Thoughts of a secular German homeschooler on the asylum case

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:

Why Homeschool
The Teacher
The Daily Salty

Warning: Homeschooling families must prepare for college

Startling, I know, but Adam Caller, founder of Tutors International, is urging homeschooling parents to plan ahead by calling him.

I’m not for a moment saying that home education is unable to prepare a child for university, or disadvantaging them in any way, far from it. The vast majority of home schooled children that I have met personally have been bright, articulate and knowledgeable, usually with excellent social skills. I would just like to urge home schooling families to plan ahead for the eventuality that their child may want to take exams in preparation for university, sometimes in subjects that the family may not be able teach or explore alone. When the fact that the child may never have been tested formally in their life is added to the mix, the family can suddenly feel out of depth and that’s when they tend to call us.

Bright, articulate, knowledgeable…sure.  But how ever will they be able to express that if they haven’t been advertisementfilling in bubbles for the last twelve years?  I print off old copies of other states’ tests just for the fun of it.  Never thought of that as college prep, but what do I know?

Ok, so it is a press release.  What can I expect?  But it reminds me how much marketers play on our insecurities to try to sell us their products.  Nothing against tutors, or business, or even marketing.

But I still cannot help but wonder how much the very existence of the “homeschool market” has changed homeschooling.

A politician. On homeschooling.

Well, at least somebody gets it.

“There is no more important task for a parent than the education of one’s children.  That responsibility belongs to parents, not the government,” insists Wayne Allyn Root, the Libertarian Party candidate for vice president.  “As a home school parent myself, I know how important it is for government to not interfere in the education process.”  Barr ’08

A politician, even, but I doubt the Libertarian Party candidate for vice president has a great deal of influence over the national education discussion.

Yet the city of Washington, D.C. has issued new regulations that for the first time in 15 years anywhere in America increase government control over home-schooling.  “Given the abysmal job performed by the District public schools, the D.C. government should be encouraging, not discouraging home schooling,” says Root.  “It is the height of arrogance for this school system with its poor performance to sit in judgment over the quality of parental instruction.”

D.C. cannot even keep track of their own books.

Home schoolers also have been under attack in California, Root observes, where a court recently ruled against home school parents, declaring that there is no constitutional right to home school.  However, he notes, “the U.S. Supreme Court once blocked a state attempt to outlaw private schools, explaining that ‘the child is not the mere creature of the state.’  That principle is equally valid for home schooling.”

That would be Pierce vs. Society of Sisters.  Which also mentions the standardization of children as if it were a bad thing.  But it still allows the state’s role in private education, and allows for more oversight than DC has imposed.

No question is raised concerning the power of the state reasonably to regulate all schools, to inspect, supervise and examine them, their teachers and pupils; to require that all children of proper age attend some school, that teachers shall be of good moral character and patriotic disposition, that certain studies plainly essential to good citizenship must be taught, and that nothing be taught which is manifestly inimical to the public welfare.

But now back to Root, the Libertarian candidate for VP:

“The good news in California,” Root adds, “is that the state has dropped its action against the home schooling family.  But the state legislature still should act to protect the fundamental right of parents to educate their own children.  The D.C. city council should do the same,” he says.

I’ve been out of the loop for a week now, as the activity level on this blog may demonstrate.  But did something happen in California while I was out?  I presume that he is referring to the juvenile court which terminated jurisdiction over the children.  I was never that concerned over the court’s actions against that particular family.  Just because they homeschool does not make them immune from being bad parents and there seemed to be enough evidence to warrant the state’s involvement in that family.  It was the other court which concerned me, the one which made it about homeschooling rather than the Long family.  And others besides me do not see this decision as necessarily having any bearing on the appellate court ruling.

Edward Steinman, a law professor at Santa Clara University, said he does not believe that the family court dismissal undermines the ruling, but it could provide easy political cover if the appellate court wants to get out of the spotlight.

“I don’t think it moots the case. I think it’s two separate issues,” he said. “The family court issue is the one that triggered [the ruling], but family court is not the one that made” the ruling.

“It should have no effect,” he said. “But it became a political football, and the [appellate] court may use this to say ‘let’s just punt.’ “  LA Times

Back to the campaigning:

“There may be no better example as to how government has outgrown its original role than the fact that many people now believe education to be not a family, not a local, and not a state responsibility, but a federal responsibility.  That’s entirely wrong,” says Root.  “There may be no more important liberty than the right to care for one’s own family, including to ensure the proper education of one’s children.  Bob Barr and I are dedicated to promoting that right in our campaign for president and vice president.”

No wonder so many homeschoolers seem to be libertarian.  But then, you didn’t always have to be to hear politicians talk like this.  At one time, getting rid of the Department of Education was on the Republican Party platform.  Now they want to give it more power, all the way through college.  I never left the Republican Party, but I think it is swiftly leaving me.  Sounds frightfully like the statement of another.  It is still odd to think of Reagan as a Democrat, but then it is odd to listen to Kennedy’s old speeches and think of him as a Democrat.  Politics in America certainly seem to shift.

And the press release ends with a nice close.

Wayne Root and his wife Debra home school their 4 young children. Wayne is the first home school father on a Presidential ticket in modern history.

Excluding, of course Howard Phillips, Doug Phillips’ son, who ran on the Constitution Party’s ticket in ’92, ’96, and ’00.  And then I believe Michael Peroutka on the same ticket in ’04, but I can’t find verification that he homeschooled at the moment.  Now I’m wondering how many others I don’t know about.  The candidates of third parties rarely gain enough of my attention to notice the educational choices of their candidates.

Maybe he can give a speech at the Liberty Forum in Connecticut.  People there might actually listen.

And I’m wondering, with all the great enthusiasm Republicans have for their candidate, how many are planning to vote third party?  I keep hearing “I’m staying home this year,” which bothers me.  I don’t really care who people vote for, but especially if you are concerned with what McCain will do in office, you really should at least become interested in who will be in the House and Senate to slow him down.  Democrats don’t appear to have that problem.  And I suppose for the more conservative Democrat who is not impressed with Obama, there is always McCain.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Update: For your entertainment, one of the best election videos I have seen to date. There is one word and one image that some may find objectionable or inappropriate for children.

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A little late on this, but don’t forget the Carnival of Homeschooling!

Homeschooling in Germany

The edited version of the show with Rina talking about her experiences homeschooling in Germany is finally available.  It is much better without all the dead air.  At the start, I talk a little about my experience in Germany and how my first visit to Berlin affected me.  I wanted to share a few of my pictures, but seem to only have one uploaded here on my blog.  Next weekend, I’ll try to upload some more for those of you who are curious.  This is not part of the monument I referenced, but is graffiti across the street from where the wall used to be.

Berlin Wall

Across the top in red, it reads “At some time, every wall falls.”  I believe it was written before the wall actually fell.  And this cartoon illustrates the difficulty in unification I mentioned:

The little Ziggy-like figure with the night cap is known as “Der Deutsche Michel” (The German Michel) and is a sort of symbol of the nation akin to Uncle Sam here.  The problem of unification is well represented here as there are two Deutsche Michel.

European Commission to open dialogue with Germany regarding homeschooling

Perhaps a little light in the darkness for homeschoolers in Germany, many of whom are foreigners. Catherina (better known around here as Rina) recently traveled to Brussels to make her presenation before the European Parliament Petitions Committee regarding Germany’s persecution of homeschoolers, specifically those of other nationalities homeschooling in Germany.  The presentation reportedly went well.  The commission expressed reluctance to meddle with the laws of member nations, however…and this was a big however…they were willing to open a dialogue with Germany to try to persuade lawmakers to consider accepting homeschooling as a viable educational alternative at least in some cases.  Of course, any allowance provides hope for future broadening of the law.

Congratulations, Rina!  The following is the press release:

European Commission to open dialogue with Germany on their hypocritical home schooling law following Irish petition

    A petition on a ban on home schooling, hosted by Kathy Sinnott, MEP for Ireland South, was discussed in the European Parliament Petitions Committee this morning. Catherina Groeneveld, the petitioner and an Irish citizen married to a South African, travelled to Brussels to present her petition to the Petitions Committee and Commission.
    Catherina and her family moved to Germany temporarily because of her husband’s job. She chose for linguistic and other reasons to home-school her children while in Germany. She was surprised to find that not only was home schooling illegal, home schoolers were subject to persistent harassment by local authorities.
    Catherina lodged a petition with the Petitions Committee in 2007 making the case that Germany’s education policy contradicts the freedom of workers within the EU. She as an Irish citizen has a constituted right to educate her children and Germany’s refusal to accommodate her makes it hard for her family to work in Germany. This is in clear contradiction to the EU’s mobility of workers. In her presentation, the petitioner pointed out that foreigners who home school their children are subject to harassment, fines, jail sentences, removal of their children by the Jugendamt (children’s courts) and criminalisation. 15 out of the 16 German States allow exemptions but only to circus children and young people who have music careers. These exemptions do not extend to foreigners. Such families who wish to home school their children are subjected to draconian measures. Catherina points out that if her family were German citizens living in Ireland, they would be encouraged by the German authorities who would offer her the national curriculum to teach her children at home. The petitioner asked the Petitions Committee to help the German Government rectify this hypocrisy.
    The Petitions Committee have been paying close attention to this petition and both the Committee and the Commission congratulated the petitioner on an impressive presentation. The Commission have decided to open a dialogue to put this issue on the agenda of their regular meetings with Germany. The Petitions Committee is already embarking on a report of abuses by the Jugendamt towards non-German parents and has decided to include this aspect in the report. German law, unlike Ireland, identifies the State as the principle authority responsible for a child’s rights not his or her parents. Germany has the highest rate of children taken into care from their parents by the State in the EU.
    Kathy Sinnott, Vice President of the Petitions Committee, stated “This petition brings into question workers’ mobility. One of the guarantees of the internal market is the freedom of movement of workers in the EU. There is an increasing awareness that workers have families and that flexibility to meet their needs should be part of employment law. However, Germany’s approach to home schooling compromises this and forces families to choose between a job and the best interests of the children. The need for family friendly employment policies must be recognised throughout the EU. We need to have flexibility in the education of children temporarily resident because of work. There is also an issue around the attitude to non-German families in the German children’s courts. I hope the dialogue between the Commission and the German State will resolve this discriminatory situation.”

And an excerpt from the petition:

We are not asking anyone here or in the European Commission to interfere with German law or the German school system.  As I have stated, there are numerous opportunities for the German authorities to generously allow the exceptions that already exist in German law.  The fact that celebrities who have a thriving pop music or acting career are granted such exceptions without a second glance whilst families such as ours and others whose children have very real educational needs that are not met within the German school system are subjected to draconian measures demonstrates the malicious intent behind such treatment.

You may read the entire petition here.