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.