By Alex Newman
STOCKHOLM, Sweden – A coalition of homeschoolers and supporters arrived in the Swedish capital of Stockholm after a six-day, 120-mile “Walk to Freedom” that was staged to raise awareness about a controversial ban on home education.
On their way through town, the home education advocates stopped at the Ministry of Education and the Justice Ministry to protest the year-old homeschooling prohibition and deliver a letter they wrote.
No one from the government was willing to talk with them, but their message was heard loud and clear.
The march began on July 13 and concluded on the self-governing Finnish Aland Islands, where dozens of Swedish homeschoolers have fled as political refugees since the homeschooling ban in Sweden went into effect.
Attracting some three dozen activists of all ages throughout the week, the “Walk to Freedom” was just the latest high-profile effort to defend educational liberty. The dedicated homeschoolers have been protesting the 2010 education law, which also mandated that all “private” schools teach the controversial government curriculum, since before it was even passed.
In Stockholm, aside from raising awareness, the marchers were hoping to get answers from Sweden’s political leaders about why homeschoolers were being forced into exile for choosing to exercise their rights.
The group also wanted to deliver a document it prepared outlining the benefits of home education, the importance of human rights, and the near universal acceptance of homeschooling by the free world today.
“The Swedish home education movement has worked very hard for several years to try to educate the Swedish Ministry of Education about the realities of home education,” explained President Jonas Himmelstrand of the Swedish Homeschooling Association (ROHUS), who fled to Finland with his family earlier this year and plans to meet the activists when their ferry arrives in the Aland Islands.
“Today the ‘Walk to Freedom’ presents a resolution to the Ministry of Justice, with only a copy to the Ministry of Education, as they historically have proven not to listen,” he told WND.
Since 2009 when Himmelstrand personally met Education Minister Jan Björklund, the senior government official has refused to sympathize with the homeschooling community, arguing that parents could not possibly teach their children properly.
“Of course, a great number of international research surveys and vast amounts of anecdotal evidence show that this is exactly what parents can do,” Himmelstrand continued. “So, Swedish homeschoolers will patiently wait for a new Minister of Education willing to listen to them.”
In the meantime, however, the persecution, the struggles, the fines, and the threats by Swedish officials will likely continue, he said.
As WND and numerous other media outlets around the world have reported, at least one Swedish homeschooler, Domenic Johansson, was abducted by authorities as the family was on a plane bound for India. That case sparked a global outcry and still haunts Swedish homeschoolers today.
“The number of Swedes going into exile will continue to grow, and the international image of Sweden as a liberal country will be ever more shaken in its roots,” Himmelstrand concluded. “And in the end, Swedish home education will most certainly outlive the present Swedish policies on home education.”
When the “Walk to Freedom” arrived at the various government ministries on Thursday, they were told to hand their letter to a guard for security processing. Meanwhile, the officials present in the buildings said – over the intercom – that everyone from the Justice and Education ministries who might be able to help was away on vacation.
Despite an international outcry over the homeschooling ban, Björklund has remained committed to eradicating the movement completely. When asked whether all of the other governments in Europe that allow homeschooling were wrong, he said, “Yes, I think so.”
Germany, which still has a Nazi-era law purporting to ban home education, is the only other Western nation with similarly restrictive schooling policies. Refugees from there have been granted political asylum in the U.S. due to intense government persecution.
During the walk, WND was told by an official at the Swedish Education Ministry that nobody could offer a statement or meet with the protesters, who were holding a banner and handing out flyers outside.
The chief of staff for the Ministry of Justice referred WND back to the Education Ministry, saying he could not offer a comment or talk with the protesters. Everyone else was apparently on vacation there, too.
Despite the setbacks, however, the Swedish homeschooling advocates were undeterred. They eventually dropped their letter off with a security guard who promised to deliver it.
“I’d like the education minister to explain why he is making it so difficult for us, because I can’t understand it,” said Viktoria Berkestam Drysen, a key organizer of the “Walk to Freedom” and a homeschooler who recently began taking college courses.
“I’d also like him to really put himself in our position and understand our side of it. With better understanding he couldn’t behave the way he has,” the young activist told WND.
Of course, she was disappointed that the walkers were not able to speak with anyone in government about their grievances.
“But it was quite expected because they never want to talk to us,” she said. “They know who we are but they never want to talk to us.”
The justice minister also has a lot of explaining to do to, Berkestam Drysen added, noting that it was that ministry’s responsibility to ensure that Swedish laws do not contravene human rights agreements.
“How can a country known for being democratic behave in such a way? It is shameful,” she said. “It’s making people leave the country. It’s really impressive how dedicated the homeschoolers are, but it’s really sad the way they’ve had to leave family and friends and houses and jobs. It shouldn’t be allowed to happen in today’s society.”
Like the other marchers, Berkestam Drysen will not be giving up the fight. If the law is not overturned by the time she has children, however, she vowed – albeit reluctantly – to flee her homeland in search of educational freedom.
Berkestam Drysen’s mother, Maria, was also in Stockholm participating in the walk. She told WND that she wanted the education minister to meet her three children, all of whom were educated at home despite years of harassment and intimidation by authorities – even before the virtual ban came into effect last year.
“They’re the products of homeschooling,” she said, adding that meeting homeschoolers was what originally convinced her that it worked well. “It’s important – not only today but in general – for politicians and people to meet homeschooled kids, to see for themselves how well-educated, how social, what nice people they are.”
Even without meeting any officials or presenting their letter in person, however, the march was widely seen as a success by the proud mother of three and other participants.
Outside of Sweden, homeschooling heavyweights were following the demonstration closely as well. Attorney Michael Donnelly, director of international affairs for the U.S.-based Home School Legal Defense Association, celebrated the effort to confront the education ministry and the Swedish government with information about the benefits of homeschooling.
“The scientific research demonstrates that home education is a positive mode of learning where students have been shown to thrive academically and socially in many Western democracies,” Donnelly told WND, adding that he hoped Swedish officials would review the evidence and that Americans concerned about freedom should be paying attention.