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The Criminalization of Parents is a Scandal

posted in Welt-Online, March 23rd, 2007.  „Die Welt“ is a major German daily newspaper.
This translation is not officially authorised and for private information only

Bonn - Volker Ladenthin is the first and only German Professor of Education, who officially supports Homeschooling.  So far it is illegal in Germany.  But critics, such as the UN-Consultant Vernor Munoz Villalobos, no longer want to accept that homeschooling is forbidden in Germany.  The obligation to go to school should be converted to an obligation to get an education, such as in other countries says Ladenthin, Professor for historic and systematic educational sciences at the Bonn University. In his book “Homeschooling” (Publisher: Ergon Verlag, Wuerzburg, 2006) Ladenthin describes why parents are looking for a way out of school.  Brigitta vom Lehn spoke with Ladenthin.

DIE WELT: Mr. Ladenthin, so far no Professor of Education in Germany has seriously addressed the issue of Homeschooling. Why?

Ladenthin: It usually takes a few years until new reality phenomena are being picked up by the scientific community. A few years ago we had the discussion about self-learning in an independent school and if you consequently think it through to the end, then independent schooling is the schooling which the parents do themselves.  Then it appeared that Homeschooling also presents itself as a social movement which we have to take into consideration in the future.  Before the positions harden, I consider it to be useful to consider the arguments.

DIE WELT: And what are the arguments? It is certainly much easier to just send the children to school.

Ladenthin: I find that it is much easier to have the children at home.  Then you are with them in your own world, you know what interests them.  To send children away is always work: You have to prepare them for school, and when they come back, you still need to work with them.

DIE WELT: Indeed many parents find that work really starts after school.  homework, practice, studying. Then parents tell themselves: I might as well do all of that myself.

Ladenthin: Right. Politicians often say: We do not want the creation of minorities or subgroups of Society. But the afternoons are already in private hands.  That’s when most mothers are active, or they send the children to private tutoring institutes. De facto we already do homeschool a third to a half of the school time.

DIE WELT: What is the parent group who wants to homeschool?

Ladenthin: These are parents, who see that their children have difficulties in school. There are three groups: Firstly children with physical handicaps, who have to be transported to far. There is a case in the Eifel Region, where the school administration insists that a blind child is being transported 120 Kilometers to a school for the blind. That is totally insane! Secondly there are children who do not fit into school due to the psychological problems, such as the typical victims of bullies, the sensitive children who struggle in the very big classes. The third group of parents is very education focused and have experienced that many of their children’s classes were canceled and their children ended up drawing Mandalas in school for half a year. These parents say: We do not want that. We want our children to have the best possible education.  That’s why we will take care of it ourselves.

DIE WELT: Are these mostly parents close to the educated class who support homeschooling?

Ladenthin: Yes.  For your background:  The mandatory school attendance was originally introduced because parents who were distant from the educated classes kept their children at home to help on the farm. Then the state said: The parents are hurting their children because they are only considering short term benefits.  So they introduced mandatory school attendance, they took the children away from the parents , so they could learn something.  Now we have a different clientel: we have highly educated parents, 50% have gone through the Gymnasium (college prep school). They say:  Children learn either not enough or the wrong thing in school.  The state no longer needs to protect the children from the parents, but he must support the parents. But this has not been well understood so far.

DIE WELT: Why does Germany have such a hard time with homeschooling? While in many other countries it is quite common.

Ladenthin: In Germany state tradition is very strong. Germany was one of the first countries in Europe which introduced the public (state) school.  The tradition continues.

DIE WELT: How high do you consider the demand for private schooling?

Ladenthin: I think it is very high and it will increase.  Because the state schools become more and more administrative units.  They administer knowledge.  But they do not take the children seriously as persons. This is no longer possible with norms and standardizations.  Parents who are ambitious for a good education will look for ways out of the school system. The push towards private schools is already there.  My prognosis: We will experience a highly differentiated educational system.

DIE WELT: Up to what age do you see it possible that children can be homeschooled?

Ladenthin: Until grade seven.  After that you can only school your children in subjects in which parents are specialiced.

DIE WELT: Critics fear that with home-schooling, religious groups isolate themselves and influence their children.

Ladenthin: I see a certain danger that sects/cults recruit their following this way.  That happens de facto today, without anybody being bothered by it, for example with the Jehova’s witnesses. They send their children to school, but they isolate them in their entire social life. And nobody cares.  This is also the point where I have a conflict with homeschoolers. I say to those parents:  Not your parental powers is the right you have, it is your teaching task. They must not form their children after their own wishes, but form the children after the children’s wishes.

DIE WELT Should parents allow themselves to be tested whether they are up to the task?

Ladenthin: Yes the whole thing would have to be done professionally. We are now planning the first research study on homeschooling in Germany.

DIE WELT: Do you think it is appropriate on how the youth offices (child protection agency) react? Often they are very rigid, they pick up children, send them to psychiatric clinics, put the parents in jail.

Ladenthin: No, that is not appropriate. You cannot enforce education with violent force. Education and violent force are mutually exclusive. A gentle approach is absolutely necessary, especially since you are dealing with parents who want the best education for their children.  The fact that these parents are being criminalized is a scandal.