All Your Children are Belong to Us — Or Not?

Some months ago I wrote about a family in Germany, the Wunderlichs, who wanted to, and for a time did, home-school their children.

For their troubles, a group of 20 police officers and sundry official hand-wringers descended on their home in a suburb of Darmstadt in the early morning hours of August 29, 2013.  They’d brought a battering ram with them.  Did I mention that the Wunderlichs are both gardeners by trade?  Not weapons smugglers, domestic terrorists, nor even <sharp intake of breath> Tea Partiers.  Fortunately for all concerned, Mr. Wunderlich opened the door, and so the SWAT-style equipment wasn’t deployed.

Their children were taken away from them, physically for three weeks (the parents were allowed one visit, on their youngest child’s birthday), and only returned upon their undertaking to send them to a “regular” school.  But the courts stripped them of the legal authority to made educational decisions for their children, to select where they lived with the children, and in fact of just about every right or power over them except to provide them with housing, clothing, and food.

I linked both the original German court ruling and the HSLDA’s translation of it.  I won’t plow that field again, but suffice it to say that the court’s reasoning was deeply disturbing in its implications.

This week the Oberlandesgericht in Frankfurt am Main (there’s actually another Frankfurt, way out east, on the Oder River) reversed the lower court decision, at least as to the children’s custody, granting the parents full custody and decisional authority over their children.  Here’s a report from a local paper (unfortunately it’s in German); here’s a write-up over at the HSLDA.

While they’re doubtless relieved once again to be recognized by the eye of the law, as well as that of their God (their home-schooling the children is based ultimately on their religious convictions), to be lawfully charged with their children’s up-bringing, the Wunderlichs are in legal limbo now.  The OLG ruled that depriving them of custody was “disproportionate” to their offense, but specifically pointed out that they’re subject to the criminal laws on the subject.  Fines and/or up to six months in jail are the tariff in that respect, it seems.

While not as disturbing as the administrative court, the OLG’s reasoning, at least as reported (I’ve looked for a link to the actual decision but haven’t able to locate it yet) is still unsettling.  The court reiterated the official line that home-schooling represents “endangerment” to the children’s welfare.  Well, why?  It’s not because the children are stupid or uneducated or maladjusted, because they’re not.  In fact the newspaper report describes the court’s characterization of their educational level as “high.”  Likewise their “social competency” does not appear limited.  But if not those, then what else?  Well, the court pointed out that mere transmission of knowledge is not the full function of the school.  Rather, attending a regular school serves the function of affording the children “the opportunity to grow into the community’s life.”  In other words, it’s a danger to the children because they might not grow up like us.

As I pointed out when I first posted on this story, to lay universal claim to the integration of children into a specific societal system through the mechanism of compulsory attendance in government-run schools is neither more nor less than the same claim, on the same basis, as that made by the fascists and the communists.  I hypothesized (because he didn’t live long enough to marry) the children of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and whether he would have been justified in home-schooling them to keep them out of the clutches of the national socialist school system.

I think my assertion on that point was correct then, and I’ll re-state it:  You must permit families like the Wunderlichs because you dare not forbid families like the hypothetical Bonhoeffers.


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