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, "...in 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.