Sunday, December 31, 2006

The German Constitutional Court....

obviously believes in fairytales. In a judgement earlier this year, they stated...
" competence in mixing with people of different points of view, practising tolerance, assertiveness and self-assertion of a conviction which is different to the mainstream can be better exercised when contacts with the society and its different perceptions do not just happen occasionally but are part of the everyday experience as connected with school attendance."

The European Court of Human Rights also has the same problem. Earlier this year, in refusing to take on the Konrad family's appeal, the judges stated
"In the present case the court notes that the German authorities have carefully reasoned their decisions and mainly stressed the fact that not only the acquisition of knowledge but also the integration into and first experience with society are important goals of primary school education. The German courts found that those objectives cannot be equally met by home education even if it allowed children to acquire the same standard of knowledge as provided for by primary school education. The Court considers this presumption as not being erroneous..."

Methinks that some people needs to do their homework.

Happy new Year. My resolution is to educate some judges about homeschooling.

At last....

...The return of Socialisation Quote of the Day
From Time Magazine

A yawning chasm (with an emphasis on yawning) separates the world inside the schoolhouse from the world outside.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Movie Mincemeat

We went to see the Eragon movie last night and I reckon that it is a good argument for waiting till you've seen the movie before you read the book. I was totally disillusioned by it.

I can understand that Christopher Paolini's book is not translatable into a 2 hour long screen format. However, the makers of the film managed to take all the fat and most of the nutrition out of his wonderful epic plot, reconstituted it and squeezed it through a mincer. I enjoyed a lot of things about the film, but as far as the plot was concerned, yeugh!

Monday, December 25, 2006

The web of lies grows....

This eye-opening article has appeared on the website of the German embassy in Ottawa. The way the German authorities create fabrications to malign homeschoolers in Germany is no longer a surprise to me (see my previous post).
I wrote them a letter pointing out some of their whoppers. By the way, these are the same people who are quite happy to educate their children at home through the Deutsche Fernschule (and I'm sure some of them are doing so).

I'll quote the article, because I have a feeling that it won't be around for long. My response to them follows.

Home schooling versus the German public school system
In Germany education is subject to provincial ("Laender") and not federal law. Generally, school attendance is obligatory in all provinces for children of school age. Parents are obliged to send their children to either public or private schools.

Schools must be approved by the competent authorities and may be run by the province, congregations (Christian, Jewish or other) or private institutions. Like in most other European countries, home schooling is not an option.

The German system of obligatory school attendance has a long tradition and it has proven to be successful. It ensures that all children's intellectual needs are met. Apart from that, it provides children with valuable experiences in regards to social interaction in groups, including contact with peers from different social or religious sections of society.

Furthermore, given recent world events, general school attendance is seen by parts of the German public as a means of protection from religious fundamentalism. Home schooling might allow religious fanatics to indoctrinate children in uncontrollable ways. In Germany children can attend religious education of their religious denomination in public or private schools.

As Germany is - in contrast to Canada – relatively small and densely populated, children are usually able to reach the nearest town and their school without difficulties.

Not sending your children to school is an infringement in Germany, sanctioned by a fine. Continuous and persistent violations constitute a criminal offence and may lead to imprisonment.

Concerning the recent legal cases in Germany, there have been long negotiations between the involved families and the Provincial Ministry of Education, which are still pending. The families in question have so far not been willing to accept testing of the students' performance or the many constructive proposals made by the province. These proposals included the opening of a private school, that would take into account the childrens' religious beliefs - more so than at a public school.

I wrote (at 6am after 5 hours of sleep, so excuse the repetition)

I have looked at your website and read the commentary on home education
in Germany. I think that you should fix up some of the comments, which
are patently false.
You state "Like in most other European countries, home schooling is not
an option." Germany is the only EU country (other than a couple of Swiss
cantons) where homeschooling is not an option.
"The German system of obligatory school attendance...and it has proven
to be successful. It ensures that all children's intellectual needs are
met. "
This statement is not borne out by the Pisa Study, the Rütli school and
other "Brennpunkt" schools, school shootings such as the Erfurt one and
the more recent one.
"The families in question have so far not been willing to accept testing
of the students' performance".
In fact most of the families in question have offered the authorities
the opportunity to test their children. The authorities are not
interested in taking up this offer, as all they are interested in is
that the children are sitting behind a desk in a school during school
hours. The Neubronners in Bremen offered the authorities this
opportunity and it was only after massive TV coverage (including an
interview on Stern TV with Gunther Jauch), that the authorities took
them up on this offer.
We are a home educating family in Niedersachsen. In our dealings with
the school authorities we have also stated that we would be happy to
have our children assessed but they have not taken us up on this.
We are foreigners living temporarily in Germany, but the German
authorities will not allow our children the opportunity to be educated
at home in their own language. Yet at the same time, a distance learning
accredited by the German government to meet the needs of Germans
overseas who want to be educated, within their own four walls, in their
own language. This is in spite of the fact that the German authorities
insist that compulsory school attendance serves the best interests of
the child. At the very least this is hypocrisy, if not discrimination
against foreigners living temporarily in Germany.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Social Worker's report

I just' received a copy of the school authority's file on us from the lawyer and this report was in it from the social worker who visited us two ago.


As far as the undersigned is concerned, the childrens' welfare is not in danger. The house was orderly and clean. The children made a normal impression. The mother is aware of the legal situation concerning compulsory schooling, but maintains that she can best help her children develop in her home. She believes that she is doing something good and therefore has no fear of future consequences. However, the mother does not recognise thereby that dealings with other children and the encouraging of joint activities are peers are part of normal child development. The interactions of the children are restricted to members of their own family. It is doubtful, that Robert could have contact with other children when he does not attend school.

BTW, Robbie was not present when she visited. Earlier in the report she states that he was with friends (which he was), creating a total contradiction. If she thought that the children were limited to interactions within the family, then how could he be with friends? Also she never asked me whether the children had interactions with other children (peers or otherwise). What she is stating here are her own conjectures. In fact, Robbie was, by this time, playing in the local football team (training twice a week, plus matches), going to chess, had just started karate and had at least 2 good friends, whom he saw regularly in the afternoons (boys about his age from the neighbourhood). If she had just asked me, I could have told her.

The comments which she makes are the normal gut reaction of anyone who meets homeschoolers for the first time, but to put them in a report as statements of fact,without checking whether they are based in fact is, in my opinion, at the very least, unprofessional. I am seething at the fact that my children were presented as social outcasts and am reminded of the Rudolph family, who were successfully portrayed by the authorities as isolationists who allowed their children no outside contacts (which was not the case at all).


We are foreigners living temporarily in Germany, but the German authorities will not allow our children the opportunity to be educated at home in their own language. Yet at the same time, a distance learning institution is accredited by the German government to meet the needs of Germans overseas who want to be educated, within their own four walls, in their own language. This is in spite of the fact that the German authorities insist that compulsory school attendance serves the best interests of the child. At the very least this is hypocrisy, if not discrimination against foreigners living temporarily in Germany.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

True words from a disturbed mind

Germany is reeling in the aftermath of yet another school shooting. It seems that the perpretrator, a former student at the Geschwister Scholl school, where the shooting took place, was described as a loner, who felt that let down by the school system.

He left behind a letter, in which he describes his motives (some of them pretty twisted). The letter has been published, in various forms in the different German newspapers. I read the letter in its entirety and find it interesting that, along with his railing against various groups whom he disliked, his declaration that murderers should be accepted as normal people and other controversial statements, the following has also been left out by most of the media :

Das Kind begibt sich auf seine perönliche Sozialisationsstrecke, und wird in den darauffolgenden Jahren gezwungen sich der Allgemeinheit, der Mehrheit anzupassen. Lehnt es dies ab, schalten sich Lehrer, Eltern, und nicht zuletzt die Polizei ein. Schulpflicht ist die Schönrede von Schulzwang, denn man wird ja gezwungen zur Schule zu gehen. Wer gezwungen wird, verliert ein Stück seiner Freiheit

In English

The child embarks on his personal socialisation track and is forced to adapt to the mainstream, to the majority. If he rejects this, teachers, parents and, last but not least, the police intervene. Compulsory schooling is a euphemism for forced schooling, because one is forced into going to school. Whoever is forced loses a peace of his freedom.

One of the sad ironies here is that the Scholl siblings for whom the school is named died because they refused to keep quiet in the face of intolerance and injustice.

The school in particular and the German school system in general is of course not solely to blame for what this young man has done. However it is typical of the tunnel vision of most of the media and authorities that they are pinning the blame overwhelmingly on the violent computer games which this boy played and not looking at the other factors which could have led to this. In my morning newspaper a couple of pages on from the article about him was one in which someone was suggesting scrapping the child benefit (Kindergeld) which parents receive and investing it in daycare for under-3's.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A waste of time

Last night one of Robbie's friends told him he wouldn't be able to come to soccer practice on Monday nights anymore, because he only comes home from school at 5pm and then has to do homework. Commented Robbie to me, "What a waste of time." (My feelings exactly).

Okay, so this full school day is only once a week, but the rest of the week, he has four hours of homework after finishing school at around 2pm (it takes him at least half an hour to get home from school.) And he's only 12. He's going to have to do this for the next 6 years and it will just get worse. Compare this with one homeschooler I know who, on four hours of academic work a day, has now started doing online courses through Stanford University and will be have completed the first two years of university by the age of 17.


I bought this game at the shop of the Universum science center and Robbie and I played it for the first time today. It's a really fun game, based on Uno, but with the added attraction (esp. for homeschooling parents) that one learns about chemistry at the same time. Robbie and I both had great fun.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Excuses, excuses

I want to thank Lady Liberty for her concerned email to me. Yes, I am still around. I went through a period where I wasn't really into the internet, and as a result didn't have time to blog. My blogging was normally done after 10pm, but now that we have been aiming at going to bed at 10pm, my blogging fell by the wayside. A pity, because I really enjoy it.

Now my internet addiction is in full swing again - a bit too much of a pendulum swing to the other side, I think - when will I find some balance in my life? I have, however, been spending my time (probably futilely) putting in my two cents and doing much teeth grinding at the Spiegel online forum. It's helping to improve my written German, if nothing else, although I do live in hope that maybe one or two souls reading it will be converted to the path of true righteousness ;-) (or at get a better perception of home education.)

The homeschooling situation is really hotting up in Germany. The family in Hamburg, whom I mentioned in a previous post, has fled to Austria after the father endured a week in jail. The school authorities had started the process of removing the children from their parents' custody. The newspapers are having a field day with the situation, generally painting homeschoolers as a bunch of loony sectarians.

We still haven't heard from the school authorities about our application for exemption, which is fine, as far as I'm concerned. May they mull over it for a loooooong time.

I hope that I don't fall back on my blogging responsibilities again, but at least, unlike school, blogging is not compulsory.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The benefits of not having it all

For the last couple of weeks, I've been following the Diets don't Work approach to losing weight, and I've been having a great time. The main principles of the book are 1) you eat whatever it is your body is asking for at that moment; 2) you only eat when you are hungry; 3) you stop when you are no longer hungry, ie. before you feel full.

As you can expect, this involves dealing with the issues that make one overeat. In my case, emotional issues are only a small part of the reason for my overeating at the moment. The main problem for me is that I looove food. Put me in front of a buffet, or a lovely Christmas dinner and I want to sample everything. Bob Schwartz (the author) tells us, however, that if we eat the way naturally thin people do, then we should only eat those things that are a 10 (on a scale of 1 out of 10) for us.

This got me thinking and I've realised that this is an approach that I have to life in general. Life is pretty much like a buffet and my tendency is to want to have everything that it has to offer. Whether it's a book catalogue (or any kind of catalogue for that matter), activities for my children, any kind of store, the restaurants in a city (I note every restaurant that I drive past and think, I must try that out), email lists, toys for my children (you should see their playroom) and many more things that I just can't think of right now, I want to sample everything that they have to offer.

This feeling of wanting and being afraid of missing out on something has so permeated my life that my eating habits are just one expression of it. I've started realising that, as with food, It's okay not to have everything in life. I will just go for the things that are really important for me and hopefully that will make my life a richer experience.

Socialisation quote of the day

From a study of The Influence of Preschool Centers on Children's Development Nationwide. Thanks to RegularNut for the link.

We find that attendance in preschool centers, even for short periods of time each week, hinders the rate at which young children develop social skills and display the motivation to engage classroom tasks, as reported by their kindergarten teachers.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Bad news

My friend in Bremen, whose two sons don't want to go to school, received three letters from the educational authorities yesterday. One was the rejection of their application for exemption from school attendance. The other two were notifications, one for her and one for her husband, of coercive fines of €1 500 each. If these are not paid they will have to go to jail.

Watching a paradigm-shift

I had a visitor last week, a woman who came with her daughter to visit. She is looking for someone to look after her daughter occasionally during the school vacation and had come upon a leaflet I put up at the local supermarket.

Of course, the inevitable subject came up, once she established that our two youngest don't attend preschool. I came straight out with the news that Robbie and Rowena don't attend school either, and it pretty much blew her mind. Her reaction was so strong at first ("But you can't do that - school is comppulsory!") that I thought she must be a teacher. (It turned out that she was a doctor).

The next hour was spent fielding her various questions and assumptions about homeschooling. Her greatest concern was how I found the time and oppurtunity to meet the educational needs of all my children of different ages. I have to admit that I didn't go into unschooling with her too much (I think that one paradigm blown in an afternoon was probably enough). She had what she thought was a really brilliant suggestion for me - that I send my two youngest ones off to preschool so that I can devote myself to homeschooling my two older children. I just said to her "Well we have them all at home because we find that works best for our family." Emphasising what works best for our family (while smiling sweetly) often seems to work well with people who are otherwise proving a tough nut to crack.

I think she was able to get over that homeschooling hurdle in her mind, because when she left she said how nice it was to meet people with a different lifestyle. In general she was very nice and our daughters really liked each other (it took her half an hour to drag her daughter away), so I am sure we will continue to hammer away at her educational paradigms.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Carnival of Homeschooling

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 28 is up (for all two of you who haven't come here from there)so go and check it out and come back here tomorrow or the next day. I have another post cooking and I'll type it as soon as I can. It's all about the strong reaction I had today from someone new I met (and I didn't even bring up the subject of unschooling).

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Socialisation quote of the day

From a recent Time Magazine article :

Siblings have a socializing effect on one another," says psychologist Daniel Shaw of the University of Pittsburgh. "When you tease out all the other variables, it's the play styles that make the difference. Unlike a relationship with friends, you're stuck with your sibs. You learn to negotiate things day to day." It's that permanence, researchers believe, that makes siblings so valuable a rehearsal tool for later life.

Thanks to Spunky for the link.

Finding a balance

Rowena has drawn a racing track on the road outside our house (it's a very quiet little street and the children living on it often play out there) for her and Leo and their friends to race on with their bikes. It reminded me of an experience we had recently of waiting till our children are ready to learn a new skill.

Just before the beginning of winter I tried to teach Leo to ride without training wheels. I pushed him on Robbie's old BMX, and although he could keep upright, he couldn't get the hang of steering as well. He wasn't keen on it and I didn't want to push him (both metaphorically and literally) so he went back to riding his little bicycle, which has training wheels and is smaller than the BMX.

About a month ago, Steven (dh) was tinkering around with his tools outside while Leo happened to be riding up and down on his little bike. I had a brainwave and asked Steven to take the training wheels off Leo's little bike to see whether he could manage on that one. Then I went shopping. When I came back a couple of hours later, not only could Leo ride the little bike confidently, he was also doing tricks which Rowena had taught him, like one foot off the pedal. The next day he graduated to the BMX and we put the training wheels back on the little bike so Adrian could use it.

For me this is yet another of the many situations in the lives of my children where pushing them before they were really ready just made them unhappy and it was much more uncomplicated to wait a little longer before giving them a teeny little bump and watch them go soaring out of the nest.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Swimming in the rain

Seeing as I'm on a real "blog"roll this evening, I'll quickly tell about our day before I hang up my keyboard for the night. After their operations, Rowena and Robbie had not been able to do any sport for a week. The last few days have seen some really scorching temperatures and they were desperate to go swimming. As a compromise I bought a paddling pool which they could sit in. (The day I bought it, Rowena put the cat into the water. Luckily, dh was able to mend the resulting leak.)

Finally, today, the first day where they could go swimming and leap about with impunity, dawned, but not bright and clear. As the morning went on, the clouds started to look more threatening. The children, however, were determined that I would keep my promise to take them swimming today, so off we went. We chose a swimming pool with an indoor section, and as we arrived there it started raining. At least there was plenty of parking, and it was really an exhilirating experience, swimming outdoors in the warm rain.

Defending our choices

So much pressure

Now that I have this blog running, I'm really starting to feel the pressure. I have a couple of regular readers and I feel really bad when I see that they've visited my blog and there is nothing new for them to read. A couple of weeks ago I totally went off the internet for a bit. I barely even checked my email and didn't even read anything on my precious UnschoolingDiscussion email list, let alone reading other blogs or writing for my own (I'm sure Doc missed me during that time).

I have so many posts cooking in my brain and they never get out of the pot. Something interesting happens and I think "I must blog about that", but get no opportunity that day and it disappears into some mental black hole. When I do blog it's usually late at night after the kids are in bed and then I end up going to bed looooong after my own bedtime. (You know, that point when you are past tired and then you can't go to sleep for an hour and lie awake while hubby snores gently next to you.)

Don't get me wrong, I'm not whining (though dh would probably say I am). It's just that I've realised that blogging is not something done lightly. Or am I going overboard on the responsibility bit here? Is this my co-dependent side coming out?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Socialisation quote of the day

By Gordon Neufeld, in the introduction to the German edition of his book, Hold onto your Kids. (Translated from the German by me)

When peers replace the parents, children remain stuck in their development. Peer orientation produces a mass of immature, conformist and problem-afflicted young adults, who are incapable of integrating into society.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Unschooling Voices

Go here if you want to read a collection of good unschooling blogging. (Yes, it's at the same blog where I found my latest socialisation quote.)

Socialisation quote of the day

From Joanne at A Day in Our Lives.

I usually laugh on the inside when someone, after finding out our kids don't go to school, asks about socialization. I'll never understand what one has to do with the other.

Are they saying that when their children are not in school (like weekends or summer breaks) they are isolated from other children?!
Wow, I kinda feel sorry for them.

Now I know what I'll say the next time someone asks me the S question. And that's not all. Joanne continues

My 7 year old interacts with 15 year olds, one of my 13 year old's friends is nine and my ten year old loves to read to the little ones in our homeschool group.

And if that wasn't enough, the really cool thing is...they actually have a choice!

Suppose one of my children doesn't feel like being around other kids. We all have those times when cocooning in our cozy home and being able to think and dream and just be alone in our own head, is what we need.
They have the freedom to do that.
They don't have to push those feelings aside and spend 8 hours straight with other kids when they don't want to.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Some really yummy new science books

It was an expensive weekend, even though I hardly left the house. My local Usborne books lady dropped off an order I'd made a couple of months ago. They are all science books, but WHAT science books! They are so beautiful that I was drooling over them. You can see some of them here. The ones I got include Mysteries and Marvels of Science, some of the internet linked reference books and the Illustrated Dictionary of Science. I hope the children like them as much as I do.

Catch-up weekend

I don't know why I don't like housework. It's really good exercise, especially the vacuuming. Routines are generally something I forget about, but I had a lightbulb moment yesterday. Instead of putting off the vacuuming, why don't I do it for twenty minutes every day, straight after I finish my 35 minute Tae-Bo workout. Just think of all the calories I will be burning off!

That's assuming I do my Tae-Bo workout every day. I started again nearly a month ago, after a long hiatus, and no sooner had I dusted down the DVD than I came down with a rotten cold, which had me feeling weak for seven days. (I wrote that cos "feeling weak for a week" didn't look quite right). Then the virus got Adrian, which turned him into the incredible clinging toddler. Throw two days spent in hospital with my two eldest with no chance to get exercise (when we came home both afternoons I had the incredible clinging toddler to look after) and I could look back on another long exercise-free period. It's like starting over again.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Bedside manners

Well, Robbie, poor boy had his adenoids removed today. It wasn't exactly a pleasant experience for him, especially after he came round after the anaesthetic. I went with him into the operating theatre and stayed with him until he was under anaesthetic.

The anaesthetist dealing with him was a very nice older lady, with a great bedside manner. I've noticed that when doctors are about to perform some invasive procedure on you they start chatting to you about a totally unrelated subject to distract you. So as she was about to insert the IV needle into Robbie's arm she asked him about his school. Awkward pause as Robbie looks at me. "He doesn't go to school," I say, "he learns at home." "Oh, with you," says the anaesthetist, "That's quite rare here". Comments the theatre sister, "I read an interesting article about it in the paper recently."

Then the anaesthetist switched topics to soccer (always a safe one with young boys at the moment) and said to Robbie, "So are you looking forward to watching Germany play Argentina tomorrow night?"

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

26th Carnival of homeschooling

Dh has fulfilled his promise to take our two eldest children to a theme park today and I'm left at home with the two youngest (one of whom is in bed with fever).
I think I'll console myself by a visit to the Carnival of Homeschooling at the homeschool cafe(which features a post by me) and a lovely caramel latte.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Scatty's Taxi Service

We spent the weekend in sporting fever (and that doesn't include the World Cup soccer we watched). Saturday I had to run Rowena up to Bremerhaven (3/4 of an hour's drive away) to train in the hall where she would be taking part in the championship the next day. Then it was back down to Bremen to watch Robbie taking part in a soccer tournament where his team came last (which was predictable, considering most of the other teams were a year older than them, they were two players short and they were playing on a full-size field for the first time). I felt like a kind of emotional sink for Robbie's frustration and disappointment, which had me praying that we wouldn't have the same situation the next day with Rowena.

Sunday morning saw Rowena and I going bright and early to Bremerhaven for the State Championships in Artistic roller skating (not such a big deal because the state Rowena skates in is the smallest one in Germany and is just two cities). We came home at about 10pm that night, Rowena clutching the little trophy she got for coming in third place overall in her section.

One of the results of the competition is that she saw the dance skating (similar to ice dance) and now wants to start doing that as well. Most of the girls in her group are doing it but I had not wanted to push her into it. At this rate, we might as well put up a tent on the skating rink for her.

This is what our weekly schedule looks like :

Monday - I take Rowena to skating where she trains from 3.15pm till 8pm. (Including 45 minutes of ballet).
Robbie cycles to Karate and then to soccer training.

Tuesday - I take Rowena to her riding lesson.
Robbie catches the bus into the city to play Yugioh cards in the back room at a gaming shop. I fetch him at 7pm.

Wednesday - Robbie cycles to soccer training or I take him if I'm free.

Thursday - I take Rowena to her piano lesson.
Robbie catches the bus into the city (see Tuesday).
I take Rowena to skating training which on a Thursday is conveniently at the (defrosted in summer) ice rink, minutes away from Robbie's Yugioh activity. Rowena finishes training and I fetch Robbie.

Friday - If Robbie has no football matches I take him to chess and afterwards he goes to karate, which is right next door.
Now Rowena will also be having roller dance on a Friday, so I still have to get my mind around that one.
If Robbie has a match, we forget the above two things and take him there and watch him play.

Saturday - I take Rowena to skating training, hopefully leaving the two little ones with their father.

Sunday - I collapse. Or there's a tournament and I swear and wonder when I'm going to get the washing done. I'm hoping that Rowena won't get really good at skating because then she would be in the Bremen State team, which would mean training on Sunday too.

Both Robbie and Rowena are having their adenoids removed at the end of the week. The only good thing about it (besides the fact that it would help their breathing) is that they are not allowed to do any sports activities next week.

Mission Impossible?

Last night, just as I should have been putting the little ones to bed, I got sidetracked. They were playing with lego and Leo wanted me to help him because he was having trouble finding some pieces. Our lego is stored in two rectangular bins and is frequently dumped out on the floor in the playroom. While I was searching for the pieces I realised that the smallest pieces always manage to end up at the bottom of the box. I had thought previously of sorting the lego and last night I tried out my idea. The next two hours were spent sifting through the boxes to find the small pieces and put them into little drawers, according to type - eg ones with only one connections (the really teeny tiny ones) together, the ones with two connections, pieces of people, etc etc. All the time I was saying to Leo, "Now you don't need to dump the lego out anymore, and you will put the pieces in the right place, won't you."

I think the lunatic asylum has a special straitjacket and padded room already reserved for me.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Socialisation quote of the day

Thanks to Janine Cate

I find it kind of ironic that one of the most frequent critisism against homeschooling is "socialization." Comments like, "They need friends!" and "What about the prom?" indicate a belief that school leads to friendship and connectedness. I think the opposite is true. School disconnects children from their families and from other children. More and more we see the "alone in a crowd" phenomenon, children with a pathetic need to fit it, but lacking any true relationships.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Update on our situation

In this post I mentioned that the education authorities had gotten wind of us and demanded that we apply for exemption of compulsory schooling. I sent a letter off requesting this, on the grounds that we move frequently and that we want to ensure educational continuity for our children.

Today I received a letter back requesting proof (eg. my husband's work contract) that we are not likely to be here much longer. For me this argument is problematical because it starts looking a bit silly if we are still here in two years time. The whole point is, though, that we can be forced to move at a moment's notice, even if we have the opportunity to live in one place for four years.

The letter stated the current legal situation (yawn - paragraph this and section that!)One thing that really jumped out at me was that "The state has control of education". I wondered why they can't at least exercise this control (or supervision or oversight, depending on which word you translate it with) by conducting regular inspections of homeschoolers, as is done in other countries. One country in which this works well is Ireland. I have spoken with a school inspector from the Irish National Educational Welfare Board, who is extremely positive to all manifestations of homeschooling, from curriculum-led to unschooling. I just think that the German authorities are too fearful and narrow-minded to consider this.

Another non sequitur in the letter is that the state determines the curriculum and educational objectives and routes. I guess they just conveniently forgot about all those Montessori and Waldorf schools that do their own thing. Nor did anyone tell them that the educational authorities themselves are trying to go more in the direction of natural learning. Sheesh. And of course the fact that I stated in my letter that our goal is to prepare our English-speaking children for the Irish school-leaving certificate has no effect on them - while they are in Germany we can forget all that and let them fall behind (if we weren't unschoolers - I'm speaking hypothetically here) while they moulder in a German school.

If they ask us, then why are we in Germany if we don't want to send our children to school here, my husband says he will answer, "To make money out of you idiots, because the German education system is so bad they have to use engineers educated in places like South Africa to do the work here." Hopefully they won't understand him.

Didn't I say it?

A few weeks ago I stated that homeschoolers who argue along the lines of religious freedom in Germany are barking up the wrong tree.

A couple of days ago, the German Constitutional Court decided in a homeschooling case and I'm afraid the news isn't good for homeschoolers. They declared that, "freedom of religion doesn't give parents the right to keep their children away from school" and that no-one is entitled to protect their children from displays of different beliefs or or points of view.

I know that this is a case that goes back years and that once people have started arguing along one line of reasoning, they can't switch arguments and say, "Oh, actually, we're not doing this for religious reasons any more." I do hope that people start thinking about the way they approach the situation, especially the very well known US organisation (that I won't name, but I'm sure you all know whom I'm referring to) that supports and sponsors many of the religious homeschoolers here.

Of course, it goes without saying that this judgement has negative repercussions for all homeschoolers in Germany, even those of us secular types to whom it doesn't even refer. Yesterday my friend in Bremen received a letter from the education authorities in which this judgement was referred to, as if it now gives them more leverage against her family.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Socialisation quote of the day

This time from my friend, Viola, whose daughter is a talented young figure skater in our club. She attends training four, sometimes five times a week (afternoons and evenings)and was recently in the newspaper, which gained her some negative attention from some of her schoolmates.

School can be a lonely place.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Socialisation quote of the day

I really like this one. It is an affirmation of something I wrote in this post

From Sue Fairhead at Education Otherwise :

People, on the whole, are social creatures. Being sociable is part of our nature. If we allow children to develop in their own way, they will begin to relate to other people when they are ready. Clearly children do need to meet people in order to be sociable, but home educators don't tend to be isolated from the community! A child is just as likely - if not more so - to be sociable with one or two people he meets at home than with a class of 30 children who just happen to be the same age as he is. More importantly, he is far more in control of his social life than he would be in school. Parents - who know their children best - can observe, and encourage, and introduce a shy child to other people at relaxed times, in safe environments rather than forcing them into situations where they may become withdrawn, or angry, or upset.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Homeschooling and freedom of religion in Germany

I've been thinking about this issue the last few days and today I heard a story that backed up my feelings. I reckon that religious homeschoolers here have been shooting themselves in the collective foot, and pretty much messing it up for everyone else, by arguing for their right to homeschool along the lines of freedom of religion.

This is an argument that has worked incredibly well in the USA, but it doesn't cut it in Germany. Although freedom of religion is theoretically recognised here, for a number of reasons it is pretty much ignored in the educational sector. One reason is that the government is terrified of hordes of (Christian and Muslim) fundamentalists taking their children out of the school and creating parallel societies where the children's constitutional rights are ignored. Really, German educationalists must be need their heads read if they think that their school system doesn't give rise to parallel societies. Anyone who has read about the rise of Neo-Nazism in the schools, or the immigrant gangs of various nationalities that make life difficult in inner-city schools, should know better.

When a family, like the one in Hamburg, says that their daughters are going to be nothing other than wives and mothers, the average German shudders because they are losing the opportunity to achieve their full potential. Well as a university graduate who has spent the last twelve and a half years bearing, breastfeeding and bonding (my mother-in-law used to call my LLL friends the B-ladies) with my four children, I can think of a lot worse things than just being a wife and mother. But then I'm not your average German - well I'm not even German for a start.

I heard about a case recently in our state where the judge declared that until the European court of Human Rights heard one of the German homeschooling cases pending there, he was suspending the proceedings against the family in question. Although this is a religious homeschooling family, they decided to play down the role of their strong Christian beliefs in their decision to homeschool. During the case, the judge apparently commented that if religion had been an issue here, he would not have been so inclined to find for the family.

There are many other good reasons to homeschool and religious homeschoolers who start out with their beliefs as their driving motivation soon find this out. If they have any sense, they will do as the family above did and play up the other reasons their chilren are home-educated instead of making it all about their religious beliefs.

Animal School

This is a really lovely fable.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Coming out of the closet

We received a letter from the local school yesterday. I had semi been expecting something like this, because our third child has to be registered at the school for the school year 2007-2008. (It's so far in advance so they can check their level of German and give them a whole year's worth of tuition so no-one supposedly starts school with a language disadvantage).

I had phoned and spoken to the Director of the school, telling her that we wouldn't be registering him because we didn't intend to be here any more by the time he was due to start school and she asked me to write a letter stating that, for her records, which I did. I was sort of hoping that that would be the end of the story but obviously not. Two years ago we had the same story with my daughter, with the school insisting she attend even if we were only staying for a short time. When we received notification of a fine we officially left Germany for the UK. When my husband's working contract was renewed for another year, we registered officially as resident here, but didn't hear anything more from the school. Till now.

The biggest surprise about the letter is how positive it is. In contrast to two years ago, when all they had to say was, "Send your child to school or else!" this time it stated that our children are Schulpflichtig (have a duty to attend school) and if I want to avoid prosecution I should apply to the State department of education for exemption from compulsory school attendance.

In one of my very first posts on this blog, I bitched about how nothing has changed in Germany on the homeschooling front. Maybe I'm wrong.

At least this means that I don't have to sneak around with my kids during school times. We can be out and about and open about it now. And I can start doing some serious advocacy work, contacting politicians and suchlike. Maybe even the odd TV appearance ;-). Lol, I think my preteen son would die of embarrassment if a TV crew were to come along to film him at his Yugioh league day, as they did with my friend's sons during their cathedral boys' choir practice.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Socialisation quote of the day

This one is a beaut. It's originally from this post at Jennifer's really pretty blog (I just love her pink stripes). Thanks to Henry Cate for pointing to it. Henry also has a link to an article by the author of the quote and an interview with him.

"Accusing a homeschool kid of missing out on socialization is like accusing a work-at-home entrepreneur of missing out on corporate politics." --Perry Marshall

Friday, May 26, 2006

Socialisation quote of the day

I have decided that every time I come across a good quote about homeschooling and socialisation I would save it so that I can have a collection of statements at hand to use in the event that I am talking to school officials, politicians, writing letters to editors or just debating with anti-homeschooling types. Then I thought that it would be fun to post these quotes on my blog so that others can also enjoy and use them. Maybe the title "Socialisation quote of the day" is a bit ambitious, implying that in a year's time I will have amassed 365 of them, but I'll give it a good bash.

So here is my first quote. It was in a comment by momofmine on this blog entry.

So how will my kids assimilate into a diverse society? Simple, they won't have to as they're already a part of it.

Essential science lesson

I really enjoyed this posting where Jake highlights many peoples' misunderstanding of how science works.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

My mother-in-law is at it again!

Not satisfied with rearranging my furniture every time she comes to visit, my mother-in-law, that interfering shopping receptacle, has gone and booked us on a cruise from Genoa down the west coast of Africa. Damn her. Doesn't she realise that I have no interest in spending 20 days relaxing in the sunshine, being waited on hand and foot while sampling a variety of Italian dishes (no I didn't mean the sailors).

By the way, just in case anyone gets the wrong idea, I like it when my mil rearranges my furniture. She has tons better taste than I do.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Don't you just love it...

when your three old, who got woken up way too early by his older brother, spends the whole afternoon being clingy and whiney (compounded by the fact that this one decided that he was a baby dragon and so refused to speak a word all afternoon, communicating only in squeaks and grunts), and then doesn't fall asleep on the way home at 6.30pm as you'd hoped, which makes him overtired and then he goes crazy till he finally collapses just after 10pm. Goodnight.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

And the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest is ... Mordor (oops, I mean Finland)

That celebration of inanity, that refuge of the talentless, that hive of musical and lyrical cliches, the Eurovision Song Contest, has cult status in our household. Every year we sit down and yawn and groan our way through over 20 mostly insipid performances.

Tonight it was dh and Rowena and Adrian and I (Leo was asleep and Robbie was doing his first professional stint as a babysitter for our neighbours, where he was watching the Eurovision on his own). Watching the results being announced makes for a great geography lesson. Each of the 37 countries who entered the contest gets to vote (people phone in or sms their vote for all countries but their own) for its top 10 of the 22 countries that performed in the final tonight. Our favourite game is to guess in advance, for which neighbour a country is going to give its top vote. For instance, it's pretty likely that Belarus will give its top vote (and 12 points) to Russia, or that ex-Yugoslavian republics will vote for the other ex-Yugoslavian republics. Russia in particular seems to benefit from this as there are many Russians living in various Eastern European countries. Another thing that comes through quite clearly is which countries have a large Turkish population (the Netherlands and Germany) as these two countries voted strongly for the absolutely awful Turkish number.

The clear winner was Finland, though, no favouritism there. Just about every country gave one of their strongest votes to the monster rockers. I don't know if I would use the word refreshing, but it was great to see a group win that didn't have half a dozen sexy female dancers gyrating in the background.

Here are some titbits from interviews with the band's lead singer :
Here are more highlights from Mr. Lordi.

“You know, we are meat eaters in a vegetarian café,” said Mr. Lordi when asked how the band feels to be in Eurovision.
Surely Lordi and Christianity don’t go together? Sure they do. “I am a member of a church and our drummer Kita actually wrote and played some church music.”
“I don’t want to burn in hell, I want to go to heaven.”
When Finnish TV invited Lordi to take part in Eurovision, Mr. Lordi thought that they’d got the wrong number.
“We think we look pretty. We look like monsters.”
“Lordi is actually my nickname. It was given to me by friends.“
“We toured last year through the whole of Europe. And we toured extensively in Germany.”
“Our future plan is to get back to our normal heavy metal routines.”

Thursday, May 18, 2006

My pool date

Does the title sound alluring? Actually, the date was with my 12 year old son. A friend who owed me hours of babysitting and wanted to unload some of them before her vacation in England (she must have just touched down as I write this) offered to babysit for me one afternoon before she left. Funny enough, I didn't have any great need to go off and do something alone.

Then I remembered that Robbie had mentioned that he would like to play pool with me without us being distracted by the two little ones. Rowena was visiting another friend yesterday afternoon so I left the two little ones with my friend and off we went to a local indoor playplace to hog one of their two pool tables for a couple of hours. We had a really lovely time. I can't really describe the feeling of joy that came over me, watching Robbie having such a good time and my undivided attention. I surprised him (and me) with my not being a total dodo at pool. Maybe I could log it as a geometry lesson.

That was generally the high point of Robbie's day yesterday. In the morning he went to the ENT for an allergy test (negative) where he was diagnosed with unusually large adenoids. You should have seen his face when the doctor told us. Rowena had been there the previous week, with the same texts and diagnosis and the doctor had recommended that they be removed surgically, as they are causing her to struggle in sporting activities.

In the evening he played in a soccer match, which his team lost after getting some really unfair offside calls from the referee. There were a couple of grandfathers there who were way better mannered than the last time. Then later, Robbie watched his favourites, Arsenal, getting clobbered by Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League final.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Murphy strikes again

One homeschooling family we know has three children, two of whom love playing music. It's almost impossible for them to walk past the piano without banging away on it and they will spontaneously pick up their violins and practise them. What a dream, children who don't need to be reminded and nagged to practise their musical instruments. But what a recipe for conflict that is when they have a big brother who can't stand music playing, especially when he is trying hard to study for his big exams. Why does life have to be so complicated?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Promoting normal socialisation

I just read this post, about dealing with people who criticise homeschooling. Regarding the socialisation question, Meg says :
Public schools are an artificial environment forcing kids to socialize in ways that aren’t natural. It is much more natural to find a group of people that share common interests with you and hang out with them. Within that group, participants will vary in regards to both age and abilities. The older/more experienced people take over the leadership roles and model acceptable behaviors to the rest. Younger/beginners are usually encouraged because the leaders think that their activity has value and want to share. Being out of the normal synch (as in an older beginner) is not viewed as weird because of the group being such a mix.

Sounds just like the Yugioh gaming afternoon (or as my dh calls it, Geeks club) that Robbie goes to twice a week.

Interview with Pat Farenga

One of the people, whom I would love to see visit Germany and talk about homeschooling and unschooling in particular is Pat Farenga. He took over the reins at Growing Without Schooling after John Holt died. One thing I would like to ask Pat is why John Holt felt that it was better to support the cause of unschooling rather than helping children learn at their own pace within the school system, and whether he had any opinions on the democratic schools.

Here is an interview with Pat. Some of his comments really jumped out at me, one of them being this :
I’m now concerned about our society deciding to support “womb to tomb education,” with all sorts of certificates and classes being required before we can join or do anything as adults. I see how this benefits educationists, but this benefit has the cost of undermining one’s “pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.” But, we seem, as a society, more willing than I ever thought to give up those pursuits in the name education. That ties in with what I was writing about the value of education.

I think this comment of Pat's addresses my question above :
Now, there are many niches to place your children in. But only homeschooling allows learning to be viewed as an embedded activity in the natural world of families and communities, rather than as a prdouct made by teaching children in a special place where nothing but learning is supposed to occur.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Doc's Sunrise Rants

I always enjoy listening to or reading the kind of people who don't take any crap. The type of person who calls a spade a shovel. I think it's because I wish I was like that. Doc is just one such person.

Not just is her blog really entertaining and enlightening reading (I learnt things I only suspected about raw milk) but it is also loaded with resources. My favourites list has swollen considerably with just some of her links. So if you're openminded and looking for some interesting reading, I would suggest you pop over to her blog.
BTW you have to scroll way down before you can see the column on the right with archives, recent posts, etc.

Sibling contacts

Earlier this week we visited a homeschooling family we'd never met before. They live over an hour and a half drive away from us.

Yesterday I received an email from the mother. She mentioned that her 14 year old son had commented on Robbie's willing involvedness with his younger brothers. He said that he had never seen any of his (schooled) friends show such understanding of and patience with their younger siblings. It's not the first time I've heard this kind of comment about Robbie. My neighbour has also compared him to the other older boys who live around here. She says that they don't want to have anything to do with their younger siblings, especially when their friends are around.

I guess that this is just just some of that necessary socialisation that schoolkids have to go through. The school teaches us acceptance and tolerance (to quote one school official) but just not for our little brothers and sisters.

I've been wanting to blog about this for a while...

but I decided to wait. A couple of months ago I took the kids swimming, during school times (one of my daring moments). They were the only children in the pool and a photographer wandering around asked if she could take some pictures of them. It was going to be for the swimming pool's new website.

I've been waiting for the pictures to come up so that I could post about it and link to them at the same time. So here they are. Click on the pictures if you want to enlarge them.

Here is Rowena cuddling up to the spitting fish fountain in the baby pool. Actually she was pumping it to make the water come out.

If you enlarge this picture you can see Rowena in the background, going off to answer the call of nature. On the left are Adrian and Leo's abandoned armbands.

Rowena again. The caption underneath says "One of the little participants of our courses". That's a laugh.

Here is Adrian, unfortunately with his back to the camera. Note the goggles. Adrian loves wearing things on his head (belts, caps, scarves, helmets, etc). He never actually puts the goggles over his eyes.

I think we really did these guys a favour, coming to the pool during school hours. Otherwise they would have had just a bunch of old people to photograph and the pictures would have been even more boring than they were.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Hooligan Grandpas and ambitious parents

I watched a soccer match that Robbie played in today. He is goalkeeper in the local under-13 team and they were playing against one of their big rivals. I feel so sorry for the boys in that team. The parents and trainers are more interesting than a soap opera, but unfortunately it is the young players who get the brunt of their anger, when they do something wrong or just aren't up to scratch.

Last season this team and ours were practically neck-and-neck for second place in the the discrict league, but so far this season they haven't been faring too well, as our boys have won the last two games against them. I wasn't able to watch those games, so I was keen to see if the adults were still the same competitive assholes.

Boy, did they put on a show! Early in the game, after two boys sandwiched our top player in as he was heading for their goal and then fouled him, as he lay injured on the ground, the trainer of the other team yelled to one of the boys, "Don't feel bad, you did well!" Well, even if it was an accident, I think it's pretty bad form to praise a player for injuring someone else. At least the father who managed to piss me off at every game last season by telling his son how stupid he was every time he made a mistake was no longer there, but there was another prize asshole to take his place. A grandfather there kept verbally berating the players, complaining at the referee and having little tantrums. In the second half the referee had a tantrum himself and banned the grandfather from the pitch after the latter grabbed (I suppose) his grandson and shook him after he made some mistake. The way these people behave, one would suppose that their children are playing in the first division, or something.

We get these parents at ice skating too, like the father who beat up the trainer of our club a couple of months back because his daughter was excluded from the State team after she failed to fulfil the requirements for attending practices. I actually feel sorry for these people, the parents as well as the children. They must be really insecure that every win or loss of their child reflects on themselves. They don't realise how much harm they are doing, not just to their relationships with their children but also to their own health. I would have loved to have put a blood pressure cuff on that grandpa this evening.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Sudbury vs unschooling or maybe not

Last week I didn't post much because most of my computer time was taken up with responding to some posts on a German email list that I'm on. German not being my first language (or even my second) it always takes twice as long to type as in English because I have to keep looking up the right words, correct my grammar and often I don't succeed in expressing myself nearly as clearly as I want to.

In spite of all this, when I feel strongly about something I take the time to get involved in the discussions. This particular list is one that has been set up to discuss practical ways of achieving freedom in education in Germany and members come from the whole spectrum of educational alternatives, from religious Christian homeschoolers through unschoolers to those who are interested in democratic schools (eg the Sudbury or Summerhill model) to children's rights advocates.

There is a remarkable sense of openness and cohesion among the various types of homeschoolers in Germany at the moment. The feeling here is that we need to stick together and support each other. We can't afford to let ourselves be divided into bickering fractions based on our differing motives or methods. Many people straddle various camps, for example religious fundamentalists who practise unschooling or current unschoolers who started out with a more structured form of homeschooling.

Many of those who advocate the Sudbury system, however, seem to have a problem accepting homeschoolers and this is where some conflict arises. For one, many are saddled with the same prejudices about homeschoolers as the general public. In his book, "Free at last - the Sudbury Valley School" , Daniel Greenberg writes (my translation into English from the German translation), For example, there is the question of whether unschooling enables the childen to find their way in society, when the children are at home for most of the time. Of course there are cases where the parents of unschoolers visit each other a few times a week to give their children social contacts.

So here we have the idea that the most unschoolers only get the opportunity to stretch their social wings within the social circle that their parents have appointed for them. That's not the way I experience it. Currently both my eldest children are often off exploring their own interests and interacting with their friends with not a supervising parent in sight, and that's nothing rare among unschoolers, as far as I know.

Another issue is that many Sudbury types seem to subscribe to a worldview that perceives parental influence as something negative and undesirable. Although I agree that young people need to have a place where they can explore unfettered by parental influence, I think that for a healthy development a strong, healthy bond to the primary caregiver is necessary. Then letting go and enabling the child to experience independence at its own pace, as one does with a toddler, will do the rest.

I have nothing against Sudbury schools. I think that they are, like homeschooling (in its different forms) another great educational alternative which suits the needs of different people.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The value of education?

I recently read something by the well-known magician and sceptic, James Randi, that got me thinking about the whole issue of whether "educated" people are really better off than "less educated" ones.

Randi wrote :
Education only provides a student with a framework for discovering the facts, but it does not force the student to use that framework. An education only makes you educated, it doesn’t necessarily make you smart; you have to get that way on your own. By “smart,” I mean “able to apply knowledge to the real world.” Give me a kid from the slums as a survival assistant in a disaster, rather than a half-dozen PhDs. The academics would still be writing a paper on how to find some food, while we two survivors were already digesting our meal.

I had a friend at school whose brother was diagnosed as "learning disabled" and went to the school whose pupils were the butt of everyone else's jokes. Jason ended up getting trained as a hairdresser and went on to become a successful young businessman. In the meantime his sister, who had been getting top marks all the way at school, went off the rails, experimenting with sex, drugs and alcohol.

An education can be a wonderful tool, a stepping stone to a fulfilling, successful life. However I think that there is so much value placed on getting an education that it becomes a means to an end. Parents are so often devastated when their children opt out of the ideal path they had envisioned them following, instead of asking whether the new path is a better one for their child than the old one.

Sitting and memorising facts and practising drills might be useful for some types of jobs but in general I don't feel that it prepares one for life. In many cases "getting an education" can be a cover for emotional lack of security or feelings of inadequacy. Someone I know recently moved out of the communal house he had been sharing with some other supposedly like-minded individuals. One of the things that frustrated him was that a bunch of intellectuals living under one roof were incapable of getting on with each other. It seems that many people who regard themselves as high on knowledge and intelligence are pretty short on commonsense and general life skills.

Update : Here's an article called Five Reasons to Skip College. I just love number three. I got the link from Chris O'Donnell's blog. I'm busy scouring it to find that I don't link to graphic, but I'm just getting sidetracked the whole time.

Another Update : Via Henry Cate, mother of eight, Sherry, discusses whether college is the right decision for everyone.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Maybe there's hope

My friend whose two young sons refuse to go to school had a meeting with the education authorities of the state of Bremen, where she lives. It was apparently quite positive and they are trying hard to reach an understanding and a compromise that both sides can live with. My friend has firmly stated that she will not send her sons to school and that if it comes to the crunch their family will leave the country (with lots of publicity, of course) and they have told her that they will not be imposing fines on her. It seems that the publicity that they have been getting up to now (which has been overwhelmingly positive) has made them think twice about coming on all neanderthal, as has been tried elsewhere in Germany.

18th Carnival of Homeschooling: A Cornucopia of Wisdom

Swing by the 18th Carnival of Homeschooling. As usual, there is some great reading and as a bonus (modest wink), yours truly is included this week.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Bilingual family suffers under government persecution

At the beginning of April I posted about how the education authorities in Nord-Rhine Westphalia had, without warning, taken extreme measures against 3 homeschooling families in the town of Lüdenscheid. One of these families is the Skeet family, whose children are talented musicians. They are also bilingual, as their father, Jonathan Skeet, is British. (As an aside, I know from experience that going into the German school system would probably not have done their bilingualism any good and they would probably have had to sit through basic English lessons.)

For four years now, the German/English Skeet children have been educating themselves at home, with the help of their parents, and in cooperation with three other families in the neighbourhood. In their native England, at least 160 000 children of school age are learning in this way, with the respect and support of local education authorities, local schools and the general public. It is known as "Home-Education", and in all European countries (except Germany and Bulgaria) and worldwide it is permitted, for all families wishing to exercise this right, within the laws concerning compulsory education.

Now, however, for two of the five children, their high intelligence, musicality and bilingualism has become a problem for them – in Germany compulsory education means compulsory school attendance, and the headmistress of the local school has been placed under pressure by the local school authorities to impose 6000€ fines (about 4000 pounds or 7500 US dollars) on the parents. The children, who are being successfully home-educated, are both at least one academic year in advance of their age, and have been nominated for participation in a major youth music contest, are not even known by the headmistress – she has never set eyes on them, or seen them at her school. The parents have never been invited for a conversation.

In many similar cases, the authorities start the punitive process with relatively modest fines. Not so with the Skeets - whose applications for an exception to be made in their case have all been rejected - who are being treated like criminals. The otherwise respected members of the community, with a relatively modest income, have suffered the freezing of their bank account and the confiscation of their family car. The eldest daughter was traumatised by the appearance of the court-bailiffs in their flat. The father (Care-assistant in home for the elderly) had to walk home after work on Monday. It was impossible to gain access to the account, get money to go shopping, (Not possible without the car anyway!) or make any provision
involving money at all.

Once again, German bureaucracy has left a lasting, painful and traumatic impression on a large and otherwise happy family.

Jonathan and Natascha Skeet

Am Williglo 14
58509 Lüdenscheid


Where you can send protest emails or letters:
The education Ministry's adress (address to Frau Sommer, the education minister):

Email :

Ministerium für Schule und Weiterbildung des Landes NRW
Frau Ministerin Sommer Völklinger Str. 49
40221 Düsseldorf (The School Headmistress)

Education authority of the Märkisch District (who put the pressure on the Headmistress to take action)

Email :

Letters :
Schulrätin Frau Bunselmeier-Lohr
Heedfelder Str. 45
58509 Lüdenscheid

Regional Newspapers:
Lüdenscheider Nachrichten (very fair and positive) Email:

Westfälische Rundschau (ok) Email: oder

Here again is Jan Edel's webpage which details the whole situation. The families involved are personal friends of Jan.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The most useful course I ever took...

was the touch typing course that I enrolled in after I dropped out of university. How else would I be able to show great interest in the lego catalogue that Adrian is insisting I look at while I'm trying to work on my blog?

Sticky spelling

I saw the idea on someone else's blog for helping children learning to read using post-it notes. Unfortunately I can't remember where I saw it, so I can't give the original blogger credit. (Please tell me if you know who it was)

Leo is currently showing great interest in words. He recognised the word "Lego" written in plain script. When I asked him what the word would say if the "g" was removed, and he was thrilled when he worked out that it was his name. We tried out some other (3-letter) words and he ws able to work them out as well. Then I wrote pot and cup on small post-it notes and stuck the notes on the relevant items. Leo thought this was a great idea and wrote pot on several sticky notes, stickeing one on every pot in the house. Now I just have to remember to take the notes off beore I use the pots...

Here's a word for the German authorities to jump on.

I am busy reading an interview with Judy Aron, Research Director for the US organisation National Home Education Legal Defense. What she has to say is fascinating, on an individual, as well as political, level. For example, she says that Home Education was never illegal in America. She states that the duty of parents to educate their children has existed since the colonial times and that the right to home educate is entrenched in the US constitution. That statement is quite interesting, because in the current German constitution, the freedom of religion and conscience, as well as freedom of association, have a higher ranking than the school attendance laws of the various German states.

This little piece really jumped out at me, especially in light of what I wrote about the attitudes of German officialdom to parental influence.

"Another hugely important issue threatening parents nationwide is the issue of loss of parental control over the lives of children through a combined effort of the psychological community and the public school system. Whether you are a homeschool parent or a parent of a child in any educational institution, this is an insidious effort that already is underway all across the country. The psychological community has begun an effort to undermine parental involvement with children by introducing a new word in their lexicon, the word, “enmeshment”. It seems that certain influential psychologists have deemed parents who become “enmeshed” with their children’s lives to be neglectful of those children. “Enmeshment” is viewed as too much bonding with a child to the extent that the child is not able to thrive independently from his parents. The theory is that children must become independent from their parents, and the sooner the better. To do anything less is neglectful. Parents already have been charged with neglect for being too enmeshed with their children. Of course there is a lack of scientific basis for the claim that “enmeshment” between a parent and child or that it is inherently bad. Yet, this may be the next step in claiming that parents who homeschool and, who necessarily are “enmeshed” with their children’s education, are neglectful simply because they are homeschooling."

The German for enmeshment, according to Leo, not my son, but my favourite online english-german dictionary, is Verstrickung or Verwicklung. I'll be looking out for one of these words being used to describe the detrimental effects of homeschooling. Coming to your favourite German newspaper soon.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

From dog taxes and Voltaire to Moxie Crimefighter

This morning Robbie was doing his regular daily German language studies (ie. reading the sports pages in the Weser Kurier , which is delivered to us every morning). There were a couple of interesting articles which I pointed out to him and before long we were having a lively discussion about various articles.

The daily quote was Voltaire's "If god didn't exist then man would have found it necessary to invent him", leading to a discussion of who Voltaire was and whether he was an atheist.

A little report about the increase in dog licenses grabbed Robbie's attention and got him wondering about the whole purpose of taxes. When he said, "They'll be taxing curtains next"! I brought up the window tax. From there the conversation moved onto the ethicality of governments making money by taxing tobacco and then the pros and cons of smoking (by now it was a debate with me playing devil's advocate).

The last item of interest was an article on the names that celebrities inflict on their children. I was familiar already with the likes of Fifi Trixibelle Geldof and Dweezil and Moon Unit Zappa but that Penn Jillette had named his daughter Moxie Crimefighter was news to me. I wonder what kind of names Voltaire, a skeptic like Jillette, would have given his children had he lived today.

Yet another mind-numbingly illogical statement by a school official

I watched a small piece on the local TV station about a friend of mine and her two sons, who refuse to go to school. (She is trying to get permission to homeschool her sons.)

Of course the programme had the requisite statement by a representative of the education authority. According to him, homeschooling is not allowed in Germany, because children being exposed only to their parents' influence can have fatal results. My first question to him would be: Is there some kind of list from which these guys can choose their favourite asinine statement? My second question is, following this line of reasoning, when are the German authorities going to ban schools?


Someone commented on an email list that this statement illuminates the main issue that the German state has with homeschooling. We can argue till we are blue in the face about the benefits of homeschooling and about educational choices, but as long as the state feels it is not in the interests of the children to have their parents as the only, or even main, influence, it is going to oppose homeschoolers with all its might. Sad.

Update 2

You can see the programme here. It's halfway down the page. Click on Die Schulpflichtverweigerer. The quality is not good and it's all in German but I love the part where the older son talks about how he made the choice not to go to school, after his parents persuaded him to try it longer. The man with the grey beard is the one making the statement above.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Good night, sleep tight

It's 10:45pm and I just had to sneak a blog before bed. At about 9:30pm Rowena decided that she wanted to work out the times tables and so there I was writing them out (leaving a space for her to write the answers. Yawn - it was really too much for my brain. Half an hour ago, I was ready to tell her to stop doing the times tables and go to bed (I had visions of her doing it with a flashlight under the covers) but right then she decided to go to bed herself.

Her comment, "This is really fun, Mommy". As far as I remember, Robbie didn't think so back in our eclectic homeschooling days when I used to drill him in the times tables. He got into it as well tonight, reeling them off and correcting Rowena (which my tired brain was very grateful for). He said, "I still remember the tables even though I haven't practised them for ages!" ( forgetting about our playing the fizz bang game on car journeys).

We have had a friend of Robbie and Rowena's staying with us for the last week. At the beginning of the week Robbie and Daniel (our visitor) each bought the same gameboy game, Pokemon Fire Red. According to Robbie, who has played nearly all the Gameboy Pokemon games, this one is the best he has ever played. They have both been pretty immersed in the game for the last week with the interest slowly wearing off in the last couple of days (no hours says Robbie). Now he is busy reading the third in William Nicholson's Wind on Fire Trilogy (called Firesong). They are really fantastic, gripping stories but I must admit I had a hard time understanding them. Well that gives me a reason to read them again.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

This is addictive stuff...

My strategy game-loving son received the game "The Settlers of Catan" for his birthday and we are all totally hooked. It is the best, funnest game I have ever played.

Although the box states that the game is from the age of 10, our 8 year old daughter can play it quite easily. In fact she beat me and my friend tonight. It was my friend's first time playing it and she was quite annoyed to discover just as she was about to put down her fifth city to win the game that each player is only allocated four cities. But I think I know what she will be buying her son for his next birthday...

Friday, April 14, 2006

Music lessons

When I was a child, I wasn't exposed to music much at home. As far as I can remember (and my mom can correct me if I am wrong) our collection of records (or "Those really big CD's " - 5yr old Leo) consisted of 3 records, one of which only used to make an appearance around Christmas time. It did expand slowly, so that by the time I was 14, we also had Chris de Berg's Spanish Train, The Best of John Denver and Abba.

Back in Ireland, my cousins were learning to play musical instruments (I thought the recorder was something you put cassettes in!) and having singing lessons. At least joining the school choir and the church choir gave me the opportunity to nurture that musical flame that barely flickered inside me. Marrying someone who was able to play the guitar and sight read music did nothing for my musical self-esteem.

In an attempt to avoid the same thing happening with my children (actually this is unlikely, since our CD collection numbers over 200) I have been applying the technique of strewing in as many ways as possible. I found a piano advertised for €100 (about $120) in the newspaper and brought it home - although I think that my dh and 2 other males who helped load, unload and carry it in would probably object to the use of the word "strew" in this regard. We already have 2 guitars, but guitars lie shut away in cases - it's easy to forget about them. A piano stands there, saying "Come and play me!" Rowena has just started getting piano lessons, at her own request.

Our two youngest, Leo and Adrian, who is 3, are really into classical music at the moment. Adrian dashes around the house, singing "Ollie yo yo, Ollie yo yo" (the Hallelujia Chorus). The source of this is the Leap Frog book, "Hit it Maestro". Their favourite section is the one on Tschaikovsky and the Nutcracker Suite, which they already know from the Barbie movie, "Barbie and the Nutcracker". I remember how I pooh-poohed these things, Barbie movies and Leap Pad, when I first heard of them. Seeing how they are bringing my children to an enjoyment of classical music has really taught me a lesson.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

I belong in London

Actually that figures. That's the city in which I've always been happiest. I just adore those London walks. And they all speak English.

You Belong in London
You belong in London, but you belong in many cities... Hong Kong, San Francisco, Sidney. You fit in almost anywhere.And London is diverse and international enough to satisfy many of your tastes. From curry to Shakespeare, London (almost) has it all!
What European City Do You Belong In?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

(Not) missing out

The other day, someone said to me "Don't you think that your children are missing out on things by not going to school?" A few years ago, a question like that would have sent me on an emotional roller-coaster of guilt and uncertainty.

I can remember one time when that actually happened. My eldest (and at that stage onliest) was three years old. This was before our exciting "another year another country" life and we were still living in the same town my parents had moved to when I was not even two. I happened to drive by my old school (linked here so you can see the awful uniforms we had to wear and which haven't changed one bit since I left 20 years ago) just after school was out and saw some of the pupils standing outside. For some reason all the exciting, interesting things about being in school, like cheering my school on at sports events, came into my mind and I had an enormous rush of guilt that my offspring would be deprived of such experiences.

Later that day, or a few days later, I told a friend, Maria, about this experience. Her comment was one that will stay with me all through my life and it springs into my mind often. She said that every choice that we make has its pluses and minuses and that we can never make the perfect decision. As parents we do the best we can.

And so it was, when my concerned, well-meaning friend made this comment last week, I was able to stay calm and rational, and even quite amused. Now I know that school is not the be all and end all of youthful experience. Even if they do miss out on a couple of nice experiences, the positives of learning from home way make up for that. As for cheering on your school team, well the experience Robbie had yesterday in cheering on our home soccer team to their win against German Bundesliga leader Bayern Munich is worth 10 school sports days.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

That lightbulb moment

When learning any new skill, there is a moment when you realise that you have mastered the basics and you can do whatever it is that you have been struggling to learn, whether it is driving, skiing or in the case of Rowena, my 8 year old daughter, reading, practically without thinking about it. In the latter case it is the moment when you can't look at words without actively reading them.

My 12 year old son, Robbie, had what I call that lightbulb moment at the age of six and a half and has since been a voracious reader of almost all types of fiction and nonfiction (excluding romance, for some strange reason). When Rowena, at that same age, showed no inclination to read herself or even be able to sound out simple words, I stood back and waited. Every now and then I've got her to sound out words (I've always regretted it - it was like trying to get blood out of a stone). Up till now, she would alway ask me or someone else to read things to her. Suddenly though, she's like a flower that has sprung open. It is as though there is some inner force compelling to read every word that strays into her path, no matter how long it is and what language it is in (she is reading English and German).

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Why Homeschool: Carnival of Homeschooling #14: Today in History

Why Homeschool: Carnival of Homeschooling #14: Today in History

I've managed to sneak into the Carnival of homeschooling this week. It looks like really interesting reading, so excuse me while I go off and have some fun.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Join the protest against forcible measures taken against German homeschoolers

I'd like to ask homeschoolers from all over to respond to this appeal from Jan Edel, on behalf of three homeschooling families in the German state of Nord-Rhein Westphalen.

(Update : Jan has put my English translation onto his website, so you can link straight to that or to this blog posting if you want. Please spread the word - we want to inundate these bureacrats with emails. Jan says, "Please mobilise everyone you can to set this in motion in Germany and around the world!"
At the bottom of this posting is a letter icon that you can click on to email this link to other supporters of homeschooling. )

On his website he states, "How on earth can the authorities consider it commensurate to extract penalty payments totalling €18 000 (approx $22 000) from three large families who are educating their children in a manner unforeseen by the current legal framework? In his press conference, the UN Special Reporter for human rights in education, Prof. Dr. Vernor Muñoz Villalobos, declared that the particular selectivity that is a feature of the German education system also closes off some alternative educational forms, such as homeschooling and distance learning.

According to the UN declaration of human rights, parents have the right to determine the form of their children's education. In the case of the homeschooling initiative in Lüdenscheid and the surrounding area, this human right has not been called upon. There are even various particular educational reasons why being in a state school would disadvantage their children. The bureaucrats are harming these families far more than any perceived damage the families are doing to the public interest. Such financial penalties are left purely to the discretion of the school principal. No-one is legally forced to take such insane measures, particularly against one's own conscience.

The fact that there is currently no expanded definition of compulsory schooling in Germany which allows for subsidiary learning organisations or co-operation, should not result in families fleeing to other European countries to live and learn in freedom there, while others are bankrupted in one fell swoop. Imagine having €1000 being debited from your monthly income of €2100 by the educational authorities. These families are not even capable of paying for correspondence or private education or for the special or individual educational needs of their children.

Until now, the state has stolidly ignored the tangible educational benefits of self-organised learning, instead referring monotonously to 'regulations'. It ignores children with individual needs such as dyslexia, giftedness, multilingualism, distinctive physical features, disability, hyperactivity, to name a few. To enable these children to live in the family with their totally ‘normal’ siblings and to enable them to determine their own learning to a large extent, the parents organise and finance private teaching and learning opportunities, making the state curriculum more interesting and appropriate to their children’s abilities and development. Meanwhile, they have discovered that their children display above average development when their individual needs are met. The school principal responsible for levying the penalties has not once met any of these children.

In no other country would these families be attacked like this. The educational route which they have chosen for their children is accepted practically everywhere else. At home in Germany they find themselves justifying themselves against the strangest assumptions and prejudices, many of which are based on German provinciality. This in spite of the fact that all these misgivings have been contradicted by experience and by studies in other countries.

Is it right to treat a few happy families with several children living and learning together without school, just like millions of other children worldwide, as criminals by subjecting them to penalty payments and jail sentences? One does not see such instances in any other country. We can’t allow the world’s greatest exporter to lose it’s child-friendliness to overseas! Familial competence and responsibility is becoming rare and is being discouraged by increasing professional supervision – even in cases where such supervision is needed. If we are to stop the emigration of more families who value education, we need your solidarity and support.”

If you want put your voice to the wave of protest and let those involved in this ridiculous process know what you think, then you can click on the link on Jan Edel’s webpage where it says Beschwerde-Email. Below is the automatic wording of the email translated into English. As I don’t know how much English is understood by those to whom the email is addressed, I would suggest sending the German version and adding your (respectful, moderated) comments to it if you wish.

I have heard that you have levied exorbitant penalties on homeschooling families in your school district. There are no grounds for such extreme measures. They are unjustified in every case and inexcusable in light of German history, even if there were a written law in this case.

Please note that I am hereby registering my vote that I consider the current penalties (and any future ones) against these families to be totally disproprotionate and not in the interest of citizens in general.

I appeal to your conscience, your humanity and your healthy common sense, and ask you to stop this process and reverse the forcible measures that have been taken.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Two days, two tournaments, two different worlds

Yesterday I helped out at a figureskating tournament that my daughter was participating in. It was full of little girls in sequinned, sparkly dresses (with the odd boy here and there). Today I dropped off my son at the Yugioh state championships and helped him get registered. It was full of geeky youths in dark clothes (not a sequin or sparkle in sight) with the odd girl thrown in.

I suppose I should be flattered that someone mistook me for a participant. At least I didn't have to spend the whole day today standing around freezing my ass off selling coffee, cake and bockwurst.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Hamburg update

In a previous post I stated that a homeschooling father from Hamburg has recently been jailed. This is not strictly true, as I found out when I spoke to the man in question, Andre Rudolph (pictured here with his wife and 5 of his children) today. His jail sentence, which will probably be for one week, is still upcoming.

Far from being beaten down and frightened by the decision, Andre is upbeat and positive about the whole thing. He stated that he would much rather do the jail time than send his children to school. This is obviously another case of a narrow-minded judge not being able to see the wood for the trees. Unlike the social workers who refused to take custody of the children away from the parents after meeting and interviewing the children (who are happy to be homeschooled) the judge who is throwing Andre into jail is rigidly adhering to the paradigm that not going to school is harming their wellbeing. He hasn't even spoken to the children. In Germany an 8 year old is regarded by the law as being capable of choosing which parent to live with in the the case of divorce but is not consulted as to how he or she wants to be educated. Talk about schizophrenic.

When I asked Andre how I could support him, he said "Just carry on homeschooling your kids. That's all the support I need." He hopes that his case could be a catalyst for positive change for German homeschoolers. For all of our sakes, I hope he's right.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Comments from the underground

When the very real possibility exists that homeschooling can lead to me or my dh being chucked into jail (as has just happened to a homeschooling father in nearby Hamburg) or at least having to go to court, the issue of what to tell others can be a little awkward. Basically we follow a don't ask don't tell policy. We don't want our children to lie, but I have suggested they say something like, "We have the day off", if a stranger asks why they're out during school hours. Sometimes it's just not worth bringing up the issue of homeschooling.

As I previously mentioned, my son, Robbie, plays Yugioh cards. Once or twice a week he plays at a group which meets in the back of a gaming store. When I was picking him up there one day, one of the other boys heard us speaking English to each other. "Wow, " he commented to Robbie, "You must get really good grades in English at school!". "You could say that", replied Robbie laconically. Actually I wish he had blown their minds by saying that he doesn't go to school and doesn't have any grades, but I had to admire his slick response.


If you want your kid to find out how the laws of supply and demand affect market price and availability of products, then I suggest you encourage him or her to start playing one of the more popular collectable card games.

Our son, Robbie, has been playing Yugioh cards for a while now and this evening, while I was tidying up after supper, he hung out with me and treated me to a lecture on economics. Actually, he was going on about how people will not trade the more popular and difficult to obtain cards, which means that they go for really high prices on the internet (I just checked this and discovered Cyber Dragon, which is currently the most popular card, according to Robbie, going for €24,50 on Ebay Germany.)

Wow, maybe this Yugioh thing is not such a waste of time as most parents seem to think. At least it has led to our son having a better understanding of economics than most French university students.