As I write this post, a family from Germany is living in a town not far from me. They are seeking asylum in America for religious reasons: they want to raise and educate their children without German State interference. They are homeschoolers, something not allowed in Germany. Our government has gone to court seeking their deportation.
Many of you know that I spend several months each year in Israel, leading tours, mostly for homeschooling families. In Israel, the Holocaust is the ever-present backdrop against which life is lived. It is part of the Israeli educational fabric; ignorance of the Holocaust is not an option.
Yet, even among educated individuals, not everyone agrees as to how the Holocaust could have happened.
“What,” you may be asking, “Does the Holocaust have to do with homeschooling?”
The answer is “More than you could ever imagine!” A quick history lesson will make this clear…
For centuries, the various Germanic tribes were ruled by the huge and powerful Prussian Empire. The power behind the Empire was its massive war machine. In order to create such an imposing military force, Prussia had instituted what became known as the Prussian Experiment. The Empire set out to establish a system of government-run schools, each one called a “Gymnasium”. All children were required to attend these schools. The intention was to diminish the influence children received from their families, communities, and the various and colorful ways their cultures lived and, instead, provide children with a universal curriculum which would ultimately influence them with a unified State-prescribed worldview. In addition, competition among students in each Gymnasium would manifest those who were destined for leadership and those who were destined to be followers of those leaders.
In the early 1800’s, American educators became interested in the Prussian Experiment. An individual named Horace Mann became Secretary of Education in the state of Massachusetts, the first Department of its kind in the country. Mann was a person of vision. He saw that Americans were migrating from farm life to the newly built factories where men could actually earn a wage for their labor instead of depending on the insecurity of raising crops.
Factories need workers—not just workers–but workers who were willing to do what they are told. Horace Mann not only felt he understood how America should approach the future, he also had the authority and the influence to make others bend to his worldview. It wasn’t long before compulsory government school attendance was the norm, and, for the same reasons espoused by the Prussian Experiment.
The problem was not that American children needed more, or better, education. Americans had always had a deep belief in education. In the year 1800, America was considered the most literate nation in the world. But, in Horace Mann’s day, there was an inherent problem with Americans, themselves. Americans simply didn’t follow orders very well. Americans were notoriously independent-minded. They didn’t like to be governed without giving their consent to those who were doing the governing.
Horace Mann called American children “ungovernable”—an interesting choice of words—and he saw the Prussian educational model of mandatory schooling the answer to turn these ungovernable youngsters into adults who would fit into the newly emerging industrial world.
Now, to return to the Holocaust: Anti-Semitism has always existed, everywhere and in every age. Nevertheless, historians believe that, in the early 1900’s, the majority of Germans were not then, as they are not now, anti-Semitic. The number of Jews living in Germany was a tiny percentage of the total population. Although Germans were certainly aware of Hitler’s anti-Semitism, his rise to power was not due primarily to his attitude toward the Jews, but was due to Hitler’s three-fold promise: To protect the country from the spreading influence of Marxian socialism; to restore Germany’s failing economy caused by the Great War; and to remove the humiliation Germans experienced by their defeat in that war. With Hitler at the helm, Germans would once again be proud to be Germans.
Obviously, what allowed the holocaust to occur was multi-faceted and does not permit simple explanations. However, it is human nature to ignore what is not currently affecting oneself, personally. And, when other people’s suffering seems far away, that suffering is seldom forefront in the mind (this is one reason why most concentration camps were situated outside Germany). Add to this the reality that people tend to believe their government has good reasons for what it does, and a holocaust-type event is capable of occurring anywhere, and at any time. Even today.
What is truly revealing is what occurred after World War II when a court was convened to put on trial the perpetrators of the mass killings (the Holocaust).
Many of those on trial told stories of how, growing up, some of their best friends had been Jews. They stated that they had no animosity toward the Jewish people. Many even said they hated the things they had been ordered to do and some of those who so testified had been Commandants of the concentration camps. What the prosecutors had to contend with was the defense put forth by those being tried: “We are soldiers and soldiers obey orders. If there was something wrong with the orders we are told to follow, that is not our fault but the fault of those giving the orders.”
I am not against Germany or the German people; my own ancestry is partly German. However, I have to say there is a reason Germany cannot allow parents to raise their own children in accordance with their personal beliefs. The Prussian Experiment has produced the intended outcome and even one family’s deviation cannot be tolerated.
For years, I have told parents that the fear of public schools is not a valid reason to homeschool. I said this because I believe decisions should never be made from a position of fear. After all, there are far better, and positive, reasons to decide to homeschool. I now believe I was partly wrong.
The initial reasons for the creation of compulsory, government schooling, has been largely forgotten. Still, the end product remains the same. How governments arrive at this end product should frighten anyone sending their children into the culture of government schools.
Regarding the German family fighting to stay in our country in order to raise their children as they believe God is directing them: This family needs our prayers. They don’t need to be forced to return to Germany where they have the choice either to bow to the will of the German government or have their children taken from them.
What does homeschooling have to do with the Holocaust? The answer is that you must raise your own children to see the world differently than what some “universal, core curriculum” requires them to know; to raise them to be independent thinkers; to raise them to be the individuals God created them to be. It would be a rare thing for that to happen after 12 years in government schools.
I offer you an interview with John Gatto, public school teacher in the New York City Public School System for 30 years, and the former New York State “Teacher of the Year”. This little-seen interview is worth watching.
And, should you wish to join one of our trips to Israel, take a look at our website, www.ExperiencingIsrael.com