While scanning the most recent links at this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling in the “Labor — miscellaneous” category, I saw a post that caught my interest. The writer at Principled Discovery makes her observations about the German situation concerning homeschooling: “Germany, Homeschooling and the Separation of Church and State.”
Articles about the European attitude towards homeschooling, and the German attitude in particular, are interesting to me because I lived in Germany most of my adult life, and spent all but two of our homeschooling years there. The remaining two were in Belgium, yet another homeschool-news hotspot.
Despite the high profile of the countries’ attitudes towards homeschooling, apparently Germany and Belgium are not the only two European countries that limit the liberty to choose home education. According to a comment on HEM-Networking last December by a list-member from the U.K., Spain, Greece and Ireland don’t allow homeschooling, and France and the Netherlands restrict its practice. The story referenced by Principled Discovery, though, has attracted more attention. The situations affecting homeschooling families in Europe deserve our interest, but we need to pick our battles wisely in supporting them.
Some of Principled Discovery’s observations are:
The families cited in this particular case belong to “Zwlf Stmme” or “Twelve Tribes.” In Germany, this is recognized as one of many “pseudo-Chrisitian” cult groups. Twelve Tribes has been in the news a lot recently due to this case and the fact that they all home educate.
The use of the group’s German name, and the translation of “Zwlf Stmme” to “Twelve Tribes” in the text, gives the impression that this group is a native German group seeking freedom from its own oppressive culture. In actuality, Twelve Tribes started in California and was exported: The Twelve Tribes — A root out of dry ground.
Principled Discovery continues,
The discussion of homeschooling in Germany really cannot continue without an understanding of what it means to be a cult in Germany because 1) all homeschooling families in Germany do so for religious reasons and 2) they are all generally viewed as being members of a cult.
All families who homeschool in Germany are not doing so for religious reasons. Some are emigrants from other countries who find the German education system ‘too German.’ I base this observation on stories told to me by friends who knew the (reported) details of pre-1990s homeschool ‘cases,’ from the non-military members of the support group I belonged to in Heidelberg, and from observations by expatriate friends (not only from America) with children in German schools.
The people who attract attention because of homeschooling in Germany may be homeschooling for religious reasons, but not all people who manage to homeschool in Germany attract attention. The “ordinarily resident” homeschoolers (meaning homeschooling families in foreign countries who are neither tourists, nor militarily affiliated) can also be contractors from abroad, or perhaps families from other countries on sabbatical in Germany.
Regarding school in Germany, there are also many naturalized families, and families with one parent from another country, who have accepted German culture and whose children stay in German schools.
The characterization of the Twelve Tribes as being a cult is not restricted to opinions in Germany:
Boston Herald, Boston, Massachusetts, 6 September 2001 Inspectors to probe allegations cult runs Hub rooming house (via Rick Ross)
City housing inspectors are slated to visit the Dorchester headquarters of the Twelve Tribes cult today to look into allegations that they may be running an illegal rooming house, among other possible violations.
Those who’ve left the group describe the cult as a brainwashing sham religion that sucks members dry of their money and property and forces them into a life of indentured servitude.
The sect has been embroiled in a number of child custody scandals, in addition to an ongoing child labor probe in New York, and there have been investigations into newborn deaths. Ex-members also say kids have died of preventable diseases such as whooping cough and hepatitis over the years because children are not vaccinated or taken to doctors.
Members admit that adults are permitted to strike kids with thin sticks but they say it is merely discipline, not abuse. They also admit that children sometimes work with them in their shops and factories but deny violating child labor laws.
Painting the homeschooling situation in Germany as purely religious — usually meaning a conservative form of Protestantism — is a misapprehension from afar, and using the Twelve Tribes as poster children for homeschool liberty is a questionable choice.
As far as cults go, yes the Germans do view some groups as worthy of investigation, Scientologists in particular.
Spiegel Online, Hamburg, Germany, 22 June 2006, Suspicious Tutoring
The German authorities have long been suspicious of Scientology. The Federal Labor Court ruled in 1995 that the Scientology branch in Hamburg was not a religious congregation, but clearly a commercial enterprise. Then in 1997 the Federal Administrative Court ruled that it was irrelevant whether Scientology was a religion, as its legal status must be judged by its level of commercial activity.
But for Principled Discovery to say that either the federal German government, or the governments of the states, do this to all denominations other than the Evangelische (Evangelical/Lutheran/Protestant) or Katholisch (Catholic) denominations is untrue.
Everything outside of these two churches thus tends to be viewed as a cult, from the scientologists to the Southern Baptists.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, our family were members of the Church of the Ascension, an Anglican-Episcopal congregation in Munich. Members of the church who were able (but not obligated) to pay the German church tax (Kirchsteuer) were encouraged to check the “do not contribute” box for either the Protestant fund or the Catholic fund, and privately pledge that portion to the support of Ascension (Anglican priests must maintain households, too, and the congregation appreciated heat in the winter).
Anglican/Episcopal churches in Germany do not receive support from the Kirchsteuer fund, but despite this, the map at the web site of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe indicates a number, if not a multitude, of congregations in Germany, some that have begun since I attended my last Convocation conference in 1997.
The balance of the opinion in the blog post is about the separation of church and state in the United States, and subsequent oversight of churches by government. I don’t know that we have so much governmental activity in churches in the United States as we are developing religious activity in government.
In any case, there are many cultural differences in other countries that will seem at odds with our own version of love of liberty, and vice versa.
Business Week Online, 28 July 2006, Wal-Mart’s German Retreat
The retreat is hardly surprising given Wal-Mart’s numerous missteps in Germany. Perhaps its most glaring was misjudging the German consumer and business culture. For instance, German Wal-Marts adopted the U.S. custom of bagging groceries, which many German consumers find distasteful because they tend not to like strangers handling their food
Heck, I coulda told ’em that. That tendency is further played out at fruit and vegetable stands where the proprietor is the only person allowed to handle the produce. There is no sorting through the fruits and veg looking for the best item.
My own pet peeve in the culture wars is not getting to pick my own restaurant table here in the U.S. What kind of full-employment micro-management technique is that? (yes, I know there are ‘reasons,’ I just find it a constraint on my seating-liberty after decades of being able to choose a table by the window, or one away from the door)
Our view of impingement on liberty misses much of the cultural context. I do prefer the American liberty to homeschool my own children as I saw fit, but at the same time, I know that the concerns by people with different viewpoints make sense from their point of view. If we want to make our points internationally, I hope we pick better examples of infringement than those involving groups about whom people in our own country have found reasons for investigation.