Homeschooling in Germany...Nazi era education laws?
Recently, Valerie Bonham Moon from Home Education Magazine posted an informative entry on her blog on the homeschooling situation in Germany. Her overall point is that way too much emphasis is being made on what this means for us in America given "activist judges." It is a good entry providing a lot of insight into the situation. I tried to leave a comment, but have historically had problems logging in over there so I did not persist. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized there is a lot more on the topic I'd like to share, should anyone care to read it. To start with, let me emphasize that my main interest in the topic is that it combines two acute interests of mine...homeschooling and Germany, a land I at times feel a great deal of homesickness for. I received a Congress-Bundestag scholarship to study as an exchange student my senior year in high school which involved living with a German family and attending a German school. I received another scholarship from the University of Kansas to study at the University of Kiel as a graduate student. It was similar to a Fulbright, but only open to KU students.

Nazi-era education laws

This is a phrase used in some variation in a lot of the reporting in the US, however, US blogs and news sources are not the source. German history is complex. To determine the origins of modern Germany's compulsory attendance laws, one must first determine what Germany even means in an historic sense. This is an issue I was first presented with in 1992 while working on a paper for my government class at the Integrierte Gesamtschule zu Aurich, where I studied as an exchange student for one academic year. In talking to Germans, I was frequently corrected when I spoke of the "reunification." Germany was not "reunified" as it did not exist prior to 1949. Some will point out that "modern Germany" is only 16 years old. I tend to view "Germany" as a continuous nation from 1949 until present. Germans themselves generally see a stark break with Hitler's was another country in another age. Is the existence of similar laws under the Nazi regime indicative of a nation that has adopted a similar philosophy, or are the two completely separate? To the American, there are a number of laws in Germany that are perplexing and seem throw-backs to Hitler. The state has far greater control there than here. Germany doesn't pretend to be a free-market economy. The term I learned in my government class was, "Sozialmarktwirtschaft," or "Social Market Economy." The affairs of the nation are largely run by the state for the good of the people. That is antithetical to the traditional American worldview in many respects.

It is of little surprise that the education of children would be closely monitored, with or without Nazi origins. However, I would like to point out that, despite the frequency of "compulsory education" requirements throughout the history of the Germanic peoples, school attendance has only been forced with potential legal consequences for noncompliance since 1938, under Adolf Hitler. And again, World-Net Daily, LifeSite and the Brussels Journal are not the only sources making the connection. Here are some more:

Sheila Lange, a blogger who is trying to homeschool in Germany, a homeschool support site I have been referred to by a couple of different families homeschooling in Germany., a German news site.
And, Thomas Spiegler a student of the Department of Sociology of Phillipps-University at Marburg, Germany:
However, there are good reasons to assume that school rules until the 19th century were predominantly only declarations of intent. In most of the areas, they failed to put compulsory school attendance into effect (Herrlitz, 1998: 52-5 Mors, 1986: 151-152). Until 1919, Germany had compulsory education, which could be fulfilled by private tuition or home education (Avenarius, 2000: 450). The first obligatory compulsory school attendance arose in the Weimar Republic. But even the primary school law of the German Reich (Reichsgrundschulgesetz ) from 1920 included a special regulation which was used a lot to maintain the possibility of private tuition (Nave, 1980: 141). Only the law about compulsory school attendance from 1938 (Reichsschulpflichtgesetz) was the first general regulation in the German Reich without exceptions and with criminal consequences in case of contraventions (Habermalz, 2001: 218). This law had considerable influence on the formation of the contemporary laws about compulsory school attendance in the German La¨nder.
It is even noted in the Neubronner family's paperwork requesting permission to homeschool in Bremen.

This isn't just "American sensationalism." I don't know how useful this fact is to the general discussion of the topic. Germans are quite capable of writing up compulsory school attendance laws without the help of Hitler. In fact, it is quite easy to characterize Germany by its National Socialist history, especially for the American who (still) has a fundamental distrust of socialism, but that perception is not altogether accurate.

I could note a variety of facts. Such as the number of former Nazi members who resumed political office or positions as industrial leaders after the war. Or the number of politicians (this was true when I was there in the early 90's) who were the children or grandchildren of Nazis. Or the fact that Nazi violence has become so prevalent in some areas that the press no longer bothers reporting it. Or the sudden increase in recognition the party received directly after the unification. Or the fact that they tied the ruling SPD in an election in Saxony in 2004, gaining representation in the state parliament. Or the fact that someone selling anti-Nazi symbols was found guilty and fined 3,600 Euro for promoting unconstitutional organizations. There is more to that last one, obviously. Displaying the swastika is illegal, no matter the context. The judge feared that a "commercial mass distribution" of such symbols would cause the symbols to again become in-patriated.

That last judgment hints at my overall impression of Germany's relationship to National Socialism. I'm not an historian, nor am I a sociologist. I'm just an American with some experience living there who had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about a lot of things. Overall, I think the German nation is so afraid of the specter of its Nazi past that it employs techniques that to us seem Nazi-like in order to control and suppress the neo-Nazi organizations. The fact that many party members were allowed to return to their work after the war points to an understanding that much of the Nazi political "machine" was fueled by fear. Not every member of the Party was a Nazi at heart. A lot of them just did not want to get shot themselves. Post-unification, immigration grew swiftly as a concern among Germans and many did not feel that any of the parties were addressing it...except the Nazis. And we have youth gangs here in the US. Ours have a lot to do with drugs, but imagine if our history afforded them a single organization to adhere to. If they were to then form a political party, it would not be unreasonable to expect them to have a statistically significant turn-out at the polls.

And remember that the German constitution has a very different history than our own. While it was written and approved by German elected representatives, the entire nation was still under the control of the allied powers. Partial sovereignty was granted shortly after the signing of the constitution, but full sovereignty was still many years away.

As it effects education, and home education in specific, the constitution is interesting. Article 7, paragraph 1 states that "The entire school system stands under the supervision of the state." Power for this supervision is given to the states (Bundeslaender). State constitutions vary. However, it would seem that homeschooling would be quite possible under the current law, albeit with heavy state oversight. As Dr. Ronald Reichert, an attorney in Bonn says (my translation):
...the law says, "Homeschooling is illegal." That is an assertion. In reality, school instruction occurring in the home is not illegal. There is no legal ban on homeschooling. That isn't the case. We do not have a problem with the law, instead we have a problem with the practice, or more correctly: a problem with the thinking. Homeschooling is not unlawful, rather it is unwanted.
He then outlines his constitutional argument for this claim. He summarizes two points in the state laws which he says are more or less the same in all of the states:
In place of attendance in primary school, other instruction may be permitted by the school supervising authority only as an exception in special cases.

The school administration can permit exception if the education and instruction is ensured adequately by another means.
The laws of any nation more or less reflect the opinions of those who put the officials in charge. Particularly in a representative system such as Germany. If this interpretation is accurate, it seems to me that homeschooling in Germany is exactly where it was here 20-30 years ago. People had problems with the law. Some were ignored (as many cases in Germany are), some were harassed, some were taken to court and some even served sentences. The difference as I see it, however, is that as the cases came up to the higher courts, the rights of the homeschooling parents won out over the interests of the state in education. As these cases continue to be covered and more information becomes available to the German people, it is very likely that the legal status of homeschooling can be changed, even without changing the constitution or perhaps even the current laws.

That is probably enough for now. I'll post more on the topic next time. Incidentally, if you read this Valerie, you were right in your guess at "zigtausend" meaning something like "tens of thousands." I guess you could say it is somewhat similar to our "umpteen," although representing a much larger number. Ha! What do you know, but that my dictionary actually translates it that way?
zig adj (inf) umpteen (inf). -hundert umpteen hundred
I didn't think it would be there, but then I thought that I do have a pretty good dictionary that got me through a year of university work over there!

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