The story of how the Romeike’s, a German homeschooling family, was granted asylum by a judge in Tennessee has made quite a few waves, with reports in Time, Education Week, Forbes, The Washington Post, not to mention blogs. I’ve seen a nearly constant stream of updates in Twitter as yet another circle of people I follow learn the news and pass it on.
Homeschooling, it seems, may have finally been defined as a basic human right as well as a particular social group by an American court. HSLDA says they took the case partially in hopes of influencing public opinion in Germany. It certainly has spurred the national debate, with the story hitting major newspapers, television, radio and the German blogs are on fire with the discussion.
I wanted to provide a slightly different perspective on the issue, with the thoughts of a secular German homeschooler/unschooler who currently has children in the German public schools. The translation is my own.
Thoughts on the Romeikes:
The WDR (Translator’s note: West German Radio, German public broadcasting) holds a team meeting, One of the topics: The Romeike Family. The current WDR editor asks whether one can be skeptical of the Christian views. I, like the conversation partner who spoke with the WDR, think yes, one may. BUT no one, because of his beliefs or because he represents a minority, should have to leave this country, because enough other families know that things aren’t the best with our own schools.
“Why shouldn’t we allow home education in Germany, where perhaps only a couple thousand would take this option?” were the thoughts posed to the WDR. The answer came quickly. The editor said only two words, “If that.”
Yes, if only a few thousand families were to home educate. If only a third of these did so for Christian reasons. A strong country should respect its minorities and not suppress them. Because most Germans love their land and should be supported. The editor also took these thoughts in his meeting.
I’ve been at “learning at home” for almost six years with my oldest son Manuel, whom many of you know. For almost two years, he has been learning almost fully alone. The first years were also arduous: Considering what needed to be learned, the search for materials, the preparation and follow-up, the learning alongside. It was also expensive, in two regards: all the books to buy, supplemental materials, one tinkers, works, holds animals, plants and visits museums and other institutions–everything for education. And one pays court costs in order to be clear of penalties and fines. It was also a very beautiful time and it is still now, because Manuel has become an independent, self-possessed young person–like many free learners I have come to know. Most do it for reasons very different from the Romeikes, the authorities however proceed the same: Fines and penalties and finally comes the youth welfare office, which tries to compel the children to school with threats.
Now my youngest two sons go to school–many of their best friends are unschoolers and homeschoolers. They go to school, because that is what one does, because they can and are successful and–and because they may learn at home what they do not receive in school. Without challenge at home, without support for their interests, the education in the school would be insufficient. I was raised Christian, but am of the opinion that my children should decide for themselves which beliefs they would like to have and was always dissatisfied with the religious instruction in the schools. Therefore, my sons go to Ethics. (Translator’s note: Religious education is compulsory in Germany, generally Protestant in the north and Catholic in the south.)
Today in the school is a participatory concert, a minister will come, he will sing with the children. In the first two school hours. Normally in this time, core subjects are taught. Normally after that, one of my children has PE, which is canceled for the day; a substitute teacher will keep the children busy.
We must pay 2 Euro per child for the minister’s concert, we received a parent letter which stated that the children of the first grades would participate in the concert as a required event. We were not asked how we felt about that.
I asked my children if I should ask the teachers what the Ethics children were to do in that time–and whether they would actually like to go. My younger son gave the answer: “But Mama, we’re singing the songs of Noah’s Ark, we’ve been practicing. EVERYONE’S going.” We’re a democratic household, had the boys said they wouldn’t like to go, it would have to be considered how the school could accommodate the children. So it was naturally also simple, they wanted to participate, so they will participate.
I had no more words after that for the statements of my children, I had to reflect on that. Clearly, today they have gone there. It is sure that it will be fun for them. But I have understood what persuades Christian homeschoolers like the Romeikes to leave this country, although I find it unfortunate. We still have a constitution, with parental rights and freedom of belief. I have tried to grant this freedom of belief to my children. I hold to the law and my children attend a state school, which also has nice aspects, because in that time I can work and have time for my children in the afternoons.
But–today the state, represented by the primary school, determines that my children are required to compensate and accompany a minister for a concert and prior to this, the school successfully proselytised them and taught them subjects of faith without my knowledge.
My children are strong children and tell everything at home and we will talk about it and answer the questions that come up. But what about the children that have a home where parents do not have this time–because there is too little money and both parents must work all day? What about the children who may not be able to bring their questions about new beliefs home to their parents? Does the state really have the responsibility to determine in which Christian beliefs my children should be brought up?
After the Romeike’s asylum proceedings, the state, the schools and the teachers should reflect what their purposes are. Above all that, while the press explains that Germans have fled to the USA for their freedom of belief and were granted asylum, today Christians, Muslims and children from other religions sat in an elementary school gymnasium and participated in a concert with a minister, the exact contents of which were previously unknown to us parents.
I wish the Romeike family well, and may Germany go thoughtfully into the day…
And indeed, what are the purposes of the state in education? Preparation for a global economy and socialization, the latter of which has significant parallels with the “parallel societies” argument Germany has used to support it’s persecution of homeschooling families. That is also why I think it is important to get the answer to the ubiquitous question “What about socialization?” right. We as homeschoolers are held in the middle of our own national conversation and while I do not foresee us seeking asylum abroad any time soon, I do believe how we answer this with friends and strangers may have a greater long term impact than all our legislative efforts.
I am happy to see this has sparked quite a bit of conversation in Germany. It is one thing to hold that “children should go to school” and quite another to be confronted with the consequences of deciding not to, which at times leads to the decision to face losing your children or fleeing the country. And while many have tried to make this about religion, Corinna makes it clear that your religious beliefs are irrelevant when the state discovers you are homeschooling.
What do you think about asylum being granted for homeschoolers fleeing Germany?
Other blogs discussing the decision: