Learn the lessons

by the Night Writer

On the heels of an article in the St. Paul paper this week about the surge in homeschooling in the U.S., I read an article today about a German family seeking political asylum in Tennessee so that they can homeschool their children.

MORRISTOWN, Tenn. — Homeschooling is so important to Uwe Romeike that the classically trained pianist sold his beloved grand pianos to pay for moving his wife and five children from Germany to the Smoky Mountain foothills of Tennessee.

Romeike, his wife, Hannelore, and their children live in a modest duplex about 40 miles northeast of Knoxville while they seek political asylum here. They say they were persecuted for their evangelical Christian beliefs and homeschooling their children in Germany, where state school attendance is compulsory.

When the Romeikes wouldn’t comply with repeated orders to send the children to school, police came to their home one October morning in 2006 and took the children, crying and upset, to school.

“We tried not to open the door, but they (police) kept ringing the doorbell for 15 or 20 minutes,” Romeike said. “They called us by phone and spoke on the answering machine and said they would knock open the door if we didn’t open it. So I opened it.”

The Romeike’s case may sound extreme, but the fact is Germany is adamantly anti-home education, as I’ve reported in this blog on a couple of occasions. The first time was in November of 2006 in a post entitled Ve haf vays…

Stones Cry Out excerpted a story last week about German police forcibly delivering home-schooled children to the local state schools.

A Nazi-era law requiring all children to attend public school, to avoid “the emergence of parallel societies based on separate philosophical convictions” that could be taught by parents at home, apparently is triggering a Nazi-like response from police.

The word comes from Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit, or Network for Freedom in Education, which confirmed that children in a family in Bissingen, in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, have been forcibly hauled to a public school.

“On Friday 20 October 2006 at around 7:30 a.m. the children of a home educating family … were brought under duress to school by police,” the organization, which describes itself as politically and religiously neutral, confirmed.

A separate weblog in the United States noted the same tragedy.

Homeschoolblogger.com noted that the “three children were picked up by the police and escorted to school in Baden-Wurttemberg, with the ‘promise’ that it would happen again this week.”

The Network for Freedom in Education, through spokesman Joerg Grosseluemern, said the Remeike family has been “home educating their children since the start of the school year, something which is legal in practically the whole of the (European Union).”

It kind of makes you wonder about a government that’s afraid of what parents might teach their children…or that believes it is the rightful parent of the nation. Perhaps they’ve read their William Ross Wallace and know that “the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world,” and they find that discomforting. I’m also amazed that this “Nazi-era” law is still on the books in Germany; it is all für der Kinder, no doubt.

This all reminds me of how the roots of the U.S. education system go deep into the Prussian model of the early 20th century (believe me, we got more than just “kindergarten” from this influence). I had started digging into this topic for a post a long time ago and got sidetracked; it might be time to resurrect this effort. For now, at least, we can appreciate that our money is the only thing the state forcibly takes from our homes and sends to public school.

Like the Pilgrims before them, the Romeikes came to America seeking religious freedom (not freedom from religion) and to live their lives free of government interference. Good thing for them they came to Tennessee, though, and not California where the education unions and courts march in goose-step together, as I wrote about here last March

More compelling was one judge’s written opinion:

“California courts have held that … parents do not have a constitutional right to home-school their children,” Justice H. Walter Croskey said in the 3-0 ruling issued on Feb. 28. “Parents have a legal duty to see to their children’s schooling under the provisions of these laws.”

Parents can be criminally prosecuted for failing to comply, Croskey said.

The ruling sent shock waves throughout the estimated 166,000 home-educators in California as well as through the California legislature and even Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said, “Every California child deserves a quality education, and parents should have the right to decide what’s best for their children. Parents should not be penalized for acting in the best interests of their children’s education. This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts, and, if the courts don’t protect parents’ rights, then, as elected officials, we will.” Interestingly enough, Schwarzenegger’s signing of SB777 last year may be one of the things that have led many parents to abandon the public schools. Give the Governator credit though; he may not be great at logic but he definitely knows how to count votes and probably realizes that whatever other political beliefs a homeschooling family may have, telling them that they have no right to educate their own children trumps them all.

Personally, I’m not shocked. California has long been the most overtly hostile state toward home-educators (ironically it’s own school system struggles to place a certified teacher in every classroom, yet would seek to mandate it in every home-school). Similarly, Education Minnesota has no love lost for home-educators and my hunch is that they wouldn’t mind if their pet DFL pupils in the Minnesota legislature were to bring them a similar bill as if it were a bright, shiny apple.

Of course, it takes a real socialist mentality to proclaim that the State is the rightful owner of your children, as I’ve documented before regarding events in England and Germany. The Germans, in fact, are still embracing the 1937 law instituted by a certain mustachioed megalomaniac that mandates compulsory state school educations. Seventy years later they’re still enforcing it by forcibly taking kids from their homes to school in police cars or even removing children from their parents’ homes and hiding them in psychiatric hospitals for evaluation.

Maybe the Germans have this thing about control, but surely a liberal democracy and member of the European Union would have respect for things like rights and constitutions, right? After all, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union declares that “the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions”. Yet according to the entry in Wikipedia where I got that quote:

Homeschooling in Germany is illegal with rare exceptions. The requirement to attend school has been upheld, on challenge from parents, by the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany. Parents violating the law have most prominently included devout Christians who want to give their children a more Christian education than what is offered by the schools. Penalties against these parents have included fines (around €5,000), successful legal actions to take away the parents’ custody of their children, and jail time for the parents.[1]

In a landmark legal case commenced in 2003 at the European Court of Human Rights a homeschooling parent couple argued on behalf of their children that Germany’s compulsory school attendance endangered their children’s religious upbringing, promoted teaching inconsistent with their Christian faith — especially the German State’s mandates relating to sex education in the schools — and contravened the declaration in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union that “the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions”. In September 2006 the European Court of Human Rights upheld the German ban on homeschooling, stating “parents may not refuse …[compulsory schooling] on the basis of their convictions”, and adding that the right to education “calls for regulation by the State”. The European Court took the position that the plaintiffs were the children, not their parents, and declared “children are unable to foresee the consequences of their parents’ decision for home education because of their young age…. Schools represent society, and it is in the children’s interest to become part of that society. The parents’ right to educate does not go as far as to deprive their children of that experience.” The European Court endorsed a “carefully reasoned” decision of the German court concerning “the general interest of society to avoid the emergence of parallel societies based on separate philosophical convictions and the importance of integrating minorities into society.”

Good luck to the Romeikes. I know from first-hand experience that the U.S. immigration and asylum courts can be very difficult. My hope for the family, and for the U.S., is that we all will enjoy prolonged freedom. Freedom requires vigilance and conviction, even to the point of risking conviction, and I hope the examples of Germany and — closer to home — California, are educational.

Update:

The real issue here isn’t what the parents believe, it is whether they or the State have the right and the responsibility to determine the best education for their children. This is fundamental, whether the State is totalitarian, benevolent or a right-wing theocracy. How would people react if their children were required by law to go to the latter? Will some parents fail spectacularly at this? Of course. And so do many schools. Yet the principles of liberty and freedom must be vigorously and vigilantly defended at every point, especially within the family.

We are better served by honoring and defending the rights of the individual than we are promoting the authority of the State. I learned that in school, once, a long time ago.

7 thoughts on “Learn the lessons

  1. “We tried not to open the door, but they (police) kept ringing the doorbell for 15 or 20 minutes,” Romeike said. “They called us by phone and spoke on the answering machine and said they would knock open the door if we didn’t open it. So I opened it.”

    Ok, WOW. I can’t decide if that’s the politest thing ever or maybe just the creepiest. Could you imagine police in America doing that? No way!

  2. @ hayden: Still…truant officers with guns? Indoctrination backed by force?

    K-9 units are also trained to be polite when mixing with the general public, yet the intimidation factor is still there. That David Banner was sure a nice guy, but “you wouldn’t like me if I were angry.”

  3. You are so right about the Charter of Fundamental Rights – it is there to make sure a parents rights are not undermined – trouble is how do you enforce it?

    Germany’s human rights violations were brought to the fore this February at the periodic review of the United Nations Charter of Human Rights review – but how do you get Germany to change really?

    They are a law unto themselves in soooo many ways.

    And one more thing – there have been several attempts to change both the english and german wikipedia articles on home education to provide a more balanced viewpoint – to no avail – tell me Wikipedia doesn’t have an agenda too!

    So the best I can do is offer you Educating Germany.

    @ Kinderlehrer – thank you for your comment and for the link. That is wonderful information you have provided, and I urge everyone to visit the site. I was very interested to read about the US dance team going to Germany this summer to perform and to support German homeschool parents.

    Everyone must remember that individual give power to the government, not the other way around. Sadly, that’s not what is likely to be taught in the schools these days – in Germany or the U.S.

  4. I know where you’re coming from Hayden, and on a couple of levels. It is an absurd picture to think of US police ringing the doorbell…almost as absurd (I hope) as imagining US police breaking into your home to take your kids to school…or people willing to equate home-education with child abuse.

    As you well know, not every home and family is guaranteed to be a loving and nurturing one. Similarly, not every government will govern wisely. Granted, a bad family can have significant consequences but, as you’ve proven, it doesn’t have to define you. As horrible as it might be, one may still break away from one’s family if it becomes necessary; it’s not so easy to break away from the State.

    That’s why self-government should be the highest form of government, with power granted outward in ever-larger circles – to family, church, community, county, state, etc., instead of big government reaching down layer after layer to control the individual. That’s why American states were envisioned by the founders to be “laboratories of democracy” protected from federal control. The smaller groups can still make mistakes, but the impact is not as severe.

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