I've been thinking about how much has changed since we first came to Germany eight years ago. We had just spent a year living in Seattle, so you can imagine what a shock it was to me that you couldn't get lattes to go in cardboard cups, or low fat (or vegetarian) alternatives to just about everything (I discovered fat free sour cream just before we left the USA), or that the stores closed at 2pm on Saturday afternoons for the weekend.
There has been some improvement in the last 8 years. Now the cardboard cups, if not as ubiquitous as they were in Seattle (and we do live near the coffee capital of Germany) are easily obtainable. Low fat has now become the new trend - if I want to, I can buy a flavourless cheese variety with only 10 percent fat. The grocery store round the corner is now open till 8pm on a Saturday, making that frequent last minute discovery that we only have one liter of milk left less of an issue than it used to be.
Unfortunately, the one thing about Germany that hasn't changed much is that it's still in the dark ages as far as homeschooling is concerned. Eight years ago, our move from Seattle to Germany (and darkest Bavaria at that) was like going from homeschool heaven to homeschool hell. The homeschooling support groups, homeschooling conferences and homeschooling magazines I enjoyed in Seattle were replaced with swathes of ignorance, prejudice and a total media blackout on the issue. It was about as taboo as the idea of children sharing a bed with their naked copulating parents. This was devastating for me. I felt as though a major part of our human rights was being violated.
It was only later that we discovered other intrepid homeschoolers and in the meantime our eldest child had started at a nearby Montessori school (although we were able to put off sending him to school till he was seven and a half). It was only when we moved to Italy that we got back on the homeschooling track again. After our move back to Germany a year later, we decided that we were not going to be derailed by peer pressure or stupid anachronistic laws.
Juristically Germany is still as homeschool unfriendly as it was eight years ago. In fact, some of the German states have sharpened their attacks on families who violate the "Schulpflicht", making it a crime instead of just a misdemeanor. There have been some positive legal changes, such as the one in Nord-Rhein Westphalia, formally allowing children who are temporarily in the country (up to 2 years) to be freed from the obligation of attending school in Germany. But that doesn't help the German homeschoolers and in effect nothing much has changed.
Homeschoolers (of all types) and their parents are still being persecuted and prosecuted. Many families have sent their children back to school rather than face the chance of losing custody of them or paying fines up to thousands of euros. Others are preparing to leave Germany or have already left.
On the positive side, the media blackout is lifting. Homeschooling parents and advocates have appeared on talk show panels. There is the occasional article on the issue in the newspapers. There are at least two organisations supporting homeschoolers, as well as a variety of local support groups. For the first time too, a German academic, Thomas Spiegler, has written a study on the local homeschooling phenomenon.