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.