Christopher J. Klicka, a lawyer with the Home School Legal Defense Association, looks on with family and friends at a gift from Japanese homeschool proponents Haruto Yoshii, left, and Seiji Oyama.

Mr. Yoshii and Mr. Oyama estimate that some 300 Japanese families—about a third of them Christian—teach their children at home, stemming, they say, from the bullying and extreme competition in Japanese schools.

As a Christian, Mr. Oyama said, he is also uncomfortable with how Japanese schools teach nationalism. “It’s a military style,” he said. “You have to sing the national anthem. The content is praising the emperor. He is God.”

One of the biggest problems home-schooling parents face in Japan is ostracism by other Japanese, some Christians included, according to Mr. Oyama. He and his wife, Kathy, an American, began home-schooling their four children in California, where they lived for about a decade. A year ago, the family moved to Japan, Mr. Oyama’s homeland, where he is the pastor of a church of about 250 members.

Hiroshi Kamiyo, the education counselor for the Embassy of Japan, in Washington, said that the Japanese government has no policy on home schooling, but that the constitution says parents have a duty to make sure their children are educated. The government prefers Japanese to send their children to public or private schools, he said, but won’t force them to do so. “So far, our government [education] policy is focused on other areas, like how to address absenteeism or dropouts, or violence and bullying,” he said. “These are more serious problems.”

Although religion is a prime reason to home-school in the United States, that’s often not the case elsewhere, according to a special issue on home schooling that the British journal Evaluation and Research in Education published last year. Paula Rothermel, a researcher at the school of education at the University of Durham in England, found only about 4 percent of the 412 British home-schooling families she surveyed said religion was a motive for home schooling. Nearly 31 percent cited disappointment with regular schools.

The special issue describes research on the modern home-schooling movement in Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany, Israel, South Africa, Sweden, and the United States. In the last five to 10 years, the number of home-schooling families has increased dramatically in North America and in Great Britain and other countries, writes David Galloway, the journal’s acting editor, in the special issue.

Schooling in Secret

The home-schooling movement in the United States—including the HSLDA—has helped pave the way.

Ms. Rothermel writes in reference to the United States: “The fact that home education already is acceptable in a large, wealthy, and culturally influential nation will lend the practice a good deal of initial legitimacy wherever it travels.”

That doesn’t seem to have helped yet in Germany, where, according to Thomas Spiegler, a researcher in the department of sociology at Philipps-University Marburg, home schooling remains illegal.

“Compulsory school attendance exists in Germany, and home schooling is not allowed,” he writes. Mr. Spiegler estimates that about 500 children are home-schooled in Germany “in secret, with tacit toleration by the local authorities or with legal consequences, ranging from a fine to partial loss of child custody, or even the possibility of a prison sentence.”

One leader of that country’s home-schooling movement is Richard Guenther, an evangelical Christian and the director of a legal-defense organization founded five years ago. Mr. Klicka organized American home schoolers to raise $100,000 for the organization, and he serves on its board.

“We are in quite a cultural war here in Germany,” Mr. Guenther said in an e-mail to Education Week last month. Our organization “has been very busy in the courts representing families who only want to apply their constitutional rights to educate their children at home, thus protecting them from the liberal agenda being foisted upon them by the government schools.”

Officials at the Germany Embassy in Washington defended their government’s position on home schooling. “The public has a legitimate interest in countering the rise of parallel societies that are based on religion or motivated by different worldviews,” they said in a statement.

Mr. Klicka said that he and other American home-schooling parents can relate to what the German families are going through, and that’s what motivates them to want to help.

When he began working for the HSLDA, home schooling was legal in only five states, some parents who taught their children at home were fined, and government officials sometimes threatened to take their children away. The time: 1985.

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