When I think of “underground” revolutionaries, I think of persecuted Chinese Christians, the Irish Republican Army, or extremists meeting secretly to plot terrorism or political revolution. I don’t think of little children hiding in cupboards or parents afraid to speak about their disagreements with a teacher at school. Yet, in Germany, underground homeschoolers are the revolutionaries—brave souls dedicated to the task of raising their children according to their convictions, no matter the cost.
Courtesy of the Family
Biking and traveling across Europe on a yearlong “Ed-venture,” HSLDA members Tony and Jennifer Miller share their experiences with their four children. Visit www.edventureproject.com to discover more.
Our initial challenge in traveling to Germany was making contact with homeschoolers there before we arrived. We finally “broke through” with HSLDA Attorney Mike Donnelly’s help. An eager flood of families invited us to visit them, talk to the media on their behalf, and describe living with our children in complete freedom. We were welcomed with open arms, treated as extended family, and overwhelmed by the love, generosity, and faith of these families.
One family, the Schmidts (name changed to protect privacy), surprised us at a train station en route to another destination. They took us, complete strangers, home for the week, showered us with love and hospitality, and shared their life and story with us.
The first morning, camped in their backyard, we woke to the sounds of children laughing and playing across the street at the local elementary school. The scene inside their house was quite different. The children snuck around the house, talking in hushed tones, with the curtains drawn.
After breakfast, we joined in bilingual family worship. Their oldest son moved around the house, shutting windows. No one must hear these children singing.
Our children, who shared in their silence and hiding for just one day, were restless. For the Schmidt children, this is everyday life.
After a court appearance and heavy fines, Mr. Schmidt filed paperwork to “officially” move his wife and children out of the country to a place where no homeschool registration is necessary. They still live in their house, but the children and mother must appear to be gone most of the time. Mrs. Schmidt, a vivacious lady who loves company, has cut all her ties within the community. The children may not be involved in community events on any kind of regular basis. She never answers the phone unless she knows the caller, and the window shades remain drawn.
“You never know when the police will come,” she told me. “If someone knocks at the door, the children run fast for the playroom and hide.” Even the 2-year-old knows how to play this ‘game.’ ”
As we hung laundry outside, we spoke in hushed tones. Mrs. Schmidt wasn’t sure if the neighbors spoke English. “They must not know we have our children home. The director of the school lives just there
and one of the teachers on the other side. My husband’s parents don’t like that we homeschool and we are worried about that. We know another family where the sister of the husband turned in the family and they lost all of their children
we have to be careful.”
Later that week, we attended an underground homeschoolers’ meeting. Mr. Schmidt and two other men spent months weighing the risks before inviting a reporter to interview the families and us. Everyone was excited to have some Americans speak with him because we were free to say what we wanted and could promote all of the benefits of homeschooling.
In Germany, problems with education do not affect homeschoolers alone. One nonhomeschooling mother, Mrs. Lori (name changed), cried as she told us the story of her 9-year-old son being forced to watch hours of pornography in school. The teacher and school director told her there was nothing she could do.
“What can I do?” Mrs. Lori asked. “If I take him out of school, they’ll take our house, everything we own, and the children as well!”
Mr. Schmidt summed it up: “They don’t care
what people in other countries are doing. They say to themselves, ‘So that works in America, fine, they are Americans, but we are Germans and we don’t want that.’ ”
The situation in Germany is desperate. We met several families with “homes in two countries.” Mothers and children divide their time between the two. Families are separated for weeks or months at a time, just so that they can keep their children.
As we packed up our tents, the Schmidt children watched from the glass door of the living room. All became teary-eyed as we mounted our bikes and rolled off. At the train station, the Schmidt children came tearing around the end of the platform to hug our children once more.
Mrs. Schmidt smiled sheepishly, “They really wanted to come to the station with you, so I backed up the van sideways to the house and told them to sneak out.”
Witnessing the lives of these homeschool families reminds me how blessed we are in the United States.
We are determined to live life and educate our children fully in a daily awareness of this freedom. And we are dedicated to keeping the faces of the new friends we’ve met before us and praying for them. It is the one thing they’ve asked us to do.