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Vol. XXV
No. 1
Cover
January/February
2009

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by Michael P. Donnelly & Dagmar Neubronner
- disclaimer -
A German Perspective

When Thomas and Moritz Neubronner began to struggle in their local public school in Bremen, Germany, because of issues like bullying and the slow pace of instruction, their parents, Tilman and Dagmar, became concerned. Believing that their children should enjoy life and be interested in learning, the Neubronners brought their children home.

The Neubronner Family
The Neubronner family fled from Germany to France to homeschool freely.

Few German parents are willing to face the severe consequences that the state tries to apply to those who would dare to homeschool their children. Tilman and Dagmar Neubronner were subject to severe fines for teaching Thomas and Moritz at home. Eventually, the threat of custody action against their children forced the family to move to France.

The Neubronners now have an active case against the German authorities for depriving them of their rights as parents to educate their children, and Dagmar is actively working for change on behalf of German homeschoolers. I asked her why things are this way in Germany, and she gave the following explanation:

The Fatherland

Germans greatly trust their government or “Father State.” Family is not highly valued. We don’t hear anything positive about families from our government. Most families do not think they should carry the responsibility of the education of their children without government help.

Germany is very proud of her old Prussian heritage of compulsory schooling. It is seen as a big cultural achievement. To say school is not the optimal way to educate children touches a taboo. People can’t imagine this.

Religion is not Cool

The ancestors of many United States citizens gave up their native country for religious freedom, so the U.S. has a stronger tradition of granting religious freedom even in its unique manifestations such as the Hutterites and Amish. This kind of living in a sub-society would never be permitted in Germany. German authorities would feel an urgent need to rescue children from such groups to grant them a “normal,” mainstream life.

Because Europe has seen a lot of suffering in the confessionally motivated wars of past centuries, people are afraid of religious “fundamentalism” (any radical way of following one’s own faith).

In the U.S., people mention God, Jesus, and faith without hesitation. This is uncommon in Germany and seen as embarrassing. No German politician would ever confess his faith in other than very cautious, indirect wording. It is not cool and mainstream to be engaged in religion. It is okay to belong to one of the state religions (Catholic and Lutheran), as long as you do not talk too much about religious issues (and as long as you keep your children in school). Everything else is suspicious. So, freedom of faith has become theoretical, because people confessing their faith are seen as weird, suspicious, isolated, and members of a “parallel society.”

Another reason for this phenomenon is that many people confessing a strong religious conviction in opposition to the mainstream are not native Germans, but come from Russia (descendants from former German families that went there) or from oriental countries like Turkey (Muslims). Since most homeschoolers give religious reasons for their homeschooling, homeschooling is seen as dangerous development of “sects.” There would be far more openness towards homeschooling for pedagogical reasons, but this is difficult now.

Children Must be Protected from Their Parents

Compulsory schooling is seen as a governmental task to ensure that children become familiar with many different values instead of getting indoctrinated with only one system of values by their parents. The government thinks that children have to be protected against “too much influence” by their parents. This state suspicion of its own citizens is perhaps one of the long-term effects of the Nazi-trauma: “If you leave them alone, they might go wrong again.”

Immigration

German authorities feel overwhelmed by the task of granting immigrants a sufficient education. Fifty-one percent of children under 6 have an “emigrational background,” meaning that at least one parent was not born in Germany. Many don’t speak German well enough to follow lessons in school. Nearly nothing has been done for these children for decades, and now they form a badly educated, frustrated, and “lost” group of young people. German authorities fear that, without compulsory schooling, more migrated families would keep their children out of school—except, they stay out of school already now.