sábado, 14 de septiembre de 2013

The Wunderlich family and freedom to choose

Irene Schrieder, exiled in the UK due to lack of freedom to educate outside of school in Germany, writes on her view of the Wunderlich family and comments on Dirk Wunderlich's report on the affair.

To whom it may concern

There have on occasion been suggestions that for the "good" i.e. non-religious, autonomous etc. families it would be possible to be tolerated by authorities, casting suspicion on all refugees. As our situation was, the Wunderlich case supports our notion that our situation had been highly dangerous and that it had been wise to go. It is more a matter of the people who are in charge than a matter of the families themselves whether you are tolerated. What we were most afraid of was what had happened to the Wunderlichs a year ago: they lost custody formally, even though the children were still allowed to live with them. But their passports were taken by the authorities so the Wunderlichs could not move abroad anymore to home educate somewhere . And for us, letting our child being sent back to the school nightmare we had rescued him from simply had not been an option. - I know six non-religious families personally who were dangerously close to losing custody, one did lose it, of two I do not know what has become of them, and four went abroad. A seventh family that went abroad IS religious but they did not home educate for religious reasons, and they practice a mostly autonomous style of education, and they do not spank their children, and they are not right-wing.   

There is no clear dividing line between home eds. There are deeply religious people who practice autonomous home education, as you can easily see if you ask Amazon for "Christian unschooling". "The freedom of Christ", let a child not be "corrupted" in the sense that it should be true to itself and what God intends them to be instead of making it fit into some mainstream box, this is conceptually nothing different to what Roland Meighan and Jan Fortune-Wood say, only in a religious wording. 

And "autonomous" or "unschooling" look extremely different from family to family, and from child to child. With some, this means that the parents are not engaged very much but that the children rather find out and learn most stuff by themselves, and if they want a tutor, they would have to organize this themselves. With other parents, this is rather like a close dance, with sometimes them and sometimes the child in lead, and they actually teach very much. Some might even use very worksheets or school books if the child likes to work on just these. Our family rarely used school material, and never did anything our child found unhelpful, and we always respected when he was working on something by himself. But I would not really consider our style as "autonomous", this sounds kind of isolated, cut off, Robinson Crusoe to me. There is not only the choice of being bullied by some externally set curriculum or being totally guided by your "own law", what autonomous literally means. We parents set the surroundings, make suggestions, inituate things, do things together as a family, talk, live according to our values and likings ... so I find "autonomous" not really the right word. I find these ideologies generally not very helpful, and especially not if they are to serve to draw a dividing line between "good" and "bad" home educators. 

I have been in loose mail contact with Dirk Wunderlich for some years. 
Since they lost custody in autumn 2012, the parents have no say anymore in school matters as regards their children, and the authorities/their guardian address the children directly. Since that time it has been the children who actively refused to go to school or be tested. Especially as the testing was to be with the aim of the authorities to see where they would fit into the German school system (after class four children get assigned to different kinds of school according to their achievement).  

Now, this passive resistance is used against them to justify that they are taken away from their parents.

Three days before the children had been taken, on 26 August 2013, there had been a talk in the office of the Child Welfare Authority, between
Herr Klaus Behnis (head of department) , Herr Harms (state guardian of the Wunderlich children) and Frau Baier (worker responsible for the Wunderlich family) from Child Welfare; Frau Susanne Hajdu (head) and Frau Christa Lettau (lawyer) from the School Authority, and the parents Petra and Dirk Wunderlich and their lawyer Dr. Andreas Vogt.

The official introduced a man who had co-founded a private Christian school in Darmstadt, the nearest bigger town. He explained about this school (Georg-Müller-Schule), which is in an experimental state and is run in cooperation with Frau Hajdu. After his explanations it was asked whether the Wunderlichs had any more questions, and when they negated, the man went out. Then the Wunderlichs were asked whether they would send their children to this school. They said, "no", with the following reasoning: "We refuse school as such, because we regard it as an unnatural, artificial place, that hinders instead of fosters a child's learning and curiosity, and we do not care about the special philosophy of a school."

Herr Behnis was very discontented about this, and finished the talk. When the parents went out, Dirk said, "Our children do not belong to the state or the general public." Then Herr Behnis anwered, "They do not belong to you, either." To which Dirk responded, "Yes, they do." 

In his report, Dirk then explains in detail what he means by this. He refers to Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World", where one of the society slogans is, "Everyone belongs to everyone else." He says that the German state claims exactly this when, in the Constitutional Court ruling about home education, which is the main foundation of HE being forbidden in Germany, the Court states (translation by me): "The General Public has a legitimate interest to inhibit the formation of religiously or ideologically motivated "parallel societies" and to integrate minorities. Integration implies not only that the majority of the population does not exclude religious or ideological minorities; but it equally demands that they do not seclude themselves and deny any dialogue with people of different convictions. For an open, pluralistic society the dialogue with such minorities is an enrichment."      

Dirk then discusses at length why he does not find this claim of the state, to "integrate" "minorities" by mandatory school attendance of their children, legitimate. He again cites from Huxley's "Brave New World", where it is discussed that we do not even belong to ourselves, that we have not created ourselves and are not our own masters, but that we belong to God; that there is no happiness or comfort in proposing that we belong to ourselves, that we are totally independant. So, in this sense, children "belong" to God and their parents. They are no property, but they are entrusted to their parents by God, "Children are a heritage of the Lord" (Psalm 127,3), and they are not entrusted to the state or the General Public. 

Now here I must explain something about my translation and translations in general. In his arguing with Herr Behnis, in the German original, they used the word "Eigentum" for "belonging". This is in accordance with the German translation of Huxley. But the German word "Eigentum" is very close in its meaning to the word "Besitz" which means "property". So, "Children belong to me even though they are not my property" might need more explanation in German than in English, and there seems to have been no interest on either side to explain and listen to each other. 

Anyway, Herr Behnis obviously interpreted their verbal fight in that way, that Dirk had allegedly said that he regarded his children as his property, implying that he claimed he could do what he liked with them (translation by me):

"In religious zeal and the stand to regard children as property, we recognize a danger that demands immediate action to safeguard the children."

Then the authorities argue that the children have to be taken from their family because the family thwarts school attendance (translation by me): "It can be concluded that the duty of school attendance cannot be achieved if the children stay in the family. The family will continue to thwart daily school attendance. The parents create situations in which the children argue against their guardian and other adults, and justify their refusal themselves. Thus the parents expect their children to actively disregard laws and judicial decisions. This, in our opinion, is a misuse of parental care and authority. In their fight against the common duty of school attendance, they accept that the children must increasingly regard society and prevailing norms as hostile and repressive.They do not acknowledge that by this they harm their children." 

Dirk says  that it is not they, the parents, who "create situations in which the children argue against their guardian and other adults", but the people who put their children under state custody, and their state guardian. They as parents do not "expect" their children to refuse school, but their children know that they do not want to go, and from their experience abroad they know that mandatory school attendance is not a necessity, so they just claim their right of self-determination. Also, the children do not regard "society and prevailings norms" as hostile, but the state, who impairs people's rights and freedoms ever more, and even confines them in the country, because as the state has taken their passports, they cannot even leave anymore. Last not least, it is Herr Behnis who harms the children, when he traumatizes them by taking them forcibly from their family and putting them into state care. 

In the end, Dirk cites a passage from the court order for the taking of the children that explains why the authorities turned up with so many people and why they acted in so harsh a manner, and how the authorities got the court order in the first place (translation by me):

"From an anonymous notification from 11 September 2012, i.e. shortly after the court decision that the parents lose guardianship of their children, we learnt that Herr Wunderlich has, in a writing to a neighbour, stated that the children are his property and that, if necessary, he would kill them to save them from being taken by the state. Unfortunately, this anonymous notification cannot be verified, as there is no such writing in our possession. Nevertheless, we cannot rule out that with increasing pressure on the family such irrational acts might be possible. Herr Wunderlich seems to regard it as his mandate to act as a martyr as regards home education." 

Dirk says that, of course, such a "writing to a neighbour" does not exist, and that every person of a clear mind can see that it is not possible that any father would write such a thing to a neighbour, who would then, rightfully alarmed, inform the authorities. Also, this alleged "notification" is said to have taken place nearly a year ago, and in between there have been many meetings and talks with the authorities, without anybody mentioning such a thing. Dirk refers to another HE family (Familie Gorber)where authorities used the alleged danger that the parents might kill their children to take them into state care: there the mother had to stay in hospital for a while, and the authorities claimed that the father was psychiatrically instable and thus it could be possible that he would commit a family suicide.Dirk says all this was nonsense, but it took a year until the family judge in charge was convinced that the family was stable. He says it is unbelievable with which kind of methods German youth welfare authorities work.          

Lastly, he reminds us of Familie Romeike who fled to the States to get asylum, and of a German weekly that wrote they went because they felt persecuted. He says it is not a matter of "feelings" but they actually ARE persecuted, and that this state terror has to stop.

Regards, Irene

Irene Schrieder 

There has been a webpage set up to raise awareness at  http://wunderlich-children.com
Any other support will be reported on here if possible.
Willi Villiger de Bildung zu Hause Schweiz http://www.bildungzuhause.ch and Jörg Grosselümern from Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit Deutschland http://www.netzwerk-bildungsfreiheit.de/ have written:
"Furthermore Dirk Wunderlich is asking for your support on September 19th: At 13.30 pm. there will be a court hearing in Darmstadt. On «Mathildenplatz» you’ll find a park next to the Court house which is ideal for a gathering with as many European Homeschoolers as possible. Please let us know in a short e-mail if there would be any persons who are willing to travel to Darmstadt on that date, so we can ask the authorities for permission. It’s not clear yet if the trial is open to the public or not."

Dirk Wunderlich can be contacted at dirk.wun@googlemail.com