I live in a small village in the Vosges Mountains in northeastern France with my four brothers and sisters. My father works in industrial maintenance and my mother takes care of the family. I attended kindergarten because I had asked to go there. But I left after a year. My siblings aged 18, 15, 12 and 9 followed in my footsteps. I believe my mother would have done the same thing when she was a child if she had a choice.
Unlike those who are home-schooled, I didn't have a set time to learn things, as advocated by the "unschooling" principle. It means that my parents never taught me at home the same way a teacher does at school. I was first interested in reading at age 6, but it lasted only a few weeks. My parents didn't insist. It was only when I was 9 that the will to learn how to read came back. I was tired of only being able to look at pictures in books at the library. It was only then that I learned how to really read. After that, I read all the Harry Potter books by the age of 10!
I learned math by cooking. If a recipe was intended for four people, I had to learn how to multiply it in order to have the right quantities for six. To this day, I still don't know my multiplication tables but it's not essential for me to know it either. As I read, I learned how to spell. But I still struggle with conjugation.
I enjoyed having this flexibility in the learning process, the freedom to go at my own pace. It made me resourceful because in order to visit friends, I had to go far, take the train, etc. I also took djembe classes for three or four years. Most of all, I was able to ride my bike a lot with all the free time I had.
As a child, I developed a passion for the legend of King Arthur. Now I love science fiction, fantasy literature and video games. I can easily form bonds with adults and younger children. I don't feel the generation gap as other teenagers who would only hang out with people their age would. What's more, I've spent a lot of time with my parents who took turns to educate us. My mother took care of it most of the time but my father did his part too. Not that it prevented me from having a teenage crisis! I've had conflicts with my parents just like anybody else. But I never reproached them for raising me the way they did.
"My parents never taught me at home the same way a teacher does at school" — Photo: MissMessie
Some friends who were raised like me say they regret not having gone to school. But that's not my case. The only thing that annoyed me was the distance between my friends and I. Thankfully, we were always able to keep in touch via Skype. Until I was 10 years old, I played with other kids in our village, building huts among other things. But when we reached adolescence, we had different interests. That's when I started to get closer to other teenagers in the same situation as mine.
I also didn't like inspection days The days when education ministry officials visit homes where children don't go to school. They never visited when I was a child but they did, several times, when I was a teenager. Those days, I felt a little under pressure. My mother used to keep a notebook where she would write everything I had done, all the places I had visited such as museums and what I'd learned.
When I was 16, I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I was spending way too much time in front of my computer, playing video-games or chatting on Skype with my friends. One day, my parents asked me what I wanted to do. At about that time, I visited an eco-friendly construction site that friends of my parents were overseeing. A lot of volunteers were working there, and I used to visit it just to get to know people. But what they were doing quickly aroused my interest.
Since there weren't any specific qualifications for this type of construction work, I applied for a professional certification in public building maintenance — a more general qualification. I prepared by going over past exam papers and I took the exam thinking I wouldn't pass. But I actually did.
Now, I'm training and working on the eco-friendly construction site at the same time. In the future, I want to become a trainer in straw construction. Eco-friendly construction is a developing sector with bright prospects.
*Identifying himself with just his first name, Bastien wrote this piece in French for the website of the Paris daily Le Figaro.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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