Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Hitler banned home eduction

One of the great pleasures when following debates about home education on the Internet lies in observing the astonishing frequency with which Godwin's Law is violated. Godwin's Law is of course a piece of Internet lore which holds that the longer an exchange on any subject at all continues, the more likely is it that somebody will try to use Hitler and the Nazis to support an argument. It is a tradition on some lists that the first person to resort to this tactic has lost the debate and the thread ends. This convention is not, for obvious reasons, adhered to on home education lists!

It is of course the one 'fact' that all home educators seem to know; Hitler banned home education. Is it true? Not really, but the myth itself has now gained a life of its own and there is probably very little point in trying to explain what really happened to people. Never the less, as much for my own satisfaction as anything else, here are the facts.

Until the middle of the Nineteenth Century, what we today call Germany was a collection of small kingdoms and states; Mecklenburg, Bavaria, Hesse and Saxony, to name a few. The largest and most influential of these kingdoms was Prussia, which included Westphalia, Pomerania and Silesia. Bismarck was a Prussian statesman from Brandenburg who unified many of these little states into one country called Germany. His aim was that the other German states would be submerged into Prussia, not that Prussia would be submerged in Germany. A consequence of this is that a lot of what we call typically German now is actually typically Prussian, rather than German per se.

Prussia had adopted compulsory education, or to be more exact compulsory schooling, under Frederick II in 1763, well over a hundred years before Hitler was born. By the time that Britain passed the Forster Act providing for compulsory education, Prussia had long been a byword for its compulsory schools. The Newcastle report on education in 1861 made reference to the Prussian system and thought it a bad idea.

Gradually, in keeping with Bismarck's ideas of forming the new nation of Germany in Prussia's image, the laws of the other little states were over ruled by Prussian laws. By 1900, the process was more or less complete and the whole of Germany followed the Prussian system in practically everything, including compulsory schooling. The way some people talk about the Nazis introducing the law on compulsory schooling, one would think that Weimar was a thriving hotbed of autonomous home education. It was of course nothing of the sort. Schooling was compulsory everywhere, because that was how it had been in Prussia for over a hundred years.

The Nazi law was not a new thing at all. It was part of this same process of unifying the entire country under one, predominantly Prussian, system which had been started by Bismarck in 1866. It really just reminded everybody of what the situation actually was; that children had to attend school. This is one of the things that you have to do from time to time, especially in federal republics or those made up of many formerly independent states. Otherwise you will find that some town will end up a few years down the line arguing that they have had such and such a tradition since the Middle Ages and they do not agree with the central government's new law on the subject. Compulsory school attendance certainly wasn't something dreamed up by the Nazis. It is of course perfectly true that the Germans today stick rigidly to the letter of this law, in a way that we do not in this country. We must remember that for the first twenty years or so after the passage of the 1944 Education Act, absolutely everybody in this country thought that this law too made schooling compulsory. The fact that it did not says more about our judiciary than it does about the law itself.


  1. linking old crazy Badman?Balls to Hitler really hurt and struck a real blow to his mad ideas over home education!

    Old crazy Badman is now forever linked to Hitler and the Nazi party! i bet that hurt him real bad.your linked to Badman so is your daughter so your linked to hitler as well! Webb/Daughter the supporter of the nazi party ban on home education!

  2. Excellent, Mr Williams. It took you only one post to break Godwin's Law! I sometimes wonder whether you really are my sock puppet, so swift are you to illustrate what I am saying.

  3. The reason the link between the Nazi regime and home education being illegal in Germany is brought up so frequently is because Badman mentioned it, with, tellingly, no comment on the historical context. From the expression on his face during when Graham Stuart mentioned it, Badman didn't appear to be aware of the context.

    Since Badman referred directly to the illegality of home education under the Nazis, referring to this in a debate on HE lists can't qualify as a violation of Godwin's Law,in my opinion, since it is the topic under discussion. (I know Godwin didn't exclude discussions about the Nazi regime per se, but it's a bit difficult to not 'mention the war' when it is the war that you are discussing.)

  4. Fair point indeed suzyg, except that Graham Badman was not of course the first to raise this subject. It has been a staple of discussions on home education in this country for many years before Badman ever appeared on the scene. Germany has always been held up as the ultimate home education unfriendly nation and Hitler always rates a mention.

  5. Simon,

    There have been many attemots to legislate in Gernamy over the years prior to the Nazi's - please see

    However, it was in 1938 that this became full legislation (Reichsschulpflichtgesetz)

    You can read the law here:

    And it is indeed signed by;

    Der Führer und Reichskanzler
    Adolf Hitler

    Der Reichsminister für Wissenschaft, Erziehung und Volksbildung

  6. This is perfectly true. Schooling had however been compulsory throughout almost the whole of Germany for over a hundred and fifty years before that law was passed. It simply tidied up and summarised the various existing laws in one handy package. I would be very curious to hear of any home education in Germany during the Weimar Republic. Does anybody have any information about this?

  7. Although the idea that a sovereign state had the right, as well as the duty, to ensure that children received an education had existed since the 17th century in Germany, it was only in 1920 that a statute regarding general compulsory schooling, or allgemeine Schulpflicht, was passed in Germany, in Article 145 of the Constitution of the Weimar Republic. However, the differing views of the various political parties involved in drawing up this constitution led to the introduction, in Article 146, of an exemption clause. ("Innerhalb der Gemeinden sind indes auf Antrag von Erziehungsberechtigten Volksschulen ihres Bekenntnisses oder ihrer Weltanschauung einzurichten, soweit hierdurch ein geordneter Schulbetrieb, auch im Sinne des Abs. 1, nicht beeinträchtigt wird. Der Wille der Erziehungsberechtigten ist möglichst zu berücksichtigen.") Well-off families made use of this exemption to continue having their children educated at home by tutors or in small family schools. (c.f. Spiegler, Thomas Home Education in Deutschland : Hintergründe – Praxis – Entwicklung Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2008, p192). This put Germany in the same position that many of the other European countries currently occupy now, with compulsory schooling laws that are unenforced or loosely interpreted to include home education and distance education models. Compulsory schooling was still subordinate to the rights of parents in deciding on their children's education. (c.f. Rest, Franco Bildungspflicht“ als“ Schulzwang“ und die Liquidation des Elternrechts in Deutschland

    In 1938, under the National Socialists, the “Gesetz über die Schulpflicht im Deutschen Reich “(Reichsschulpflichtgesetz) was introduced. It stated: “Im Deutschen Reich besteht allgemeine Schulpflicht. Sie sichert die Erziehung und Unterweisung der deutschen Jugend im Geiste des Nationalsozialismus.“ This law also extended compulsory school attendance with a duty to attend vocational school after the age of 14 years, something that exists in all German states today. It also introduced "Schulzwang" or enforced school attendance, in §12, stating that “Kinder und Jugendliche, welche die Pflicht zum Besuch der Volks- oder Berufsschule nicht erfüllen werden der Schule zwangsweise zugeführt. Hierbei kann die Hilfe der Polizei in Anspruch genommen werden.“ The only specific exceptions allowed were for children who were “ineducable”.

    Thus, unlike in the Weimar Republic, where compulsory schooling existed, but was subordinate to the parents’ own wishes regarding their children’s education, the state’s clear entitlement to indoctrinating children into National Socialism necessarily meant that the parents’ educational duty was restricted (c.f. Rest, p4). Ironically, § 5 of the second part of this law stated: “(1) Zum Besuch der Volksschule sind alle Kinder verpflichtet, soweit nicht für ihre Erziehung und Unterweisung in anderer Weise ausreichend gesorgt ist.“ This is very similar to the “otherwise” provision of the current English law mentioned earlier and most likely provided a loophole for the children of elite Nazi officials to be educated at home, because, of course, this education “auf anderer Weise” still had to be in the spirit of National Socialism. It was introduced during the middle of the war, in 1941, possibly in response the conditions of war, which made it dangerous and sometimes impossible for some children to attend school. However, this inclusion meant that even this extremely restrictive law was more “liberal” than the current education laws of some German Bundeslaender.

  8. It is debatable whether Godwin's law applies in this case, as the law and its corollaries would not apply to discussions covering genocide, propaganda, early 20th century eugenics (racial superiority) or other mainstays of Nazi Germany.

    The quote from the Nazi education law (to the effect that compulsory school attendance ensures that the youth will be brought up and educated in the spirit of national socialism) certainly points to the fact that compulsory school attendance was a mainstay of Nazi Germany. Also, most of the west German states took over the Schulzwang paragraph, the one that was first introduced in 1938, in their post-war education laws. As well as this, the German Constitutional court of the 1970's, which introduced the ruling that the German state has an educational mandate (Erziehungsauftrag) was made up, for the most part, of judges who had been active Nazis and, due to their junior status after the war, had escaped the de-nazification process that took place after the war. Half of the judges involved in the 1972 ruling that started this judicial line of reasoning had been nazis who trained and worked under the NS regime before the end of the war. An expert on Nazi judges, Professor Rottleuthner told me that the anti-communist ideology in West Germany was an ideology that continued from the Nazis, so it not unreasonable to assert that the same might apply to compulsory schooling. Thus, it is not unreasonable to mention the National Socialist connection with regard to modern compulsory school attendance in Germany.

    I agree with your commenter above who says that any reference to the Nazis that stems from Graham Badman's faux pas shouldn't be construed as falling under Godwin's law. However, I have seen some references (particularly from the website World Net Daily) that I would regard as the kind of hyperbole that approximates Godwin's law (which actually only applies to debates)

  9. By the way, the Weimar Republic's law was very similar to the law of the state of California.

    "California satisfies its obligation to educate its children by means of the compulsory education law. Education Code section 48200 provides as follows: “Each person between the ages of 6 and 18 years not exempted under the provisions of this chapter . . . is subject to compulsory full-time education. Each person subject to compulsory full-time education . . . shall attend the public full-time day school . . . for the full time designated as the length of the schoolday by the governing board of the school district in which the residency of either the parent or legal guardian is located and each parent, guardian, or other person having control or charge of the pupil shall send the pupil to the public full-time day school . . . for the full time designated as the length of the schoolday by the governing board of the school district in which the residence of either the parent or legal guardian is located.” Exemptions are set forth in the following sections. (Ed. Code, § 48220.) There are two exemptions relevant to this case: the private school exemption and the private tutor exemption. "
    (taken from

    I'm busy writing my dissertation on this issue and I'm comparing the California situation with the German one. The laws have interesting parallels and the difference only seems to lie in the way they are interpreted.

    It's an interesting thought that if it hadn't been for the intervention of a certain Mr Schickelgrüber, home education mmight have been possible and widespread today in Germany in the same way as it is in California, even though the law there still explicitly bans it.

  10. By the way, the above comment was me - I accidentally left the comment on anonymous.

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