When the State comes for your kids: Fight!
Going out with my three kids during a morning on a regular week day could get me into trouble, annoying questions guaranteed. My 8 year old daughter doesn’t go to school. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if we lived in the US, in Australia, or even in most other European Countries.
We live in Germany, though. In a State that claims a right and even calls it its duty (“staatlicher Bildungsauftrag”) to educate the children, telling us parents we could not possibly be trusted. Homeschooling is officially viewed as child neglect. My husband and I knew this when we decided not to enroll our oldest daughter in the local elementary school back in 2014. We knew that we would face threats of violence: fines, Schulzwang (police escort to school and back home after school), trials, maybe even jail.
Fortunately, I made up my mind about unschooling some years before my daughter’s sixth birthday. I recall trying to look for alternatives to traditional schooling — Waldorf Schools, Montessori Schools, a Sudbury inspired school — but none of these alternatives would satisfy me even a bit. The prospect of disobeying authorities and engaging in something considered illegal by the government would scare me at first, leaving me restless and sometimes even sleepless. While learning more about unschooling I found an article about Dr. Ron Paul on the Facebook-Page of the “Unschool Bus”. I had never heard of Dr. Paul before, but I was interested in his support for homeschoolers. I could have cried of joy reading about a politician favoring Homeschooling and encouraging people to opt out of government schools. Never could I imagine a German politician speaking that boldly about defying the State. This was the beginning of the end of my fear of government.
So what is my family really facing today, having unschooled our daughter for nearly two years now? We have received a bunch of letters from authorities, a fine of 150 € for not enrolling our daughter in school, a “Zwangsgeld” of 500 € to ensure we enroll her even during the ongoing court procedure. At the only court hearing we have been to, the judge did not even want to discuss the problem of homeschooling, claiming “Schulpflicht” is the law in Germany.
Our lawyer has done a great job so far in defending us, also suing the State for both issuing the fine and the Zwangsgeld.
Even though in the State of Lower-Saxony “Homeschooling” is not considered a felony but “only” an administrative offense (like speeding), our lawyer has told me that courts have been ordered from the highest instance not to rule carelessly in favor of Homeschooling. German judges fear that one case of tolerated Homeschooling would lead to immediate chaos and revolt throughout the whole country, our lawyer believes.
Not surprisingly, the court of first instance found us guilty, although our lawyer had demonstrated various formal errors, claiming that the fact of not having enrolled our daughter is not even an administrative offense. The Niedersächsisches Schulgesetz only mentions a parental duty to ensure the student’s schoolattendance. Officially, a child is only a student if already enrolled. The judge dismissed this argument by subsuming everything under the existing “Schulpflicht”. Her rationale? It is the law, so you may not homeschool.
Time has gone by now and my children have not taken much notice of our ongoing quarrel with the State. We have told them about the situation and they are very well aware of the fact that we lead an extraordinary life in this country. Unfortunately for them, authorities might have come to the conclusion that they cannot force us to send our daughter to school by threatening us with fines. Our own educational background makes it even harder to show that we might be terrible parents. They would probably love to see some unemployed alcoholics withdraw their kids from school. But we just don’t fit into the picture. My husband and I — a neurologist and a nurse — must be some other kind of weird people, who have other reasons to homeschool their kids.
And now they want to check this out with the help of the infamous Jugendamt (child caring services). Why not let them into our house so they can see everything is fine with the kids? Why not let them in and have a look at our home we provide for our children? Why fear to let them in, if you have nothing to hide? This is the problem. The Jugendamt would not be visiting us to check whether our kids are fine or not, but only to prove their point, that they can’t possibly be fine. At least my oldest daughter cannot be, because she does not attend school. Homeschooling itself is seen as child abuse. What they lack is proof and justification. Our lawyer has been trying to persuade us to open our doors to social workers, not to raise any suspicion. I just don’t see the benefit of it. Not even a positive outcome of such a visit could change the fact that we won’t be allowed to homeschool our kids. A negative outcome would just worsen our situation. In previous cases, the Jugendamt has often twisted experiences and written reports that gave a completely distorted view on the actual situation. The fact I co-sleep with all three of my kids would probably be turned into an unhealthy situation for the kids. I don’t want to have to explain myself to strangers and to justify why I live like I do and why I choose to parent my kids the way I do. Breastfeeding my son at the age of 3? This sure must be a very bad decision concerning his teeth and his mental development. Yes, I’m sure I would face such insane accusations.
I have chosen to unschool my kids. By “banning” this very basic parental right authorities claim my children belong to the State.
Who, if not my husband and I, will fight for my children? Protecting my children is my parental right and duty and I will not bend my knee to the State.
disobeying the State each single day