The following questions were supplied by one of the main national Swedish TV networks for an interview on homeschooling with the author scheduled for 24 May 2011. The filming session was cancelled at the last minute, the reason being given that a similar story had already recently been screened on national TV and so, I was told, the need for another was not required.
I don't intend to speculate whether or not this was the truth other than to remark that the government does not want its boat rocked over this scandal. Nevertheless, the world must hear, and so I have taken the trouble to answer the questions originally asked of me by the producer for future use by anybody who would like to know just what we homeschoolers feel about this very controlling régime.
Q1. Why are you giving your children an education at home?
1.1. There are very many reasons for this which I, as a professional educator, who has taught in both the typical classroom situation as well as in one-to-one tutoring, have thought about over the years. There are some general reasons, that are to do with the nature of education itself, and some situational ones as it relates to the Swedish system specifically.
1.2 The first and most important reason I home educate my children, and probably the most obvious one, is I want them to have the best possible form of education and in the safest and happiest kind of environment where they can thrive and grow. So there are both academic and social reasons.
1.3 I believe, along with British educator Ken Robinson, that schools kill creativity insead of developing it. I do not agree with Swedish Education Minister, Jan Björklund, who claims that teachers are no more than mental surgeons whose job is to program children like robots to think in only one way. The great philosopher Plutarch said that the mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled, and this I agree with too.
1.4. I want my children to explore for themselves and kindle their own interests. I see my own rôle as a guide, filling in the gaps of knowledge as they present themselves, or better still, getting them to fill these gaps in themselves. I believe this kind of education (which some call 'unschooling') is vitally important when they are young, up to about the age of 13. Thereafter, I freely acknowledge, a more systematic approach is needed but by then their curiosity and hunger for knowledge will be so developped that they will readily accept the need for more curriculum-based study. I want my children to be able to explore the universe for themselves and to make their own choices as to what they believe in, and to hear different view-points without everything being politicised or viewed through only one lens of philosophical interpretation.
1.5. To give you an example, my daughter has suddenly acquired a passion to learn Japanese! My attitude is: Go for it! If you enjoy it, if you have a hunger for it, if you're willing to work hard, then learn Japanese! All three of my homeschooled children have developped a passion for German and my eldest has been studying that in earnest now for a while. He needs no motivation, no compulsion, because this is what he wants to do. Moreover, they all work at their own pace. So if he suddenly gets a hankering to study Information Technology, that's what we switch to for part of the day. We can be flexible. Another day he may get an urge to study up on Swedish history because of a movie we saw. You learn far better when you are motivated and it is a fact that every honest school teacher knows: children don't thrive when they are forced, in a military barrack-type situation, to simply learn things by rote that they don't want to.
1.6. Now I know, because I experimented with this when I was a school teacher, that if you learn the school way, you forget 70% of what you have learned. Just pick anyone off the street and test them and see what they remember from class. Most of what they learned at school they have forgotten. But find someone who was passionately interested in what they were learning, and they will remember most of it. Most of what I learned I learned outside the classroom because I was motivated to learn what I wanted to.
1.7. So this is a main reason I do not like the school system, and my children certainly don't because latterly they have had to do compulsory attentance a few times every month. They hate it. They find it boring and have already made up their minds for themselves. We told them recently that if they would rather state school than home school, that that's an option for them.
1.8. A second reason we homeschool is because the children's mother and I agreed that we wanted them to primarily have a British education. We are an Anglo-Norwegian family who initially came to Sweden for economic reasons and had no intention of remaining in the country. I used to commute to work in Norway. My eldest son has already moved back to Norway where he works, after going to University in Sweden, and another is going to university in England this year. We value learning Swedish and the Swedish way of life but our children all seem to be gravitating back to Norway and England, as we expected they would, which of course is their choice. We have often thought of moving back but since we are so close to the Norwegian border and have put down roots here, we would like to remain as we are very fond of this country. So all our children have been following a British Curriculum in the English language since we started homeschooling as we feel that this will give them a wider educational and career choice when they are adults.
1.9. Finally, and I have to be blunt here, I am not at all happy with the social environment in Swedish state schools. The bullying, drug culture, bad language and lack of discipline are hardly conducive for successful learning. This is not the fault of the teachers, many of whom I know and am friends with, but the system which ties their hands behind their backs. And the educational results have not been good. And to be perfectly honest, I do not believe that the new Educational Bill is going to change much because we have tried a similar system in Britain and it has been an abysmal failure. None of us in the homeschooling community are reassured or impressed by the promise that the school environment will improve because of the new law. The state has told us that it will be safe but of course can't possibly say when. Come back in 10 or 20 years and demonstrate that schools are safe and effective and then some homeschoolers might be tempted back, but not before then. Give us the evidence first. But they won't. They simply ask us to trust them. Well, I'll tell you, it won't work because I have seen it at work in the UK.
1.10. The thinking of those politicians running education in this country comes from the dinosaur age - they don't seem to have caught up with the cyber age - they're still back in the 19th century when it comes to an educational methodology. Experiments done in India have demonstrated the effectiveness of learning on-line without a class teacher! And the Education Minister isn't even an educator but a military man, something that many from the Teachers' Union are rightly concerned about. We should be way beyond classroom regimentation. We appreciate the facilities that have been opened to us in our local state schools, readily accept the Swedish language lessons given, the children have their friends and access to class functions and outings. So in many ways we have the best of both worlds whilst securing a safe and passionate learning environment for our children at home.
Q2. For how long a time have you been giving your children a home education?
2.1. Ever since they were born, which means basically for the last sixteen years (my older children were state schooled), since we regard education as something that goes on continuously all ones life. If, however, you are referring to a formal education or schooling following a set curriculum, then we have been doing this for the last ten years, ever since my eldest son simultaneously attended Förskolan or Pre-School, which is the year before the First Grade. So we have been doing this for a very long time.
Q3. Is homeschooling working?
3.1. Definitely. My eldest son completed the 9th Grade last year and passed his National Tests proving that it can be done in Sweden. Others have done it too and under the guidance of parents who are not professional teachers like myself. My youngest daughter is completing the 6th Grade this year and definitely wants to continue homeschooling and not go to state school. Indeed, anyone who has had a school education can do it, and if he or she can't, then something is wrong with the educational system!
3.2. Our children love learning because of this environment. Moreover, millions of children have been learning this way internationally for decades and are extremely successful, as academic studies have shown. And yet Education Minister Jan Björklund in a TV interview with STV Sörmland only a few days ago said that it is impossible for home educated pupils to successfully complete their education without the expertese to be found in his schools. He is talking absolute nonsense. He doesn't even know what he is saying! Shame on him for knowing so abysmally little about homeschooling! As a Chinese proverb puts it, the person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person who is doing it. That would be my advice to him.
Q4. What is your opinion about the new law for home education in Sweden?
4.1. I could say many things about the new law and home education, none of them complimentary. For one thing it is illegal, since Sweden is committed by international treaties that bind it to guaranteeing freedom of education and parental choice. The European Union guarantees the right of parents to choose the kind of education they want to give to their children and so does the United Nations. That ought to be the end of it. This means that the Swedish Government is in violation of its treaties and bringing shame on Sweden. Worse, it has banned a universal human right. And the only governments who ban human rights are totalitarian ones, are they not? If the Swedish Government breaks international agreements so brazenly how can we, as citizens and residents, ever possibly trust them to honour their election pledges to the people, let alone obey their own laws? Our trust in the government has to be restored by repealing this terrible clause in the new Education Act as well as liberalising the one in the old law.
4.2. I am frankly amazed that the leader of the Swedish Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) - the 'Peoples Party' - actually believes, and now intends to implement, such a policy. This is naked totalitarianism, what a leader of the new Swedish Liberal Democratic Party rightly calls "social fascism". Worse, this so-called 'Liberal' Education Minister not only wants to ban home schooling but seems to want to force all schools to follow a single curriculum as well as to eventually make education of all children from the age of 18 months to be compulsory! The only regimes who have ever done this sort of thing in the past have been totalitarian ones - Soviet Russia, Maoist China, Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa. So what do I think about the new law? It is an outrage, and a brazen mockery of education, democracy and freedom. The Education Minister refused to even talk to us during the review period - so much for their election promise of open government!
Q5. Are you going to move from Sweden on 1 July 2011 when the new law comes into force?
5.1. Many of my fellow homeschoolers have fled Sweden. They are refugees - political exiles - in countries all over the world in countries where they can be free, like Finland, for example. They are frightened of crippling fines, imprisonment and state child-abduction for doing something the EU and UN guarantees them the right to. They are frightened of what happened to Domenic Johanssom - they are frightened that the state will turn kidnapper again and abduct their children too for not giving the state unquestioning obedience when it arrogantly breaks EU and international law. I don't blame them. They are not criminals for homeschooling - that is patently absurd. It is the banning of a fundamental human right that is a crime. It is this shameful government that is guilty of piracy.
5.2. Am I going to move? I have a 97 year-old mother to take care of who lives with me and moving her would kill her. I am a free man supposedly living in a free, democratic country that guarantees human rights. But apparently lawless elements in government have voted into existence the next stage of a totalitarian state. Swedes ought to be afraid and say "No!" with what democratic political instruments yet remain. The banning of homeschooling, forcing Free Schools to follow the same curriculum as state schools, and the stated desire to force infants into this nefarious system is just the thin edge of the wedge that will, unless checked now, ultimately lead to a police state.
5.3. The new law does at least permit me to homeschool under very exceptional circumstances, and I am going to apply for homeschooling again for a variety of 'exceptional circumstances', not least of which is the fact that the new 'law' is illegal. Those homeschoolers who are remaining in Sweden intend to fight this in the Swedish and EU courts and in the UN. Part of my family may be forced to live in exile abroad, I don't know yet. It's really up to the government as to what it does - whether it continues to act the bully or starts getting reasonable and responsible. I intend to fight one way or another, whether here or abroad. I shall be making a great deal of noise until we get justice, as will others in our community, whether at home or in other countries. The exiles and refugees want to return home, but to a safe home, not one where there is a climate of fear.
5.4. Jason Clark said that having complete control over the education of the youngest members of state is always an integral part of controlling the population. I can't believe freedom-loving, democratic Swedes really want this. Most know nothing about our plight so we are grateful that you are giving us an opportunity to have a voice. Many Swedes are frankly shocked at our treatment and never dreamed that their government could or would do such a thing. This is a wake-up call.
5.5. So what I actually do will depend on how the situation unfolds. I am trusting that our local kommun or municipality will be as fair-minded with us now as they have been over the years. I would like to talk to our fair-minded, democracy- and freedom-loving local politicians about this if they are willing because they have to go through the quagmire of interpreting this new law which the Swedish Law Association has criticised as being very badly worded. But the national politicians wouldn't listen to the lawyers and just rushed their ill-thought out bill through. Why? What was their hurry?
5.6. As homeschoolers we have an international team of lawyers working for us now, and individual kommuns or municipalities who breach EU and UN law are already being reported to the UN and and are being exposed internationally. So far this is very few but the bad ones are really terrible. We should commend the good ones, and there have been some really excellent ones who have respected homeschoolers' rights because of the latitude Stockholm gives them in interpretaing the law which was vague before the new Education Bill but which is now contradictory. So I have every confidence that our kommun will do the right thing and I would welcome a dialogue while the national government fixes this mess it has made.
5.7. In his interview with STV Sörmland, Education Minister Björklund defended his government's position in refusing freedom in education by saying that this was the way things were done. All I can say is that it's high time that this fossilised mentality was consigned to a museum and that new thinking is admitted. Education in Sweden is being strangled and simply redecorating the same old failed system with a new education policy isn't going to work. The box has to go, the windows thrown open wide, and fresh air allowed in. The government needs to let parents and professional educators to independently decide about education methods, as they do in Finland, and not military men with no experience in the field. Then Swedish education will bloom in state schools, free schools, and in homeschooling!
1. In all my years of teaching experience both as a school teacher (11 years), private tutor (11 years) and principal (rektor) of a tuition college (10 years), and homeschooler (16 years) I have concluded that homeschooling offers a better learning environment than school. The learning is more individualised and the environment is far safer giving excellent results both socially and academically. Homeschooling with access to the state school when needed is the best solution.
2. The new education law in Sweden fails to comply with both international human rights conventions and with the Constitition of the European Union. Since the signing of the Lisbon Treaty at the end of 2010, the EU law is now effectively a part of the Swedish Constitution and must be implemented.
3. Given the indisputably excellent results of homeschooling - academically and socially - this issue is so important to me and many others in Sweden that we will consider either fighting the new law in court or we will leave the country as political exiles rather than surrender a fundamental human right. Children have educational rights and parents have the right to judge and give what they feel to be the very best education possible for them. We will not be dictated to by petty autocrats.