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.

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