TCS Daily

Too Cool for School

By Natalia Dueholm - December 9, 2004 12:00 AM

When Poland was devoured by its German and Soviet neighbors in 1939, the school system officially stopped functioning. The home became the underground seat of learning for more than a million young Poles. In 21st century Poland, some Poles still learn underground, although their war is different.

Throughout World War II, most Polish schools and universities were liquidated, and thousands of teachers were executed or sent to gulags and concentration camps. Polish children had clandestine lessons in very tiny rooms two or three times a week. Material was scarce, since the Nazis burned Polish books. Education would have ceased altogether without the desire and dedication of parents and students, who worked hard with teachers to keep their lessons secret and risked imprisonment or death if discovered. Underground teaching existed elsewhere in occupied Europe, for example in Norway or Yugoslavia, but nowhere to the same extent as in Poland.

Unfortunately, home-schooling is still largely underground in post-communist occupied Poland. 

Parents often prefer to remain anonymous out of fear from state harassment or prying neighbors. Today's fight for the right to home-school is an uphill battle against government interference and a strong dose of post-communist red tape.

Recently, the movement has received publicity not only in educational publications, but also in the mainstream media. Home-schoolers have created Web sites (, and the Internet has become a forum for lively debates involving parents, teachers and school administrators. The first home-schooling association is being established - Stowarzyszenie Edukacji Domowej - and in 2003 the first national conference was held, with another scheduled for Spring 2005. The first book appeared dealing exclusively with home-schooling, Marek Budajczak's "Edukacja domowa," published in 2003 to critical acclaim. In September 2004, the first Christian school to serve as an umbrella for home-schoolers opened in Warsaw.

When communism fell in 1989, the political environment seemed conducive to home-based education. "In 1991 the first post-communist Polish Parliament passed the Educational System Act, which enabled parents to ask school principals for permission to teach their children at home," Budajczak explained. "But the Ministry of National Education soon persuaded members of parliament to introduce changes to the 'much too liberal' home-schooling laws."

Government authorities and school principals now have the discretion to make any demand they want on parents before granting them the right to home-school. Principals' decisions are absolute and unchallengeable. In addition, "every home-taught student is required to pass non-standardized school exams at least once a year, even though no school student does so," Budajczak said.

The movement is small but growing. An estimated 20 Polish families teach their children at home. Since freedom in education speaks English, many of these parents have read English language books on home-based education. The most famous Polish home-schooler is Budajczak, a PhD and father of two teenagers, who was inspired by a book he read ten years ago.

"We would have never started (home-schooling) if I hadn't read two books by Prof. Roland Meighan about British experiences," he said. Other Poles cite authors Glenn Doman and Milton Friedman as influences in their decisions. It is possible that more Poles teach at home in Anglophone countries than in Poland itself. Not surprisingly, among home-schoolers in Poland, there are also several American families.

Home-schooling's success in the United States is due partly to the amazing organization of activists, support groups and legal experts, all of whom Polish parents now seek out for advice.

"The most important challenges for the near future of the Polish home-schooling movement are creating a support network, and improving legal conditions," Budajczak said. The latter need may require legal battles to defend the rights of parents to teach their children free of government coercion and meddling.

Although the European Union has regulated everything from cucumber size to bovine copulation, Eurocrats have not yet addressed the issue of home-schooling. It is possible that Union regulations will take their cue from German law, said Richard Guenther, director of a German home-schooling legal defense group, Schulunterricht zu Hause. If this is the case, the future of home-schooling in Europe looks bleak indeed, since a month ago seven German fathers were sentenced to prison merely for teaching their children at home.

Guenther, who has been working for years with the European Center for Law and Justice in Strasbourg, has offered legal assistance to Polish families willing to present their cases in European Court. American home-school advocate Chris Klicka has also offered help and support for Poles. The results of the struggle are important not only for the Europeans but for Americans living in the Old World and hoping to educate their children freely. So let's hope educational freedom can ring in Poland and elsewhere.

Natalia Dueholm is a journalist in Poland.


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