- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 18, 2010

A small change in Sweden’s schooling law is about to make a big difference for Swedish home-schooling families, potentially causing them to flee to other countries or bring cases to international courts to protect religious and parental rights in the socialist country.

The Swedish Liberal Party pushed a new 1,500-page schooling law through last month one paragraph of which will make home schooling as an expression of religion or philosophy effectively impossible for Swedish families, other than in “exceptional circumstances” such as health issues or distance from a public school. The law also severely restricts religious practice in Sweden’s “confessional” schools.

Sweden’s officials defend the home-school ban, which takes effect next July, saying home schooling is unnecessary since the state provides a “comprehensive and objective” education.

This is exactly the problem, said Christopher Barnekov, director of Scandinavia House in Fort Wayne, Ind., an assistance program for Swedish Lutheran pastors studying in the U.S.

“The thrust of the law was to make schools across Sweden more uniform,” Mr. Barnekov said, adding that the law also requires Sweden’s religious schools to follow the same curriculum as its secular schools and restricts their prayer and chapel services.

Some families are even considering leaving the country, such as Nicklas and Jenny Lantz, who home-school their three sons, Lukas, Beppe and Frode. The whole family helps run a small theater they built in the Swedish countryside near their home; on play nights, they go together and help prepare for shows.

The Lantzes say they are planning a move to the United Kingdom so they can keep home schooling when the new schooling law takes effect July 1.

“For us, it feels like less of a burden to move there, than to stay and maybe have to go to court for our sake,” Mrs. Lantz said. “But it is a big decision we’re making. We don’t have a lot of friends in U.K., nor do we have any other connections there. But the thought of sending the kids to school only because of some politicians that don’t understand what home schooling really is, is not an alternative for us.”

Unlike in the U.S., Sweden’s home-schoolers do not fit a particular religious profile and are about as secular as the rest of the country but favor an educational style different from what Sweden’s state schools deliver.

The Lantzes said the quality of the schools in their area had little to do with their choice to nurture their kids’ “hunger to learn” at home.

“It is a totally different kind of education, and even if we could send our kids to the absolutely best school in the world, we wouldn’t do it,” she said.

The family decided to home-school when Lukas, now almost 10, was five years old. He had been learning everything from reading to counting on his own from a young age, Mrs. Lantz said in a phone interview, and his parents were delighted by his eagerness.

“We didn’t want him to lose the wonderful freedom in learning that he had, and the ‘hunger to learn’ — a common Swedish saying,” said Mrs. Lantz. “At that time, our second son was about three years old and we saw the same wonderful love of learning within him and we felt strongly that this was something we wanted to preserve and nurture.”

Anna Neuman, press secretary for Education Minister Jan Bjorklund, said home schooling is unnecessary in her country.

“Since all teaching in Swedish schools is both comprehensive and objective, there is no need for home schooling with reference to religious or philosophical reasons, and this is why this is not an option in the new Education Act,” she said.

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