My American sensibility is…

…positively creeped out by this:

Earlier this month, a German teen-ager was forcibly taken from her parents and imprisoned in a psychiatric ward. Her crime? She is being home-schooled.

On Feb. 1, 15 German police officers forced their way into the home of the Busekros family in the Bavarian town of Erlangen. They hauled off 16-year-old Melissa, the eldest of the six Busekros children, to a psychiatric ward in nearby Nuremberg. Last week, a court affirmed that Melissa has to remain in the Child Psychiatry Unit because she is suffering from “school phobia.”

Home-schooling has been illegal in Germany since Adolf Hitler outlawed it in 1938 and ordered all children to be sent to state schools. The home-schooling community in Germany is tiny. As Hitler knew, Germans tend to obey orders unquestioningly. Only some 500 children are being home-schooled in a country of 80 million. Home-schooling families are prosecuted without mercy.

Last March, a judge in Hamburg sentenced a home-schooling father of six to a week in prison and a fine of $2,000. Last September, a Paderborn mother of 12 was locked up in jail for two weeks. The family belongs to a group of seven ethnic German families who immigrated to Paderborn from the former Soviet Union. The Soviets persecuted them because they were Baptists. An initiative of the Paderborn Baptists to establish their own private school was rejected by the German authorities. A court ruled that the Baptists showed “a stubborn contempt both for the state’s educational duty as well as the right of their children to develop their personalities by attending school.”

Just reading this sets off an attack of my claustrophobia. As a child I was ambivalent about attending school, which is not to say that I was ambivalent about learning. That I enjoyed. School, by turns, bored me, offended me, and generally made me nauseous. But other than that, I was happy to attend, having surrendered any hope that some other way of doing things would come along.

When I moved on to college, during the Vietnam era, I stayed on there only because the military draft awaited me if I dropped out. I wasn’t happy about the confinement, and generally ignored my formal studies. I read what I felt like reading and learned how to write and edit by working for the campus newspaper.

This story about the German fetish for suppressing home schooling dredges up the gnawing sense of confinement that I carried with me during my years in school. It’s glaringly ironic that the policy against home-schooling was, according to this piece, instituted by Adolph Hitler. You would think that the Germans would pause for a moment of reflection on that.

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