(This post was originally written on November 4, during the GHEC in Berlin.  These are my thoughts after the second day.  The first day was just as amazing. This is just a meager recollection of the day’s events.  There was so much there, such richness, that I hard time condensing it into one blog post.  ~April~)

This is a recap of Saturday’s events at the first ever Global Home Education Conference.

Well, after a fitful night’s sleep, we awoke to make it just in time for the enormous breakfast buffet spread at the Seminaris Hotel.

After filling ourselves, we headed back to the conference center. Opening remarks were given by Dr. Michael Farris,

whose credentials are longer than my arm! He helped begin HSLDA and was one of their first lawyers. He started and is the Chancellor of Patrick Henry College, a 4yr liberal arts college that is specifically for homeschooled students wanting to advance homeschool law. And he is now the head of ParentalRights.org, an organization dedicated to advancing the awareness of our human right to homeschool our children. This was very enlightening, as I was not aware that homeschooling could even be considered a human right. Common sense, sure. But the right to choose our preferred method of education, despite what the law (domestic or international) says? Didn’t even cross my mind.

I wish that my fingers could have kept up with Mike Farris as he talked. His words were very powerful and his message was inspiring. I can only imagine how those in the room from countries whose government has outlawed home education were feeling as they heard him speak.

The next speaker, Mike Donnelly, is also one of the lawyers from HSLDA, but his specific realm is that of International Law & Homeschooling. As someone pointed out, he is the only person in the world who is paid to figure out the International Homeschool Law. (Actually, I pointed out to his wonderful assistant, Brittany, that he isn’t the only one—she is, too!)  Mike’s speech on the trends and tension in the global home education movement was really good. He encouraged us to take up the mantle of leadership in our own countries. He said, “Governments of men are easily corrupted. Sometimes we build walls to keep government out. And, just as President Reagan said, ‘Tear down your wall, Mr. Gorbachev,’ we would ask our own governments to tear down the walls that divide our basic human rights.” He drew on such imagery being in the country once divided in half by a wall.

After a coffee break, we went into the second half of the morning with a speech from Andre Stern. He was homeschooled, speaking to us as a 42-yr old product of homes education. Actually, he was unschooled, and held many sessions on how unschooling works, as he is living proof. He made some very compelling arguments and statements to defend his position – given the right stimuli and environment, all children will learn at the rate that nature intended. Children will not grow up to be dumb and stupid and ignorant; they will be more in-tune with the world around them, they will take civic responsibilities, and will be able to read, write, and do arithmetic. I think that out of all the keynote speakers, Andre was most talked about after his speech. His premise, that if a child is enthusiastic about a subject he will learn all he can about it, became almost a punch-line in conversation. “Oh, you want to be a doctor? Just be enthusiastic!” Of course, we all understood his heart, even if we didn’t understand his reasoning.

David and I have studied at length the idea behind unschooling, and have even dabbled a little in it. The idea seems wonderful, yet terrifying all at the same time. And many of the methods described by veteran unschoolers we have adopted into our own lives. The hurdle we always came against was our children—they WANTED the structure, the schedule. So, we chose instead to compromise, and allow free thinking, exploration, and research during our family schedule-times and around their other basic studies.

During the Q&A time, one opponent to Andre Stern’s speech said, “While I see what you’re trying to say about unschooling, or free education, when it’s all said and done, I want a certified pilot in the cockpit when I fly in a plane, not just someone who is enthusiastic about airplanes. I want someone who has a piece of paper to show me that he has had the training to be in control of this machine that is flying me several thousand feet above land.”

Good argument, right?

Well, all except the part where Andre Stern is quite knowledgeable about mechanics, aerodynamics, airplanes, and machinery. He has also done extensive research about the last 41 plane crashes, and dissected the findings from the crash investigations.

His rebuttal: Pilots these days are “certified”, but they are given flight-simulator tests, and few hours of actual flying planes. Contrast that to the pilot who landed the plane safely in the Hudson river. Experience vs. Certification. Quality vs. Quantity. New pilots don’t have a “feel” for the machines they are flying. This is something you only get with time and experience.

Wow. We thought he was dead in the water when he was asked that question. But his answer, which was sharply given, was dead-on (IMHO). And his answer can be applied to education in general. A certificate at the end of your formal schooling doesn’t necessarily mean that you are well-educated or all knowledgeable. Andre admits that he has gaps in his education, as most people do. The difference is that he is not ashamed of these gaps, and is not satisfied that he has them. He is a student of learning, and when he finds something he is interested in, he is going to continue to be a student of that discipline, until he is satisfied.

At the end the evening, we listened to closing remarks from the Chairman (Jonas Himmelstrand) and Vice-Chairwoman (Dagmar Neubronner) of the GHEC. Both speakers were very good, giving us a good wrap-up of the conferences events, and inspiring us to move forward. Both board members signed a document called the BERLIN DECLARATION, which is a homeschooling manifesto that we were all encouraged to sign and take home to our countries, and eventually take to those in government. It is a document meant to draw more awareness to the fact that the choice of home education is a fundamental, human right, extended to all those who reside on planet Earth. 

All in all, we are more than overjoyed to have had the privilege to attend this conference. We were inspired. We were informed. We made so many connections. We now have contacts in 10 other countries, and are currently working on ways to expand HLA’s membership base in those countries. We learned so much in 2 short days, more than we could have learned reading on the internet in 2 weeks. We will continue to work hard to foster more relationships with these contacts and do all we can to continue the cause of Global Home Education in the years to come.