Religious freedom or mandatory schooling?
The administrative court in Leipzig has made two important rulings in the last week. Judges rejected the appeal of a Jehovah Witness family who wanted to excuse their son from a film screening at school and rejected the case of a 13-year-old Muslim girl who did not want to take part in co-ed swimming lessons.
Both judgments were widely welcomed. The argument goes that by forcing attendance of lessons for everyone at school, pupils’ social skills are strengthened. School is not just a means of education it also forces integration within society.
The $1billion High School dropout
But a story like David Karp’s would not be possible in Germany.
He was not a good pupil. After lessons he spent the evenings at home in front of his computer.
At 14 his mother decided to wipe the slate clean. She took David out of school and taught him at home. “His passion was computers. I had to give him room to do that,” she said.
Instead of learning Maths and English the boy became a computer programming genius.
At the age of 20 he founded the blogging platform Tumblr. Six years on, in May this year, he sold it to Yahoo for $1.1billion. Not bad for someone with no High School diploma.
But in Germany homeschooling is frowned upon. Historically there are good reasons for that. Only the bourgeoisie and aristocracy were able to afford teachers to visit their children at home. Everyone else had to look on. That changed with the introduction of universal education.
But compulsory education does not have to mean the banning of homeschooling which was forbidden by the Nazis in Germany in 1938. They wanted to have all children in the state’s grip.
Exceptions frowned upon
In four of Germany’s neighbouring countries – Denmark, Belgium Switzerland and Austria there is compulsory education but no law forcing children to attend school.
In Ireland, Italy, Australia, Britain and the USA parents can, if they wish, teach their children at home. Religious motives are not always pivotal in deciding to home school.
In thinly populated areas it is a way of avoiding a long journey and saving travel costs. Online teaching is also becoming better. Children are still regularly tested in school exams but do not have to acquire their knowledge there.
The Costa Rican lawyer, teacher and philosopher Vernor Munoz was UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education from 2004 to 2010. In 2006 he travelled to Germany.
In his subsequent report he criticized, among other things, the German education system for its restrictive mandatory schooling which criminalized alternative forms of education such as homeschooling.
Nothing has changed since. A homogeneous society remains the ideal. Putting up with exceptions and accepting peculiarities remains as hard as ever.