In September, 2004, we interviewed Sebastian and Kathleen Engelhardt, a young couple homeschooling their son in Germany.
What is homeschooling like in Germany?
The Americans who live in Germany on the military bases have no problems in homeschooling. It’s the native Germans who are having the troubles. It is presently illegal for German citizens to homeschool.
Homeschooling in Germany today is like homeschooling in Iowa twenty-five years ago – there are a lot of people who have the heart for it, but if they actually do it they might go to jail. There are about 300 families homeschooling right now. I’ve met maybe twenty families at the homeschool convention here in Germany. The conferences are to get the idea out about homeschooling – here we are, we are public, this is what we do, get us in your newspapers, get discussion going. We want to present ourselves. The conferences are not so much for the homeschooling families, but for the public and the press who want to know about homeschooling. Even the big German magazines caught onto the idea of homeschooling. There was the Bauer family, for example, who got torn apart in the magazines, but then when people wrote letters to the magazines and the magazines printed the letters, the letters were favorable to homeschooling. People said, “the public schools are bad – how can you prohibit people from looking for other options.”
What are the prospects for making homeschooling legal in Germany?
Europe develops more and more to become like the United States – having institutions that can govern over the states. Germany and the European Union have agreed that there is a court of human rights that you can go to if a country is not acknowledging the human rights there – kind of like your Supreme Court that rules over all your states. We have two cases before the European Court of Human Rights. If this court, independently from Germany, says Germany must make homeschooling a legal possibility for German people – then homeschooling cannot be persecuted – we’re done. We hope this will work out. They can’t force Germany, but Germany will not say we don’t care because it would make the court look weak and Germany wants a strong European Union. It’s all about politics at the moment.
Why are Germans afraid of homeschooling?
[One] reason Germans are afraid of homeschooling is because we have a lot of Muslims in our country and some of these Muslims used Germany as a stopping place before traveling to the US to bomb the World Trade Center in 2001. Germans are afraid to have a Muslim homeschool – they are afraid of what they’re teaching their children. Maybe they’re teaching their children to go and get their bomber belt and go run. This is serious stuff. Terrorist activity is in our paper daily and people are afraid. People in Germany want the government to keep a watch on all these people. The thinking of the German people is “If the government doesn’t control it, people will go wild. People are just a big mass – we have no brain.” You would never be able to convince a German that a gun should be given to people. People grow up in Germany from the time they are children trusting the government to do everything for you
Why is it legal to homeschool in the other European countries and not in Germany?
The more I think about it the more I realize that it is all about culture. When you look at the history of Germany you can understand this. Today, if I was to hang out a German flag on my house, people would say I am a Nazi. You can’t do this. Our anthem has three verses. You cannot sing two of them because they are too patriotic. “Germany over everything.” [Deutchland Uber Alles] You can’t sing this. Our back was broken too many times. After the second world war, America established in West Germany many institutions that would keep a strong government that would control the mass of people to not let them go bad again. This mindset is still there, it is still working. We are still in this strong institutional mindset that controls the thinking of the people and people are not getting out of it. And the government is not going to give up power.
What is the mindset of Germany that it would exclude the concept of homeschooling?
Capitalism, socialism, and communism have totally different meanings in Germany than here in the U.S. It is associated with different feelings and emotions than just a strong government, universal health care, making all people equal, and universal debt care. At the moment, Germany is really torn apart: in east Germany the extreme left wing socialists are 23-25%, while in the west [part of Germany] it is about 2%. We have a lot of unemployment. People want to go back to a nation where everyone has a constitutional “right to work,” which means [the government guarantees] everyone will be able to work. There will be a job for everyone. And if you have a full time job – [even if] the job is that you [actually] sit around – and [if] I have no job, then we split your job – you do half the work and I do half the work.
What do you think of this?
I don’t think this is good. I experienced this [direct government formation of jobs] a little, and my parents are not in favor of this, but many people, who are now at the end of their money, want to go back to this situation where everyone can work. I don’t want to go back there because I think that freedom of mind, freedom of religion – what I see here [in America] – is a valuable thing that I don’t want to exchange for anything.
The advantage of a capitalist country is that [it] doesn’t need to distribute the money. In socialism, you have a very strong government that regulates everything and they need to distribute the money. It is very simple to say “government must give me money – government must pay me, because everything I do is for everybody and everybody is the government, so I [must] get what I need. If I have two, three, four, five children, [then I will] get what I need, [but] not more.”
American minds are being culturally conditioned to accept this socialist mindset, but we’re not quite there yet. Do Americans seem idealistic to you?
Yes. In Germany you don’t have the attitude of “I fight for something.” Our back has been broken too often to stand straight – losing two world wars, becoming overly institutionalized, having a strong government to regulate the country. [Public] demonstrations are not normal. To [publicly] speak your mind is not normal. Doing something different [from what’s expected] is not normal. Freedom means something different here in America than it does in Germany. For example, we were listening to the radio on the way over here – it was a discussion about having AK-47s in the household. The guy was saying, “How can the government tell me what gun to buy and what not to buy.” In Germany, you wouldn’t even be having this discussion. You think, “of course the government tells you what to buy and what not to buy. Of course, the government prohibits. Of course the government…” The thought doesn’t even come to your mind, “How can the government tell me what gun to buy and what not to buy.” I really like this kind of freedom you have here. People in Germany think of freedom as being able to get a job and getting the job you want, being able to switch the TV on and get the channel you want. Freedom means not to be in prison. That’s what Germans think freedom means. We think of the government as being the big helper. [Sure] the government gets into everything, but it helps you also. You get a lot of money if you’re unemployed. You don’t have to pay the doctor. You don’t have to pay for medicines. When you’re retired you get a lot of money.
Where does all that money come from?
Germans pay a lot of tax. A gallon of gas, what with all the tax, is $4.50. The place you live on here [two acres in the country with a big house and barn] – to own something like this would be really extraordinary in Germany. Most people in Germany rent flats. To own a house in Germany is very special. Real estate corporations own a lot of the property. We pay for our small flat $320 a month, not including utilities.
Culture change is a slow process. The primary agent of culture change is language. In America they use language to change our way of thinking – they redefine words and invent little expressions – such as “pro-choice” – which are actually misleading miniature polemics on the subliminal level. So we need to learn how to use the language to reveal reality. The German people all believe this fantasy which has affected German culture as you have described for us. You need to learn to use language effectively to show them how illogical their fantasy is.
I am studying at the moment to become a teacher. Of course, I’m going to be a teacher of my own children some day, but I’m not going to teach in the public schools. We’ve thought a lot about what we’re going to do. One thing we were thinking about was to be writers and publish our own materials. But we don’t know for sure where our path is taking us. We’re praying very much about where our vision is [leading us]. We grow where we are planted. [First] God plants us here, and then He plants us there. Nothing is for sure for us right now. At the moment we are in Germany — in Leipzig at the university.
How alone do you feel about these things?
We’re looking for like-minded people. It is difficult to serve God in a church where you are always wrestling. If you are not of one accord with the members of your church, then you are always wrestling. They call us “Americans” in our church because we have become so “American” in our thinking, and they think we are crazy. My church is not going to support us in our homeschooling.