Coronavirus pandemic: Free schools – gateway for “lateral thinkers”?


Status: 11/29/2021 6:00 a.m.

Fanned by the Corona measures, parents are looking for alternative forms of school for their children. Experts see this as a possible gateway for “lateral thinkers” and other radical currents.

“There are millions and millions of tiny lightning bolts in my brain. There is a lot going on right now. All the suffering of these children and parents will never experience justice or forgiveness,” writes a mother from a small town in Vogelsberg in Hesse. In her public chat with more than 1200 participants until recently, the mother leaves no doubt as to who she blames for the children’s suffering. “Teachers should” shape the children “in the spirit of the state. Together with other parents, she wanted to found a” supplementary school “at the beginning of October” in order to “save” the children as quickly as possible.

She recently presented her school concept in a video from a lawyer who speaks at “lateral thinkers” demos. Until recently, like-minded people from all over Germany exchanged ideas in their chat about the consequences of the Corona measures for their children, gave each other tips on how to obtain certificates exempting them from the mask requirement or how to remove one’s own children from the influence of state schools.

Many similar initiatives nationwide

Calls for similar initiatives can be found in Telegram groups for many regions in Germany. How strongly they are politically influenced by activists of the “lateral thinker” scene is difficult to judge. Most groups communicate in closed chats and do not answer journalistic questions or answer with conspiracy stories about vaccination.

But there are also examples of school initiatives that clearly show a radical political orientation. In the Lahn-Dill district in Central Hesse, for example, citizens of the Reich and supporters of the right-wing esoteric Anastasia movement are involved in the plan to found a farm school.

Examples like that Central Hesse or the now closed “Querdenker” school in Rosenheim, Bavaria, show that problematic conspiracy narratives and ideologies also fall on fertile ground.

Growing pressure on state schools

The public opinion is now also having an impact on state schools. “We see the danger that parents looking for alternative forms of learning for their children will be indoctrinated by supporters of the ‘lateral thinking’ movement,” says Heinz-Peter Meidinger, President of the Teachers’ Association. Teachers would report on discussions with parents that show that the legitimacy of state action in schools is being aggressively questioned.

Even if the school peace were only occasionally disturbed, Meidinger warns against underestimating the problem. In view of the fourth wave, there is a renewed threat of school closings in many places in Germany. He sees the ministries of culture as responsible for ensuring that the abolition of the compulsory attendance at schools is not used by activists of the “lateral thinkers” scene to permanently alienate parents and children from state and social institutions.

“Free learners” with an ideological background

With the pandemic, the “free learners” also got a boost. Based on the ideas of the Russian music teacher Michail Petrowitsch Schetinin, children should prefer to develop independently in schools in the country, free from learning constraints. The learning locations, also described by the term “farm school”, are to be devoted entirely to the individual development of the children. What sounds like idyllic learning in the country, from Matthias Pöhlmann’s point of view, is often based on ideas that can be traced back to the right-wing esoteric Anastasia movement.

“In the books of its founder Vladimir Megre you can clearly find anti-Semitic, anti-democratic and also racist content,” said the representative for sectarian and ideological issues of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria. The theologian understands parents who are concerned about the psychological development of their children during the pandemic. But that’s exactly where it is important to look very carefully. “I have the impression that there are actors here who want to alienate people from the democratic system, and parents have to make sure that they do not allow themselves to be instrumentalized.”

Problematic development at some Waldorf schools

The risk of conspiracy theorists and corona deniers infiltrating alternative school forms is also discussed on the basis of Waldorf schools. Research of the SWR show how controversial the corona protective measures are in individual schools. So were after a bigger one Corona outbreak at a Waldorf school in Freiburg 55 certificates for schoolchildren and teachers were subsequently declared invalid by the responsible regional council because they did not meet the requirements.

The Federation of Independent Waldorf Schools is aware of such radical currents and opposes them. It is a misinterpretation of the anthroposophical teachers when supporters think that free Waldorf schools are to be understood as a “lawless area” in which state regulations can be “disregarded”, says Christoph Sander, chairman of the regional working group of the free Waldorf schools in Stuttgart daily topics.

How to deal with the corona measures? A report from the Waldorf school

11/25/2021 10:47 p.m.

According to Jost Schieren, such examples show that conspiracy theories relating to Corona are also spreading in alternative schools. The pedagogue teaches Waldorf education at the Alanus University in Alfter near Bonn. However, he warns against placing free schools under general suspicion for this reason. Parents who send their children to free schools are often more non-conformist and less state-oriented.

No blanket condemnation

It is legitimate for them to worry about interfering with freedoms in connection with the corona pandemic. But to put them in the “lateral thinker” corner across the board is wrong. “If such discussions flare up in Waldorf schools, they are also dealt with there, and the parents and teachers take a critical look at them.”

It is difficult to find out in which direction the “farm school” in Vogelsberg, Hesse, is developing. In terms of content, the founder has not yet responded to journalistic inquiries about connections in the “lateral thinker” scene. Your dream of having your own school also seems to have moved a long way off.

On request, the Hessian Ministry of Culture announced that the initiator of the farm school had been informed that her initiative was not a school within the meaning of the School Act. Compulsory schooling cannot be fulfilled by attending such an institution.

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