Holding Them Back: Germany's Ban on Homeschooling

Germany, at times, suffers from a seemingly suffocating society for expats when they arrive here. You have to register your address with the government, carry your ID card on you at all times and if you have a family, the names wish you give them must be on the state's list of approved baby names. 

Gustoff family in Des Moines, Iowa, United States - Flickr / IowaPolitics.com

For some foreigners coming to Germany, the last straw comes when you decide how your child is to be educated. If you want to teach your kids at home, you cannot in Germany, it is illegal.

Now, I don't want to be down on Germany. It's one of the most prosperous countries in the world, with a high standard of living and a welfare system which, when it works properly, leaves no-one behind. But don't we want to have debates about the way we live in this country? And, especially as foreigners who live here long term, don't we want be included in the debate?

This strikes me especially when the ideas of what homeschooling means for kids are so outdated here. It is, after all, one of the few countries in the EU to ban it outright. 

Public schools were first created around the mid 19th century to meet the needs of industrialism and, ever since, have been geared toward preparing children for the world of work - the higher paid the better. 

But there's something wrong with this method of focus. That's not to say that children can't, or shouldn't, become academics, engineers, scientists and doctors, but rather that all children shouldn't be expected (or rather forced) to wave goodbye to creativity, self-exploration and independent thought. 

Shouldn't our schools be training children to do well at life rather than work? For many, a high paid job means stability for themselves and their family, but it is easy to lose sight of how happy one can be in a job which they enjoy. 

At that's what it all comes down to - living a happy life. Maybe a kid loves reading books, writing papers and getting well and truly embedded in a subject, he or she could make a great doctor, or mathematician, or lawyer, the list goes on. 

A homeschooled child not only has the undivided attention of their teacher-parent, but also benefits from the flexibility of activities organised around them: their interests as well as their individual learning style. 

Flickr / Robbi Baba

For me personally, I found maths at school to be particularly difficult. But as everyone else moved on, I was stuck. From that point, there was little hope for me to catch up, and the teacher simply did not have the time to work with me individually on that topic. In other areas I excelled, but maths has, since then, always been difficult for me.

Q&A

Many people believe homeschooling is bad for learning and development, though this is often based on unfounded assumptions. Let's address these qualms once and for all.

If we let people homeschool their children, there would be nothing to stop lazy parents just letting their kids stay home all day and play video games. 

Just because your children are taught at home, doesn't mean there is no oversight. While some would argue for complete freedom for families to do as they please with their lives, I'm entirely for government checks - to make sure some kids are not left behind thanks to crappy parenting. 

Just like a doctor, the state can perform regular education 'checkups', including meeting with the parents and the child, reviewing work done, taking a look at the plan for the future, and so on. 

In the UK, parents who choose to homeschool the kids are given resources by the local education authorities to help them make the most out of their child's education. There's no reason to think the same couldn't be offered in Germany.

I'm good at my job, so of course I can teach my kid about that. But I, and most parents I know, just simply don't have the depth and breadth of knowledge to properly teach a child all they need to know. 

You don't need to be a qualified teacher to teach your kid. Hire a tutor or keep your kid in some classes in a traditional school and teach him or her at home the rest of the time. Not everyone can afford a tutor, but the option should be open for those who can.

But we can't afford to put in entire new systems just for hippie dippy 'alternative' parents who feel like being outside of 'the system'.

Imagine the tax savings from having fewer kids in school, and indeed, many parents who would have the time and resources to educate their children at home would have some money spare to do so. It's not that everyone should have to, or would be suitable to, but that everyone should have the right to teach their own kids if they choose. 

Wouldn't my child be unqualified? 

Why? Your child can enter the same exams as any other child.

Children who stay at home all day don't get to mix with other children and so end up socially awkward. 

What a load of rubbish. Homeschooled kids benefit from more time to explore the world - going to the science museum to learn about dinosaurs, visiting the library to get inspired by reading, a tour of the woods to learn about biology and nature. They get out more and meet a wider variety of people.

Plus, they have time to go to activity clubs, such as karate or scouts, where they will meet other kids too.

Indeed, the school yard is the most unnatural place a child can be, forcing people of different types to coexist whether they like it or not - leading to bullying, cliquish behaviour and a lack of understanding for how the real, non-playground social world works. 

Flickr / Jeremy Hiebert

Flickr / Jeremy Hiebert

For teenagers, school can be even more detrimental, where shallow behaviour can be rewarded and too heavy an emphasis is put on social status. Surely kids should learn their social behaviour from who they are going to be, rather than being exposed unnaturally to the worst of their own kind? Smaller groups, such as the activity groups I mentioned, are far more natural and suitable for a child to learn social skills. 

In his TED lecture 'Do schools kill creativity?' in 2006, Sir Ken Robinson described current forms of education as mining for a specific commodity the way that minerals are mined from the earth, bringing up children to perform academically, rather than perform in life. 

"I believe our only hope for the future is adopt a new conception of human ecology. One in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity," he said.

Germany currently only allows for homeschooling in the situation where the child is disabled, has special needs, or is otherwise unable to attend school.

"We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we're educating our children," Sir Keith went on to say. I think it's time for a rethink in Germany too.