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.