Committed to Their Cause
- Claire Novak
- 2004 3 Mar
"We . . know of [several families] who are in hiding…It is becoming clear how the Jews must have felt under Hitler." -- Richard Guenther, Schulunterricht zu Hause
Educational Issues in Germany Put American Homeschooling in Perspective
After facing negative reports by CBS News and The New York Times, many homeschooling parents feel that they are under attack. By suggesting that there is a link between home education and child abuse, the recent stories have planted a dangerous seed in public opinion, and anonymous tip procedures are expected to rise against home educators in America. According to Michael Smith, President of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), "Child Protective Services are obligated to follow-up these reports and homeschool families will face unwarranted harassment."
Across the globe, however, American homeschoolers are viewed with respect and perhaps a touch of envy. The freedom they experience is immense compared to the current educational situation in Germany. As a research paper by Amanda Petrie of the Department of Education at the University of Liverpool, England states, "Home education is permitted in some form or other in all the European countries studied except Germany."
All school-aged German citizens are required by law to be instructed by a certified school or teacher. Specifics vary according to each German state with a few provisions allowing for religious convictions, but even those provisions involve lengthy certifications and extensive testing. Even when home education is allowed, it can be revoked at the whim of almost any local school or government official. In the case of one German family, school board officials demanded that the children take a state authorized test. Then, when the children passed with top grades, the officials ruled that they should still be forced to attend school. The reason? "Our system needs children like them."
"Violence due to drugs, sex, and indecent dress and behavior here is incredible," said German homeschooler Richard Guenther. Guenther is a board member of Schulunterricht zu Hause (School Instruction at Home), a legal defense organization founded by HSLDA for German homeschoolers. "Half of the parents who contact us are taking their children out of school for religious reasons," said Guenther. "[the other] half [want to homeschool] because their children are being severely beaten and mobbed by other students while the teachers turn their backs. At bus stops and in areas around the school and even on school grounds smoking among 9 and 10 year olds is a common sight."
Guenther believes the problem with the German system is not their lack of dedication, but rather their uneven focus. "State authorities relentlessly hunt down parents [homeschool] . . . and at the same time they turn their backs on the parents of students in the street who refuse to go to school," he said. "The parents who wish to protect their children or provide them with a better education than the schools [offer] are treated literally as dogs."
Parents Risk Fines and Imprisonment to Protect their Children
In April of 2003, School Instruction at Home faced its first case when attorney Gabriele Eckermann successfully represented Michael and Sigrid Bauer. Parents of eight children (ranging from 10 months to 16 years old), the Bauers were concerned with the German school's exclusive teaching of the theory of evolution and "constant confrontation" to the topic of sexuality.
"We know American public schools also have sex-ed courses, but . . . what we are having here cannot be equated," said Richard Guenther. "X-rated films are tame in comparison." According to Guenther, judges who asked to see the latest "sex-education program" were greatly embarrassed by the pornographic-like material as they viewed it. Yet the schools maintain that parents are unfit to teach their own children, even about such personal matters. School Instruction at Home does not agree. "Sexual education leads to an early sexualisation of students," maintained attorney Eckerman in his defense of the Bauer family.
Thanks to efforts by School Instruction at Home, Mr. and Mrs. Bauer were acquitted on April 28, 2003. The presiding judge recognized the fact that the Bauers were educating their children in a worthy manner, also stating that their dedication should set an example for many German parents. However, the state appealed the ruling and the Bauers were brought to a second trial in November, where the ruling was not as favorable. The court overturned the previous acquittal by the Administrative Court in Alsfield, sentencing the Bauers to pay a fine of 400 euro, the equivalent of $483 US Dollars (USD), with an additional fine of 800 euro (worth $966 USD) if the family violates the mandatory school attendance law in the next two years.
"Public school is unavoidable," said Attorney General Volker Uhl.
"[But] . . . by sending their children to school, they disobey God's word," declared attorney Eckermann. School Instruction at Home is appealing the case to the Upper State Court in Frankfurt.
German Homeschoolers Ask for Help
According to Richard Guenther, the situation in Germany is desperate. "We . . . know of [several families] who are in hiding," Guenther said. "It is becoming clear how the Jews must have felt under Hitler." Two German families Guenther knows have been separated for more than a year. The fathers live in one state of Germany while the mothers and children hide out in another. They see each other only on weekends. Another family relocated to Austria, where they now live on a bare minimum income. Even the Guenthers were contacted by a social worker and are being questioned by school authorities.
"Many homeschoolers in the United States have forgotten the terror of being taken to jail for exercising their God-given responsibility to homeschool," said Chris Klicka, a senior lawyer with HSLDA. "We have been able to legalize homeschooling in all fifty states . . . [demonstrating] over time that homeschoolers perform above average in standardized tests and college entrance examinations . . . but our freedom to homeschool was not free."
Working with HSLDA, School Instruction at Home plans to support German homeschoolers and assist those facing court summons. Their three-year goals include establishing a network of attorneys to take on homeschool cases across Germany, building support groups in each of Germany's 16 states, and conducting monthly conventions to promote homeschooling.
"We have accomplished much and have yet a great task ahead of us," said Richard Guenther. "Our lives are committed to this cause." He requests that donations be sent to HSLDA's Homeschool Foundation, which will in turn be sent to School Instruction at Home.
"German homeschoolers are facing this battle right now," said Chris Klicka. "It is vital that we in America, who have been given so much, rally around these families and lift up the homeschooling movement in Germany."
What You Can Do
- Pray ~ for German homeschoolers facing political oppression – such as the Bauers and the Guenthers – along with attorneys like Gabriele Eckermann and the rest of the staff at School Instruction at Home.
- Give ~ to School Instruction at Home via HSLDA's Homeschool Foundation (www.homeschoolfoundation.org) or visit www.hslda.org for more information.
- Write ~ letters of encouragement to German homeschoolers, care of HSLDA. Tell them American homeschoolers are behind them and praying for their freedom!
Published with permission. The Old Schoolhouse™ Magazine. www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com.
Claire Novak is a freelance writer and journalist. Her articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including The Girlhood Home Companion, The Pebbly Brook Farm Journal, and The Camp Chase Gazette. She also performs living history interpretations, teaches piano, and works at Cowboy Dreams, a Therapeutic Riding Center for children with Special Needs. Claire plays an active role in her family's ministry, The Gift of Family Writing. Visit their website at www.giftoffamilywriting.com.