Homeschooling has been illegal in Germany for most of the 20th century. But a decision in the United States granting asylum to a German homeschooling couple has revived an ongoing debate on the freedom of education.
An American judge on Tuesday granted asylum to a German couple who wanted to homeschool their children, bringing international attention to the debate in Germany over the rights of parents to freely educate their children.
The decision came from immigration judge Lawrence O. Burman in Memphis, Tennessee. Judge Burman said the German government violated Uwe and Hannelore Romeike’s “basic human rights,” according to the website of the Home School Legal Defense Association, a Virginia-based pro-homeschooling organization that represented the couple.
“Homeschoolers are a particular social group that the German government is trying to suppress,” Burman was quoted as saying. “This family has a well-founded fear of persecution … therefore, they are eligible for asylum.”
The German laws mandating public-school attendance date back to Germany’s first experiment with democracy in 1919, according to Hans Bruegelmann, an education professor at the University of Siegen.
Bruegelmann said previously private education was only available to the elite, and that the public-school mandate was a clear political choice.
“The school is an embryonic democracy and will help to integrate children and young people coming from different backgrounds into the democratic culture,” he said.
Integration into democracy and learning to get along with those who hold opposing opinions are important skills that children cannot learn when homeschooled, Bruegelmann said, and that is especially true with highly religious parents.
“They should not have the right to indoctrinate their children,” he said. “It’s important for children, besides the experience they make at home, which is respected, to have access to other sources of understanding the world.”
When asked about Germans’ opinions on the public school mandate, Bruegelmann said he thought most Germans supported it.
He admitted, however, that he could not say whether that was because they truly believed in it or if it was simply what they were accustomed to.