Taken: Germany and the Wunderlich Family

December 9–13, 2013   |   Vol. 118, Programs 1–5

On October 28th, German officials took the Wunderlich children away from their parents for homeschooling. On this week’s Home School Heartbeat, HSLDA Director of International Relations Mike Donnelly gives an update on the Wunderlich’s situation.

“As the truth comes out about how this family was treated just because they homeschool, . . . I hope that the German public and policymakers will finally see the human rights abuse occurring in their own country.”—Mike Donnelly

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Can you imagine opening your front door to find 20 government officials poised to take your four children into state custody because you didn’t comply with the mandatory school attendance laws? German homeschooling father, Dirk Wunderlich, and his wife faced just such a scenario. Join host Mike Farris and Mike Donnelly as they talk about how such a seizure occurred . That’s today on Home School Heartbeat.

Mike Farris: Our guest today is Mike Donnelly. He is HSLDA’s Director for International Affairs. Mike, welcome to the program.

Mike D: Good to be here, Mike.

Mike Farris: Mike, I’d like you to share with our listeners the story of a German homeschooling family, Dirk and Petra Wunderlich and their four children.

Mike D: The Wunderlichs suffered every homeschooling parent’s nightmare when 20 social workers and armed police surrounded their home and threatened to batter down their door, just because they homeschool. All the officials involved knew this family, the children well cared for and well educated. Tests proved this later. But in Germany, if you try to homeschool the state goes after you with fines, criminal prosecution, and like this they steal your children. We stood with this family and their lawyers to generate an international outcry, and three weeks later, the children came home, but only after the parents promised to send their children to school. The judge even refused to let the family emigrate, imprisoning them in Germany. On October 28th, the children spent their first ever day in government school. I talked to Mr. Wunderlich that day, and he told me he and his wife felt ravished by the German government. The family’s making the best of a bad situation, but this is atrocious behavior by German authorities.

Mike Farris: We’re going to continue talking about the plight of the German homeschooling family next time. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: The Wunderlich case demonstrates that even when parents do a good job of educating and caring for their children, some governments are unwilling to consider any alternatives to state-run schools. Mike, please describe the German mandatory school attendance law and the rationale behind it.

Mike D: Mike, in 1938 Germany nationalized its entire school system and made it a crime if parents didn’t send children to Nazi-run schools. That regime used the country’s education system as a weapon for social domination. But before that, homeschooling was legal. Unfortunately, after the war, German states didn’t make changes to their law to protect homeschooling. Then in 2003, the German Supreme Constitutional Court said it’s just fine for the German states to ban homeschooling. Why? Well, because the German public has an interest in stamping out what they call “parallel societies.” They say schools are the only place children can learn tolerance and how to get along with others. Other German courts have said it’s okay to use force against parents and children if they refuse to send their children to school. In Germany, all schools, all curriculum, and all teachers must be approved by the government. The Germans hope to force those who believe or live differently to abandon their differences. They want to force them to become part of the German mainstream, but this isn’t tolerant pluralism or democracy. It’s totalitarianism.

Mike Farris: When a country creates a policy that denies parents the fundamental human right to direct the education of their children, they are a rogue country, not a free nation. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: Mike, tell us about the one silver lining that’s in this case.

Mike D: Mike, the behavior of German authorities in this case is so shocking and belligerent, it’s getting considerable attention in the German press. As the truth comes out about how this family was treated just because they homeschool, even to the point of refusing to let them leave the country, I hope that the German public and policymakers will finally see the human rights abuse occurring in their own country, and state laws will change to allow homeschooling.

Mike Farris: What’s the status of their case right now?

Mike D: Mike, on October 28th, the four Wunderlich children spent their first-ever day in government school. The family have petitioned the court for full custody so they can leave the country. They have a scheduled hearing on December 12th, but we hope emergency proceedings before that will allow them to leave Germany to go where they can homeschool in peace.

Mike Farris: There’s been a real outpouring of support from American homeschoolers for both the Wunderlichs and the Romeike families, and I know both families are very grateful for all of our support. But we’ve got to keep pressuring nations like Germany and especially Germany to make sure that all parents everywhere have the fundamental right of parents to direct their education of their children and to give their kids an alternative education according to their own values, not those that the government wishes to cram down our throats. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: Mike, HSLDA has worked hard over the years to ensure parents are free to direct the education of their children. But internationally, that premise is being seriously challenged. Yet we find an affirmation of this fundamental right in a very surprising place. It started in 1948. Tell us about that.

Mike D: Mike, under Hitler’s evil leadership, Nazi Germany perpetrated the most terrible atrocities known in modern times. The civilized world gathered in with leadership from the United States and other countries, developed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was drafted and signed in 1948 in direct response to Germany’s violation of the most fundamental human rights. By stating explicitly in Article 26 that parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children, the declaration recognizes the critical role of parents in education as a bulwark against totalitarianism. The declaration recognizes that a government that imposes education on children against the will of parents abuses a fundamental human right. Governments like Germany, not parents, are far more likely to abuse education for political purposes.

Mike Farris: If Germany wants to remain in the shadow of its Nazi past, it can continue to ban homeschooling, but if they want to join the modern world and live up to their human rights obligations and treaties that they have approved, they’ve got to stop punishing parents who want to give their children an alternative education. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: Mike, the Wunderlich children were returned home only when their parents, Dirk and Petra, agreed to send the children to the government schools. What do you think it’s going to take to get Germany to actually change the rules?

Mike D: Mike, German courts have ruled universally against homeschoolers, all the way up to their Supreme Court which said that homeschooling creates intolerant parallel societies. HSLDA’s helping defend persecuted families, and we pray that God will change the hearts of German judges. But Germany is a federal republic, and the long-term hope for homeschooling there is at the state level, and requires changing state laws. International pressure and media attention are key parts of our strategy, which is why our Romeike case is so important. And, we’re bringing other cases in international courts to put international attention on these human rights abuses. It’s a big job to change the mindset of an entire country. Germany’s a country of 80 million with a long history of educational and cultural uniformity, but American homeschoolers fought similar obstacles in the past, and today homeschooling is thriving and legal in all 50 states. As Americans, we’ve rescued the Germans once in the last century. With God’s help, perhaps we can do it again.

Mike Farris: Mike, I only have one thing to say: Amen. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Donnelly:

Mike serves HSLDA as director of international affairs and as staff attorney for member affairs in the states of Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, West Virginia, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia. As director of international affairs he coordinates HSLDA’s support of homeschooling freedom all over the world. Mike is also an adjunct professor of government at Patrick Henry College where he teaches constitutional law. He received a juris doctorate from the Boston University School of Law with honors as a Paul J. Liacos Scholar. He is a member of the bars of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, West Virginia, the District of Columbia, and the United States Supreme Court.

Mike’s previous experience includes combat service during the first Persian Gulf War as a United States Army cavalry officer, private legal practice and the founding of a nationally ranked internet marketing firm. Mike is an internationally published writer and frequent conference and media spokesperson on the subjects of homeschooling, educational freedom, parental and human rights. His most recent publications include the first-ever chapter on homeschooling included in the four-volume global education policy series Balancing Freedom, Autonomy, and Accountability in Education, Religious Freedom in Education, appearing in the International Journal of Religious Freedom and Creature of the State, appearing in Homeschooling in America and Europe: A Litmus Test of Democracy. He and his wife homeschool their seven children.

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