As I sat in my seventh grade history class listening to the teacher talk about the Berlin Wall, I was puzzled as to why Germany would be divided into communist and free states. After the horror that was WWII and Nazi Germany, hadn’t the world had enough totalitarianism to allow the Soviets control of Germany? I remember the stories the teacher related about how families living on separate sides of Berlin were cut off from one another when Stalin began closing borders; a situation made that much worse when construction of the wall began in 1961. I can still vividly remember how troubled I was at the thought of Soviet communism slowly making its way across Europe and Asia.
I have been passionate about liberty for as long as I can remember; not only my own liberty, but that of the rest of the world too. Imagine my joy when I heard the news that the Berlin Wall was coming down and free passage between the two states was allowed to resume. I saw the footage on the news, I heard the rejoicing of the German people, I knew it would only be a matter of time before all of Germany was again a unified and free country. To this day, listening to Reagan’s “tear down that wall” speech still gives me goose bumps.
With all that said, Germany celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall this past Monday, an event that to me is bittersweet. Freedom and liberty in Germany have come a long way since the days of Stalin and that’s the sweet part of it. For twenty-eight years the wall had been a cold, menacing monument to communist dictatorship which compelled nearly 5,000 East Berliners to attempt escape, with several hundred even dying in their quest for freedom. In 2009 nothing of the wall remains, just a few historical markers to remind the world of what once stood in the way of freedom-loving Germans.
During Monday’s celebration, Lutheran Bishop Wolfgang Huber told the gathered crowd, “We remember the tears of joy, the faces of delight, the liberation,” as he spoke about the night of Nov. 9, 1989. Having never lived under communist control I can’t say I fully understand the emotions of the German people at that time, but I can imagine the joy and happiness were nearly unspeakable.
Just try and picture yourself as a teenager in the 1950s when the borders began to close. You had friends, maybe even family members living in the west, whom you could still see from time to time. Even if you couldn’t cross the border you could stand in the streets and talk with one another, but then the wall went up…and you were completely cut off. It’s ironic when you think about it. The Berlin wall completely surrounded the city of West Berlin like it was a maximum security prison, yet in reality it was the East Berliners who were imprisoned.
What a day it was when the wall came down! What a better day when Germany was again unified!
But alas, I said the celebration was bittersweet so I must get to the bitter portion. As much as I wish I could say all Germans enjoy as much freedom and liberty as I do, I can’t. There are several groups of German citizens who are not completely free; the ones I want to bring your attention to here are the German homeschoolers. As a homeschooling father and a leader in the state and local homeschooling movement, this is very personal to me.
You see, my wife and I have been educating our kids at home from the very start. We have already graduated our two oldest and our last is a sophomore in high school. Whether you approve of it or not, homeschooling is legal in all fifty states and has proven beyond all doubt to be a legitimate and successful method of educating our children. Yet in Germany, like many other places in the world, homeschooling is illegal. What makes the homeschooling environment in Germany especially difficult is the government’s decision to aggressively go after German homeschooling parents.
A few years back my wife got an email from a German mother needing help with homeschooling her teenage son. A little confused, my wife began to ask a few questions to help assess the situation. As it turned out this woman and her son had fled Germany, leaving behind her husband and their entire life in order to keep the boy out of government schools. The horror stories this woman told us in the months following were verified by the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), an American legal firm devoted to defending homeschoolers. While HSLDA is not allowed to practice in Germany, they were helping native Germans still in their country to address homeschooling issues. They reported dozens of cases where parents were arrested and their children taken; some even as they were attempting to leave Germany to come to the States. To me, this smacks of an educational Berlin Wall. Don’t allow parents the freedom to educate their kids; if they try to leave the country, arrest them.
That may sound shocking for a country as modern as Germany, but it’s the truth.
I have spoken to several Germans regarding their nation’s homeschooling law to find out why their government does what it does. The general perception seems to be that the German government will not allow homeschooling for fear it will give rise to another Hitler-like Nazi youth movement. A reasonable fear on the one hand, but an irrational solution on the other. It was not homeschooling that gave rise to the Hitler Youth, it was government indoctrination. The very same indoctrination that causes so many American and German parents alike to fear the government school system.
The U.S federal courts have asserted time and again that in a legal sense, it is always assumed parents will act in the best interests of their children. The courts have stated that government entities cannot interfere with the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children unless the behavior of said parents gives a legitimate and legal reason for government to do so. In simple terms that means our courts assume homeschooling parents are acting in the best interests of their children unless proven otherwise. It is the well-known principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”
Unfortunately this principle doesn’t exist in Germany when it comes to homeschooling. Parents are assumed to be damaging their children’s minds, neglecting their education, or even abusing them through their decision to educate them at home. Treating parents in way this undermines their authority and denies them their right to train up their children according to the dictates of their conscience, their faith, and their moral standards. Parents who wish to do so against the government demands must make a run for it, hoping they can get out of the country before they are caught. What a sad statement about the land of my ancestors.
So while Monday’s celebration was on one hand joyous, it is also disturbing to know that for my homeschooling comrades in Germany, liberty does not apply. I weep and pray for them. Hopefully, one day they will be free to do what God has called them to do without government interference. In the meantime…….
Ms. Merkel…TEAR DOWN THAT WALL!
Germany Celebrates Fall of the Berlin Wall – Europe | Map | News – FOXNews.com – http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,573061,00.html
Berlin Wall – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Wall