My children are bilingual, German and English. They both attend bilingual schools. In the case of our younger daughter, this is still a primary school (Grundschule) which insists the children are more or less locked in from eight in the morning till four in the afternoon. On top of this they receive plenty of homework. She is at home this week on holiday, but has three projects to complete, plus plenty of new French vocabulary to learn for a test on Monday morning, her first day back. Our elder daughter is at gymnasium, kind of like an English grammar school, and there it is much easier. The days are shorter, the homework load lighter. Odd, but true.
Both of our daughters had (our youngest still has) a particular German/maths teacher neither responds well too. Their grades were/are poor in both subjects. This sets up additional stress, because every child receives a recommendation from the primary school to go to the higher quality gymnasiums, if and only if their grade average is very high (2.3). Grading at primary school is far harsher than at the gymnasium. Under 98% is a 2. 98-99% is a 1-, 100% is a 1. So you need to be consistently in the high 90s to get a recommendation. I consider this to be a considerable amount of stress for eight- to ten-year-olds to bear. On top of that, it is only in rare cases the primary school teachers children are assigned to actually enjoy their job and are good at it. In the case of our younger child, my wife and I would like to home school her, at least in her weak areas, since we feel it would be better suited to her particular personality and needs. This is illegal in Germany. Parents have been sent to prison for keeping their children out of school, or had their children taken from them. In 2007, a German couple fled Germany to the US. The US granted them political asylum in 2008. I believe the pair are now US citizens.
This is a very odd and harmful situation, to my mind. In my post on health insurance, my main point was that the state is a clumsy machine incapable of dealing with individual situations. There are instances when parents are more harmful to their children than a state school would be, true. But there are occasions when the opposite is true, and the work of John Taylor Gatto, John Holt and Sir Ken Robinson suggests the latter far outweighs the former. It is my strongly held belief, that not one element of what I believe is necessary to change cultural direction—away from Consumerism and Growthism towards more sustainable and healthy social systems—is possible until education is aligned with what our future (and present, by extension) demands of us. Education is, for me, absolutely pivotal in our transition towards a more rational and less robotic human future. The Khan Academy (thanks for the tip, Farmgirl!) is one example of how we might begin opening up education, and allowing passion and fun to bring a juicy vitality back to life’s most fundamental process; learning.
Below is my translation of an article by Rainer Hank which appeared in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in Novermber, 2007. I hope you find it at least food for thought. One part of it which stood out for me was the (up to) $1000 a month given by the Canadian state to parents home schooling their children. This is how I imagine a guaranteed income might help ‘free’ people from the state, or minimise the depth to which it seeks to control our lives. It would also ‘privatise’ or ‘localise’ education down to community level, causing money to cycle through the community in both a GDP- and society-friendly way. The Internet might expand this out across the planet, and connect learners everywhere. The Canadian example demonstrates, to my mind, how a guaranteed income would not be about people no longer having to work, but freeing them to work in areas closer to their hearts.
On to the translation:
"School in Germany is a matter for the state. Whoever wants to open a private school must reckon with great difficulties. Whoever teaches their own children or sends them to a private tutor has the police to deal with. For they would be committing a misdemeanour.
In Germany, compulsory schooling is absolute and punishable. To most of us, that sounds natural, self-evident even. But it is not, neither historically nor on the European or even international stage. German compulsory schooling is, if we forget a few dictators, the exception and not the rule. In most other countries, there is instead a monitored compulsory education. Whether or not children go to school to cover the required curriculum is up to them (and their parents and caregivers).
Compulsory education, not schooling
Why is it in no other free country of this world, parents who would like to raise their children are as harshly criminalised as in ours? After the crimes of National Socialism there was, supposedly, a quiet and amicable agreement between parents and state, that bringing up children to be democratically capable of cooperating in a successful commonwealth, was inalienable, and that this upbringing could only be organised through the state, (so argues Volker Ladenthin, a pedagog from Bonn). German parents have a deeper trust in the Caregiver State than our neighbours in other countries.
And they have every right to have it. But why are parents who want to raise their children themselves kept forcefully from their wish? Wouldn’t compulsory education be superior to state compulsory education? Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767 to 1835), the German education reformer worried about the state as raiser of children. “If education is only there, irrespective of particular civic forms granted the people, to educate people, so it lies not in the remit of the state.” Compulsory state education, in Humboldt’s opinion, leads to parents delegating to the state their responsibilities to raise their own, for which there is a high price to be paid: instead of free and educated people, school children become state residents, that is, underlings.
A poorly justified monopoly
The state’s education monopoly is indeed poorly justified—as with most monopolies. Financially, we are asked to believe it is more efficient to teach children in classes than for families to seek private tutors and governors (for a statistical 1.3 children), or to prevent parents from teaching their young. State-trained teachers guarantee, it is claimed, a certain professionalism in the manufacturing of the education “product.”
But not only do repeated Pisa Studies speak against the quality of the state’s performance, so too does a growing emigration into private schools. Were there the freedom to teach children at home, no doubt parents would take advantage of it. At the latest, it would be clear where the better education was to be found after prescribed tests. In all countries where education has been decentralised, such freedom has been met with approval, albeit with a three to four percent of parents actually “home-schooling”—although with a strongly rising trend. Even in Austria, home-schooling has recently been allowed. Parents in Canada receive up to $1000 a month to educate their children at home. Such largesse helps level the playing field, reduces the state’s advantage.
What should be the rule, what the exception?
Originally, compulsory schooling was not the rule, but the exception. “Compulsory schooling was introduced, because those classes who saw the least need for school kept their children at home to help with digging up potatoes and harvesting the grain”, says the pedagog Ladenthin. This was damaging to their children. The offer of subsidiarity, which in Germany receives high praise in commemorative speeches, says: The state need only intervene when the private sphere fails. The state may only protect schoolchildren from their parents when it fears education is kept from them, or when they are being dangerously indoctrinated.
And with that a weighty objection to home-schooling can be swept to one side. Many contemporaries fear radical or religious groups could abuse home-schooling, and raise their children as enemies of European values and the rule of law. But the fear of parallel worlds is there and cannot be dismissed. Even if we overlook that state schools don’t prevent parallel worlds (Neukölln [a rough part of Berlin]), the state retains the power to take children from parents who abuse or fail them.
And anyway, it will be the educated elite and not the lower classes who make use of the freedom to home school. Yes, even this assumption is tossed into the ring as an objection. Growing inequality and the increasing privilege of rich kids raised by private tutors would be the outcome, apparently. But today we have the intellectual bourgeoisie pampering their young with cello lessons, language courses and other private lessons. Or they send them off to foreign shores. That in Germany talents lie fallow, and money and social background determine educational success, is true. But state education cannot prevent that misery."