April 17, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – All families in Germany, where homeschooling is officially banned, started educating their children at home in mid-March, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. The 1938 Nazi law prohibiting homeschooling, which postwar German governments essentially retained, is temporarily not enforced.
LifeSiteNews talked to Hedwig Hageböck, a young German in her early 20s who was homeschooled just across the border in France. She is now studying to become a teacher, and has translated into German several books by Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
Hageböck explained that, as a child, she was about to start ninth grade when her family moved to France. Prior to that, she had attended a regular school in Germany.
“As far as personal relationships are concerned, this was of course painful,” she recounted. “But I was also looking forward to spending more time with my family. The way of independent learning suited me very well. Already in my school days I loved to learn freely and to work things out for myself.”
Now, Hageböck was able “to create my own schedule, take more time for the things that were more important to me, and delve into a topic over a longer period of time.”
When schools were closed after the outbreak of the coronavirus in Germany, millions of students were faced with a problem: There are no ready-made programs for homeschooling.
Hageböck and her family were faced with a similar situation back in 2009.
“We had to completely reorganize ourselves and find possible learning paths for each subject,” she said. “This process is not yet complete because we always come across new things or notice that there is room for improvement.”
She pointed out that sometimes even regular textbooks can be used for home education, since they are “well prepared and self-explanatory, making them ideal for autodidacts.” Languages, she continued, were not simply studied but lived, “mainly during longer stays with native speaking families.”
While it is more labor intensive to create a homeschool curriculum, “it is also very exciting and helps to meet individual needs.”
German politicians, as well as other opponents to homeschooling, generally resort to one argument: If children are educated at home, they are socially isolated, which would not be the case in a regular school. Even though homeschooling is practiced in many countries worldwide without creating millions of socially awkward people, many Germans think this would be different in their own country.
Hageböck admitted that, theoretically, there is a greater danger of social isolation among homeschooling families. “But almost all families I know make an intensive effort to provide their children with many different contacts, not only with peers. This happens in sports and music clubs (for which there is more time), with the scouts, in the parish, with neighbors and friends who support the project as teachers in some way, and of course among each other.”
In countries like the United States, where homeschooling is quite common, people are aware that there are groups and co-ops everywhere supporting individual families and providing numerous opportunities for social engagement.
Hageböck also stressed that homeschooling prepares children for real life. “I know of homeschoolers who have successfully gained a foothold in a wide variety of professions,” she told LifeSiteNews.
“Of course there are things ‘normal people’ learned at school that I cannot or do not know,” she said. “But conversely, I also had a lot of time to learn things that I am personally more interested in and that you don’t hear in school.”
She pointed to real life skills a young person is made familiar with while being homeschooled.
“For example, self-organization and independent learning at the university was nothing new for me. During the intensive time at home, I also learned all the tasks that come up in the household. In changing roles, each child took over the responsibility for cooking, washing, cleaning, gardening, shopping, etc.”
Hageböck said she might someday educate her own children at home. However, as she would like to live in Germany, there are obvious difficulties. In any case, she expressed hope that the coronavirus pandemic could change the legal situation.
At the same time, she had words of caution regarding the current involuntary homeschooling experiment in Germany.
“The suddenness of the current situation, academic demands, tension in families, isolation, and uncertainty about the outcome of the pandemic will lead many families to take a negative view of the current opportunity to practice homeschooling,” she said.
On a positive note, she said parents “are now obliged to take an interest in the education of their children. At the same time, they can gain a better insight into their children’s academic strengths and weaknesses and help them individually.”
“Perhaps now is a good time to use these experiences to raise one’s voice in Germany, whether as teachers, parents or pupils, and to call for the option of homeschooling,” Hageböck suggested.
She also pointed out that after schools are opened again, parents could argue that they would like to keep their children at home for health reasons.
Legalizing homeschooling, Hageböck concluded, “would simply be an extension of freedom, allowing parents to decide for themselves where and how their children receive education. I see no good reason to withhold this freedom from people in Germany.”
Some schools in Germany are planning to reopen next week. For the most part, however, a step-by-step reopening is scheduled for early May.
One of the most famous German homeschooling families, the Romeikes, emigrated to the United States in 2008. In 2014, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that they are granting “indefinite deferred action status,” meaning the family was not going to be deported to Germany, after all.
“Germany’s persecution of homeschooling parents continues and is one reason, I suspect, that DHS was willing to grant the family indefinite status,” Mike Donnelly, director of international affairs for the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), said at the time.
“How could our country send this loving peaceful family back to be crushed by outrageous fines, criminal prosecution, and the loss of their children? Today Germany is holding another family prisoner only because they wanted to leave to go to France to homeschool their children. How could we send the Romeikes back to be treated like that?”