French Family Educators Stand United

French home educators publish a joint statement in the face of proposed legislation to ban or severely restrict their freedom to provide education “en famille”

What’s been said?

Regular readers may recall a Byte from last October covering President Emmanuel Macron’s worrying proposal that home schooling in France should be banned in an attempt “to avoid children being ‘indoctrinated’ in unregistered schools that deviate from the national curriculum,” and “to reduce the numbers of children who are withdrawn from government-run schools.”

Since then, various French home education organisations and groups have come together in opposition to Article 21 of the Bill “Strengthening Republican Principles.” On 14 December they issued a statement of their shared objections [or “Common Position”], which may be read here in French, or in English via Google Translate.

In the draft stages, the French Conseil d’État (Council of State) had already registered their opposition to articles 18 and 19 which provided for the abolition of family education, saying that these were “unconstitutional, disproportionate and unjustified” and pointing out that an ordinary law could not suppress a freedom guaranteed by a higher standard. [See footnote 6 in Common Position]

The signatories of the Common Position statement claim that Article 21 breaches fundamental rights because, without objective evidence, “it aims to suppress the free choice of one of the modalities of freedom of education: family education.”

They note the incongruity of including such a proposal in a bill designed to reinforce republican principles, and conclude with a plea to the deputies and senators “to purely and simply remove this  freedom-destroying article from the Bill.”

If the Bill passed into law in its present form, non-compliance with compulsory education between the ages of three and sixteen would incur for the adults responsible “a penalty of 6 months in prison and a fine of 7,500 euros.”

The impact study was said to be “poor and riddled with allegations contradicting all [family education] research.” It also introduced a new justification for the banning of home education – “the fear of a ‘form of social separatism’.”

Signatories claimed that the state was “increasing its domination over the private sphere, replacing the parents to impose its vision of the “best interests” of the child.” [Emphasis added]

Furthermore, in seeking to ban family education, they asserted that the government had the wrong target, as well as making a huge assault on freedom of education and educational diversity.

A joint press release from 5 January reports a request from the home education organisations that a moratorium be implemented until the legal and social implications of the proposed reform can be properly evaluated. [English translation PDF]

Other synopses of the whole episode can be found here and here, plus a moving personal reflection here [English via Google Translate].

A very recent report on events in France covers a protest march in Paris by home educating families on Sunday 17 January ahead of a parliamentary commission debate on the controversial “separatism” bill the following day. One participant considered the suppression of the freedom to choose [the mode of education] “with so little justification” to be “intolerable.”

Why does it matter?

The Common Position document helpfully sets out the potential outcomes of this draft legislation on both practical and ideological fronts. It is well-reasoned, and the points it makes are applicable more widely than the immediate context of the French draft legislation. Sadly, some of the reasoning will be all too familiar to readers from across the UK.

As emphasised in this Byte about English local authority overreach, “what is one council’s ‘good practice’ today will be adopted by others tomorrow.” The same holds true on the larger scale. How one country’s government handles the “problem” of home educators will be observed and emulated by others.

How home educators respond to the proposal of stiffer legislation will also be noted. Will they conform to the new requirements without demur? Will they quietly retreat to a less hostile location? Or will they recall the age-old maxim “United we stand, divided we fall,” and come together to make a collective response to threats of state overreach?

What can I do?

Given the direction of travel in these islands, it’s important for UK home educators to broaden their horizons and keep abreast of what is happening on the EHE front elsewhere. We may also find ourselves inspired by the collective response mounted by French stakeholders.

Read the French home educators’ Common Position document, the key points at least, and think about their application in the wider sphere. Some of the points highlighted by our French counterparts are specific to their national situation and jurisdiction; others are transferable and of great relevance to the broader struggle to maintain educational freedom of choice, for example:

  • A “freedom” subject to authorisation means that prohibition is now the rule. In a state of law, freedom must remain the rule and restriction the exception.
  • The abolition of free choice aims to drastically reduce the number of children educated in families.
  • The private sphere [is] under ever-increasing domination of the State

Consider the relevance of this observation by one commentator: “An attack on homeschool freedom in France affects homeschoolers everywhere…” If France were able to pass such legislation, it would have a negative effect on the legality of home education in other countries.

Learn to recognise government double-speak, such as these two contradictory pronouncements from the French Minister of National Education: “Freedom of instruction in the family has a powerful constitutional basis…” (June 2020), followed just six months later by: “Home education must be quite exceptional… this is why we will set up a home schooling authorization system, and no longer a simple declaration.”

For a wider perspective, short videos featuring home educators’ experience in other European countries have recently been posted on this blog. Try and make time to catch up with what is happening in Ireland, Sweden, Poland, Portugal and Hungary.