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ROHUS President, Jonas Himmelstrand's, opening speech at the Global Home Education Conference 2012 in Berlin

This is the opening speech of the Global Home Education Conference 2012 i Berlin. This was the world's first ever global conference on home education. The conference gathered 189 participants from 26 countries and five continents.

More information about the conference can be found at: www.ghec2012.org


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I warmly welcome you to the world’s first Global Home Education Conference. It is a real pleasure to have you all here, attending this historical conference in the beautiful conference venue, in the city of Berlin which in so many ways symbolises freedom and the tearing down of walls, and of uniting people.

I have the great honour of being chairman of this conference board, a special honour for a home educating unschooling father. I came into the world of home education for simple secular educational reasons – our firstborn son had special needs. I come from a secular leftist political background. But as for home education and family my children have moved me, and home education very quickly become our educational choice for all our three children. We are a fully home educating family.

I am Swedish but my wife Tamara and I currently live with our three children in a Swedish speaking self-governing province of Finland called The Aland Islands. The reason why I live there you can hear in one of my workshops, “Home Educators in exile”.

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The Aland Islands is a beautiful place as you can see. This is the Baltic Sea just a few miles from our new home.

You will hear that I am European as I use the word Home Education rather Homeschooling, but this is only semantics. We Europeans like to differentiate ourselves from the North Americans, although we have to admit that the North Americans where the one who reinvented home education.

Home education is the world’s most exciting educational phenomena today. And those of you who attended Dr. Gordon Neufeld's pre-conference seminar today, realise it may even be more than that. It may be an expression of the social movement changing our society in our time. It is inevitable that home education will soon become the key topic of discussion among educators and psychologists all over the world.

The research facts are that pedagogically uneducated parents can reach the same or better results at home, in every aspect, than university trained teachers can do in school. This sounds like a paradox but can be explained. The success of home education is proving current learning and socialisation theories incomplete. It is opening the door to a deeper understanding of education and child development. Home education is the leading edge of pedagogics and child development today.

Home education is also probably the fastest growing form of schooling today. It is no marginal phenomena, millions home educate and it will change the way we view basic education forever.

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All this means that this conference was not even a day too early. It is high time to acknowledge home education and let the world know about this new powerful and successful educational movement.

Well, maybe not actually new. A home educating friend of mine in Sweden told his 95 year old aunt about home education and she said: ”Oh, is home education getting popular now again.” Of course in the early 20th century home education was common in Sweden, and in many countries.

Maybe we should say that gone are the days when school was the only educational option. The school monpoly on education was simply a short 150 year long historical oddity in industrial society. In the knowledge society school is only one of several educational options, of which home education is one, and where the choice must be made by the parents.

Now, who is at this conference?

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There are more than 175 participants from least 26 countries represented at this conference, and they cover all continents.

And there is more diversity. This conference also represent a multitude of convictions, motivations and methodology of home education.

The are many different reasons to home educate: educational, religious, children with special needs, bullied children, life-style. Many Swedish home educating parents are self-employed and master their own time. They want to give their children the same freedom they are enjoying themselves.

There are many different methods to home educate: classical curriculum, unschooling, national school curriculum, radical unschooling, autonomous learning – and some of these we not even be liked to be called a method.

What is special about this conference, apart from being global, is that we are bringing together home educators regardless of conviction, motivation or methodology. There are parents here who have religious reasons for home education, there are secular unschoolers like me, there are religious unschoolers and there are secular curriculum based home educators. But I am convinced that we have many more things in common than we have differences.

What unites us is that we are choosing as parents to educate our children, rather than sending them to school, and that we have found this to be a fantastic positive experience both in our children’s learning, in their socialisation, and in our parenting and family life.

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Some of you may ask what makes the home education movement so strong? Why such conviction, from secular and religious families alike? These questions are typically raised by people who lack a first hand experience of home education. For those of us who have this first hand experience, either as home educating parents or home education graduates, we know the reasons why. Look at this typical photo, look at the joy in the children’s expression and the stars in their eyes. Once a home educating parent has seen this in their children, together with the learning and growth, they will find it hard to settle for anything less.

Home educating families see the relief in their children at being home rather than in school, they see their curiosity and interest of learning grow to levels which many schools can only dream about, they see the commitment to learning, the inner strength building and their children gaining an obvious social ability which startles people. I don’t know how many journalists who has visited our home who just did not want to leave, they were so taken by our children and the warmth of our family.

Okay, if home education is so wonderful, why have a conference? Why don’t we just have a party and celebrate? Now we are getting serious. An important reason is that in some countries home education is still not accepted, not even in all developed democracies. In some countries home educators are harassed and persecuted by the authorities. They are threatened with exorbitant fines of thousands of Euros, even ten thousands of Euros. Some are even forced to pay. Today November 1st is the due date for a Swedish family to pay 4600 Euros in penalty for home education. Some families are threatened with the authorities taking the children away from the family, which in some cases actually happens.

In these countries home education is not only an educational issue but also a human rights issue, which may lead to living in exile and it follows the traits of a classical human rights struggle.

A simple expression of the aim of this conference adopted by the conference board is this.

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Home education is an idea whose time has come. It is growing, it has vitality, it is strong. It is time to start talking about it.

The conference board has ten members, from nine countries and four continents. Through our many talks – on video conference – we have found a simple essence of what we feel we want to express.

What has united us is this simple demand basically coming from the United Nations declaration of human rights:

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We are not of the opinion that everyone should home educate. We are of the opinion that it is the parents who decide the form of schooling for their children, and that home education is a valid choice. Children’s education is a parental responsibility, not a state responsibility.

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In the end this conference is really about family. This is about breathing life into families after the industrial society ordeal. This is about coming back to the natural context for raising children – the family, and the relatives of the family, the grandmas, the friends of the family and of civil society, which at its core is based on family.

Home education is perhaps the most powerful expression of bringing family back into our human society. Home education has tremendous power for learning and growth in the family. The experience of family seems to be what unites home educators of all convictions, motivations and methodology.

This is going to be a pretty exciting conference right?

Let me get back to the conference board which I have had the great privilege to be part of. For a full year all we have seen of each other, every other week, in a picture this big [about 4 by 4 centimeters] on a computer screen through video conferencing. This whole conference has been conceived and created this way. Most of us did not meet physically until yesterday. Even today I have a hard time believing this is actually true. Each and every member of the board has contributed in their unique way. We have had challenges and sometimes disagreements, but we have found a common solution to every challenge. This is a truly great board and vice chairman Dagmar Neubronner will now present the board.

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PS. Please read the Berlin-declaration which was presented at the conference here: The Berlin Declaration


 

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