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Schools of thought

"Schools of thought" Continued...

Issue: "Boston Terrorthon," May 4, 2013

Other Germans—including some non-Christians—want to teach their children at home.

The Virginia-based HSLDA estimates about 400 German families homeschool. It’s difficult to find precise numbers, since most families try to avoid attention. Some hide the practice from their neighbors, fearing they’ll report them to authorities.

For the Romeikes, homeschooling wasn’t their original plan. The couple sent their first two children to public school for three years, but weren’t satisfied with the results: Their oldest son endured bullying and became withdrawn. Their daughter battled anxiety and fell behind in classwork when she needed extra help.

As the couple examined the curriculum, they objected to certain aspects, including early sex education, pro-homosexual teaching, and literature they say encouraged witchcraft. (In 2011, the European Court of Human Rights rejected complaints by a group of Christian parents in Germany who asked to exempt their young children from sex education. German school officials said attendance in the classes was mandatory.)

When a local family suggested homeschooling to the Romeikes, the couple decided it would serve their children better than public schools. Mr. Romeike said that persuasion grew into a Christian conviction to educate his children at home. “God gave us children, and we are responsible for them,” he says in his living room in Tennessee. “We want to do everything we can so they get a good foundation for their lives.”

German authorities weren’t sympathetic. Police arrived to escort the two older children to school in 2006, and Mrs. Romeike retrieved them at lunchtime. The children never returned, and courts began levying fines that eventually grew to more than $9,000. The Romeikes worried authorities could take custody of their children.

It wasn’t an unfounded fear. In 2007, German authorities took custody of Melissa Busekros, a 15-year-old girl from a homeschooling family in Bavaria. Authorities placed the girl in a psychiatric facility, and then in foster care. When she turned 16—and legally could decide where to live—the girl returned to her family. She later said police told her she had been brainwashed by her evangelical parents.

As pressure mounted, the Romeikes contemplated leaving Germany. Mr. Romeike says he investigated moving to Austria (a German-speaking country), but didn’t find suitable job prospects. England was too expensive. (Private schools in Germany were also expensive, and many used the public-school curriculum.)

Eventually, Mr. Romeike spoke with Mike Donnelly, an attorney with the HSLDA who follows homeschool cases in Germany. Donnelly told the family if they came to the United States, the HSLDA would support their application for asylum.

In 2008, Mr. Romeike, a music teacher, sold the piano his mother had given him as a gift before her death, closed up the house he had remodeled with his father-in-law to serve as a custom music studio and residence, and bought plane tickets for his family to travel to the United States.

The Romeikes arrived with 90-day tourist visas, but quickly applied for asylum, hoping to make the United States their permanent home. Five years later, they’re still waiting for a final verdict.

Back in Germany, some homeschool families battle different verdicts.

In some areas, local authorities level fines against homeschoolers, but don’t pursue more stringent action. In other regions, families face serious legal action. For example, the Dudeks—a homeschooling family with eight children—have faced major court hearings every year since 2006. Authorities have levied fines, and sentenced both parents to three months in jail. The Dudeks have avoided jail time by continuing to appeal their case through the German courts.

In a phone interview from his family’s home in Hessia, Jürgen Dudek says he believes homeschooling suits his children best. He also says his Christian beliefs compel him to teach his children at home. “Our children belong to God, and He has entrusted us with those children,” says Dudek. “So we believe we have responsibilities for our children that we can’t delegate.”

Dudek—and the Romeikes—say they’re not suggesting all Christian parents must homeschool, and they acknowledge different Christians come to different conclusions about education. Indeed, both families say many German Christians don’t understand their desire to teach their children at home. 

Tension also exists among homeschool families in Germany, including some non-Christian families who don’t have religious reasons for home education, but believe it’s the best method for their children. (Some of these families are known as “un-schoolers” who place less emphasis on traditional learning methods.) When HSLDA held a homeschool conference in Berlin last fall, some homeschoolers objected, saying the publicity brought unwanted attention to their families.

Ultimately, most German Christians send their children to public school. Sebastian Heck—pastor of the Free Evangelical-Reformed Church in Heidelberg—says he supports the freedom for parents to teach their children at home, but doesn’t mind sending his three young children to public schools.

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