Can you believe it? Educating children at home in Germany is illegal! And I don’t mean illegal as in it’s illegal to operate a dance hall on a Sunday in South Carolina. No siree, trying to homeschool your kids in Germany is dangerous business.
I’ve known about this rule for a while now, but I never gave it much thought. When we first arrived in Germany, T-Rex was only 2, and Screech was barely 10 months old. We had no plans to stay for more than one year. Since children must already be 6 to start first grade, what concern was this homeschooling law to me? Plus, I wasn’t even sure I would want to homeschool.
Actually, I’m still not sure. But I like options. I don’t like serious fines and legal mumbo jumbo and threats about taking away custody of my children because I might decide that a German primary school isn’t the best place for them. Unfortunately, that’s the reality for any family who dares to fight the iron-clad, you-must-not-educate-your-children-yourself rule.
Germany is very serious about their compulsory education. All children are required attend a state-approved school, no exceptions. Absences must be sorted out in advance. My neighbor had to secure special permission to take her daughter out one day earlier than the scheduled Christmas break so that the family could fly to their homeland for the holiday. If she had not obtained this approval, she could’ve be stopped at the airport and denied boarding with her daughter. No, this is not North Korea we are talking about; this is Germany. One of the richest and most prosperous countries in the world is also one of the most fearful.
Fearful of what? Of course one could argue that fanatics of any religion might want to indoctrinate their children and isolate them from peers and open thinking. This is a concern to be sure. But that doesn’t seem to be the underlying thought when it comes to this particular law. No, this fear is fixated on losing control of the masses.
All governments around the world share this anxiety, at least to some degree. If enough of the people do not agree with the government and teach their children to dissent without respect, then disastrous consequences could ensue.
While these worries may be reality in some places to some extent at some time, it’s extremely pessimistic. Loads of creativity, innovation, and advancement are also possible, perhaps even likely.
Fortunately, not every country in Europe is as tyrannical as Germany when it comes to homeschooling. Sweden is an ally in Germany’s prohibition, but Switzerland, France, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom allow home education to some degree.
Do some families in Germany risk fines, imprisonment, or even losing custody of their children in order to homeschool? Yes. Some teach at home under the radar, doing their best to avoid detection. Others are advocating for change, allowing themselves to be examples to the world and hoping the exposure of their trials makes way for dialogue that leads to a reversal of the law.
But, what about Americans and other foreigners living in Germany? Are they exempt from the German education laws? Usually not. Some members of foreign armed forces or families of diplomats can get away with it. But everyone else must obey and send their children to a German school (public or private).
This is not to say that German schools are inherently bad or that they are brainwashing children on the sly. I merely aim to point out the lack of choice and bring attention to the prevailing public thought that the government knows what’s best for all children in Germany.
Be thankful for your freedoms, Americans, hug your children tightly, and pray for the wisdom to handle the challenges – educational or otherwise – of raising them.