The Konrad decision and the American reaction
The recent Konrad decision by the European Court of Human Rights has caused a printed brouhaha among American organizations who support Christian homeschooling. In some quarters, the decision is being used to frame the plight of the German homeschooling families as an American problem in that American judges will start using European rulings to decide American cases. This ‘it’s all about me’ drama queen point of view takes the focus away from understanding the cultural differences between some, but not all, homeschooling families in Germany, and the indigenous German culture, laws and bureaucracy.
I hope, by presenting this information, to demonstrate that the situation in Germany concerning homeschooling is not just a match-made-in-hell combination of those wicked Nazis being supported by socialist judges. The situation is complex, has deep roots, and may have a strong cultural connection.
So you’ll know when you’re getting near the end, the sections in this essay are:
- German culture
- Whose Christianity?
- The danger of international law?
- We said, they said (American articles and German articles)
Germans take pride in their country’s connection to education, science and culture. Examples are the Pestalozzi-Froebel Haus in Berlin, streets named after scientists (Fraunhofer was a physicist), and the number of museums around the country. Kindergarten (invented by Froebel) is German for children’s garden.
The compulsory school culture in Germany is also important. It has a history that goes back much farther than Adolph Hitler making compulsory attendance laws.
Gesetzliche Bestimmungen zur Schulpflicht wurden zuerst im seinerzeitigen Norddeutschland im 18. Jahrhundert erlassen, z.B. durch die Principia regulativa des Koenigs Friedrich Wilhelm I., (1717), fuer ganz Preussen durch das Generallandschulreglement Friedrichs des Grossen von 1763 bestaetigt.
Legal regulations for compulsory schooling were first issued in the 18th century in Northern Germany, e.g. by the Principia regulation of King Friedrich Wilhelm I., (1717), for all of Prussia through the general regional school regulation as confirmed by Friedrich of the Great of in 1763.
Because of the state-funding of much of the education from primary schools (but not Kindergartens) up to and through vocational schools and universities, the paths of students are determined by testing, not by the ability to pay. Because the testing is the sole means of entry into higher level schools, if you don’t have a test, you don’t make progress. If you’re not in school, you can’t take a test. (although I was told of one recent exception to this, so slow change may have started) This school to work model is the one that some Americans object to, but it seems to work within the German context. The cultural back-story to that model might be the older guild system.
For everyday Germans the initial perception might be ‘homeschooling = no training’ because the children are outside both the vocational and academic educational paths. This reaction is not surprising as even on an American blog a recent article about unschooling evoked that kind of comment, “So when they grow up and start demanding social programs because they aren’t prepared for adulthood… I can hardly wait.”
Another aspect of why there may be strong resistance to homeschooling, if homeschooling is seen as something that wants to be outside the cultural norm, is the turmoil that has riven Europe, and the lands that would become Germany, for a very long time.
- 1405 Appenzell War, 1444 Old Zurich War, 1499 Swabian War (Liechtenstein history)
- 1504 Landshut War of Succession
- 1554 Peace of Augsburg
- 1546 The Schmalkaldic War
- 1618-1648 Thirty Years’ War
- 1704 Battle of Blenheim
- 1778 War of Bavarian Succession (Potato War)
- 1803 Napoleonic Wars
- 1914 The Great War (World War I)
- 1939 World War II
After all that turmoil, the Baader-Meinhof years in the 1960s and 1970s must be considered. Terror in general continued with the urban terrorism of the Red Army Faction which was connected with other terror organizations in Europe and the Middle East. The current growth of Islamism in Europe may be further cause for unease in the wake of continued terrorism such as the Madrid and London bombings. The call for the observation of Islamic Sharia law in the U.K. points to the development of ‘parallel societies.’
A seeming result of this history — with wars being fought in your town, not across an ocean — is that Germans, in particular, revere orderliness. The catchphrase is, “Ordnung muss sein” — “There must be order.” American immigrants find it difficult to keep up with Germans in terms of orderly housekeeping and cooking. Saturday window-washing and sweeping of sidewalks are well-established rituals.
In his 2006 book, The Culture Code, Clotaire Rapaille says, “Without knowing it, Lego [in reference to marketing] had tapped into the Culture Code for Germany itself: ORDER. [all caps in original] Over many generations, Germans perfected bureaucracy in an effort to stave off the chaos that came to them in wave after wave, and Germans are imprinted early on with this most powerful of codes. The imprint makes children reach dutifully for the instructions, and that Code prevents them from immediately destroying their neat construction in order to build it anew. Lego’s elegant, full-color instructions had tapped into the German Code in a way that assured repeat sales.”
An interesting aspect of the conflict brought about by homeschooling in Germany is that all of the reported problems are from the western part of Germany, which has remained Christian in outlook. The formerly-Communist eastern part apparently doesn’t have an interest (yet?) in homeschooling.
General culture aside, a problem in the Konrad decision, is that the parents want to homeschool to instill ‘Christian’ values, something that may puzzle some Germans. For homeschooling families in Germany, it seems to be spitting into the wind to say that they want to homeschool their children for Christian reasons in the former Holy Roman Empire, the land of Luther and the Reformation, and a country where the highest mountain has a gold cross on it.
European Court of Human Rights, Fritz Konrad and others against Germany
They educated their children at home in accordance with the syllabus and materials of the “Philadelphia School”, an institution based in Siegen which is not recognised as a private school by the State. That institution specialises in assisting devout Christian parents in educating their children at home. …
The amended 1983 school regulation for the state in which the family lives, Baden Wurttemberg, states:
Schulgesetz fuer Baden-Wuerttemberg (SchG) in der Fassung vom 1. August 1983 [note: item no longer at site]
(PDF page 2) … in Verantwortung vor Gott, im Geiste christlicher Naechstenliebe, zur Menschlichkeit und Friedensliebe, in der Liebe zu Volk und Heimat, …
… within responsibility before God, in the spirit of Christian charity, humanity and love of peace, in the love for the People and homeland, …
Baden-Wurttemberg has a long Christian history, as evidenced by the 500-year anniversary of the Catholic congregation in the town I used to live in.
This small section points up the discrepancy by what is meant as a Christian education. For better understanding all around, using denominational concerns rather than some kind of universal Christianity might be helpful, in addition to the founder of a Christian distance-learning school refraining from threatening the country with being overtaken by Baptist children. (see German article below: SCHOOL BOYCOTT — Pulling no punches with the truants)
The U.S. State Department website has the following information concerning the religious makeup of Germany.
The Roman Catholic Church had a membership of approximately 26.2 million. The Evangelical Church, a confederation of the Lutheran, Uniate, and Reformed Protestant churches, had approximately 25.8 million members. Together, these two churches accounted for nearly two-thirds of the population.
Another wrinkle is to take into account the early German Protestant reaction to Pentecostalism. Apparently the traditional church hierarchy considered practices such as ‘speaking in tongues’ to be Satanic heresy, not inspirational. An interesting history is provided by “Dominik” on his journey:
Dominik’s Journey blog, The Berlin Declaration
One unique feature of the German churches is that “about two thirds of the population (in western Germany more, in eastern Germany less) have [continued to maintain] formal memberships in one of these two [state, i.e. Catholic and Lutheran] churches [called Landeskirchen]“. Despite controversies within the Lutheran church, a common desire to bring renewal from within remained. For the longest time, even the newly emerging Pentecostal movement in the beginning of the 20th century regarded itself as a movement within the Lutheran state church, and not as a separate denomination.
The origins of German Pentecostalism can be directly linked to the Holiness movement in the 19th century. Initially, a resurgence of Pietism within the German Lutheran churches developed, especially in south-western Baden-WÃ¼rttemberg.
The entire debate over speaking in tongues, unheard of manifestations, and possible demonic influences grew over a two year period and finally reached its climax in 1909 with the Berlin Declaration, which also marked the split of the newly emerging Pentecostal movement from the Gnadauer Verband.
The danger of international law?
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that memes travel from one country to another, and judges are people whom one would expect to be informed about international news. Still, the emphasis in helping homeschooling families in Germany find how to fit homeschooling into German culture should be on practical ways to do this, not in feathering American nests with jurisprudential ‘what ifs.’ Lifesite: “The Home School Legal Defense Association’s (HSLDA) Chairman and General Counsel, Michael Farris, warns that even though the U.S. has never ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the convention may still be binding on citizens because of activist judges.”
A more useful approach to promoting understanding between homeschooling parents in Germany and German authorities might be to take into consideration the German culture and how homeschooling can fit into it. In The Culture Code, Mr. Rapaille observes, “When one seeks to bring something new to a culture, one must adapt the idea to the culture. It doesn’t work the other way.” If homeschooling parents in Germany could do that, then there should be a decrease in the number of homeschooling cases before the Human Rights court, and a decrease in the number and type of memes available to American jurists.
Consequently home education and the conflicting responses to it represent a key site for exploring the meanings of democracy and the purpose of education.
Calling up the German embassy to tell them their schooling laws are wrong is as culturally useful as telling Germans that their local McDonald’s restaurant shouldn’t sell beer.
The reading of legal decisions such as Konrad is dependent on point of view. A nutshell example for American readers might be the Second Amendment discussion in the United States: what constitutes the “militia?”
To read the Konrad decision in a European context, a list member of the HSWatch email discussion group has recommended reading the linked cases that follow. The essay above (“Home Education: A Human Right?”) is useful, too.
The links for the cases are to synopses for a quick overview of what each one was about. The full texts can be searched for at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) site Links to the ECHR site time out, so new searches must be done each time.
Kjeldsen (1976; sex education in Denmark)
53. It follows in the first place from the preceding paragraph that the setting and planning of the curriculum fall in principle within the competence of the Contracting States. This mainly involves questions of expediency on which it is not for the Court to rule and whose solution may legitimately vary according to the country and the era. In particular, the second sentence of Article 2 of the Protocol (P1-2) does not prevent States from imparting through teaching or education information or knowledge of a directly or indirectly religious or philosophical kind. It does not even permit parents to object to the integration of such teaching or education in the school curriculum, for otherwise all institutionalised teaching would run the risk of proving impracticable. In fact, it seems very difficult for many subjects taught at school not to have, to a greater or lesser extent, some philosophical complexion or implications. The same is true of religious affinities if one remembers the existence of religions forming a very broad dogmatic and moral entity which has or may have answers to every question of a philosophical, cosmological or moral nature.
In Kjeldsen, there is a single dissenting opinion from Judge A. Verdross:
I am in agreement with the Danish Government’s starting point, which is upheld in the judgment, namely that no provision in the Convention prevents the Contracting States from integrating in their school systems instruction on sexual matters and from thereby making such instruction in principle compulsory. The second sentence of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (P1-2) thus does not prevent the States from disseminating in State schools, by means of the teaching given, objective information of a religious or philosophical character. However, this freedom enjoyed by the States is limited by the second sentence of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (P1-2) according to which parents may require that their religious and philosophical convictions be respected in this teaching.
Campbell and Cosens (1982, UK/Scotland, corporal punishment)
… [parental convictions] must not conflict with the fundamental right of the child to education, …
Not quoted in Konrad, but also of interest is Leuffen v. Germany. Part of the court’s opinion about Leuffen was, “The Commission notes that the first sentence of Article 2 of Protocol No 1 (P1-2) enshrines the fundamental right of the child to education. This right by its very nature calls for regulation by the State, regulation which may vary in time and place according to the needs and resources of the community and of individuals.” The application was ruled inadmissible.
We said, they said
The first collection of articles that follow are from American sources. The second set are German. It is evident that the American sites reporting about the homeschooling situation in Germany have a different focus than those reporting in Germany. The emphasis that the American organizations use seems to be cultural bias, cultural ignorance or a specific way to characterize the situation to cause Americans to see the situation as dangerous to them.
Lifesite, Niagara Falls, New York, 15 September 2006, Germany Uses Nazi Era Law to Imprison Mom for Homeschooling; Family Flees to Austria
The sudden arrest of Katherina Plett has also evoked a growing realization that the ghosts of Nazi Germany have resurged, as German authorities have cracked down on homeschooling families (mostly Christian), who have no intention of letting the German schools indoctrinate their children with anti-Christian values.
Lifesite, Niagara Falls, New York, 27 September 2006, European Human Rights Court Rules State May Deny Parents Right to Home School Their Children
Authorities have dealt with resistance to Hitler’s ban on homeschooling imposed on Germany in 1938 in a manner more consistent with Nazi Germany as families face imprisonment, heavy fines, the state seizure of their children, or are forced to seek asylum for their convictions in neighboring countries.
WDC Media News, Los Angeles, California, 4 October 2006, HomeSchooling Families Under the Governments Thumb in Deutschland (sic)
A U.S.-based home-school group says home-schooling families in Germany are facing increasing persecution from their government and need help from concerned Americans. …
Both the German court and the human rights panel rejected the parents’ argument that compulsory school attendance endangered their children’s religious upbringing and promotes teaching inconsistent with the family’s Christian faith. Of particular concern to the parents was the secular content of the sex education material their children would be exposed to under the state’s program.
The U.S.-based Home School Legal Defense Association says almost 40 home-schooling families in Germany are involved in such legal battles. According to WorldNetDaily, the group is calling on people to contact the German embassy in Washington to protest such laws, which they say began when Adolf Hitler was in power.
Baptist Press News, Nashville, Tennessee, 4 October 2006, Germany persecutes homeschooling parents
One of the first acts Adolph Hitler initiated when he gained power in Germany was to create a Ministry of Education that would control all schools, Practical Homeschooling Magazine said, and even today German officials are enforcing an anti-homeschooling law.
Christian News Wire, Washington, D.C., 11 October 2006, Carlson Blasts European Decision on Home-Schooling (also at: World Congress of Families, Rockford, Illinois, 11 October 2006, Carlson blasts European decision on homeschooling )
World Congress of Families President Dr. Allan Carlson said he was appalled by the decision of the European Human Rights Court in Strasburg which upheld a German ban on home-schooling.
“The ban was instituted by the Nazis and it’s a device worthy of the Nazis,” Carlson declared. “The European Convention on Human Rights notwithstanding, the court specifically held that parents do not have a right to direct their children’s education.”
The case concerned German Christian families who objected to life-style indoctrination in public schools, in the guise of sex education.
Notes for German articles:
- Der Spiegel is a news magazine, not a catalog; the name means ‘mirror.’
- The Philadelphia Bewegung (Philadelphia Movement) is a German Pentecostal movement. Pentecostalism was imported into Germany in the early 1900s and was formally opposed as satanic by the German Protestant church in 1909 in the Berliner Erklaerung because, in part, of the ‘unorderly’ speaking in tongues which appeared to be demonic possession rather than inspired speaking (Berlin Declaration [translation by Google]). This was during the time of Kaiser Wilhelm (a grandson of England’s Queen Victoria) not Adolf Hitler. Also, the Weimar Republic fell between the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm and the election of Hitler.
- Pfingsten is Pentecost.
- In the references I’ve seen, Evangelische (ending in ‘e’) and Evangelish (no final ‘e’) are not the same thing. Evangelische roughly means Protestant in Germany, which translates in the U.S. to a variety of Lutheran (Luther = protester = Protestant). In some references, Evangelisch corresponds to the American use of ‘evangelical.’
- The Konrad family is in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg.
- The Philadelphia Schule is in Siegen, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
- The Russian Baptists are in the city of Paderborn, also in North Rhine-Westphalia.
- The Twelve Tribes group in Germany are in the town of Deiningen in Bavaria, a southern state. The group lives in a historic monastery with a long local history.
- Schulunterricht zu Hause is another German homeschooling support group. It is located in Dreieich in the state of Hesse.
- weird computer translations: “nut/mother” for “mutter” (mother) is because “mutter” is also a hardware term for a nut that goes onto a bolt; “sparkling wine” for “sekt” (sect) because in German the words for sect and sparkling wine are homonyms; “twelve trunks” for “Zwoelf Staemme,” instead of “Twelve Tribes (a California export);” “it” for “she,” “her,” “it,” “they,” and “them” (in German, sie and Sie), and “it’s” for “its,” “his,” “her,” … just because?
- Use the LEO dictionary for untranslated words
- [2008 note after WordPress update that mangled much of the coding] Letters with umlauts — those two dots over a, o or u — in this post, are now spelled with the ae, oe, or ue variant because the latest WordPress updae didn’t like umlauts and changed them to “Ã¼.”
Even more drastically, Helmut Stuecher, 65, expresses himself. The tax accountant from Siegen founded the Philadelphia School years ago specifically as a Christian homeschool movement, one that the Barath family also followed. “The school robbed the children,” stated Stuecher. “God, prayer and the Bible are abolished.” …
The teaching material was purchased by mother Susanne Barath from a Christian publishing house in Austria, she learned of the instruction from a weekend seminar by the Philadelphia Movement.
Other articles from Welt are:
- 30 August 2006, Schulverweigerer sind offenbar in Oesterreich (School truants are apparently in Austria [translated])
- 31 August 2006, Flucht: Schulverweigerer melden sich ab – Sorgerechtsverfahren laueft weiter (Flight: School truants give notice of departure — Custody procedure continues [translated])
- 1 September 2006, Schulverweigerer fuehlen sich als Christen verfolgt (School truants feel themselves pursued as Christians [translated])
- 1 September 2006, Schulboykotteure moeglicherweise bald wieder unterwegs (School truants possibly continue their journey)
The following articles are from Spiegel Online, Hamburg, Germany.
Also the OLG [appellate court] Frankfurt classified the general compulsory schooling duty more highly than the freedom of conscience and faith of parents and followed the argumentation of the Giessen judges: One does not acquire a right to contradict scientific realizations because of religious convictions.
22 April 2005, SCHULBOYKOTT Mit harten Bandagen gegen Verweigerer (SCHOOL BOYCOTT — Pulling no punches with the truants — translation by Google )
The little religion and school war in East Westfalia has another facet — the parents there are obviously not acting alone but are finding support from nation-wide organizations orienting themselves in turn towards “Home-Schooling” in other lands, particularly the USA. Because of this Manfred Mueller, district magistrate of Paderborn county asked that the parents separate themselves from “external advisors.” Mueller announced that in the school controversy all legal remedies would be exhausted — the compulsory schooling is a state civic duty, it shall not be bargained or negotiated.
Announcement because of high treason
Mueller had already filed charges against Helmut Stuecher, the founder of the Philadelphia School, an unaccredited Christian homeschooling organization in Siegen. The grounds are rather unusual: the district magistrate accused Stuecher of treason and incitement of the people. In a letter to the authorities Stuecher wrote, among other things, that the Baptists have, “with their “zigtausend” [something-thousand; "zig" appears in no dictionaries] children, the potential to transform Germany overnight into an unconstitutional totalitarian state.” Therefore, the Chief Federal Prosecutor in Karlsruhe must pay attention.
On the Internet, the Philadelpha School provides a set of rules about compulsory schooling simply and especially in conflict with East Westfalia. “Raise up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,” as it appears on the homepage.
Helmut Stuecher and his accomplices are strident: They are understandable only with difficulty. They use, in part, a mixture of Christian fundamentalism, references to homeschooling in other countries, crude historical comparisons, and Bible quotations to accuse the state of having a “socialistically changed and unchristian educational system”, in addition to “brute force”, “frivolous sex education”, and over and over again, so-called parallels to the Nazi era (“We’re having another persecution as we did 60 years ago”).
Other Spiegel articles are:
- 9 October 2004, Sieben bibeltreue Vaeter muessen ins Gefaengnis (Seven Biblically fundamentalistic fathers must go to prison [translation by Google) Twelve Tribes
- 18 October 2004, Sieben Vaeter widerstandslos verhaftet (Seven fathers arrested without resistance [translation by Google]) Twelve Tribes
- 11 January 2005, Baptisten nehmen Kinder aus der Grundschule (Baptists take their children out of the elementary school [translation by Google])
- 8 February 2005, Schulboykotteure wollen eigene Schule gruenden (School boycotters want to establish their own school [translation by Google]) Russian Baptists
The following articles are in English from Deutsche Welle.
- 25 December 2004, Living Room Lessons Not Easy in Germany
- 7 September 2006, Anti-Americanism, Homeschooling and Happy Housewives (letters to the editor)
- 31 August 2006, Fundamentalist Christian Group Gets School of Their Own (Twelve Tribes)
- 6 September 2006, German Parents Wanting to Homeschool Turn to EU Court
After reading, as best as possible, this short history of homeschooling in Germany, it appears that:
homeschooling is still illegal, but not impossible
the American perception of why homeschooling is illegal is different from the German rationale
‘Hitler didn’t do it’
intemperate words have been used on both sides of the Atlantic
the cases presented so far to the European Court of Human Rights have not been adequate in establishing homeschooling as a right in Germany
the German public is becoming aware of homeschooling
the German homeschooling connection to fundamentalist Christianity is being strengthened
In further reporting about the homeschooling situation in Germany, I hope that reporters find someone who can read German and that the whole situation is presented, not just the sensational bits. I hope not to read online misperceptions on email lists and by bloggers such as ‘Germans say homeschooling is high treason.’ (according to the article, it was Herr Stuecher who was accused of high treason and inciting people to violence, not ‘homeschooling’)