Wednesday, December 19, 2007

What's happening with the Neubronners

The Neubronner family in Bremen has been having some tough times recently. After they received a letter announcing yet another increase in the fines imposed (now totalling 7 500 euros) and threatening them with other punitive measures (not elaborated on in the letter), they decided to send their sons to school for the time being. They were concerned, having heard a rumour that the school authorities planned to remove their sons from their custody right before or during the Christmas period, and decided that this step was necessary so that they could at least have a peaceful Christmas.

Thomas is coping ok, although he is incredibly bored and can't bear to look at the acts of brutality among his classmates. Moritz, however, is already showing signs of strain. He told me last night that every three minutes he counts the days till the Christmas vacation and tells his teachers at every opportunity that he is only going because of the Zwangsgeld and the threat of his parents losing custody, but he hates school. Dagmar said that he has already started getting the cough which he had continually when he was previously at school for two years. The other boys tease him maliciously and call him a truant because he was being home educated. In spite of all this, he is demonstrating quiet perseverance while he bears his burden. He is particularly proud of the fact that, in spite of being unschooled (or because of it), he is top of the class in his year and second best among the students in the year ahead of him.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Moving away from a pluralistic society

One of the things I was busy with recently was a translation of the recent judgement of the German Federal Court in the matter of a home educating family who had two of their children removed from their custody, which was taken over by the local Jugendamt (something akin to a welfare office for children). What seems to have happened is that the Jugendamt official responsible for the children's education and place of residence got to know the family and realised that there was really no danger to the children's welfare. He allowed the parents to take the children to Austria and register them as resident there, after which he himself applied to the Austrian education authorities to register the children as homeschoolers in Austria, according to that country's laws.

The court, dealing with the parent's appeal against a lower court's refusal to return the children's custody to them, took a dim view of this and not only upheld the lower court's decision, but declared that the Jugendamt official was incompetent. It decided that the custody of the children should be handed to another office more capable of upholding the original intent of the removal of custody - the enforcement of the children's compulsory school attendance.

The work of translating this document was a very emotional experience for me - I'm sure there isn't a homeschooler who can read this without the bile rising up inside them. The sheer arrogance of the judges just takes one's breath away. How else can one explain a statement like this one,

"There is no necessity to call for such a report, as the advantages of school attendance and the relative disadvantages of home education, as described by the Higher Regional Court – in line with the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court – are accessible to the judges’ expert knowledge, with no other evidence being necessary, and furthermore are covered by the the evaluation of the legislators of education law in Germany as well as that of the Constitutional Court."

And the following statement is a slap in the face for every civilised country (for example, Germany's neighbour, Austria) in which home education has been permitted for decades :

"The mental and emotional welfare of the children is lastingly endangered because the first Party rejects and hinders the school education which is important for the development of the children in a pluralistic society. It is a moot point whether the home education of the children ensures an adequate transfer of knowledge, as children should also grow up in community life. "

It is ironic that this (and other German courts dealing with homeschooling cases) has the cheek to mention the importance of living in a pluralistic society and then states, elsewhere in the judgement :

"Society at large has a rightful interest in working against the formation of religiously or ideologically coloured “parallel societies” and in integrating minorities in this respect."

A few minutes after doing an internet search on the word pluralism, I started thinking that the judges's expert knowledge of pluralism is on a par with their knowledge of homeschooling.

From the Encyclopaedia Britannica -

Pluralism assumes that diversity is beneficial to society and that autonomy should be enjoyed by disparate functional or cultural groups within a society, including religious groups, trade unions, professional organizations, and ethnic minorities.

From -

A condition in which numerous distinct ethnic, religious, or cultural groups are present and tolerated within a society.
The belief that such a condition is desirable or socially beneficial.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - ,

The strongest version of political pluralism claims that all these value systems are equally true (and thus presumably all ought to be tolerated), a weaker view is that these value systems all ought to be tolerated, and probably the most common version of the view is that some of these systems (the reasonable ones) ought to be tolerated.

On the one hand, this and other similar judgements highlight the importance of pluralism, but then they often go on to talk about the "common good" (or similar words, such as the "interest" of "society at large", as I translated it). If I am understanding it correctly, these courts themselves are not only not acting in terms of an understanding of pluralism, they are actually making a mockery of the term. I know that Wikipedia is not necessarily the most unbiased source, but I was riveted by what their entry on political pluralism has to say about the "Common Good":

Pluralism is connected with the hope that this process of conflict and dialogue will lead to a definition and subsequent realization of the common good that is best for all members of society. This implies that in a pluralistic framework, the common good is not given a priori. Instead, the scope and content of the common good can only be found out in and after the process of negotiation (a posteriori).
Consequently, the common good does not, according to pluralists, coincide with the position of any one cohesive group or organization. However, a necessary outcome of this philosophy is that the beliefs of any particular group cannot represent
absolute truth. Therefore any group with a philosophy that purports to hold both absolute truth and identify the common good is wrong - their belief system is irrelevant and cannot represent truth that impacts on others who do not hold to the given belief system.

It seems to me that the German political authorities and courts are busy identifying the common good (stopping homeschooling because it supposedly creates parallel societies) without even attempting to discuss this issue. They have decided that homeschooling is bad for the common good and enforced mandatory school attendance is good for it and basta!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Buying into the Ivy League illusion?

I was chatting to someone who had been reading my blog recently and she made a comment that I thought was really interesting. She asked why homeschoolers often go on about how they (or other homeschoolers) are attending Ivy League Universities in the USA, something she finds a bit of a contradiction.

My first introduction to homeschooling was an article about the Colfax brothers, who had attended Harvard after being homeschooled. I think that there was an element of "Wow, if they can do that after being homeschooled, then it must be okay", that guided my initial reaction and opened me up to this possibility. I, personally, have had no experience of American universities at all, but my friend had attended both an Ivy League institution and a state college. She said that, in her experience, Ivy League universities are over-rated and not worth the extra tuition fees. The state university that she attended had a much higher standard than the Ivy League university.

She wanted to know why, when homeschoolers prefer to give their children a more individualised (and cheaper) education than they could receive at overrated private schools and then brag that their children are attending these overrated universities.

My immediate reply to her was that first of all, home educators who attend Ivy League universities are usually there on scholarships. Also, I am sure that there some careers in which a particular elite university has a very good course in this discipline, making it worthwhile to attend this college. Generally, homeschoolers don't attend such institution - your average American ex-homeschooled kid is either getting an education at a community or state college or deciding to avoid the option of university altogether, rather concentrating on in-job training or starting their own business.

However, I think that we homeschoolers should examine our assumptions about education and ask ourselves to what extent we are buying into an illusion when we spotlight those homeschoolers who take the Ivy League route. Are we being taken in by the snob effect of these schools (and is this what makes them so expensive) or is this truly education of a high quality which home educators should be proud of achieving?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


My husband and I were talking about the German government's attitude to homeschoolers (a friend of mine had received a high-handed letter from a bureaucrat), and he commented, "You can see how the Nazis could establish themselves so easily in Germany".

Now, before anyone accuses him (or me) of Godwinism, let me make one thing clear. We are not accusing the German government or Germans in general of being Nazis. But having lived in that country for a few years, as an outsider, the cultural attitudes that resulted in the Nazis, as well asthe DDR, stand out like a sore thumb to us.

The letter to my friend stated that she has a duty to send her children to school and she must fulfill this duty even if it goes against her conscience. The letter does not deal with the content of her arguments at all. It implies that her duty is to the state, to fulfill its ideas of what is right, even if they go against common sense, experience and research. The German government has taken unproven (and often discredited) educational theories as gospel and decrees that everyone has a duty to obey this without question.

Germans, for the most part, have not yet confronted the weakness in their culture that made them so susceptible to the National Socialist Regime. By this, I mean the tendency to regard the individual as subservient to the State, rather than the other way round.

Recently, talkshow host, Eva Herman, inadvertantly caused a furore when she was misquoted as seeming to praise Nazi family policies. She is now an ex-talkshow host. Anyone who has read a couple of good parenting books knows that extreme sensitivity is is an indication of unhealed wounds. The Germans are plastering over their unhealed wounds with little band-aids making it illegal to promote fascism or anti-semitism, but the cultural foundations of their society are still the same.

By continuing to stick to the Nazi-invented Schulzwang, the German authorities are doing exactly what Eva Herman was accused of doing. You won't catch any German politician, judge or bureaucrat saying "Well, I think that the Nazi educational policies were a good idea", but in applying those same principles so stringently today, they might as well be yelling it through a megaphone.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The thin end of the wedge

Most Germans, even the majority of those who identify with the principles of family life that home educators embody, perceive us as the lunatic fringe. Although these people are also often stay-at-home mothers (and sometimes fathers) who are closely involved with their children, they cannot identify with those of us who would choose to avoid the school system. They think of school as necessary for their children's social and educational development and feel that the lack of educational freedom in Germany is not their problem. Until recently, most German schoolchildren only spent half the day in school, with their afternoons free for interaction with their parents (if their parents are available).

Well, they'd better think again. What is happening in Germany is only the thin end of a very broad wedge. The issue of freedom in education is becoming one which will touch more Germans, not just those "crazy homeschoolers". What were just the isolated voices of a few socialists, calling for compulsory schooling to become a full day affair for all except infants, is swelling to a choir singing its praises, from all sides of the political spectrum.

In July, Ingrid Sehrbrock, a member of the conservative CDU party, was quoted as saying that it should be compulsory for all children to be in daycare from the age of two years. She restated this position in a letter to a home educating mother, stating: "If I am to take the demand..., that everyone must have a chance, seriously, then it means to me that parents should be obliged to enable their children to attend preschool from the third year of life". She goes on to declare that, " France, all children attend the mandatory Ecole Maternelle free of charge from the age of three."

My friend replied to Frau Sehrbrock that she is mistaken - neither school nor preschool is compulsory in France, which has compulsory education, as opposed to compulsory schooling. She still hasn't received a reply to this. One hopes that Frau Sehrbrock is busy checking her sources.

Christian Pfeiffer is concerned about the increase in crime levels among young people. That's understandable, I suppose, him being a criminologist and all that. He points to the link between the increase in violent video games and violent crime and has come up with the perfect solution. To reduce the time that children spend in front of the computer and watching TV, they should be obliged to attend school all day. He supports this assertion by stating that it is already compulsory for children to attend all-day school in many other countries. Perhaps Christian Pfeiffer has been sharing the same sources as Ingrid Sehrbrock. He also thinks that compulsory preschool would be a good idea.

As you can see, educational freedom is not just an issue that affects home educating families. We home educators are like canaries in a coal mine. The manner in which a government treats home educators is an indicator of its respect for families and its attitude to educational freedom in general.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

What happened to that educational mandate?

In Germany, when you finish school, you are obliged to either study further or undergo vocational training. Up till now, the government has been bemoaning the fact that companies are not providing enough apprenticeship places to fulfil this need. Well now, it seems, according to a recent survey, this is no longer an issue. The places are there - the problem is that the current crop of school-leavers don't have the necessary abilities to fill them.

The Bonn /Rhein Sieg Chamber of Industry and Commerce sent a survey out to 2000 companies and over 70% of the respondents stated that the applicants lacked the education necessary to fill all the places which they would be willing to offer. Many of the companies surveyed were unhappy not just with the applicants' academic abilities, but also with their social skills. They bemoaned the applicants' written and spoken expression (76%), mastery of elementary math (57%), their willingness to perform and their motivation (54%), their discipline (46%) and their ability to work under pressure (44%).

Wow! More than half of these school-leavers don't have the education necessary to undergo vocational training. And half of them are lacking in basic social skills. And here I thought that it was part of the German school system's educational mandate to produce "responsible citizens who are able to participate in the democratic processes of a pluralistic society"?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Happily unschooling....all over the place

I don't know if I should continue having "Happily unschooling in Northern Germany" as the subtitle of this blog, as we (the children and I) are going to be spending the major portion of our time in Ireland. We were recently in the west of Ireland, househunting, and although we didn't find anything suitable at the time, we intend to continue looking.

We had to come back to Germany for a bit to tie up some loose ends and ended up being stuck here for longer than we intended. The "quick" application for a new Irish passport for our eldest son (we had to apply in Germany, as my husband is resident here) turned into a complicated affair, due to his original birth certificate going missing. Thankfully that matter is now sorted out and we should be in possession of passports for all our children. Once we receive the said document, the children and I will be jetting off to Ireland where I can resume my application to study for a masters degree through the National University of Ireland. My sister-in-law is in the process of moving from South Africa to Ireland and so our children will be close to practically all their cousins. I am also in the process of registering our children as homeschoolers with the relevant authority in Ireland.

Ireland and Nothern Germany have a very similar landscape - lots of green fields and open horizons there too. And, I think, that as we will be visiting my husband from time to time, I will continue to have "happily unschooling in Northern Germany" as my subtitle. After all, home education in Germany is what this blog is all about. Thanks to the internet, with online newspapers, skype, email groups and forums I will still have full access to all the news about the home education situation in Germany.

Friday, August 10, 2007

I read a letter on a conservative blog to one of the German education ministers in response to the situation of the Dudek family in Hessen. The person who wrote this letter obviously felt very strongly about the German governments' approach (as do I). He wrote,

Two times in the twentieth century young men from our nation had to go to Europe to free innocent people from the oppression of the agents of German tyranny. My father's generation and his father's generation. Our men shed their blood and my father risked his life to rid the world of the dark heart of German evil that you now, once again exhume and parade for the entire world to see.

You are persecuting the innocent Dudek family for the "crime" of bringing up their children properly. Your violent interference in this sacred process is an affront to God and one that Americans readily recognize. Your impulse to imprison Christians is from the same spiritual source as your fathers' impulse to exterminate Jews.

Cease and desist.

Hearing of the cruelty you impose on a family that is, in every way, your superior, raises in me, as it will in all Americans (who love freedom more than you love oppression) a fury, when they hear of your deeds, that will not abate until you have made it right, or are properly imprisoned, or if your government should justify you in this, until they, themselves are overthrown and reside in the grave that has been prepared for the criminals of German National Socialism.

You don't seem to have learned your lesson as a nation. Can you ever?

My comment, which I posted on his blog, and which I am posting here, because I think it is an important issue for all foreigners to take note of when writing to German politicians, etc. about home education, is :

Well, as a homeschooler living in Germany (at the moment not officially, I am "visiting" my husband), I have to say that the effect of the tone your email is rather to put the person to whom you are writing on the defensive. If you do get a letter back from Frau Wolff (which I doubt), it will contain the usual waffle about how it is necessary to curtail homeschooling in Germany to prevent the creation of parallel societies and to ensure that children grow up into well-rounded, tolerant, functioning members of society. Those are the faulty accusations which need to be undercut.

Although it is true that the German Schulzwang originated with the Third Reich, and it is totalitarian in the extreme, I'm afraid that accusing German politicians and officials of Nazism is not going to help German homeschoolers. The officials don't care because they are just doing their job in the very German way of applying the rules as they are written and the politicians and judges are just going to think "These arrogant Americans are trying to tell us what to do again. Are they going to invade us next?" Politicians only listen to what their own voters have to say.

I suggest a new tack - pull the feet out from under these people by bringing up their arguments and then discounting them.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Family flees Germany for the sake of handicapped child

What an embarrassment to the German government! Because of their overzealous application of the compulsory schooling laws, another family is forced to flee to neighbouring Austria for asylum. Are the Hessen school authorities scared witless of some kind of parallel society of handicapped people being formed? I wonder how they can possibly justify the enforced school attendance of this little girl as being in the interests of society or even in her own best interests?

(BTW, I am not sure about she was to have started school this year - or the newspaper got her age wrong. Here it states that children are only schulpflichtig if they have completed their sixth year before June 30).

Austria's Chancellor offers personal help where the German democratic state has failed

Parents want to protect their daughter from enforced school attendance in Germany

Fleeing from the school

Her fifth birthday on June 28 was a big celebration for Madeleine's parents. In the little house in Bad Emstel in the German state of Hessen there were gifts and cake enough to make Madeleine's heart sing - or at least Corinna and Matthias Zeppich are convinced that their daughter was pleased. Madeleine is unable to express her feelings. She suffered severe brain damage as a result of oxygen deprivation at birth, which consequently affected her motor function. In spite of her severe handicap, the five year old must start school in September. "We have already received a letter from the school: because Madeleine was born before June 30 2002, she has to start school in her sixth year", reports her father. "She wouldn't be able to endure the monotony of the school day," warns her paediatrician, Olaf Marzian. This has been confirmed by several other doctors.

Because the officials are insisting on compulsory school attendance, the family has no other choice but to flee to Austria, says Matthias Zeppich. Here, in particular, they have the option of home education instead of school attendance - something which is not infrequently practised in Austria. There are 300 home educated children just in Vienna. "We never ask for the reasons," says an employee of the Vienna Schools Inspectorate.

Chancellor intervenes

This alternative has only existed up to now in Germany in exceptional cases. "We have spoken with various German ministries and they have all told us that Madeline must attend school in Autumn in any event - even if she has to be brought in an ambulance," says Matthias Zeppich. In fact an employee of the responsible Hessen Education Ministry told a reporter from the Wiener Zeitung that handicapped children only start school at the age of seven - however Madeleine's father fears that it would just be delaying the inevitable - they would be dealing with the same issue all over again.

Because their father has his hands full looking after Madeleine and her little brother, Marvin, he does not want to become embroiled in a drawn-out legal battle with the authorities. Thus, the family asked for help in Austria - and received it, at the highest level. Austrian Chancellor, Alfred Gusenbauer, has personally ordered the Citizens' Service to support the Zeppichs in their new homeland.

Madeleine, who currently falls under the highest care level, will not be receiving the support of the German social welfare once the family has moved. The Austrian Republic must step in, where the social services of their neighbouring state are clearly malfunctioning.

Aside from the issue of compulsory school attendance, the Zeppichs have another reason for wanting to leave their home. "We were harassed by other people in the housing estate where we live", says Corinna Zeppich.

Harassment in their homeland

Because her handicap means that Madeline looks a bit strange, the neighbours have poked fun at her "angry expression". "They want to get us so riled up that we leave here." At the same time, Madeleine is a bright, happy child. "Only her motor function is limited and she can only make herself understood through her gestures," reports her father. She indicates hunger or thirst by sucking on her bottom lip. "She wasn't able to hold her own bottle and she can't sit upright without help."

It is possible that a highly complicated operation in a specialist clinic could improve Madeleine's condition somewhat. "Her weak lung wouldn't cope with it, though," her father fears. Thus, he tries, at least, to make his daughter's life a little more endurable. "We are constantly fearful that she won't survive one of her frequent bouts of pneumonia. "

A difficult move

Now Madeleine has to deal with the move to Austria, which itself has created another problem. "We need to find an affordable ground floor apartment, with space for all Madeleine's equipment," says her father. As it is, the little girl is continually dependent on an oxygen apparatus and needs a special board to support her stably, as she is unable to stand by herself, an enormous changing table and her hospital bed, which weighs 400kg. "There has been no lack of offers and the people here in Austria were all very nice to Madeleine when we viewed the apartments for the first time. Unfortunately all the properties we have seen so far have been way too expensive."

Apartment-hunting is currently the Zeppichs' biggest headache. According to Walter Wotzel from the Ministry for Social Services, who has been entrusted with Madeleine's case, "We will support the family in all social issues, but they have to attend to the apartment themselves."

Friday, August 03, 2007

J K Rowling and Compulsory Schooling

Now that I have outed myself as a Harry Potter fan, and demonstrated that it is not anti-Christian, I suggest that homeschoolers should read, at least, page 173 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Here is what I wrote to J K Rowling about it :

Dear Ms Rowling

I have just finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (bought it Saturday morning, my 13 year old son read it first and finished it Sunday after an all-nighter and I read it Sunday and yesterday – my children were sorely neglected yesterday, but don’t feel guilty.)

In all the magnificence of the book, there was one paragraph which really jumped out at me. It was the paragraph on page 173 where Lupin tells Harry, Ron and Hermione that attendance at Hogwarts is now compulsory (except for Muggle-borns, who are forbidden from attending). You did your research very well, Ms Rowling. You are obviously aware of the Reichsschulgesetz passed in Germany in 1938 which not only banned private schools and home education but also introduced “Schulzwang” (enforced school attendance). Jewish children were forbidden under this law from attending school.

Back to the world of Harry Potter – imagine that after the downfall of Voldemort and his evil regime, the Ministry for Magic decided that all his statutes should be done away with – except for the above one making school attendance not only compulsory, but in future enforcing it with the harshest measures possible – fining wizards to the tune of half their gold if their children did not attend Hogwarts, or removing their legal custody over their children or (in the case of one young witch who failed the subjects Potions and Ancient Runes and whose parents had decided to remove her from Hogwarts and let her learn at her own pace rather than having her relegated, unwillingly and unfairly, to becoming a squib) having Dolores Umbridge declaring, after interviewing the girl for an hour, that she was suffering from a mental illness and sending her to St Mungo’s psychiatric ward. Imagine sentencing parents to a term in Azkhaban to force them to send their children to Hogwarts.

The reasons for these actions would, of course, be very well-meaning. In order to prevent another Voldemort from coming to power, it would now be necessary for all children, by means of attendance (now compulsory from the age of 6) at Hogwarts and wizarding primary schools, to learn how to live in society and to become responsible citizens, developing tolerance for other points of view.

Another strong motivation for this would be that the Ministry has a legitimate interest in countering parallel societies. Imagine if people like the Lovegoods were able to educate their children at home – it is necessary for the good of society and for the welfare of the children that such minorities are not allowed to indoctrinate their offspring into believing their strange world-views. And of course, even more dangerous is the minority of wizarding families who might use the opportunity to home educate their children to indoctrinate them with the pure-blood, anti-muggle propaganda. The Ministry for Magic might declare that mandatory school attendance is not an infringement of the parents’ right to educate their children, but merely a complement to this right – the Ministry and the parents both perform an equal role in bringing up young witches and wizards.

Even witches and wizards briefly visiting Britain, and coming from countries where home education is allowed in the wizarding world (as it is in all other countries) would be forced to send their children to Hogwarts. Distance learning programmes from their own country would be declared invalid in Britan. Of course, in the meantime, there would be Ministry-approved distance learning programmes for young British wizards to use while they are living in another country, so that they do not have to attend a foreign-language school. Equally possible would be for these expatriate young witches and wizards to come back to England to write their OWLs and NEWTs, as home educated students whilst officially living overseas.

Ms Rowling, if you find this schizophrenic state of affairs abhorrent, then I would encourage you, the next time you are talking to German media or if you happen to visit Germany, to highlight this state of affairs, which exists in Germany today. German home educators (who cover a broad spectrum from religiously motivated home educators to people who, as a last desperate measure, remove their autistic / underchallenged / overchallenged / bullied / severely depressed, etc. children from school, even though they are aware of the legal consequences) are severely harassed by the authorities. Many German home educators have already gone into exile, rather than face having their children removed from them.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Did you ever have an inkling that....

the Harry Potter books might be Christian literature? (gasp!)

For all the so-called differences between home educators, when it comes down to it, they can be divided into two groups : Those who are avid Harry Potter fans and those who see Harry Potter as akin to Satanism. Okay, there are the odd sods who don't give a hoot about J K Rowling's famous, and now sadly complete, series, but they really don't count.

I've always wondered why our Christian neighbours who are so anti-Harry Potter love C S Lewis' Narnia books (their mother even bought our son The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe for his birthday last year, which was great because I had had the whole series since I was twelve excepting that one, which went missing at some stage). Now I've just discovered that my feelings on this matter are shared by none less than John Granger, author of the book The Hidden Key to Harry Potter.

Granger states, "I started reading the Potter books as an Orthodox Christian father who had to explain to his oldest daughter why we don't read such trash, but once I started turning the pages the University of Chicago side of me kicked in."

He refers in his book to the classical and mediaeval symbolism in J K Rowling's novels, declaring that she is an inkling, writing in the tradition of Tolkien and Lewis from a Christian metaphorical point of view.

One thing is for sure - Granger is probably one of the few authors who are not suffering from J K Rowling envy.

Do you think I can get away with giving our neighbour's daughter Harry Potter and the Philosopher's stone for her next birthday? Or maybe I should give them Granger's book first...

Update: Here is a wonderful blog entry about this issue, which includes a link to Professor Granger's own blog.

2nd update: I really enjoyed reading this one - Tasses you're welcome to ally yourself with me - I don't have one of those cutesy pictures on my car.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Homebound yes homeschool no

This situation is so fraught with irony. Betsy Loiacono has an autistic son who has been declared by a doctor to be unfit to attend school. She wants him to receive homebound instruction. The school authorities of her local county refuse to recognise the doctor's note and have taken her to court and had her arrested for truancy. Betsy refuses to take the easy (for the authorities) way out and register her son as a homeschooler, as she feels she is entitled to the support that she would then have to give up. She is insisting that her son receive homebound tuition.

I wonder how Corinna Fischer, mother of a young boy who has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, would regard this situation. After he suffered from traumatic bullying experiences, she took him out of school and started home-educating him. As she is living in Germany, not even the option of homeschooling is legally available to her. She has also become quite familiar with the inside of court buildings in the last couple of years.The school authorities even tried to convince the court that Corinna had her son's diagnosis made up by friendly psychiatrists.

That is one irony in this situation. The other is that Georgia, like Germany, has compulsory attendance laws (instead of compulsory education)
"Every parent, guardian, or other person residing within this state having control or charge of any child or children between their seventh and sixteenth birthdays shall enroll and send such child or children to a public school, a private school, or a home study program."

Just a tiny little addition to German school laws would make a world of difference for people like Corinna Fischer and her son.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Schools for individualists

I've always wondered what lay at the root of the German government's stubborn assertion that school is necessary for the development of a child into a responsible member of society. This fascinating interview has clarified the issue for me.

Marsha Enright states in the interview, referring to the well-known educationalist, John Dewey

In addition, Dewey focused on the socialization of the child. For him, the school was about teaching the child how to get along with other people and be a part of society—this was the crux of his “pedagogic creed.” You can see it in his famous declaration about the purpose of education, first published in The School Journal in January 1897. Dewey wrote, “I believe that the only true education comes through the stimulation of the child’s powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself. Through these demands he is stimulated to act as a member of a unity, to emerge from his original narrowness of action and feeling, and to conceive of himself from the standpoint of the welfare of the group to which he belongs.”

Educationalists who dogmatically follow the Dewey line are obviously unaware that they are just being closed-minded in their religious fervour. How else can one explain their clinging to an outdated and unproven, or should I say, disproven, theory.

Especially the last sentence of this quote indicates that Dewey stood for the antithesis of individualism. Nor does he realise that the peer-group dumbing-down which takes place in schools acts as a funnel into "narrowness of action and feeling".

To top it all, the "Dewey-influenced" schools are the ones from which parents are removing their children in droves. That speaks volumes for their effectivity in turning out functinal members of society.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Public school - that wonderful melting pot

Emma Goldman, a revolutionary who had the guts to change her mind, once had this to say

'Public school - where the human mind is drilled and manupulated into submission to various social and moral spooks, and thus fitted to continue our system of exploitation and oppression."

Is that what the German Constitutional Court meant when they declared,
" 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."?

Christopher Hitchens refers to the essence of totalitarianism as being "created sick and forced to be well". Sounds like what happens in Germany. I wanna puke every time I read another report parroting this twaddle. In the meantime, they pretend that the schools are the healthy option, forcing a totalitarian system on the German youth.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Successes of the German school system

Before you read this and start getting uptight and defensive, I just want to say one thing. Don't get me wrong. I'm not bashing schools, or implying that the children who attend them are generally social deviants or that parents whose children attend school are in any way deficient in their commitment to their duty, or some other guff like that.

What I am bashing, however, is the automatic, ignorant comment that is invariably spouted, robot-like, by any judge or official functionary every time the subject of homeschooling comes up. Here I mean, the statement (yawn) that school is indispensible for the proper social development of a child into a decent citizen and that homeschooling would only encourage the promotion of parallel societies.

Anyway, today I was sitting in a cafe, idling away my time over a cup of coffee, while my daughter was at her riding lesson. To pass the time I paged through a copy of that popular German tabloid, Bild. And came across this shocking story.

The tormented Jasmin: The girl who tortured her talks.

She hides her tears behind her hands. "I'm so sorry", says Denise (14) softly. "I'm so ashamed of myself." Thus, slowly, what she did to her victim is sinking in. And what she has done to herself. The police are investigating attempted homicide.

Denise is one of the seven girls who brutally tortured the 14 year Jasmin from Bottrop (NRW). For twelve hours, they tormented Jasmin with kicks, hitting, hot wax and glowing hot needles. Up till then, they had been a clique, friends...

Denise stammers: "I don't know any more why I joined in at all." She says, "I did it because Ramona wanted me to." Ramona, another of Jasmin's tormentors, is just 13 years old.

Criminal psychologist, Christian Lüdke, explains why these young girls went out of control.

„One calls it a deficiency in impulse control. The person looks for a weak victim, who is fully broken down and humiliated. The culprit loses control and can't stop anymore. In this intoxication, his own dissatisfaction is fought against. There is also a degree of criminal energy, that we haven't known of in girls up till now.

How many times can you say peer pressure?

Two pages later, I found this article, about one of the alleged brains behind the attacks on the World Trade Center, Said Bahaji, son of a German mother and a Moroccan father, and model pupil. Although I do not tolerate or condone his actions or the thinking behind them, I can imagine a possible scenario which led to them. Half-German boy who looks Arabic, never quite fits in anywhere finds his solace in the extreme teachings of fundamentalist Islam and in a group who welcomes him as one of their own.

And they say Homeschooling creates parallel societies?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Yet another example of German State hypocrisy

His Excellency, Ambassador Mehmet İrtemçelik
Turkish Embassy, Berlin

Your Excellency,

In light of the current situation in Turkey, where a 17 year old German youth is being held in custody pending his trial on a charge of sexual molestation of a 13 year British girl, I would like to draw your attention to the outrageous hyprocisy of German politicians. I have read that high-ranking German politicians are trying to maintain that your country is apparently out of step with modern Western norms. Mr İrtemçelik, my sympathy is completely with your country in this regard.

Those very politicians who try to force Turkey, and other countries, to act in the manner they desire (although if it was a 13 year German girl who had allegedly been molested by a 17 year old British or Turkish youth, I doubt these politicians would be so fired up), conveniently ignore the fact that Germany itself is totally out of step with the European Union and the rest of the civilised world.

You may or may not be aware that Germany is the only country in Europe in which there is forced school attendance. Although education is a right accorded by the UN Human Rights Convention, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Human Rights, Germany is the only country which chooses to interpret this right to education as a right to schooling (i.e. by attendance of a state school or state-approved private school). Not only that, but Germany implements this interpretation by harshly punishing any families who choose to educate their children in a manner which is not in accordance with this interpretation.

For instance, we are an Irish/South African family living temporarily in Germany while my husband, an Aerospace engineer, is working as a subcontractor (known as Leiharbeiter in German) at Airbus in Bremen. We have already endured various moves around the world since my husband started working in this manner nearly 10 years ago. The work is always uncertain and we never know how long we are going to be able to stay in a particular place. In order to ensure educational continuity for our children, as well as an education in our mother-tongue, English, we have chosen to educate them ourselves, a practice which is known as home education or homeschooling.

That this is an acceptable practice is attested to by the fact that the German government has authorised two distance learning institutions, the Deutsche Fernschule and Institut für Lernsysteme (ILS) to provide educational support to Germans living outside Germany who are in the same situation as us. However, the German state refuses to give permission to foreigners living temporarily in Germany to exercise the same option, where they do not have the option of sending their children to an international school or the closest international schools do not meet their children’s specific educational needs. At the moment, our family has filed an official complaint against the school authority of Niedersachsen (the state in which we reside) and we are also dealing with proceedings whereby we have been given notice of fines for educating our children at home.

As foreigners living temporarily in Germany, we are actually being treated relatively lightly. Germans who, in all other European countries, would be regarded as involved parents, who have an active interest in their children’s education, are treated as criminals. The sanctions which have been imposed on them range from fines to penalty payments and even more draconian measures, such as jailing the parents or removing the children from their custody. Dozens of German families have fled to Canada, the USA and other European countries in order to legally home educate their children. Here is a report of what happened to one family who decided to pull one of their children out of the less-than-optimal (for her – all her siblings continued to attend school) school environment and educate her at home so that she could receive one-on-one attention and develop at her own pace:

Mr İrtemçelik, I urge you to take this opportunity to remain assertive with the German government representatives and media who are putting pressure on your government. You can inform them that you are aware of the glass house in which they are so hypocritically living and that they should hold their own country to the same standards that they demand of other countries.

Yours Sincerely,

Monday, June 11, 2007

The times they are a-changing

Every two years, the German protestant churches hold a conference to discuss various issues relevant to German Christians. The latest conference, in Cologne, has just come to an end and it was really interesting to see that, for the first time, the issue of homeschooling was included on the programme, in the form of a discussion/debate between Helmut Stücher, founder of a support school for German Christian home educators and Armin Eckerman, a lawyer who has represented several German home educators versus two representatives of provincial and city government and the person responsible for school and education in the protestant church.

Apparently the mayoress of Bonn, who was one of the debaters, stated that she could never home educate her children. That's all very well for you, Ms Dieckmann, but I don't see why that should prevent other people from doing it, if they want to. Often women have told me that they could never have home births, or breastfeed their children, or carry them around in a sling the whole day but as far as I know, none of these practices is legally forbidden in Germany.

The debate was about religiously motivated home education and it seems that the pro-he debaters came across as fearful and narrow-minded. Although they pleaded against the issues in society which they perceive as harmful to the youth, they were unable to put across a positive argument. I think that this is because the issue is not just one of religion. I've said it before and I will restate it here again. If Christian home educators base their arguments for home educating on religious grounds, they are going to look fearful and narrow-minded and are not going to win the sympathy of anyone, least of all their fellow Christians who are sold on Schulpflicht. My plea to all the Stüchers and Eckermanns of this world is : leave the religious argument in the background. Yes it is important, but if you want to win sympathy for your cause, you need to base your argument on the things other people can relate to.

This article, in German, decries the fact that the pro-he speakers were hopelessly outnumbered and that the debate was unfair (their arguments were often ignored by the moderators, the other speakers and by the majority of the audience, who booed their statements). However, the fact that such a discussion was featured at the Kirchentag and took place in front of 80 people is a milestone. It seems that home education is at last becoming one of those burning issues for the German people and the day is coming when politicians and judges will have to stop burying their heads in the sand.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Statist "family friendly" policies for Europe?

I stumbled across this report the other day and alarm bells went off. It refers to an initiative being undertaken by Germany, which has the current EU presidency. The professed aims are laudable - to make Europe more family friendly. However this sentence, which really raised my hackles, makes me wonder whether the goal is rather to increase state control of families across Europe :
So, on the basis that this initiative recognises the shared responsibility of parent
& state in raising children, it is to be welcomed.

I didn't know that it was universally accepted that the state and parents have a shared responsibility in raising children. Although the German government maintains that it has a mandate to raise children, which means that parents have to give up their school-age children to the state for a certain period of time, this is by no means recognised across Europe.

There are a couple of things about this initiative that really disturb me. Firstly, is it going to be used to push the German idea of an "Erziehungsauftrag" onto the rest of Europe? Secondly, is compulsory schooling in Germany going to be extended into compulsory preschool (something which many people are calling for) ?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Finding my calling

The excerpt which I quoted from W W Sawyer's book, Mathematicians Delight has reminded me of why I decided I decided to homeschool my children in the first place. The lightbulb clicked on for me before I even had children. I was in the last year of my studies, doing my post-graduate education diploma. We were required to do two stints as "interns", teaching at schools under the guidance of experienced teachers. I chose to do my second practical at my old high school.

One of my chosen majors was english and I was placed with an english teacher who had not been one of my own teachers at school, but whom I knew quite well. The literature text was The Great Gatsby and I naively thought that my job was to encourage the pupils I would be teaching (10th graders) to share their views on the text and to explain their reasoning. It was soon quite clear to me that the teacher I was with was teaching imitation english and that reasoning was the last thing that was encouraged in this classroom. Her method was to give the pupils questions from the study guide on the book and they would look at the back of the study guide and copy the answers down verbatim.

My other subject was German and the teacher I was assigned to in this regard had become so unmotivated that she was also teaching the imitation instead of the real thing. I had started my studies afire with the desire to imbue the children I would be teaching with a love of language. I looked at these two teachers and saw myself, twenty years down the line, beaten down by the system and dishing up fare to my pupils that bore almost no resemblance to the original. Even if I did manage to stay on track, I would be faced with classes full of children who had already had the interest in learning sucked out of them. I decided that this wasn't how I wanted to fulfill my calling. I took a typing course and started working as a secretary.

I did actually get a teaching job a few years later, but that only confirmed my feelings about the school system. Then, when my first child was barely a toddler, I read an article about homeschooling. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place and I knew I had found my real calling.

W W Sawyer - a man before his time?

One book that we own is really special to my husband and it has played a large part in his accepting the unschooling approach. It is Mathematician's Delight, originally published in 1943. The copy we have was printed in 1950 and is worth ten times its weight in gold. It explains mathematical operations in such a way that one can actually understand the logic behind them. For instance, I never realised that multiplication of fractions actually meant a fraction of a fraction - e.g. two fifths times three quarters is the same as two fifths of three quarters.

The author, W W Sawyer was a math teacher in England who realised very early on in his career that ". . . education consists in co-operating with what is already inside a child's mind". He recounted a couple of incidents early in his career, which were eye-openers for him:

I knew I should be doing something different, but I did not know what. The boys said they were interested in aeroplanes. It was only afterwards that I realised what opportunities I had missed, and how, beginning with this general interest. . . I could have led the class into various parts of mathematics.
In a class I was taking there was one boy who was much older than the rest. He clearly had no motive to work. I told him that, if he could produce for me, accurately to scale, drawings of the pieces of wood required to make a desk like the one he was sitting at, I would try to persuade the Headmaster to let him do woodwork during the mathematics hours - in the course of which, no doubt, he would learn something about measurement and numbers. Next day, he turned up with this task completed to perfection. This I have often found with pupils; it is not so much that they cannot do the work, as that they see no purpose in it. (A European Education.)

The book is divided into chapters as follows:

The approach to Mathematics
1. The Dread of Mathematics
2. Geometry - The Science of Furniture and Walls
3. The Nature of Reasoning
4. The Strategy and Tactics of Study


On Certain Parts of Mathematics
5. Arithmetic
6. How to Forget the Multiplication Table
7. Algebra - the Shorthand of Mathematics
8. Ways of Growing
9. Graphs, or Thinking in Pictures
10. Differential Calculus - the Study of Speed
11. From Speed to Curves
12. Other Problems of Calculus
13. Trigonometry, or How to Make Tunnels and Maps
14. On Backgrounds
15. The Square Root of Minus One

One of my favourite passages in the book is this one:

Nearly every subject has a shadow, or imitation. It would, I suppose, be quite possible to teach a deaf and dumb child to play the piano. When it played a wrong note, it would see the frown of its teacher, and try again. But it would obbviously have no idea of what it was doing, or why anyone should devote hours to such an extraordinary exercise. It would have learnt an imitation of music. and it would fear the piano exactly as most students fear what is supposed to be mathematics.

What is true of music is also true of other subjects. One can learn imitation history - kings and dates, but not the slightest idea of the motives behind it all; imitation literature - stacks of notes on Shakespeare's phrases, and a complete destruction of the power to enjoy Shakespeare.
To master anything - from football to relativity - requires effort. But it does not require unpleasant effort, drudgery. The main task of any teacher is to make a subject interesting. If a child left school at ten, knowing nothing of detailed information, but knowing the pleasure that comes from agreeable music, from reading, from making things, from finding things out, it would be better off than a man who left university at twenty-two, full of facts but without any desire to enquire further into such dry domains.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Life's little ups and downs

I must be a city person. I took my three youngest children today to meet up for lunch in the city with a friend and her two little children (she is going away on vacation tomorrow morning and when she gets back we will be in Ireland, so we were keen to meet up). Obviously everyone else had the same idea, as the first three parking garages I found were full. Eventually I found a parking garage with a few parking spaces on the roof (7th floor). It was quite harrowing on a couple of occasions trying to manoeuvre my Chrysler Voyager up some of those ramps.

Finally I got to the square in the city centre where my friend and I were to meet. I was already hungry, as I hadn't had breakfast and my youngest had nicked the banana I had brought with me. The staff at the restaurant where we decided to eat obviously also hadn't realised that the city would be invaded because they certainly weren't prepared for all the diners. It was almost an hour later when we tucked into our lunch and I was practically fainting from hunger. The rest of the afternoon went pretty smoothly, except that we had to hunt down the waitress to pay our bill (nothing uncommon in Germany) and my littlest one had a super duper tantrum just before we went home.

After all this stress and strain, one would expect me to arrive home exhausted and ready to put my feet up. Strangely enough, though, my batteries were charged up and I had more motivation and energy and gusto than in the last few days. Good thing, because there was an envelope addressed to me in the post office, informing me that the director of the local high school has instituted proceedings against us. I am required to reply within 8 days, stating whether I accept or deny the charges. What I would really like to do is to write them a letter telling them to go shove their stupid Schulpflicht where the sun doesn't shine, but I suppose I shall have to be polite.

The parable of Melissa and the Jugendamt on Youtube

Maybe I've got a bit of a one-track mind at the moment, but when I saw this amazing video (filmed in my home country of South Africa) I couldn't help thinking of Melissa. Imagine that she is the baby buffalo, the lions are the Jugendamt and the herd of buffalo is the homeschooling community. The crocodiles are the psychiatrists in the clinic in Nürnberg - their hold on her was brief.

The video takes a while to buffer, so just start it and click pause while you go and unpack the dishwasher or make yourself a cup of tea.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Prosecuting attorney takes brave action against dangerous criminals

The German state of Hessen is one of those where not sending your child to school is a criminal act. I know a few families in Hessen who are homeschooling, some religious, some not. Most of them stay very underground. For good reason, as you can see in the report below.

Dudek family to go before court once again.

By Harald Sagawe

Prosecutor Herwig Muller has appealed against the verdict in the case of Rosemarie and Jürgen Dudek. The couple from the German town of Archfeld in Herleshausen was sentenced to fines at the beginning of May. In the meantime the prosecutor in Kassel has applied for jail sentences of three months each, without probation, for the parents of six children.

Rosemarie and Jürgen Dudek were sentenced because they did not send their children to school, for religious reasons. The parents, Christians who closely follow the bible, teach their children themselves. Two years ago the court had also dealt with the Dudeks. That case, dealing with the payment of a fine, had been dropped. An application for the approval of a state-recognised private school - which, according to experts, has no chance of success at any rate - has still not been decided by the school authorities.

"It's a terrible thing, to lock up a family that hasn't done anyone any harm," says the accused, Jürgen Dudek.

The prosecutor, Herwig Müller, is currently on vacation. Chief prosecutor Hans-Manfred Jung confirmed the veto, but could not say anything about the reasons.

Jürgen Dudek is horrified at the idea that the prosecution wants to see him and his wife behind bars. "It's a terrible thing, to lock up a family that hasn't done anyone any harm," he says, "especially now, with the legal situation looking the way it is." He regards the matter as absurd.

The judge's job is to pronounce a verdict and not mix himself up in administrative matters, says Arno Meissner, director of the education department. Meanwhile he makes it clear that his office will by no means leave the family in peace, not even temporarily. "We will enforce compulsory school attendance against the family as promptly as possible. First his office intends to talk with the family, then to set a time limit and if this is not met, it will once again open a criminal case against them. Not even the announcement of a move by the family will settle the matter, declared Meissner.

Meissner dismissed the criticism made by Peter Höbbel, the judge of the juvenile court, against his department. We won't let ourselves be admonished by a judge in that way, he said. "His duty is to make a judgement when the prosecutor brings a charge and to stay out of administrative matters." Höbbel had rebuked the education department because it has been sitting on the Dudeks' application for the approval of a private school for two and a half years, with no decision having been made about it.

You can read the original article in German here.

When will the rest of the EU give the German state a taste of its own medicine?

I read this on Blogdial.

The Germans are fond of telling people to go back and vote until you get it right when anyone in the EU disagrees with them, maybe the UN will tell them to go back and remove Hitler’s anti Home Schooling law, and keep telling them to go back until they get it right.

I couldn't agree more. The European Union claims that education is one of the areas where the states make their own decisions and the EU can't interfere. Well I don't care if the German school system makes it compulsory for all children attending German schools to stand on their heads for 2 hours every Tuesday. I just wish they would stay out of people's private lives.

For an example how German education laws interfere with European directives, look at this Motion which was passed by the European Parliament (dealing with the education of circus children) :

to provide the necessary means inter alia for pilot projects to determine
appropriate models for school education for children from travelling communities, notably
as regards:
- developing and supporting e-learning and distance learning projects as a component of
a comprehensive education initiative for travelling communities;
- developing concepts for independent/self-reliant learning;

In total contrast to this is the legal practice in certain German states (from my previous post)

...children of migrant employees, are subject to compulsory schooling as per Art. 63 Section 1 of the NEL. These school pupils fulfil the requirements of compulsory schooling as follows: They are assigned to a regular school, which is responsible for supervising their education. This school prepares the pupils and their parents or guardians for the time when they will be on the road and supervises their learning from afar (see 2.3 of the decree.) Whilst on the road, the pupil fulfils the requirements of compulsory schooling by visiting a so-called support school. Children of people whose professions involve much travelling, e.g. inland sailors and circus employees, have to frequently change schools. Even so, they are subject to compulsory schooling, as required by the lawmakers, and are obliged to visit support schools whilst travelling. Although private instruction is not specifically mentioned in this decree, it could be granted if the pupil is constantly moving around with his or her parents.
In the jurisprudence it has been acknowledged that instruction by the parents of his or her own children within the family can never be “school” in terms of the education law, independent of whether the parent is a qualified teacher or not.

So I guess that those distance-learning French and Russian circus children had better just stay out of Germany.

Why home education is verboten in Germany

Comments :
NEL = Niedersachsen Education Law
Private instruction in this context means one-to-one instruction.

Response of the School Authoritiy of Niedersachsen to the arguments of a home educating family.

In the administrative law case of G and others VS the State Education Authority of Niedersachsen

I move on behalf of the respondent that

The action be dismissed

The action is admissible but unfounded.

The plaintiffs have no right to exemption from compulsory schooling for their minor children R, R and L.

R and R are subject to school attendance, as stated in Article 63, paragraphs 1, 64 and 65 of the Niedersachsen Education Law. L will be of school age in the school year 2007-2008.

The legal precept of universal compulsory schooling rests on the state’s mandate to educate, which is inferred from Article 7, part 1 of the Basic Law of Germany. Universal compulsory schooling and the further duties which arise from it, restrict, in a permissible manner, the guaranteed right of parents, in Article 6, section 2, first sentence of the Basic Law, to decide on the upbringing and education of their children and and personal rights of the schoolchild (see Maunz/Dürig Kommentar zum Grundgesetz. Stand 47 Ergänzungslieferung, Juni 2006 Art.7 Randnummer 55).

Compulsory schooling involves an obligation to attend school. School pupils are basically bound to attend a school and to take part in instruction there. The only exceptions which apply are those where private instruction may take place as per Article 63 Section 5 of the Education Law of Niedersachsen or where instruction may take place in a hospital or group home as per Article 69 (Seyderhelm, Nagel, Brockman, Kommentar zum Niedersachsen Schulgesetz, §63)

The plaintiffs have no right to the granting of private instruction for their above-mentioned children according to Article 63, Section 5 of the NEL. According to this regulation, private instruction may only be granted to school age children in the first 6 years in exceptional circumstances. Article 63, Section 5 states a rule-exception relationship. There must be important reasons to justify the granting of private instruction.

Grounds for an exception must normally have to do with the person of the child, i.e. his or her physical, emotional constitution or his or her character. Furthermore, private instruction can be granted to children who frequently change their residence.

No such important justification for allowing private instruction is given in this case. No frequent change of residence, in the sense of this regulation, has occurred here. The plaintiffs have not changed their residence for over 2 years. Nor does the work contract of the father show the need for a frequent change of residence. A letter of confirmation dated 31.10.2006 from the employer of Mr G states that such contracts normally last 18 to 24 months but can also last, in exceptional cases, for up to 36 months. In this light, one cannot speak of frequent change of residence.

In this context, we also refer to the circular from the Ministry of Education, “School education of children of professional travellers in the general schools” from 16.03.2002. According to 1.1 of this decree, children of migrant employees, are subject to compulsory schooling as per Art. 63 Section 1 of the NEL. These school pupils fulfil the requirements of compulsory schooling as follows: They are assigned to a regular school, which is responsible for supervising their education. This school prepares the pupils and their parents or guardians for the time when they will be on the road and supervises their learning from afar (see 2.3 of the decree.) Whilst on the road, the pupil fulfils the requirements of compulsory schooling by visiting a so-called support school. Children of people whose professions involve much travelling, e.g. inland sailors and circus employees, have to frequently change schools. Even so, they are subject to compulsory schooling, as required by the lawmakers, and are obliged to visit support schools whilst travelling. Although private instruction is not specifically mentioned in this decree, it could be granted if the pupil is constantly moving around with his or her parents. This does not apply in the present case.

Another comparison is that of the children of the members of foreign military stationed in Niedersachsen.. According to Number 3.1.1 of the decree of the Ministry of Education and Culture, "Supplementary regulations to compulsory school attendance and to the legal relationship to school" of August 29, 1995, compulsory school attendance exists independent of nationality. Children of members of stationed military forces are therewith fundamentally under the compulsory attendance law even in Germany. They fulfill their compulsory schooling, however, through attendance at schools run by the stationing armed forces. If this were not to occur, they would be required to attend school at a German school, and that would be regardless of the length of stationing of the parent, or parents.

For the rest, it is not apparent that there are particularly subjective grounds in the persons of the children which would speak for the granting of private instruction. The children of the plaintiffs have now been in Germany for over two years. The examples of other children who have come to Germany from other countries illustrate that a successful integration into the German school system would have taken place. In this respect, it is noted that the children of the plaintiff attended a state-recognised private school in Bavaria. The attendance of such a school fulfils the compulsory school attendance requirement. Compulsory schooling could even now be carried out by attendance of such a school in Niedersachsen. Why the attendance at such a school in Niedersachsen should be an unreasonable imposition is not conceivable.

As has already been explained in our rejection of the plaintiff’s application for exemption, the Clonlara School is not a school in the sense of the NEL. An education through this school is not in accordance with the requirements of the NEL. In the jurisprudence it has been acknowledged that instruction by the parents of his or her own children within the family can never be “school” in terms of the education law, independent of whether the parent is a qualified teacher or not. (see Hebeler/Schmidt Schulpflicht und elterliches Erziehungsrecht - Neue Aspekte eines alten Themas? in NVwZ 2005 page 1369, with reference to Mannheim NVwZ RR2003 562).

Private instruction can also not be allowed for other reasons. According to no. 4 of the decree "Supplementary regulations to compulsory school attendance and to the legal relationship to school", the granting of private instruction is only to be allowed when the instruction complies with the requirements for instruction in the various schools. According to the guidelines, the instruction must be carried out by a teacher who has been specially trained for this purpose. (see Seyderheim, Nagel, Brockmann 63, No. 7). The Clonlara School obviously does not instruct according to the guidelines, so that home education cannot be allowed for this reason.

An exemption from compulsory schooling cannot be granted under the aspect of unreasonable hardship. In this context, the plaintiffs maintain that the right of the parents to direct the upbringing of their children in the Basic Law Article 6, Section 2, paragraph 1 pre-empts the universal supervisory power of the State in Article 7. Furthermore, they maintain that Article 7 does not assign the State a mandate to educate.

It is noted in this regard that the Constitutional Court and the prevailing opinion understand the relationship between Basic Law Article 6, Section 2, paragraph 1 and Article 7 Section 1 in the sense of competing, basically equally ranked, mandates to educate which do not circumscribe each other’s areas of responsibility. (see Sachs, Commentary to the Basic Law, 1996, Article 7, Note 35.) Therefore Article 6, Section 2, paragraph 1 cannot be seen as having precedence. Likewise, universal compulsory schooling, in the form of compulsory school attendance is seen as a constitutionally legal manner of restricting the parents’ custody of their children. (see Maunz Döring above). It is also the prevailing opinion that the state makes use of its mandate to educate and has the right to set its own educational goals.(See Sachs Article 7, Note 22)

Furthermore, the plaintiffs’ point of view, that the State’s supervisory duty only applies to schools and not to education in general, cannot be followed. The jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court has made no indication of this being the case.

In addition, the requirement of unreasonable hardship is not fulfilled, because this is not an atypical case. It has arisen from "Supplementary regulations to compulsory school attendance and to the legal relationship to school” that a person is regarded as being resident in Niedersachsen and subject to compulsory schooling when he or she has resided here for more than five days, even if he or she does not intend to remain here permanently. This applies regardless of the person’s nationality. The lawmakers have ordered compulsory schooling even for only a short stay in Niedersachsen. The children of the plaintiffs have resided in Niedersachsen for more than 2 years, which illustrates that this case is not atypical.

It is asserted in the complainants’ grounds that there is unacceptable discrimination and factually unjustified unequal treatment because some German children living in other countries are able to utilise approved distance education. They also give the example of the boy band Tokio Hotel. These cases have totally different underlying circumstances. These examples cannot be compared with the case in point.

Furthermore, the complainants presume that their children are being disadvantaged with respect to children in other EU countries and the rest of the developed world. There is also no comparison with the situation here. The children in other countries are subject to another legal system.

Melissa Busekros - a miracle recovery!

Let's hope that the people at the Youth Welfare Service (Jugendamt) in Erlangen believe in miracles. If they are to save face, that's the only way they can explain why Melissa Busekros, whom they declared less than four months ago to be in dire need of inpatient psychiatric treatement, is now not in any acute danger and can stay with her family. In all that time, she was in a psychiatric unit for less than two weeks. The rest of the time was spent whiling away her boredom reading French books in a children's home and and helping out a farmer's wife in the foster family where she was staying.

Here's another possible explanation. Maybe they've discovered an exciting new treatment for children with depressive conduct disorder and school phobia! Imagine how much money they could save on farm labour at the same time. What an opportunity - an upswing for the German economy combined with larger numbers of happy and stable (no pun intended) teenagers.

If anyone who can understand German or feels like subjecting themselves to an online translation engine wants to see some of the original documents, they can go to this forum. (Just scroll down to where Lena has posted the white documents - from 11 May). There's even a picture of the famous abduction by 15 policemen, courtesy of the police themselves.

As for me, I'm off to the shop to buy some tissues for those ladies and gentlemen of the Jugendamt - they're going to need quite a few to wipe all that egg off their faces.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Can foreigners homeschool in Germany?

The theoretical answer - no, unless you are in the Diplomatic Corps, or are moving to Nordrhein-Westphalia for only one year or are a military homeschooler under command sponsorship (although even this seems to jar with the regulations of at least one German state).

The practical answer - yes, and there are plenty of us who have managed to stay out of the gaze of the authorities, are are being tolerated by them, or have found some loophole in the law. Using a combination of these three strategies has enabled our family to homeschool in Germany for more than three years. The first possibility, escaping notice, is very often an option if your child is already of school age. If you have a child who is at the age where he/she would be starting school in September, you can forget about this, as the communities send the names of all these children who are registered with them to the relevant schools.

Some homeschooling families are lucky enough, that the local authorities tolerate them, even though they are theoretically in violation of the law and have no official exemption. This is even more likely to occur when the family in question is a foreign one, temporarily in Germany. There are those openminded school directors who have enough on their plates with running their own schools and see no purpose in hounding some family who aren't going to be in Germany long enough for their children to be integrated into the system. If the authorities are aware that you are there and your children are not attending school, it can really make a huge difference to your situation if you meet with the responsible school director and explain your situation in a friendly, open manner. Often their hands are tied, but if they are positively inclined towards you, they will do the very minimum that is necessary.

Sometimes it is worthwhile to examine the legal requirements and see if there are any legal loopholes that you can make use of. Sheila (my acting partner) seems to have found one which is working for her and her family, which involves living in Germany for nine months of the year (great excuse for a three-month vacation, Sheila). There are various other methods which have been used by homeschooling families, German as well as foreign, to keep the authorities off their back.

I've written this post because people have been coming to my blog as a result of searches like this. There is obviously a genuine (and hopefully growing) need for this kind of information.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Hacking away at Schulpflicht

I have the feeling that we are busy hacking away at the crumbling foundations of enforced schooling here in Germany. The first time I came to Germany, 9 years ago, homeschooling was a taboo subject (as I mentioned in one of my first posts ever on this blog). Things are really changing now. Homeschooling has been continually in the news in the last few weeks. The UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Education recently recommended that homeschooling be allowed in Germany. There was much commentary from the German educational authorities and in some newspapers about this issue, much of it negative (but all of it publicity, nonetheless!)

A couple of days after the Munoz report, the German newspaper, Die Welt, published an interview with a German Professor, Volker Ladenthin, in which he pleads for the legalisation of homeschooling. The cherry on top of all this publicity is the pretty unbiased article in the latest issue of Der Spiegel (the German version of Time Magazine) about homeschoolers in Germany. Later this month, an international Colloquium on Home Education is going to be held and I know for sure of two television camera teams which will be there.

A couple of days ago I had the privilege of being at the press conference for the opening of the first democratic school in Hamburg. The enormous press presence was not due to any particular interest in the school itself, but to the fact that one of its founders is the famous German popstar Nena (remember that haunting song, 99 red balloons?). This is the first school of it's kind to receive permission to open from the authorities. So far, two other applications (in Berlin and Leipzig), which were further along in the planning stage, have been turned down.

The legal argument which the German state has against homeschooling is the oft touted "Erziehungsauftrag" (or mandate to educate). Although the German Constitution doesn't say anything about Homeschooling, in Article 6 it states that parents have the natural right to bring up their children and then goes on to say in Article 7 that the State has supervisory authority over schooling. Somewhere along the line, the German Constitutional Court decided that the State's right is on an equal level with that of the parents and inferred that the state has the "Erziehungsauftrag".

Any decision of the constitutional court has a binding status on lower courts in Germany. Consequently, it doesn't help home educators in Germany to argue that the state has no Erziehungsauftrag. The constitutional court also said that the state has a duty to work against parallel societies. As I see it, the only way for homeschoolers to argue against the state is to take these two assumptions to their logical conclusions and show that they are actually irrelevant and are, in many cases, not being upheld.

The first issue is the actual sense in which the word "Erziehung" is meant by the Court. As can be seen here, the word "Erziehung" can mean either education or upbringing. It would seem obvious that the first sense of the meaning is meant, because, well, this is all about education. However, the fact that the authorities have accepted, in many cases, the academic benefits of home education and the other statements made by them, such as this one by the German Consul-General in Chicago, Wolfgang Drautz -

Homeschooling may be equally effective in terms of test scores. It is important to keep in mind, however, that school teaches not only knowledge but also social conduct. Daily contact with other students from all walks of life promotes tolerance, encourages dialogue among people of different beliefs and cultures, and helps students to become responsible citizens.

would indicate that both senses of the word Erziehung are being used by the German state.

The authorities have told a friend of mine that distance learning does not enable the state to fulfil its Erziehungsauftrag, as this has to be carried out in person. This begs the question of how this is possible when a teacher is dealing with a class of 30 children. As studies show, home educators have no problem in becoming the kind of citizens that the state (ostensibly) desires, so does this mean that what the state is really saying is that it wants to brainwash its subjects?

Another issue which they obviously haven't thought about is that there are plenty of children going to school in Germany who are escaping the state's Erziehungsauftrag. For example, the Neue Schule in Hamburg is based on the principle of "Nichterziehung", which is the antithesis of the concept of "Erziehung". Another example is that of German children living in Germany who attend international schools. These children are not being brought up in the ideals mentioned by Herr Drautz. They do not have daily contact with children from all walks of life and are, in fact, educated in a culture far removed from that of the German one. A German friend of mine sent her son to a British school (which was actually for the children of British military personnel) for a few years. When she lost her job he had to start going to the local state school, which was an enormous shock for him, from a cultural perspective as well as a linguistic and educational one. So should the state forbid German children from attending international schools in their own country?

It is clear that the German state's arguments against home education have several holes in them big enough to drive a truck through. It is up to home educators to take a lateral thinking approach and network with each other at each step of their individual legal processes. The ideas which I have outlined above come from our case as well as that of a friend living nearby who is also embroiled in a court case. My ideas have grown out of hers and then she has expanded on mine and so the whole thing is growing symbiotically into a strong, vital little plant which will soon hopefully dwarf the rotting old system of enforced schooling that the state is desperately trying to maintain.

Friday, March 02, 2007

No more IOU's in the children's piggy banks!

I had a really bad experience the week before last. It was just past the middle of the month and I had run out of money. In February - the shortest month of the year! I couldn't understand how it happened. I suppose that part of the reason was that I was visited by an old friend with her two children for a few days and we did quite a bit of what my husband refers to as "gallivanting".

My neighbour and I were chatting over coffee and it turned out that she was in exactly the same situation. For her things were worsened by the fact that she had been ill for the previous two days and had had to miss two classes (she works on the side as an aerobics instructor) for which she wouldn't be getting paid AND she had just received the bill for repairs to her car after she had inadvertantly (is there any other way?) backed over a low fence.

This got me thinking about the whole issue of finances. This is not something I do often, which is why I am in the situation I described above. I calculated my daily "income" and realised that it doesn't amount to very much per day - or at least not as much as I have been spending on many occasions. A bit of balance is called for. So I've decided that rather than take the whole monthly amount as my budget, or even a weekly budget, I'm going to allocate a daily amount - less than what I actually have and stick to that. On days where I don't spend much I'm saving money for a "splurge" on another day. That way, when unexpected expenses come up, I can deal with them and hopefully I'll even have some money left at the end of the month - now wouldn't that be something!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Compulsory schooling is a child's right

A commentary appeared in the Nürnberger Nachrichten today, which comments on all those of you who have been voicing their protests about Melissa Busekros. I noticed that someone in Nuremberg paid an extensive visit to my blog yesterday, and I was wondering if it was the person who wrote the commentary below.

The title is "Compulsory schooling is a child's right" (since when does a right become a duty)?

Subtitle: Why homeschooling can never be the solution.

There is great uproar on the internet forums which have been discussing the case of 15 year old Amina in the last few days. More than anything else, for supporters of the homeschooling movement, the story seems to serve as proof of the inhumane manner in which the government imposes Schulpflicht. They are all talking about human-rights abuses, about interference with the parents' right to decide where their children should live and saying that Schulpflicht only exists in Germany, thanks to none other than Adolf Hitler. As if this at last proves how evil this system is.

In actual fact, the idea of Schulpflicht was a child of the Enlightenment. The long history of its enforcement shows who was predominantly bound by it. The compulsory education law introduced in Bavaria in 1802, which required parents to somehow make sure that their children had the opportunity to learn reading, writing and mathematics, lasted until 1919 when the duty of all children to attend school was written into law. The citizens had managed to wrest a great achievement from the state : the right to schooling. The state now had to ensure that children from all families, independent of class or financial situation, received at least a basic education. For the first time equal opportunity existed.

Thinking means comparing

And primarily it is about the right of the children. Not just the right to literacy and to knowledge of basic math. Children also have the right to encouter the world from other points of view than that of their parents. Everyone who travels on the subway in Nuremberg can read daily the quote by Walther Rathenau "Thinking means comparing". Every homeschooled child who is exclusively fed with subject matter and knowledge by his parents will, in the worst case, not have the opportunity to compare.

In a pluralistic world, every adult can decide for him or herself whether he or she believes in the theory of evolution or literally hangs onto the words of the old Testament in finding the answer to the question "Where did people come from". Children must, however, be given the freedom of encountering the discoveries of modern science.

This right must not be taken from them by their parents. Surfing through the internet forums of homeschooling supporters who have stumbled onto the case of Amina, one constantly comes into contact with just this motive. These religious fundamentalists are advocating for children to be sheltered from the "devilishness" of evolution and sex education.

Parents must let go

Childraising means always letting go. Children do not belong to their parents any more than they do to the state. No-one has the right to shut his child away. Not even behind the walls of his own worldview. School is not just a place for learning, it is also an important place for hanging out in and for meeting other young people. Admittedly, things don't always function as they should. Whoever reads the newspapers has a good idea of the problems facing our schools. There are several good reasons to work for basic changes in our state educational facilities. Possibly also many good reasons to send our children to state-accredited private schools with better educational concepts.

This alters nothing about the validity of Schulpflicht. Its implementation is no act of authoritarian state arbitrariness, but rather a protection of children's rights.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Jugendamt- a law unto its own?

My last post took a dig at the original diagnosis of Melissa Busekros, which was convincing enough for the judge to remove her from her home. I had a closer look at that psychiatrist's report this morning (you can read a summary of it here in English - scroll down to update 10).
In the diagnosis (not mentioned in the English summary), Dr Schanda specifically diagnosed Melissa as suffering from the disorder F92.0 under the ICD 10 (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 10th Revision).

I looked up this disorder here and read
Depressive conduct disorder
This category requires the combination of conduct disorder (F91.-) with persistent and marked depression of mood (F32.-), as demonstrated by symptoms such as excessive misery, loss of interest and pleasure in usual activities, self-blame, and hopelessness; disturbances of sleep or appetite may also be present.
Conduct disorder in F91.- associated with depressive disorder in F32.-

When I looked at the conduct disorder in F91, I read

Conduct disorders
Disorders characterized by a repetitive and persistent pattern of dissocial, aggressive, or defiant conduct. Such behaviour should amount to major violations of age-appropriate social expectations; it should therefore be more severe than ordinary childish mischief or adolescent rebelliousness and should imply an enduring pattern of behaviour (six months or longer).

Does Dr Schanda have psychic abilities? Above, it says persistent and marked depression of mood, not the kind of depression of mood induced by being taken away in a cavalcade of police cars. Did Schanda ask Melissa "So do you feel like this every day?" Loss of interest and pleasure in the usual activities doesn't sound like the kind of thing happening to a girl who practised playing the piano every day and was regularly attending English classes at the local Volkshochschule (German version of a community college). Is a developmental emotional delay of one year a major violation of social expectations. I'm also not too sure about loss of appetite - her refusal to eat anything at the police station (because she'd already had breakfast) was certainly no indication of a lack of appetite.

The Jugendamt states that what has happened has nothing to do with Melissa being a homeschooler. However, when one reads the court judgements, which focus on Melissa's non-attendance at school and this website, which outlines a program in Nuremberg for dealing with truants, one wonders how true this statement is. The statement on page 3 of this document,
In hohem Maß gefährdet ist nämlich ihre Entwicklung zu einer "eigenverantwortlichen und gemeinschaftsfähigen Persönlichkeit" und ihre Integration in die Gesellschaft, (their development into a personality able to take responsibility for itself and to function in a community and their integration into the community is highly endangered )bears an eery resemblance to Schanda's statements about Melissa: Serious and universal social impairment in the area of school adjustment and school related interests, pastimes and the ability to cope with social situations. The title of the project is "Sichere Erziehung" "Secure Upbringing", which is, by the authors' own admittance, a euphemism because titles like "Freedom-limiting Measures", were a bit too controversial. (I can think of some even better euphemisms - how about Final Solution?)

The fact is, is that Melissa's story is part of a much greater pattern. Removal of homeschooled children in Germany from their parent's custody is common practice in Germany. This is very easy to do, as school is perceived as essential to the child's welfare, by the courts as well as the social services and educational authorities. Last year another school refuser, a 15 year old boy who lived near me, was forced into a psychiatric institution against his and his mother's will after he became a ward of the state (the Jugendamt in question felt that going to therapy twice a week was not enough to deal with his problem). Last I heard he was still there, and he had been told that he was not going to be allowed to have any contact with his mother. The state even moved him to a clinic 2 hours drive away from where she lived. Even if there are emotional problems present, how can the state justify such a massive infringement of human rights?

The Jugendamt has been wrong before. For example, the case of the Haase family makes Melissa's situation look like a weekend at the funfair. (You can read the whole story here here too if you want - it's very long, but gives the whole background and the chronological order.) The scary part is not so much that the Haases had their children removed by the state, but that measures weren't taken by the relevant courts (apparently one judge even refused to recuse himself from the case) to ensure, as soon as possible, the validity of the expert opinion which led to this situation. They even refused to allow any witnesses to testify on behalf of the parents. At the beginning only the psychologist who issued the damning report, the representatives of the Jugendamt and Cornelia Haase's ex-husband were allowed to testify. Talk about accountability.

In a TV report, psychologist Uwe-Jörg Jopt blamed the miscarriage of justice in the Haase case on the failure of checks and balances. The only accountability which the Jugendamt has is to the judge of the family court, but when the judge takes the Jugendamt's expert at face value, the system is likely to break down, and has done so on several occasions. According to Jopt, the judges need to be better educated to enable them to evaluate the information brought before them. Although the Jugendamt has enormous power, the officials are only human and also make mistakes.

Another expert, Prof. Wolfgang Klenner is more critical of the role of the Jugendämter in cases such as these. In a letter to a German newspaper, he writes that as long as the officials can show that they have done all they can to prevent a child from being endangered in his or her current situation, they are protected from any repercussions. This is one explanation for the overzealous behaviour on the part of these officials. He states that they are then above the law. He says "To tell the truth, there are also women and men working in the Jugendämter who deserve full respect for their humanity and their sense of responsibility. However, these people are in the minority."

The Jugendamt claims to be working in Melissa's interests. But are they really? Or are they on a mission to prove themselves right? Frau Hoellerer of the Jugendamt has stated that the Busekros' will not get Melissa back as long as they continue stirring up people about her removal. Hallo, maybe someone should tell her that we are supposed to be living in a democratic country and not some banana republic dictatorship run by the Jugendamt.