Ben is director of the Rome-based Dignitatis Humanae Institute, founded to help Christian politicians defend the faith in the public square. He drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Dignity, launched by the Speaker of the European Parliament in 2009. He was a long-term aid to senior British politician Nirj Deva from 1996 until stepping down as Chief of Staff in 2010 to concentrate on the DHI. He is currently a Board member of the European Christian Political Movement. Follow him on Twitter at @ben_harnwell.
Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience — it is difficult to open a newspaper these days without seeing some freedom or other under attack.
Soon to be added to this list of household names of besieged liberties is another: Freedom of Education, thanks in part to the recently published Index of Freedom of Education 2015/16.
Ranking 136 countries, comprising 94% of the world’s population, according to the degree of educative freedom in primary education, the Index concentrates its analysis on ‘non-governmental schools’, which are “usually run by civil society” specifying that their definition also covers “other denominations such as ‘private school’, ‘charter school’, ‘free school’, ‘independent school’, etc.”
Each country’s ranking depends on four differently weighted factors: the legal possibility to create and manage a non-governmental school; whether it is publicly funded, and if so, which pre-specified costs that funding covers; the net enrollment rate of primary education; and finally, the enrollment rate in non-governmental schools as a percentage of total primary education.
“Were it not for the strong culture of home schooling, the United States would have ranked lower than its actual 17th place at around 20th place,” Michael Donnelly, director of global outreach at the Home School Legal Defense Association, told the Register.
To put that into perspective, the opposite ends of the spectrum were taken by Ireland, which is ranked 1st, and Gambia, which finally limps in last at 136th place. The UK is ranked at a respectable 6th.
Italian veteran family campaigner and former politician Luca Volontè, whose Novae Terrae Foundation was one of the major financiers of the report, underlined to the Register that “education is a natural battleground — perhaps the most fundamental battleground for those on both sides of the culture wars — because the educative formation of the next generation by and large dictates the future.”
As the Jesuits used to say, give me a boy until he is seven, and I will give you the man.
Volontè knows what he is talking about. He was the Leader of the European People’s Party (the EPP) — the largest political grouping on the right in both the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) — when the Strasbourg-based Assembly issued the 2012 Resolution on The right to freedom of choice in education in Europe.
This Resolution unambiguously states:
It is on the basis of the right to education as explained above that the right to freedom of choice in education should be understood…It carries with it the obligation for all Council of Europe member States, in the exercise of their functions in the field of education and teaching, to “respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions”, in so far as these are compatible with the fundamental values of the Council of Europe.
The Assembly…considers that, within a sound national legal framework, schools which are not run by public authorities (hereafter “private schools”, irrespective of terminology and specific arrangements in different countries) can foster the development of high-quality education and bring the education possibilities available into line with families’ demands.
It is interesting to compare the Council of Europe Resolution with a sentiment expressed in its pure form by Thomas Jefferson over two centuries earlier:
It is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings and ideas by the forcible transportation and education of the infant against the will of the father.
And perhaps a little more surprisingly, with this Jeffersonian affirmation by the Democratic Party National Platform, which declared (as late as 1892):
We are opposed to state interference with parental rights and rights of conscience in the education of children as an infringement of the fundamental Democratic doctrine that the largest individual liberty consistent with the rights of others insures the highest type of American citizenship and the best government.
How times change!
The closing words of warning on the importance on freedom of education go to one of the greatest minds of the Twentieth Century, Murray Rothbard:
The idea that the school should not simply teach subjects, but should educate the "whole child" in all phases of life, is obviously an attempt to arrogate to the State all the functions of the home. It is an attempt to accomplish the molding of the child without actually seizing him as in the plans of Plato…Unquestionably, the effect of all this is to foster dependence of the individual on the group and on the State.
Michael Donnelly hopes that this Index will be updated every two years: “Those wanting to support further research on this subject, or who want to promote the wider recognition and support of the concept of Freedom of Education, are invited to contact the HSLDA.”
(Full Disclosure: Luca Volontè is also Chairman on the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, which is run by the author of this article.)