Godwin's Waiting Room
WorldNetDaily uses a German incident to smear supporters of public education as Nazis -- but its bedrock claim about Hitler being responsible for mandatory education in Germany may not even be true.
By Terry Krepel
Under the Internet adage known as Godwin's Law, whoever first brings up the Nazis during an online debate automatically "loses" that debate.
How, then, to judge WorldNetDaily's repeated likening of anyone who does not unquestioningly praise homeschoolers -- and public schools specifically -- as Nazis?
WND has been making this connection since 1999, when Samuel L. Blumenfeld wrote: "As we all know, biblical religion has been removed from the public schools where Nazi-like, satanic cults can flourish with no opposition from anyone. That is why it has become increasingly dangerous for Christian children to attend public schools." (In an August 2003 column, Blumenfeld wrote of public educators: "Neither the Nazis nor communists could have done better!") A January 2003 article by Art Moore cited "renowned New York educator and philosopher John Taylor Gatto" as claiming that public schools employ "the ideas of Frederick W. Taylor, who inspired the 'social efficiency' movement of the early 20th century and provided the 'operating philosophy' for fascist Italy and Nazi Germany."
There are reasons why WND wants to perpetuate such a connection. WND editor Joseph Farah despises public schools -- which he often derisively refers to as "government schools," once claiming, "If the Pentagon treated Guantanamo Bay prisoners like public schools treated students, Amnesty International would be up in arms, Kofi Annan would be apoplectic, the New York Times would be having conniptions" -- and homeschools his five children. WND's editorial policy mirrors Farah's beliefs by reporting nothing but bad news about public schools and nothing but good news about homeschooling, which in part explains WND's obsession with teacher-student sex, the implication being that homeschooled students don't face that threat.
WND's focus began with a September 2006 article on a ruling from the European Human Rights Court that "affirmed the German nation's Nazi-era ban on homeschooling." The article went on cite "[a] website for the Practical Homeschool Magazine" claiming that "one of the first acts by Hitler when he moved into power was to create the governmental Ministry of Education and give it control of all schools, and school-related issues," adding:
In 1937, the dictator said, "The Youth of today is ever the people of tomorrow. For this reason we have set before ourselves the task of inoculating our youth with the spirit of this community of the people at a very early age, at an age when human beings are still unperverted and therefore unspoiled. This Reich stands, and it is building itself up for the future, upon its youth. And this new Reich will give its youth to no one, but will itself take youth and give to youth its own education and its own upbringing."
In an Oct. 25, 2006, article, reporter Bob Unruh -- who, like Farah, homeschools his children -- kicked the smears into high gear by starting an article this way: "A Nazi-era law requiring all children to attend public school, to avoid 'the emergence of parallel societies based on separate philosophical convictions' that could be taught by parents at home, apparently is triggering a Nazi-like response from police." The article quotes only pro-homeschooling sources; Unruh made no apparent attempt to contact German officials to corroborate the claims made in the article, specifically the lead claim that "children in a family in Bissingen, in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, have been forcibly hauled to a public school." Unruh added a claim from a homeschooling organization that "homeschooling has been illegal in Germany probably since 1938 when Hitler banned it."
On Dec. 21, 2006, an Unruh article claimed that "[t]he German government, in a throwback to its National Socialist Workers Party heritage, has declared war on homeschool families." Again, Unruh cited only pro-homeschooling sources and did not contact the German government for corroboration. His uncertainty about German school law disappeared, asserting that "mandatory public school attendance, and the accompanying procedures to physically escort children to schools, were legalized under the Nazis in 1938. Hitler was concerned at that time about having children grow up with perspectives that were not approved by the state."
Two days later, Unruh followed up with an article featuring an anonymous man claiming that "Germany today is not much better than it was under Nazi party control in the 1930s and 1940s" because it does not permit homeschooling, adding that the man "likened the situation to that of families under the Nazi regime, or 'like in the former Soviet Union under the Communists.' " Unruh claimed that the man's "name is being withheld by WND so that he is not targeted for speaking out." But the article appears to validate the reason Unruh's boss, Farah, has criticized anonymous sources (at least, when they criticize WND): they're "usually quotes made up out of whole cloth to help make the story read better."
The smears went into overdrive when Unruh latched onto reports of a homeschooled German teenager named Melissa Buskeros, who, according to a Feb. 3 article, was "removed ... from her family and placed her in a child psychiatry unit." Unruh added that "homeschooling was placed under a ban by Adolf Hitler and der Fuhrer's law still is enforced."
Numerous follow-up articles on the alleged incident follow a pattern -- no one outside of the pro-homeschooling community is credited, no attempt is made to contact the German government for a response, and no independent proof of the incident is offered.
And, of course, Nazis and/or Hitler are always mentioned. Unruh expands on his unsupported anti-public education claims in a Feb. 25 article:
American homeschoolers need to be worried, according to a WND report, because the ease with which similar restrictions on free choice could be imposed in the United States.
Not only is there no mention of the fact that homeschoolers are also "indoctrinating" their students, Unruh offers no evidence to support the claim that non-homeschooled students are, ipso facto, "sexualized" and "socialist." Note the use of "public and private school." which suggests that Unruh opposes all formal education, not just public education, in favor of homeschooling. (Not to mention his misuse of "Democrat" instead of the proper "Democratic," a slur indicating Unruh's fealty to conservative causes.
A Feb. 28 article by Unruh, however, added something new for WND: an alleged statement from a German official. But, as with everything else, Unruh did not get the statement from the German government himself; he copied it from a pro-homeschooling blog, and there's no indication he verified it with German officials.
But assuming that it's authentic, it makes a claim that contradicts the Nazi slurs that Unruh has been making all along. The official wrote:
Mandatory school attendance was first introduced in Germany in 1919 under the constitution of the Weimar Republic to guarantee education for all, especially socially disadvantaged families. Then and now, equality is seen as an important democratic ideal. You may be aware of the fact that schooling in Germany is generally free of charge.
The Weimar Republic, of course, preceded the Nazi era. Unruh didn't include this excerpt from the official's letter in his article, let alone counter it. Instead, he pretended if was never mentioned at all, blithely going on to claim that the official was articulating the "German government's defense of its 3rd Reich homeschooling prohibition" and repeating the claim that "homeschooling has been illegal since Adolph Hitler decided he wanted to control the educating of all children."
We don't know the correct answer to when public education in Germany was made mandatory. More importantly, neither does WND or Unruh, who have made a claim about it central to their reporting -- or rather, central to its efforts to smear its ideological opponents -- and are ignoring a contradictory claim by a source that it considers credible.
In addition to sticking with Nazi slurs in the face of evidence proving him wrong, WND also obscured the conservative Christian background of a "human rights" group involved in the case. A Feb. 20 article cited a group called the International Human Rights Group, calling it an "international human rights organization."
In fact, the group's website mentions only one cause -- that of the German girl. This, in turn, suggests that the only humans whose rights the group cares about are conservative and evangelical Christians.
Indeed, it appears that the IHRG is a division of the European Defense Fund (headquartered, strangely, not in Europe but in Georgia). Its website states that it "works with" conservative and evangelical groups such as the Alliance Defense Fund (from which it receives significant funding), the Christian Legal Society, the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board and Campus Crusade for Christ International. It claims that it "exists to help keep the door open for the proclamation of the Gospel message." The EDF is headed by Joel Thornton, who is a former chief of staff and longtime employee for the conservative, Pat Robertson-founded American Center for Law and Justice.
Meanwhile, as a March 13 article by Unruh on the Buskeros case indicates, the WND beat of slant and distortion goes on: No independent verification of the case, no attempt to contact German officials, only pro-homeschooling sources quoted, describing the International Human Rights Group only as "an international rights organization," quoting the homschooling-blog-plucked German official but overlooking his reference to the Weimar Republic, and -- surprise, surprise -- yet another repeat of the possibly false claim that "homeschooling has been illegal since Adolph Hitler decided he wanted to control the educating of all children."
(Update: A March 15 article by Unruh finally uses a source outside of homeschooling -- an article from the English-language website of the German newsmagazine Spiegel. Unruh unironically copied a statement from the article noting that "some commentators [are] comparing the [German] authorities to Nazis," failing to note that among them is Unruh himself. And, needless to say, he does so again here, with a headline that references the Germans' "Hitler-type rule" and repeating the claim that "homeschooling was banned during Adolf Hitler's reign of power." Unruh also selectively quotes elsewhere from the article, picking up the claim that "German authorities deny that the case is an assault on homeschooling and say the decision to remove the girl from her family was motivated by concern for the girl's welfare" but not nothing that the article's statement that "authorities got involved" after "the Youth Welfare Office in Erlangen fielded calls from a number of people -- including from Melissa's former school -- saying they were concerned about the girl.")
If homeschooling is so much better than public (or private) education, why is Bob Unruh and WorldNetDaily using the homeschooling cause to violate the journalistic principle of telling both sides of the story and being fair to those he opposes, not to mention ignoring evidence inconvenient to the point they're trying to make? Why, Unruh's end-justifies-the-means approach sounds almost -- gasp! -- Darwinian. And we know how WND feels about that.