Sunday, August 14, 2011

Helping people make informed choices - it's not rocket science, but Darcia Narvaez just didn't nail it

As a long-time lactivist, I am a supporter of World Breastfeeding Week, whose purpose is to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world. This year there were some great articles on the internet that discussed these issues. However, a recent series on the Psychology Today blog, which attempted to highlight this theme, backfired spectacularly. Whatever the intentions of Darcia Narvaez were, her venture ended up going sadly awry.

As an unintended consequence of the final article in the series, Narvaez evoked some strong responses from various corners of the blogosphere. She ended up re-editing the offending article and retracting, or a couple of her claims.

However, I'm not sure that Narvaez really gets it. In her most recent post, although she apologizes for the lack of empathy she displayed, she seems to think that the underlying reason for the negative reactions to her article lies in the fact that "the information we provided is often shocking for those not previously exposed to it because the (mistaken) baseline assumed by many is 'formula feeding is fine'". Although this might be the case for a few mothers who read her article, I'm afraid she's way off base here. Many of those who criticized her posts were familiar with much, if not all, of the information she presented.

As well as that, she seems to be rather confused as to the tone of her offending article. She writes that the post deliberately "had a very sharp tone", after which she tells us that she and her co-writers "intended a coaxing tone." It seems that she's not sure what tone was intended, but in the end, her articles came off as judgemental and bullying, even to many of those who shared her point of view.

In response to a critic (who obviously hasn't heard of milksharing networks, as she states that milk donation isn't viable because pumping is painful and time-consuming) Narvaez writes that the purpose of her posts is to get information out about the deficiencies of formula. I have no problem with giving information, but the problem here is that Narvaez didn't leave it at this. She twisted and exaggerated the research to make her point and to make formula seem worse than it is and valorize breastmilk, and in doing so, did a disservice to the cause of infant feeding. In some cases, her exaggerations appeared to be deliberate, but she also carelessly cites hyperbolic claims made by others.

There's an example right in the very comment that I just linked to. Narvaez writes that WHO studies show that "in societies where breastfeeding is expected to be the norm there are no physical difficulties." NO physical difficulties? What about those babies with cleft palates, those with Downs Syndrome and other congenital defects, very low muscle tone, severe tongue tie or mothers with hypoplastic breasts who can't produce milk? These issues occur in all societies, not just in modern industrialized ones and the breastfeeding difficulties they cause don't disappear in societies where breastfeeding is the norm. I totally agree that breastfeeding difficulties are almost absent in societies where breastfeeding is the norm, but Narvaez goes too far when she says that there are none. What her statement does is to idealize breastfeeding. Her statement that 99% of women can breastfeed was another example of how she manipulated statistics. The source she was citing from actually said that 95-99% of women can breastfed, and Narvaez knowingly cited the most optimistic figure.

What I particularly want to focus on in this post, however, is Narvaez' claim that "Chemicals used in rocket fuel production have even been found in some infant formulas." Now that sounds really scary. Who wants to be told that their babies are drinking a concoction that is laced with rocket fuel. There are a number of things wrong with this statement. It is an example of the logical fallacy known as appeal to fear. The reference to "chemicals", in the plural, serves to heighten this claim. Narvaez implies that more than one constituent in formula is tainted by association with rocket fuel.

As it is, the link in Narvaez' footnote only refers to one chemical, perchlorate. In the form of ammonium perchlorate, it is used as a propellant for rocket fuel. However, it also has other uses, one of them medicinal and in fertilizer, but the statement "Chemicals used in fertilizers have even been found in some infant formulas" just doesn't strike the same level of fear into a pregnant mother's heart. Perchlorate has been found to be naturally present in arid environments. There has been some contamination due to its release into groundwater after NASA launches and fireworks displays.

It has also been detected in breast milk, at higher levels than in infant formula. There's a touch of irony in this, given that Narvaez mentions its presence in formula to debunk the myth that formula is as safe as breastmilk.

Perchlorate is a chemical which may disrupt thyroid activity, so its presence in formula and breastmilk could be a cause for concern. However, this is not a reason to wean babies from breastmilk or bovine-based formula. When this chemical was discovered in breastmilk, the media had a field day with the rocket fuel reference as well, this time in an attempt to sensationalize the issue and possibly also to discredit breastfeeding (that's my conspiracy theorist alter-ego talking there.)

I don't want to downplay the issue of perchlorate or other contaminants, but this is just a further indication that Darcia Narvaez' aim is not so much to inform as to strongly persuade. I don't think there's anything wrong with attempting to persuade, but this is an attempt to persuade cloaked in the guise of providing information and in this case, it went badly awry.

Next time you want to do something to promote breastfeeding, Darcia,sit on your hands - you'll do a whole lot more good that way. If you do aim to inform, then I hope that in future you try to do it honestly and look very carefully at the way in which you present "facts".

By the way, breastmilk and some formulas (the ready to feed ones) also contain an ingredient that is also produced as a result of the combustion of rocket fuel and whose overconsumption can result in death. I'll leave it up to you guys to guess what it is.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Law professor makes a half-baked attempt to bash homeschooling

I'm a regular follower of Milton Gaither's blog, and I like it even more now that he recently posted a complimentary review of my MA dissertation.

In a recent blog Gaither reviewed Catherine J. Ross, “Fundamentalist Challenges to Core Democratic Values: Exit and Homeschooling.” in William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal 18, 991-1014 (2010). As the whole essay was available online (which isn’t always the case with articles or studies in scholarly journals), I decided to take a look at Ross's arguments.

As a homeschooling mother myself, I admit that I’m biased. However, I feel that homeschoolers do themselves a disservice when they simply dismiss what the detractors of homeschooling have to say by invoking conspiracy theories. The concerns of those who critize homeschooling can't be just brushed off and ignored. I believe that it's important to address their arguments with an open mind. With this in mind, I started reading Ross's essay.

I couldn’t decide whether Ross just has an ideological objection to homeschooling, or whether the claims she makes are borne of ignorance as well. Her bias clearly comes through in her essay, in which she stated that homeschoolers poses a threat to fundamental democratic values. In fact, Ross makes a number of claims. She asserts that “the growing reliance on homeschooling comes into direct conflict with assuring that children are exposed to… constitutional values” (such as tolerance). She claims that the overwhelming majority of homeschoolers are religious fundamentalists who want to “protect their children from conflicting messages.” She argues that the requirement of state oversight applies not only to the educational attainment of homeschoolers, but also to religious indoctrination by homeschooling parents. Ross also claims that the state’s interest in a pluralist democracy entitles it to monitor such indoctrination in homeschooling families, at least during those hours when they are educating their children.

Although the article is written in a scholarly tone, and relies heavily (in some sections) on legal citations, its flaws expose it as being rather tendentious. In fact, when I examined Ross’ sources, I was astounded at the way in which she cherrypicks quotes out of context to support her statements. And, to quote one of my favorite statements from daytime television “that’s not all!” Ross’s article is one long example of how to manipulate quotes and statistics in order to make it seem as though they to support your point of view.

Ross starts out by describing the historical background of homeschooling in the USA, before moving onto the current situation. The first thing that jumped out at me when I read Ross’s essay was her assertion that “almost ninety percent of parents who homeschool do so for reasons stemming from their religious beliefs.” Ross’s conclusion is based on surveys conducted in 2003 and 2008 by the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education. She states that in 2007, eighty-three percent of homeschoolers reported that they chose to keep their children at home to ‘provide religious or moral instruction’.” In this survey, only 36% of homeschooling parents cited this as their primary reason. However, Ross argues that any degree of religious motivation places homeschoolers in the category of fundamentalist. In light of the fact that nearly 84% of Americans identify themselves as having a religious affiliation, and that I know several moderate homeschooling Christians who do not prevent their children from being exposed to other teachings, I don't get Ross's point. According to the Pew Report, 26% of Americans are evangelical Christians, which does indicate that, with 36% of homeschoolers having religion (or moral teaching) as their primary motivation, this element is, to a certain degree, overrepresented in the American homeschool population, but I can't see it being 90%. Aside from this, homeschooling for reasons stemming from your religious beliefs does not equate teaching your child intolerance. Martin Luther King was religious and I don't think that Ross would regard him as an example of intolerant.

What Ross does next with the results of these surveys is the part that took my breath away. When I read that “homeschooling parents cite their desire to protect their children from “negative peer pressure,” much as the Amish parents in Yoder worried about the goings-on in high school”, I started smelling a very stinky rat. I have no religious beliefs myself and one thing that I really like about homeschooling is the fact that it reduces negative peer pressure on my children. I don’t have a problem with the fact that my 17 year old son is way more responsible than his peers, and, even though he’s an avid blues and rock guitarist, isn’t interested in drugs or alcohol. I’m quite happy that my nearly 14 year old daughter still has no desire to shave her legs or wear make-up. However, I wasn’t aware that this makes me a religious fundamentalist. According to Ross, however, not only are those who primarily homeschooled because they were “concerned about the school environment” (21% in 2007) but also those who said they were “dissatisfied with the academic instruction at other schools” (17% in 2007) religious fundamentalists in secular clothing. She only regarded the group whose primary motivation was interest “in a nontraditional approach to children’s education” and those with special needs children as genuine non-religious homeschoolers.

After my initial “WTF?” reaction to this assertion of Ross’s I decided to test it. I found the actual questions asked by the NCES and shamelessly posted them in the form of a poll on a secular homeschooling forum. I know that this doesn’t count as a scientific survey, and there is the possibility that some respondents might have checked out the answers before responding themselves, but the results of my little survey were that over 30% of the secular homeschoolers cited concern with the school environment or dissatisfaction with academic instruction as one of their main motivations. I wonder if Ross might conclude that the secular homeschoolers’ forum is crawling with religious fundamentalists, if she was even willing to accept the possible validity of my results.

Ross then quotes the following from David Sikkink, author of Conservative Protestants, Schooling, and Democracy (supra note 27) : “a significant minority of conservative and evangelical Protestants have chosen some form of an exit strategy in favor of religious schools.” However, Sikkink puts this figure in perspective by stating that 69% of conservative Protestants want to work with public schools, a similar percentage to Catholics at 67% and not far below mainstream Protestants at 76%.

Later on in her essay, Ross cites Sikkink once again, to support the point that “some
data indicate that students in evangelical schools demonstrate less comfort with freedom of speech than their peers in public schools.” (supra note 111) It’s ironic that she tries to shore up her arguments with quotes from a source that contradicts her major thesis. Right after Ross’s former quote from Sikkink, he says “I argue that there is little reason to be concerned that these schools will have dire consequences for a healthy democracy – at least judging in terms of curriculum, practices and civic philosophy.”

Sikkink concludes, “All told then, it appears that conservative Protestants and their institutions are not the strongest and most consistent supporters of a traditional democratic education within schools, but divisions on schooling issues within the movement make it unlikely that conservative Protestants pose a significant threat to democracy.” He perceives a greater threat to democratic education from too much testing, the emphasis on individual choice and the cultural assumption that education is about private choice, but he doesn’t link the latter to conservative Protestants or homeschooling specifically. In this article Sikkink specifically addressed many of the issues that concern Ross.

On examing the rest of Ross’s essay, I found some more citations that didn’t seem to reflect the conclusions of the sources she quoted. As I mentioned before, she cites a number of legal judgements to support her view that “the state can and should limit the ability of intolerant homeschoolers to inculcate hostility to difference in their children—at least during the portion of the day they claim to devote to satisfying the compulsory schooling requirement.” Not only does this idea have a faintly Orwellian ring to it (I can’t imagine how this could realistically be implicated, other than by actively listening in on homeschoolers) but the judgements that Ross cites contradict this.

Ross fails to mention that the various courts’ rejection of the claims by homeschoolers for autonomy and for freedom from oversight are specifically limited to the academic content of their children’s education, the content of public school curricula or in dealing with cases where there is evidence of child abuse or neglect. She mentions that “circuit courts that have reached the question have uniformly held that once parents enroll their children in public school, (my emphasis) their rights to restrict the curriculum to which their children are exposed are extremely limited” but spends the rest of that section assuming that US courts would extend this limitation of rights to homeschoolers. Rather than take my word for it that Ross is misrepresenting these judgements to support her case, let’s see what the judgements themselves say (these are all judgements that Ross quotes from (directly or indirectly) or cites in her article:

Mozert v. HawkinsCounty Public Schools: The parents in the present case want their children to acquire all the skills required to live in modern society. They also want to have them excused from exposure to some ideas they find offensive. Tennessee offers two options to accommodate this latter desire. The plaintiff parents can either send their children to church schools or private schools, as many of them have done, or teach them at home. Tennessee law prohibits any state interference in the education process of church schools:
The state board of education and local boards of education are prohibited from regulating the selection of faculty or textbooks or the establishment of a curriculum in church-related schools. TCA 49-50-801(b). Similarly the statute permitting home schooling by parents or other teachers prescribes nothing with respect to curriculum or the content of class work.

Swanson vs Guthrie: The board's policy… does not prohibit them from home-schooling Annie in accordance with their religious beliefs, and does not force them to do anything that is contrary to those beliefs.

Brown vs Hot, Sexy and Safer Productions: (arguably the court judgement with the most salacious title)
The Meyer and Pierce cases, we think, evince the principle that the state cannot prevent parents from choosing a specific educational program -- whether it be religious instruction at a private school or instruction in a foreign language. That is, the state does not have the power to "standardize its children" or "foster a homogenous people" by completely foreclosing the opportunity of individuals and groups to choose a different path of education. … We do not think,however, that this freedom encompasses a fundamental constitutional right to dictate the curriculum at the public school to which they have chosen to send their children.

Parker vs Hurley: …while parents can choose between public and private schools, they do not have a constitutional right to "direct how a public school teaches their child.

Combs v. Homer-Center School District: (a case that Ross says lies at the core of her argument) Parents do not have a constitutional right to avoid reasonable state regulation of their children’s education. Act 169's reporting and superintendent review requirements ensure children taught in home education programs demonstrate progress in the educational program. The statute does not interfere, or authorize any interference, with Parents’ religious teachings and/or use of religious materials.

Blau v. Fort Thomas Pub. Sch. Dist: The critical point is this: While parents may have a fundamental right to decide whether to send their child to a public school, they do not have a fundamental right generally to direct how a public school teaches their child. Whether it is the school curriculum, the hours of the school day, school discipline, the timing and content of examinations, the individuals hired to teach at the school, the extracurricular activities offered at the school or, as here, a dress code, these issues of public education are generally "committed to the control of state and local authorities."

Fields v. Palmdale Sch. Dist. is the only recent judgement that I found which comes closest to supporting Ross’s assertion: In fine, education is not merely about teaching the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Education serves higher civic and social functions, including the rearing of children into healthy, productive, and responsible adults and the cultivation of talented and qualified leaders of diverse backgrounds.
This judgement also states that the right of the parents "to control the upbringing of their children by introducing them to matters of and relating to sex in accordance with their personal and religious values and beliefs" is not protected by the constitutional right to privacy, at least not as that purported right is understood by the parents in this case.

This part refers to the claim by the parents in this case, who objected to the inclusion of questions of a personal and sexual nature in a survey conducted among pupils at a public school. The idea that the limitation of such rights is intended to apply within the context of public school attendance is further strengthened by the following quote from this judgement:
In sum, we affirm that the Meyer-Pierce right does not extend beyond the threshold of the school door. The parents' asserted right ‘to control the upbringing of their children by introducing them to matters of and relating to sex in accordance with their personal and religious values and beliefs,’ by which they mean the right to limit what public schools or other state actors may tell their children regarding sexual matters, is not encompassed within the Meyer-Pierce right to control their children's upbringing and education.

At a stretch, it could be argued that the reference to “other state actors” stretches the applicability of this issue beyond the public schools, but this is unlikely, given the context of this case. I would assert that Ross would have to provide more concrete and relevant evidence than this to support her assertions.

Ross quotes the Combs decision as stating that the state "has a proper interest in the manner in which those schools perform their secular education function” to justify that “the state can and should limit the ability of intolerant homeschoolers to inculcate hostility to difference in their children.” However, this quote, which is actually from a 1968 Supreme Court decision, says nothing about religious education. Contrary to Ross’s assertions, it actually concludes that the state is not responsible for monitoring the religious content of a child’s education, only the secular content.

Ross also draws on a well-publicized Californian judgement to support her assertion that the intolerance of religious homeschoolers necessitates state intervention: “Similarly, in Jonathan L. v. Superior Court a California appellate court held that there is no constitutional right to homeschool, even when motivated by religious beliefs." What the court actually said was that no absolute right to home school exists. Although the difference between a constitutional right and an absolute constitutional right may seem trivial, I would argue that it is significant. If parents had an absolute right to homeschool, they could do it under any circumstances, even those where their children were being abused. The court realizes that an absolute right would leave children who are in danger of criminal abuse at the mercy of their parents.

Although the circumstances referred to in the judgement are those in which there is strong suspicion of child abuse, Ross infers (supra note 96) that the court is addressing the way in which the children’s education impacted on their economic and social success. Although the court states that education serves an economic, political and social purpose and that “The public schools bring together members of different racial and cultural groups and, hopefully, help them to live together ‘in harmony and mutual respect’” it declares, “We are…not concerned with the interference with the rights of a fit parent.”

Ross also devotes part of her essay to arguing that because private schools are subject to state oversight, homeschools should be too. As an example of state intervention in intolerant teachings at a private school, she cites a radical madrassa which “taught its students to challenge the authority of the United States and urged students to grow up to be suicide bombers,” adding that “This decision would not, in my view, compromise the rights of the teachers or the parents to continue to voice their opinions outside the temporal space reserved for compulsory schooling, as long as they did not violate any criminal statutes, including those governing incitement.” Ross is using the example of state intervention in a school that does something illegal (incitement to violence) to support her call for the state to prevent schools and parents (for part of the day) indoctrinating children with ideas that are not illegal. Such ideas certainly are repellant to many people, but there's no law against them. Much as I disagree with these ideas, it’s a far cry from teaching children that homosexuality is a sin and the earth was created in 7 days and women should submit to their husbands to telling them they have to stone gays or assassinate someone who teaches evolution or organizing polygamous marriages for underage girls. However, the practices that Ross would like to limit in religious homeschooling families are not illegal and until they are, Ross is going to come up with a much, much stronger argument to make her point. The court judgements that Ross cited all support the rights of parents teaching their children to choose what ideas they're exposed to, so she’s got quite a job ahead of her.

Monday, June 29, 2009

One thing I really miss about South Africa is Christmas in summer...eating an enormous roast turkey and Christmas pudding and afterwards lolling around the swimming pool. Our Christmas traditions came from the UK and it was only when, after we were living in Europe, that a friend expressed surprise that I was making a salad to eat with the roast instead of cooked vegetables that I realised to what extent we had adapted them to suit our own climate.

Indeed it was only after moving to the northern hemisphere that I realised the point of Christmas, and other similar celebrations. Christmas is supposed to be at the shortest, coldest time of the year instead of the hottest and Easter is supposed to be in spring instead of in autumn. We lived practically on the tropic of Capricorn and it took me a while to get used to the fact, when I moved to the northern hemisphere, that the hottest part of the day was not just after midday, as it was in South Africa, but in the late afternoon, when I expected it to be cooling down. The summer and winter solstice had no meaning for us, as the difference between sunset in summer and winter was about an hour.

I absolutely adore the long summer days that we experience here, but I've never actually celebrated it properly (I'm not exactly the pagan type). Thus it was by chance that I got the opportunity to take part in a summer solstice celebration, thanks to Rowena's drama teacher, Dee, who was organising the torchlit procession. It really was a magical evening (well, except for the midges that were feasting on my delicious blood). I came away feeling somehow joyful, uplifted. A photographer from the Irish times was there, too, and he recorded it:

If you look carefully, you can see Rowena in the background at 1:43, (behind the hand of the woman lighting the torches), 1:23 (between the two people leading the procession), 1:02 (silhouetted in the middle) and in the next photo (from the back, talking to her friend Aisling).

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I was reading a comment by a German-speaking blogger about 1000Sunny, a father in the process of deschooling (and one of my favourite bloggers). She is rather annoyed that he goes on about how bad school is and how wonderful unschooling is (of course it is wonderful, I agree ;-) ). She takes umbrage at the fact that he seems to reduce having children who are in the school system to the equation, "I don't love my children and I don't want to understand them".

Whilst I think that there is a bit of button pressing going on there and that this blogger might also want to take this as an opportunity to examine why she feels so annoyed by the stance he is taking (or seems, to her, to be taking) I can also understand (and maybe I, too, am just projecting) where he might be coming from. My mother-in-law says that people who give up smoking generally annoy her more than lifelong unsmokers. She calls them "reborn lungs". She is referring to people who are so taken up with the new joys of non-smoking that they have strong negative reactions to people around them who still smoke - who campaign loudest for anti-smoking legislation. (I, by the way, am a lifelong unsmoker, except for one occasion when I was 15). I have also seen this attitude in new mothers who come to my breastfeeding support group and go through a period of perceiving bottlefeeding as a form of child abuse, even though they had considered breastfeeding and bottlefeeding to be equal choices before they had children.

When making big, life-changing, philosophical decisions, most people tend to swing like a pendulum from one extreme to the other before settling somewhere in the middle. Maybe it is important for people to go through this stage of experience strong revulsion against and rejection of their previous lifestyle choices. Maybe deschooling truly happens when one can look at school and teachers and schoolpupils and their parents without having an emotional reaction.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Enjoying our freedom....

I was just reading a bit of officialese about the ins and outs of how the German educational authorities can make use of information about children registered in a community to enforce school attendance and I have to say that my feeling was one of overwhelming relief that we are not living in Germany - not even on a part-time basis. After we bought our house in Ireland, we did the back-and-forth thing a few times, with my husband remaining in Germany and the children and I spending time between both places.

The end result was that I felt as though I was living in some kind of spy film about East Germany. The school authorities had set one of the local officials to report on our movements to them and he went about a job with the utmost gusto. Luckily, this chap had a relative living in our very quiet street, so he had plenty of opportunity to stroll past our house and report that our car was parked in front of the house, our trash was being collected, our trampoline was still in the garden and often there were children playing in the garden on weekends. I started really paranoid - after all, who knew what neighbour was co-operating with the authorities.

Once my husband's job in Germany came to an end, there was no use staying in Germany at all and we thankfully decamped to Ireland on a permanent basis. Our children have now been registered as home-educated here in Ireland and we were visited by an inspector, who seemed quite impressed, if not a little overwhelmed, by the plethora of books and educational toys and games that clutter our house (other women buy handbags, I buy books).

I was at a conference here in Ireland last week, the main topic of which was actually breastfeeding (my other "speciality") but they had a well-known Irish parenting expert as the keynote speaker. Just by the by, the issue of homeschooling was mentioned three times in the question time after his talk (in contexts such as "homeschooling is not an option for us" - with a daughter who had been having a hard time at school - , "I would happily homeschool, but my daughter is looking forward to starting school" - with a daughter who is extroverted - and a comment from a home educating father). I was absolutely bowled over by the matter-of-fact attitude to home education, compared with Germany, where the topic is just plain taboo.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

What's happening with the Neubronners

The Neubronner family in Bremen has been having some tough times recently. After they received a letter announcing yet another increase in the fines imposed (now totalling 7 500 euros) and threatening them with other punitive measures (not elaborated on in the letter), they decided to send their sons to school for the time being. They were concerned, having heard a rumour that the school authorities planned to remove their sons from their custody right before or during the Christmas period, and decided that this step was necessary so that they could at least have a peaceful Christmas.

Thomas is coping ok, although he is incredibly bored and can't bear to look at the acts of brutality among his classmates. Moritz, however, is already showing signs of strain. He told me last night that every three minutes he counts the days till the Christmas vacation and tells his teachers at every opportunity that he is only going because of the Zwangsgeld and the threat of his parents losing custody, but he hates school. Dagmar said that he has already started getting the cough which he had continually when he was previously at school for two years. The other boys tease him maliciously and call him a truant because he was being home educated. In spite of all this, he is demonstrating quiet perseverance while he bears his burden. He is particularly proud of the fact that, in spite of being unschooled (or because of it), he is top of the class in his year and second best among the students in the year ahead of him.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Moving away from a pluralistic society

One of the things I was busy with recently was a translation of the recent judgement of the German Federal Court in the matter of a home educating family who had two of their children removed from their custody, which was taken over by the local Jugendamt (something akin to a welfare office for children). What seems to have happened is that the Jugendamt official responsible for the children's education and place of residence got to know the family and realised that there was really no danger to the children's welfare. He allowed the parents to take the children to Austria and register them as resident there, after which he himself applied to the Austrian education authorities to register the children as homeschoolers in Austria, according to that country's laws.

The court, dealing with the parent's appeal against a lower court's refusal to return the children's custody to them, took a dim view of this and not only upheld the lower court's decision, but declared that the Jugendamt official was incompetent. It decided that the custody of the children should be handed to another office more capable of upholding the original intent of the removal of custody - the enforcement of the children's compulsory school attendance.

The work of translating this document was a very emotional experience for me - I'm sure there isn't a homeschooler who can read this without the bile rising up inside them. The sheer arrogance of the judges just takes one's breath away. How else can one explain a statement like this one,

"There is no necessity to call for such a report, as the advantages of school attendance and the relative disadvantages of home education, as described by the Higher Regional Court – in line with the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court – are accessible to the judges’ expert knowledge, with no other evidence being necessary, and furthermore are covered by the the evaluation of the legislators of education law in Germany as well as that of the Constitutional Court."

And the following statement is a slap in the face for every civilised country (for example, Germany's neighbour, Austria) in which home education has been permitted for decades :

"The mental and emotional welfare of the children is lastingly endangered because the first Party rejects and hinders the school education which is important for the development of the children in a pluralistic society. It is a moot point whether the home education of the children ensures an adequate transfer of knowledge, as children should also grow up in community life. "

It is ironic that this (and other German courts dealing with homeschooling cases) has the cheek to mention the importance of living in a pluralistic society and then states, elsewhere in the judgement :

"Society at large has a rightful interest in working against the formation of religiously or ideologically coloured “parallel societies” and in integrating minorities in this respect."

A few minutes after doing an internet search on the word pluralism, I started thinking that the judges's expert knowledge of pluralism is on a par with their knowledge of homeschooling.

From the Encyclopaedia Britannica -

Pluralism assumes that diversity is beneficial to society and that autonomy should be enjoyed by disparate functional or cultural groups within a society, including religious groups, trade unions, professional organizations, and ethnic minorities.

From -

A condition in which numerous distinct ethnic, religious, or cultural groups are present and tolerated within a society.
The belief that such a condition is desirable or socially beneficial.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - ,

The strongest version of political pluralism claims that all these value systems are equally true (and thus presumably all ought to be tolerated), a weaker view is that these value systems all ought to be tolerated, and probably the most common version of the view is that some of these systems (the reasonable ones) ought to be tolerated.

On the one hand, this and other similar judgements highlight the importance of pluralism, but then they often go on to talk about the "common good" (or similar words, such as the "interest" of "society at large", as I translated it). If I am understanding it correctly, these courts themselves are not only not acting in terms of an understanding of pluralism, they are actually making a mockery of the term. I know that Wikipedia is not necessarily the most unbiased source, but I was riveted by what their entry on political pluralism has to say about the "Common Good":

Pluralism is connected with the hope that this process of conflict and dialogue will lead to a definition and subsequent realization of the common good that is best for all members of society. This implies that in a pluralistic framework, the common good is not given a priori. Instead, the scope and content of the common good can only be found out in and after the process of negotiation (a posteriori).
Consequently, the common good does not, according to pluralists, coincide with the position of any one cohesive group or organization. However, a necessary outcome of this philosophy is that the beliefs of any particular group cannot represent
absolute truth. Therefore any group with a philosophy that purports to hold both absolute truth and identify the common good is wrong - their belief system is irrelevant and cannot represent truth that impacts on others who do not hold to the given belief system.

It seems to me that the German political authorities and courts are busy identifying the common good (stopping homeschooling because it supposedly creates parallel societies) without even attempting to discuss this issue. They have decided that homeschooling is bad for the common good and enforced mandatory school attendance is good for it and basta!