Nestled in rustic style buildings amidst the hills of the Odenwald mountains, Germany’s most prominent progressive boarding school has become embroiled in the latest revelation of abuse in German schools. Almost the entire governing board of the Odenwaldschule has resigned after it was revealed that a culture of permissive abuse of schoolchildren was tolerated from 1966 to 1991, involving at least thirty-three victims and eight teachers, and perhaps more. The details of the case are too lurid for reproduction here, but involve the abuse of students by teachers and even a headmaster, as well as tolerating and sometimes encouraging the abuse of students by other students.
The Odenwaldschule was founded in 1910 by Paul and Edith Geheeb as one of the first schools devoted to “progressive education” in Germany. Amongst other novelties of the school, students were divided into “families” that spanned age groups and were headed by a teacher known as the “mother” or “father” of the “family”. Shut down during the Nazi period, it reopened after the war, and became a UNESCO model school in the 1960s. Among its former students is the Green MEP & former student radical Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who admitted in the 1970s to inappropriate contact with kindergarten students before backtracking after his previous comments were brought to light last year. The school’s progressive “holistic” ethos, emphasizing freedom over discipline, continues to this day. For the current 225 students, the cost of a year’s education at the Odenwaldschule is over $27,000, or £17,000.
The revelations are only the latest among many surrounding Catholic, Protestant, secular schools, as well as the schools of Communist East Germany. Outside Germany, however, the mainstream media have only taken an interest in whichever scandals or stories they can link back to Pope Benedict XVI, or, failing that, his brother Fr. Georg Ratzinger. No English-language media from outside Germany have bothered to report on the Odenwaldschule affair, except for the tiniest of mentions in the Guardian on 17 March.