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.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

My diagnosis of the German education authorities

Inspired by the impressive performance of Dr S., who was able, after being with Melissa Busekros for only one hour, to deliver a really earth-shattering diagnosis, I have decided to collectively diagnose all those who are culpable in this and other atrocities against home educators in Germany.

Here is my diagnosis:



Home education is legally possible in just about every democratic country. The few countries where it is still banned because of outmoded laws are either moving towards legalising it, have ways around the law or just ignore it and allow the majority of homeschoolers to live in peace. However in Germany, home education is not just outlawed, but the outlaws are pursued with all the fervour of the Sheriff of Nottingham going after Robin Hood.

Among those involved in conducting this campaign against home educators are education officials, welfare services, the police, politicians and judges. They have, on many occasions, worked together to force children to go to school, impose ruinous fines on their parents, jail the parents, remove their children from their care, lock the children away in psychiatric institutions and even label the parents as needing psychiatric measures.

Psychopathological Findings

These various officials seem to believe that children can only be properly integrated into society if they attend school. They think 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. According to these people, compulsory schooling prevents the rise of parallel societies. Although these officials, as well as many other Germans, are accepting of home education when is practised outside their borders or by celebrities who pay enormous taxes to the state in which they are resident, they maintain that home education of normal children in Germany endangers the child's welfare and is subversive.

1. Clinical psychiatric syndromes:

This group of people is collectively afflicted by a variety of disorders. In summary, the current clinical-psychiatric finding shows that they have an emotional disturbance which is connected to a massive homeschool phobia and a strong narcissistic personality disorder. I see signs of autistic tendencies, demonstrated by their inability to relate to what is happening in the rest of the world. There is also evidence of schizophrenia, with this group of people accepting homeschooling in some circumstances but not in others, with a strong collective delusionality being present.These are all signs of a syndrome called affective homeschool aversion, which has just been discovered and named by me.

2. Outlined developmental disturbances of human-rights related talents:
Not tested - so far the European court of Human Rights has not ruled on a German homeschooling case, refusing to take on the only case which has so far come in front of them.

3. Results of intelligence:
Since its dismal performance in the 2003 Pisa study , Germany's school system has been shown to be severely lacking.

4. Physical symptoms:
Convulsions and palpitations when the possibility of home education being legalised in Germany is mentioned by the media.

5. Current abnormal psychosocial circumstances:
From the late middle ages it became increasingly popular in Germany to label people, particularly women, who in any way deviated from the mainstream as witches, leading to inhuman torture being used against these people. Although a homeschooler is no longer likely to be forced to wear an mask with spikes on the inside, the fear instilled by these measures has lasted down the generations in the collective German consciousness.

6. Global judgment of psychosocial adjustment:
Serious and universal social impairment in the area of adjustment to changing global conditions and interest in educational alternatives, lack of foresight and the inability to cope with free thinkers.

II. Position

We were unable to confront these people with the situation in Germany because they just ignored us. On the grounds of their massive homeschool-refusal, the emotional disturbance and the unsatisfactory willingness to cooperate on the part of the authorities, a relocation to a suitable homeschooling family overseas for the period of one year is urgently required in order to avoid endangerment to the development of their personalities.

Through intensive support and rehabilitation measures (no large groups and no intensive school exposure), it could be possible for these people to start accepting homeschooling within these parameters. A favorable development is possible. The education authorities and their accomplices were examined by us. They suffer an educational developmental disturbance (they are at least 20 years behind the USA and Great Britain, 10 years behind South Africa, 3 years behind the Czech Republic and are even being overtaken by Romania, which was formerly one of the most restrictive of the communist countries), a massive homeschool phobia and an oppositional denial-syndrome.

With friendly greetings, (Sorry, I just can't continue the long-winded style of the original diagnosis).

Friday, February 02, 2007

German homeschooler forced into psychiatric institution

Fifteen year old German homeschooler forcibly admitted into a mental institution

The day before Christmas, the German newspaper, Erlanger Nachrichten published a picture of the eight-member Busekros family standing happily together around an advent wreath. The title of the accompanying article was “Only families open the way for new perspectives". On the first of February this year, the Busekros’ oldest daughter was torn from her family by force, thanks to a judge’s ruling : Compulsory admittance to the Klinikum Nuremberg-Nord, a psychiatric clinic for children and young people and loss of parental custody.

In summer 2005, then 13 year old Melissa was told that she would have to repeat the 7th grade at the Christian Ernst Gymnasium (a high school where one can obtain the Abitur, the highest German high school diploma) due to her bad grades in math and latin. The situation in the class played no small part in creating this state of affairs - the high noise levels and cancelled classes prevented her from receiving the educational assistance she needed during school hours. As Melissa had good grades in all the other subjects, repeating the whole year would be mostly a waste of her time, as well as the fact that she would now be in a class even more problematic than the previous year’s. Thus, it was decided by Melissa and her parents that she would be tutored individually at home to meet her specific needs. At her own wish, Melissa only took part in Music and sang in her school choir. The school and the local school authorities were not satisfied with this solution, and consequently expelled Melissa from the school, allocating her to the local Hauptschule (the lowest in the German three-tier high school system.

The Busekros continued educating their daughter at home, with their other school-age children still attending school. At the end of the school year 2005/2006, Melissa was no longer subject to full-time compulsory schooling. In spite of this the Youth Welfare Office (Jugendamt) in Erlangen appealed to the local Family Court, which ordered Melissa and her parents to appear at a hearing, which was consequently attended solely by her father. Melissa was overseas at that point. However, the authorities didn’t relent and wanted to know in detail where Melissa was, resulting in an unannounced visit to the family by the Judge of the Family Court.

The Busekros family is known and much loved by all their neighbours. Their willingness to be photographed for an article in the local newspaper demonstrates that they have nothing to hide. That was not good enough for the officials. On Tuesday 30th January just after 7am, Mrs Busekros and her children – Mr Busekros had already left for work – were startled by the appearance of social workers and police officials who demanded that Melissa, now aged 15, be handed over to them immediately. They had as authorisation a decision by the Erlangen Court (case no. 006 F 01004/06) of the 29th of January. It stated “The relevant Youth Welfare Office is hereby instructed and authorised to bring the child, if necessary by force, to a hearing and may obtain police support for this purpose.”

Melissa was brought into the Child Psychiatry Unit of the Nuremburg clinic and was subjected to an interrogation in the presence of the specialist Dr. Schanda. After this interrogation, about three and a half hours after she was coerced into the clinic, Melissa was returned home. Her relieved parents and her five younger siblings, who didn’t know when they would ever see Melissa again, as well as Melissa herself didn’t know that the worst was still to come.

On the afternoon of the 1st of February, the judge of the Family Court, representatives of the Youth Welfare Office, along with fifteen police officers, marched up to the Busekros home, to haul Melissa off to the Child Psychiatry Unit of the Nuremberg clinic. The judicial decision authorising this also removed Melissa from her parents’ custody, according to her father, Hubert Busekros.This treatment was justified by the psychiatrist’s finding, two days previously, that she was supposedly developmentally delayed by one year and that she suffered from school phobia. The fact that the less than optimal testing environment and the unexpectedness of the tests could have impacted on Melissa’s performance were not taken into account in this decision. It is not known when Melissa’s parents and siblings will be able to see her again, as the official approach in cases of “school phobia” is to completely prevent the “patient” from having any contact with those closest to him or her, as such contact supposedly enables the phobia.

The article, "Only families open the way for new perspectives " was accompanied by the photo of a happily smiling Melissa surrounded by her loved ones – in her current situation, she can’t have much to smile about. Will her smiles disappear completely, while the bureaucrats who placed her in this situation remain smug in their certainty that they have made her life better? What is being done to a sensitive and musical young girl, just because the bureaucrats want to set an example? In their zealous drive to enforce compulsory schooling (which by Melissa’s age is only part-time) at all costs, they readily accept the trauma caused to the unassuming and lovable Melissa.

If Melissa had lived in Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Ireland, the UK or Belgium, all those involved – the schoolgirl, her parents and the educational officials involved – would have been, at the very least, unperturbed that she was being educated at home. In these countries, as in practically the rest of the world, home education is a legally recognised alternative to school, which can be a boon to children with special needs and gifts. Many of those German school pupils who have had to repeat grades would have been able to complete their schooling without stress in these countries if they had parents as involved as Melissa’s. Melissa, on the other hand, has been turned into a psychiatric case : a German schoolchild’s nightmare.

The Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit condemns this inconsiderate and totally incommensurate behaviour on the part of the officials involved and demands that they give Melissa her freedom and return her to her family immediately. Additionally, the Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit calls all politicians and those in political offices, in Erlangen and the rest of Germany, to ensure that such human rights abuses and and high-handed behaviour by government officials are stopped, even if it requires personal intervention.

Here are some phone numbers which you can call to express your support for Melissa and her family and your outrage at the actions taken by the state officials.

Clinic: +49 911 398 - 2970 od 3870, 7099 Fax Haus 48 Station B, KJP_B@klinikum-nürnberg.de; axel.froelich@klinikum-nürnberg.deFamily Court: +49 9131 782-359; +49 9131 782-361 Fax District Court: +49 9131 782-0; +49 9131 782-480 Fax